20061130

Château Bujan 2003 (and Blogger 2.0)

Château Bujan 2004 côtes-de-bourg
In December I will be switching to the new version of Blogger. The switch will necessitate some change in the way I categorize my posts. But change is good, right? Up to now, it's been DIY: I manage the "subhead" categories that are attached my posts (micro-managing is more like it). This means I've got to upload them to the sidebar of my template file manually, html code and all, every time. Currently I am a week behind in updating the template.

I hope I can automate this process with the new version of Blogger. Rethinking my categories is also in order since so many of them have accumulated since I first devised a rather loosely standardized system. In any case, under the Entries listing at left, you can expect a bit of new look and feel soon.

WEREN'T YOU GOING TO REVIEW A WINE HERE?

Getting on with it... There's a bit of a new look and feel for the Château Bujan 2003. It's called the Château Bujan 2004, and like Blogger 2.0, I could only speculate broadly on it. The 2003 is still kicking around (click on the bottle image for local stores that stock Bujan). Here's what I noted about that vintage.

Colour is a generous red, going right through to the edges. Nose is not showy -- a restrained whiff of dusty berries is what I get. On the palate this wine has depth and great smoothness. The finish is rather remarkable. It is very very long and lingering.

Bujan produces a dignified well-made wine yet little about this "Grand Vin de Bordeaux" impresses me at the table. The fruit is so austere and musty that for a 75% Merlot this wine seems unnecessarily muted. Minerals and mocha flavours compete for the lead that the fruit has given up on. With some quite profound tannins kicking in, the overall flavour profile of the wine ends up being a bit on the bitter side. And that makes it a chore to match with dinner, especially market cuisine which is what I often prepare.

I would not pair this wine with food, though it does have admirable levels of acidity. I simply find the beginning and middle of this wine very balanced but boring. Why I am looking for zip, I don't know. With its big finish, this wine is likely its own reward. Drink it on its own or with a heavy and hearty loaf of bread.

It could be that this being a past Grappe d'Or mention from Michel Phaneuf I was expecting something more. For about $20, it is a recommendable Bordeaux, no doubt. But at the very least I would say that this experience has opened up my eyes (when I was hoping my other senses would perk up after uncorking this bottle -- even on the second night when I tasted it again).

I think I now know why the gourmets that run La Brunoise would do something as brazen as omit any and all Bordeaux bottles from its lengthy (and self-professed "food-friendly") wine list. They know good red Bordeaux is far from a cheap and easy date. And maybe they've been Bujaned at the dinner table like I was.

20061127

What I think of "What to Drink With What You Eat"

I missed posting this on Buy Nothing Day. Now I fear I may be too late.

If anyone gets me the most pretentious book of the year for Christmas -- a encyclopedic dining guide called What to Drink With What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page -- what to stuff in what you hang by the chimney will surely be a BIG FAT PIECE OF COAL. Why?

Well, there's the wino's angle on it and then there's the foodie's angle on it.

But first I think I need to explain something since every review I've encountered online has been balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm for this book. That I need to explain this is surprising to me because I thought what I am about to say is obvious. Here goes...

The reason folks need guidelines on pairings is precisely as follows: you've got one shot at that bottle and one shot only. You don't want to screw it up by pairing a vintage Brut Champagne with dessert. And so you turn to someone who can tell you how to get your money's worth out of it.

If you need instruction when pairing a frappuccino or some other $2 beverage from Starbucks, then clearly you're missing this point. You could dump the thing over your head and still come close to getting your money's worth. Yet this new book, WTDWWYE for short, seems to get off on recommending pairings for every drink you can think of right down to tap water. That's either silly or pretentious, or both.

If you want to pair your ciders, your juices, your bottled waters, I say go ahead. But you're kind of on your own, aren't you? I mean, there are no established guidelines for you to follow -- and there's certainly no demand to decode something so pedestrian and commonplace -- so you have to rely on your palate to guide you. But that's perfectly okay because those who follow their palate find that trial and error is a viable option for coffee, tea, water and what-have-you. (Whereas "trial and error" and Krug have never appeared in the same sentence. Ever!)

karyn paige andy dorenberg food and wine pairing bookTrial and error pairing is folly when you finally make that soufflé that doesn't sink and you really want to celebrate it in style. Like a fine wine, you've created something rare, and by god, you hope someone's been so kind to advise you how to do it justice (that Cabernet you're fingering is not the best idea -- a fate worse than falling for any soufflé). In this regard, WTDWWYE does an admirable job. It provides matches for a large array of different soufflés. It doesn't have every food under the sun -- no merguez or lamb sausage for instance -- but at least it scrapes by with entries like "Moroccan cuisine".

