Archive | October, 2015

Variety: The Saving Grace to Wine!

27 Oct

Variety: The Saving Grace to Wine! #MWWC20

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I expect you have a current favorite wine. If you are thinking “Not really,” then you surely have a specific vineyard, winemaker, or at least a varietal, if not a specific bottle and vintage. When people ask me (not sure why, but it seems to be a common question) I might admit that in a given moment I have four or five current favorites, but they are constantly changing. One day I might have a favorite dry white, a favorite sweeter white, a favorite white blend. If I spend time considering the cellar holdings versus what’s in front of me at the moment, I’ll realize I have a current “every day” favorite in red, a current favorite single vineyard red, a current favorite bordeaux, and a favorite alternative- for several years it was Rioja, but I’m currently deep in Barolo. And I can’t forget that I usually have a favorite sweet wine- last spring it was Eiswine, but I’m back on my Sauternes kick. These are all in addition to the wine I hold most dear- Château Margaux, which I might get to taste very rarely.

The fun part is that my taste preferences change seasonally, sometimes as quickly as the weather might change from sun to rain. But sometimes my base desires will change or shift. For several years I had forgotten about the joy a good sparkling wine can provide when I tasted a dry lambrusco at the Wine Blogger’s Conference #WBC14. That switched on some synapse in me that renewed my respect for sparkling wines. While I had not been enjoying very much sparkling wine before, during a subsequent family trip to Scotland I sought out great Italian restaurants, and due to the unusual heat and no A/C that summer, we found ourselves drinking sparkling rosé night after night. I came back home with a renewed vigor for all things sparkling, and found a lot of unusual sparkling wines to share with friends as a result. All this because I had renewed the desire for a refreshing, light, thirst-quenching wine!

Sometimes, I’m steady in some favorites, like my favorite white burgundy. That really hasn’t changed in seven years…but there could be a new winemaker who brings out an amazing product at a price point that simply blows my mind. And that would be wonderful. Because do we complain that there are too many great winemakers? Too many great restaurants? Too many lovely cities to visit? That we have too many friends? No, we love having some variety. Even if we want the same thing over and over again, having options is key– for one day, the fickle finger of fate will point in a different direction.

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Variety. Like varietals, variety can save your butt in wine.

American Psychologist Daniel Gilbert wrote: “The secret of happiness is variety, but the secret of variety, like the secret of all spices, is knowing when to use it.”

Gilbert has a great point.  Having a cellar with a lot of options is similar to having a great spice rack, if you know what to do with it! You have a lot of really wonderful options that can pair together in an instance or be used independently of one another to great success. Also, spice is very much like wine in that is has a shelf life and needs to be well maintained in both temperature and humidity to stay consistent, if not to provide ideal enjoyment.
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When I seek through the few treasures my cellar holds, it brings a smile to my face. Single vineyard varietals from Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, the Willamette Valley, the Finger Lakes, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Alsace. Bottle after bottle of Bordeaux châteaux that make me smile at the thought of their vineyards and their extraordinary products. Sections of Tuscany, Piedmont, Trentino-Alto Adige, Sicily, Lombardy. Spain, Potugal, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand. Ah, New Zealand! My mind was blown away after a night of tasting New Zealand’s wines, and then again after a tasting of some stunning wines in Santa Barbara. Perhaps that is one of the simple joys of life: enjoying food and wine. One can have spent their entire life without knowing how much they might enjoy a food or wine, blissfully unaware, and one little taste- and you must have it again! At least perhaps we have learned to appreciate a wonderful local bottle or dish. More things we enjoy and would like to try again- other than not having space to store more bottles, what could possibly be wrong with that?

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So maybe I’ll build on and customize Gilbert’s altruism. “The secret to wine is knowing both what you like and a strong variety of wines: that you will know how and when to use them effectively.”  At the very least, have an openness towards trying new things, as winemakers will continue to challenge our palates and develop stunning wines we’ll want to try, enjoy, and then share again with friends.

And that variety is one that can enhance your life far beyond any bottle.

Nota tasting

À votre santé!

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UnCorked from the Road! October 2015

26 Oct

Lately I’ve been on the road a good bit, both touring with various clients and doing city-specific events. While often we work 20 hour days on the road,  sometimes I actually get a night off where I can enjoy a great glass of wine or two.

In Atlanta, I went with co-workers to foodie destination Gunshow by chef Kevin Gillespie. We thoroughly enjoyed the southern-inspired options from the local chefs served dim sum style. The bartender runs a mean cart with artisinal drinks to make your mouth water.  My co-workers loved the toasted old fashioned (bourbon, bitters, burnt sugar, bruléed cinnamon, flamed orange) so much they had five of them. I had to taste the duke of earl (scotch, allspice, lime, lavender salt, ginger, earl grey) and was thoroughly pleased, but the wine of the evening for me was a Domain Chandon Pinot Noir, Carneros Napa 2012 (via internet from $24/bottle) 

The Chandon Pinot was a great foil to food with its smooth, velvety mouthfeel and was able to stand up to the strong spices of buffalo wings and kung pao while having enough acidity to cut through truffle grilled cheese, lamb, and short ribs.