But that's pretty much where the instructiveness of food matching ends. Telling someone to have Evian with their veal meatballs isn't instructive as much as it's annoying. Telling someone to open a bottle for their fast-food taco is just bizarre.

In this way, WTDWWYE's approach of "we must achieve more than the sum of the parts" to every pairing gets ridiculous real fast. The catchphrase they use is 1 + 1 = 3 but no matter how often it's repeated to me it meets resistance. I think McDonald's Big Mac + any wine in the world = nothing more than a -5, not a +3 as the authors suggest. But Big Mac lovers will disagree with me. Perhaps they should buy this book.

Fast food mentions aside, WTDWWYE does deal with a lot of real food and a lot of wine. It comes at each separately: at the front, food entries are given a list of matching drinks, all supplied by culinary experts, after which beverages get their expert-generated list of pairable foods.

THE WINO'S ANGLE

Here is where the wines that readers like me have been husbanding for that special moment of culinary bliss come to the fore. I turn to Andrew and Karen and ask for advice. In response, I get a mixed bag of interesting tidbits. Personally, I find there to be too many vagaries and the stringing out of list upon list, all of them dancing around the attractive idea of finding common rules for the book's pseudo-science.

The authors get real close to securing some of these common rules at the start of the wine-based section. The clever bits contained under "By Type of Wine" is very interesting and infinitely useful. It spells out the truest and most scientific guidelines for wine matching and arranges ideas by attribute, i.e. acidic wines, tannic wines, etc. But it's only three pages and barely scratches the surface. Then the bigger 75-page "By Name of Beverage" segment begins which is only as successful as it is misguided.

What really bothers me is this guide claims to be a "definitive" source on pairings. Definitive is a big word for such a tenuous science and such a relatively small reference book. There's certainly nothing definitive about wine pairings when entries are grouped by varietal, as they are here. The authors of this book have heard of terroir and as a result some wine regions -- mostly French and broad -- are covered. Occasionally an effort is made to specify California Cabernet and Merlots. The cynic in me suspects that this only serves to better placate their key demographic.

Me, I don't drink much American wine so I first tried looking up what I had already opened from the previous night: A Minervois. There was no listing for it.

Then I tried looking for what I had on hand and was ready to drink: Coteaux du Languedoc. No listing. Not even a mention for any Languedoc wine, perhaps the biggest up-and-coming wine region in the world.

Then I dialed it back a bit and went flipping through the pages for a varietal wine. Though virtually all of my wine cellar makes no mention of grape variety as Old World wines seldom do, a knowledgeable drinker could figure it out. But that's a high-maintenance condition to using WTDWWYE. I just pretended I had a Viognier to crack open, since I recently had one that I really enjoyed. Under Viognier, the first item listed was appetizer. This is less than instructive. Mini-quiche? Pig in a blanket? Breaded shrimp? Cheeseball? What!?

The rest of the list painted a better picture for pairing Viognier. But I have to wonder about what the expert who submitted this particular response was thinking. Either the expert had more to say and the authors left it unsaid (which unfortunately is by design since all the expert-supplied entries are in strict list format) or the expert is masking his or her expertise by being imprecise. In either case, what good do the authors think these vague entries are doing?

Then I moved away from wine and investigated some of the oddities in the previous section organized by food item.

THE FOODIE'S ANGLE

I'm a home cook who owns a tiny cellar's worth of wine. The entries filed in this book aren't brimming with the practical tips they are purported to have for people like me. Strategic tips is more like it. These are strategies that trendy restaurant sommeliers, B&B owners, or program directors at wine resorts would likely use since they are expected to have crib notes for everything they serve. For the everyday chef, it seems like a heaping serving of pedantry.

The book is impractical for other reasons too. For instance, if this book had been written for me a lot of the lists would be left blank. What to drink with Oreo cookies. NOTHING. What to drink with Kumquats. NOTHING. What to drink with Ketchup. NOTHING. What to drink with Epazote. What the heck is Epazote? I don't eat any of these things so I'm certainly not going to uncork a bottle for them!

It's all a bit unnerving. Never has the rigorous employment of weights and measures seemed more like the devil's work. The authors have even deciphered what Spring pairs well with, as have they for Late Afternoon. Indian Summer, February 29th, and Summer Solstice are in there too I'm sure. Missing is what to drink for Coffee Breaks and Teatime.

And so the book arcs from whimsy to the shockingly obvious:

Scones: tea, esp. English Breakfast...
Éclair, chocolate: coffee, medium to dark roast
And then back again to the reverse mapping:
Coffee, in general: apple pies and tarts; breakfast dishes, esp. wheat-based; brunch dishes, esp. wheat based.
Passages like these that make one wonder if there could be a better job than doing this guide and getting paid by the word.

By the time I got to reading up on individual spices, I realized this book can be taken too literally. Marjoram is a white wine spice but oregano is a red wine spice. Fennel, white; rosemary, red. Coriander, white; thyme, red. As this rate, I'll be serving rosé with every bloody meal I cook. The herbes de Provence I use almost nightly is turning out to be a real nightmare lurking in the spice drawer.

But if this part of the book is frequently frustrating, the section on cheese is done well -- admirably inclusive and quite instructive.

I'm sure there are some other lists I would use and maybe even consult frequently, but my feeling is there's not much here that you couldn't get from a two-second google. And besides, when you google "McDonald's Filet-O-Fish + wine pairing" the results you get back are supposed to be funny.

20061122

Saint-Chinian and its "Veillée d'Automne" inspire seasonal squash, coated and roasted

acorn squash recipe egg omelette dish poivron recetteIf you want a good recipe for squash, common sense dictates that you should turn to the cook who dislikes this autumn vegetable. Alright, sometimes even common sense needs an explanation.

This may sound weird, but as a someone who usually shuns all types of squash, I find that I can really do these vegetables justice. I know from experience -- all those times I'm stuck with a buttercup or a hubbard -- how one can make these super-sweet gourds really sing. So if a squash non-believer like me can build a meal around it, surely all you squash-lovers out there could try my recipe.

Before I get to this dead-easy dish, a word on what inspires me to prepare squash since I don't exactly love the stuff. Basically, two things: the seasonality of squash is quite enjoyable, and so is making a wine pairing for it. In fact, the bottle pictured above was inspirational enough to get me to fix my acorn squash two ways. Coated and roasted (see recipe below) as well as in a shallot and herb omelette.

The wine was Clos Bagatelle Veillée d'Automne Saint-Chinian 2002. Something about its spicy/earthy character -- perhaps the Mourvèdre, perhaps the Syrah -- really accentuates the spice mixture I make for the squash.

In general, Saint-Chinian reds are majority Syrah blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre -- a common formula for grape blends throughout the Midi region of France. Yet Saint-Chinian wine always seems to be stamped with its own very unique profile, or at least I find it to be. Just last night I had the Clos Bagatelle Cuvée Tradition 2005 which conveyed what the réserve bottle did but with brighter tones, full of cassis and red fruit. For more on the various products from Clos Bagatelle, a forerunner of the Saint-Chinian A.O.C., including their Donnadieu brand, consult this online order form.

SAQ stocks so many Saint-Chinian wines, I'm sure that it must be the biggest carrier outside of France. So many bottles are bargains though Bagatelle may be the most trusted name. Give them a try, with or without the following food pairing. (Sometimes I like my little spice mixture so much with Saint-Chinians, I can't wait to bake -- this stuff goes great on slapped on rice crackers or crusty French bread... just open a bottle and see.)

Coated and Roasted Squash


1 acorn squash, cleaned and cut into eighths (any in-season squash will work, except maybe spaghetti squash; though butternut is probably the best type, acorn is what I had on hand)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cumin
dash of garlic powder
a few chili flakes
freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425F. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil onto a cookie sheet. Lay out the squash sections.

In a small bowl combine the ingredients of the spice mixture. Coat the sections, rubbing the mixture into the concave surface and sides. Bake until desired tenderness. About 25 minutes.

20061120

200 up: California cost, Chinese interest, and the growing value of the wine blogosphere

This is my 200th post and I've decided to let someone else do the writing. Sort of.

Check out these stimulating posts from the last few days:

I have to say that sometimes I wonder whether wine bloggers get their due. These people are doing what they know and love, and offering it free of charge to enquiring minds. And enquiring minds are getting great answers from them, not just reading through rehashes of dinner parties or stumbling through obscure journal entries, which is all that some people think wine blogs are good for.

Wineblogs are so much more than that. And I'm saying this as a wineblog reader, rather than a wineblog writer. After receiving last month's WBW prize, which I won using wine bloggers' notes to determine the origin of 15 different wines, I realized first-hand the quality of wine blogging that's out there. Under the auspices of "Where's Wino?" organizer Basic Juice, WBW participants played a game of blind faith. The idea was to label the origin of wines based on nothing more than bloggers' tasting notes for them. It turned out that nothing more than their notes was more than enough.