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For the seafood options and dessert, I went another route: sparkling. I was wowed by  De Chancey’s Sparkling Chenin Blanc Vouvray 2012, an off-dry sparkler with gentle flavors of peaches and pear. Truly tasty with a hint of sweetness that made me want to drink it all day long. I will find this again, I promise you! It was fun to drink by itself but an ideal complement to the oyster and octopus dishes the chefs brought to our table, as well as the trio of desires we tasted. Fun!

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While working in San Francisco on a huge sports event, I managed to squeeze in dinner one night without a reservation by dining at the bar of Restaurant Gary Danko for a tremendous meal, great service and some stunning wine.

I started with Schramsburg Blanc de Blanc 2012 North Coast California Brut sparkling, made from 100% chardonnay. I was very pleasantly surprised with the old world approach to sparkling, this crisp, dry wine stands proudly among other great sparkling wines of the world with a delightful combination of delicate flavors – golden delicious apple, citrusy lime, and baked bread. It complemented courses of butternut squash soup and risotto wonderfully.

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The star of my meal was something I struggled with choosing from their fun and surprisingly expansive wine list (all kept on-site, which I found impressive, given that the restaurant only seats about 70). After much thought and some great conversation with two house somms, I decided upon a half bottle of a pinot to complement my fish and meat courses. The Francophile in me won out and I selected Domaine Drouhin-Laroze Gevrey-Cambertin 2011, which paired beautifully and complemented these dishes more than I could imagine. Excellent depth and balance, lovely fruit yet enough acidity to stand up to a hearty filet of beef with swiss chard, with solid tannins, delightful minerality- slate, limestone & chalky clay.  

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I finished the meal with four selections from Gary Danko’s cheese cart along with a glass of 2009 Château Laribotte Sauternes,  a delightful dessert wine that is very popular here with the fois gras course. On this evening, the Laribotte was an ideal final note to a delicious meal.

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A little food porn for you:

From Restaurant Gary Danko:

Risotte

Risotto

salmon

Salmon

boef

Filet of Beef w/ Duck Fat Potatoes

 

 

From Gunshow:

deconstructed beef pho

Beef Pho (Deconstructed)

Short RibShort Rib


Kung Pao Brussel

Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts

à votre santé!

JvB’s 2015 Predictions on Snooth.com

20 Oct
My 2015 Vintage Predictions
If you’re a white wine fan, you’re in luck. As for reds, you know I’ll be tasting the 2015 sometime much further down the line. But here’s what I’m excited about from this year’s recent harvest. -JvB
Oregon & Burgundy
Great weather this year in parts of the Northwest US and France leads to positive speculation for some of my favorite regions. In Oregon, one of the earliest grape harvests occurred this year and had local winemakers ecstatic to have not only another banner year, but also improvement over the 2014 season. For that reason, I’m tremendously excited to taste the white 2015 wines from Elizabeth Clark of Airlie Winery, and Tom Houseman of Anne Amie Vineyards. Both of these winemakers create a personal white blend (Airlie 7 and Cuvée A Amrita) that is stunning in quality and value. Across the pond, Burgundy has had a lovely growing season, raising expectations from locale winemakers and negociants as well! One of my all time favorite small producers, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, should have a beautiful “Le Trezin” from Puligny-Montrachet. A wine of consistent depth, subtlety and divine beauty, it’s one of the wines I consistently seek out with great satisfaction.
-Jim vanBergen, JvB Uncorked
And not included in the Snooth article, a few images of these great winemakers: 
Clark
Elizabeth Clark, Airlie Winery
THouseman
Tom Houseman, Anne Amie Vineyards
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Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey
What wines are you excited about from the 2015 vintage? 

à votre santé!

Old World Whites at Stunningly Low Prices

10 Oct

Le Domaines Robert Vic: Comtesse de Marion Chardonnay 2014, Pays D’oc, Vias, France. ABV 13%, available online from $8-14/bottle, sourced at $17/bottle from Xavier Wine & Spirits, NYC.

Translucent, pale straw in  color with a delicate nose of wildflowers and a hint of orchard fruit. Classically balanced chardonnay, mild up front with a rich and savory mid-palate, plenty of acid and a refreshing finish. Shows the kind of depth normally expected from a higher price tag, this is a no-brainer for those who adore quality $40-60 bottles of white and a killer find for those who work the under $20 range. Flexible to pair on the light and medium sides with fish, shellfish, salads, vegetables, light cheeses, white meats and of course, by itself for a glass of pure mediterranean sunshine.

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Bonny Doon Vinyards Le Cigare Blanc 2012, Beeswax Vineyard, Santa Cruz, CA. 13%ABV, $10/bottle from Wine Exchange.

Color of medium straw green tinge. White peach and honeysuckle on the nose. On the palate, a mature blend of white fruit akin to delightful Bordeaux Blanc- white pear, golden delicious apple, asian pear, medium finish with notes of orange rind, slate and limestone.

This is a blend of 48% grenache blanc, 44% roussane, and 8% picpoul blanc (a Rhône blending varietal known for acidity and minerality) purported to use a very hands-off approach to winemaking, and as a result feels very old world in balance, acidity, and comfort.

With other vintages selling at three times the price, this is a go-to value bottle that drinks easily as well as a $20 bordeaux blanc and $25 california white blend. Don’t let the alien face on the yellow screwtop scare you away, this is a serious wine that can offer delightful pairing and huge value on the price point.

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à votre santé!

 

Francophiled, or Drink What You Like

5 Oct

I recently attended a blind A/B tasting. That means we (the tasting panel) were given four pairs of wines poured from concealed bottles, were given no information on them, and we had to compare each pair of wines against one another. The common thread was that one set was presented by a famed importer of classic old world French wines from the Loire Valley, while the other set was provided by a small, youthful winery from Santa Barbara, California. What made this most interesting was that it was a pair of brothers, born five years apart, who both work in the wine industry, pitting their wines against one another. It was a fascinating evening and enlightening tasting.

Unfortunately,  this tasting came after a month of too little wine and too much work. Stupidly, I arrived fresh from taking my daughter horseback riding- parched and on an empty stomach- which somewhat threw me off my “A” game.

I took my wine notes, choosing many of the regions and grapes correctly. But I did something I’ve never done before. Our hosts asked us to tell them which wine we’d rather drink. So after tasting both wines in a pair, I quickly made a tiny heart-shaped notation indicating which of the wines I immediately preferred, knowing nothing more than my initial nose & sip. Normally I’m in critical mode, thinking about everything BUT which wine I might prefer to drink. My energy is spent deciding what the region, grape, style, and vintage might be, before possible food pairings. This time, I spent less concern on those criteria and just let my mouth decide.

So, what did I learn, you ask?

I learned that even an old dog can learn new tricks. As an outspoken Francophile (for the newbies, in the wine world that means I prefer old-world French wines) this tasting forced me to remove my size twelve boot from my mouth (Zut alors!) and replace it with a flip- flop, Duuuude!

In not one, but in EVERY single instance, I had chosen the Santa Barbara wine. The Loire Sauvignon Blanc had more grapefruit upfront while the Santa Barbara felt muted and ergo drank with greater balance. With the chenin blanc, it was the slight petrol on the French wine’s nose that made me prefer the other wine. With the pinot noir, it was that the French wine was actually a red sancerre. With the Cabernet Franc, it was the slightly deeper color and depth of palate that made me think it was aged longer in the barrel (it was) and was tastier on its own, while the French Chinon was a tiny bit sharper (more acidic) on the palate and ultimately would pair better with food, but fooled me into thinking it was Californian.

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All night long, I kept thinking there was a wine switcheroo– that the Californian wine was actually the French and so forth. I was slightly amused, and yet irritated at myself for getting it wrong, not coming to the tasting with my “A” game, drinking the wine more than just tasting it, and enjoying the process of tasting and just having fun, instead of taking it so seriously- which is, after all, really the best way to do a tasting, right?

So instead of coming away with a set of killer tasting notes, I had a blast. I really enjoyed eight wines, and based upon minutiae, I selected four that I’d rather drink – and in every single case thought I’d chosen the old world French wines of my youth. Instead, I found myself having selected the Santa Barbara competitor time and time again. That, my friends, was the switcheroo.

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Towards the end of the evening, I found myself chatting with a lovely couple across the tasting table. The wife admitted to me apologetically, “I know nothing about wine,” and I kept reminding her that the historic wine rules are no longer valid or in force. “As long as you know what you like, that’s what matters,” I preached. For this evening, I can do nothing but take my own advice. As an avowed Francophile, I am tipping my hat. For at least this one night, I am now California Dreamin’.

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Knowing what you like means I have the best of both worlds. I can drink what I like from the new world, and I can also buy, hold, and drink what I hold so dear: those old world French wines.

My thanks to James Parisi and Xavier Wines for hosting this event. And both my thanks and respect to brothers Lyle Railsback from Kermit Lynch and Eric Railsback from Lieu Dit Winery for the astounding evening of great wines that I seriously enjoyed.

Know this, gents: I’m a true fan of all of your work and will continue to enjoy all your brands, drinking both what I like at the moment, and what I have loved my whole life.

À votre santé!

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