Had bloggers' descriptions been inaccurate or imprecise, the results could've been distrastrous -- like a game of broken telephone gone awry. But the fact is wine bloggers demonstrated their worth. They offered reliable and trustworthy notes that helped me and first runner-up Brooklynguy surmise the origin of the vast majority of these wines. That kind of descriptive ability is a valuable service, and that's on top of the great reporting (like the above) that many of these blogs provide.

If you can rely on a blogger's tasting notes to hazard a guess on where a wine is coming from, surely you can rely on those same notes to figure out whether you're likely to enjoy that wine, or whether that wine is going to suit the elaborate dinner you're preparing. And if that isn't reason enough for wine lovers to cuddle up in the blogosphere, I don't know what is.

20061115

Le Guide du Vin 2007 by Michel Phaneuf

Book review edition

Editor's note: The order originally intended for this post has been reversed.

... and while I haven't lost any admiration for Michel Phaneuf I definitely have for his publishing house.

Let me first give you a disclaimer. This is not a proper book review as the following criticisms came after only a brief scan. (But wait, isn't that what reference guides are for -- brief scanning?) Okay, I take it back. This is a real book review.

THE REAL BOOK REVIEW STARTS HERE

I have not bought this book, though I'm sure I will. No squabble would be big enough for someone like me to go without this valuable publication. But after today's glance at a copy, I've got plenty to say. What I saw over a five-minute perusal may take a real long time for me to get my head around.

Le Guide du Vin 2007 Michel PhaneufFor the 2007 edition, Le Guide du Vin introduces chapters, which are by region, that are subdivided by producer. Producer! This removes the separation of red wine reviews and white wine reviews. This is great if you're trying to get a better handle on distinguishing your Castello di Fonterutoli offerings from your Casanova di Neri offerings. It's not so great if you're having seafood and want to make a purchase based on Phaneuf's rundown of various Chablis, Muscadets or Sauvignon Blancs. To compensate for the confusing white-red intermingling, Phaneuf's rating symbology now acts to indicate whether a wine is red or white. As a result, readers now have to look at the symbols at the end of the review to determine what bottle's red and what bottle's white. They fixed what wasn't broke!

I'm sure I'll get used to it, but this move seems to be more Wine Spectator than classic Guide du Vin. The Wine Spectator wows its readership with its annual Top 100, which just started its yearly unveiling this week. The Guide du Vin is supposed to do the opposite and dumb down offerings so Quebeckers can figure out what to enjoy with their contrefilet and frites. Le Guide is a wine-buying guide; the Top 100 is not. So this new arrangement by pedigree instead something more down to earth like "red or white" is hard to swallow.

At almost 500 pages -- the same as last year's huge anniversary retrospective spectacular -- I suspect that increasingly large fonts with greater pitch are overinflating the size of this guide. The type is so unwieldy it hangs in a jumble. Illustrations are not inset with text running around them (they have no layout whatsoever leaving them to absorb massive chunks of space on the page). Even the newly introduced producer headings seem to show off the space they waste. This is the wrong idea for what is purported to be a pocketbook and a quick-reference guide. Design is key and this year's design is much less than expected.

Too Bad. Part of what excites me about Phaneuf's guides is the deft presentation of vast information delivered at a glance. This year it's like looking a PDF file permanently set to 200% view. The sense of survey is all but gone.

My best advice to readers doles out some buyer's guide wisdom that this book is lacking. Wait a couple of weeks till the end of the month and buy this book when vendors routinely discount it for 20% off.

Le Guide du Vin.
By Michel Phaneuf.
In French. Illustrated. 496 pp. Les Éditions de l’Homme. $26.95.


- 30 -

START OF POST: The much-anticipated Guide du Vin 2007 is finally out. I saw it today, a day after it was supposed to appear on shelves. Though I noticed November 14 was pushed to November 15 on some web sites, Renaud Bray did start selling it late yesterday. Some stores still don't have it. I have no idea why dates originally indicated October 24.

What's more important is that Quebec's foremost wine critic is back and guiding shoppers through the aisles of SAQ, the province's liquor monopoly. And also important, at least to me, is that I've found that my mini-reviews are on target. The wines that Michel had been writing about over the summer met the same grade that I had assigned to them in this space during the past week. This Rhone is four stars, this Cahors is three and this Sicilian is also three stars. I am really pleased with this. I think it really means something.

I am not trying to toot my own horn nor I am trying to do his job. This matters not because I can say I could predict what a real wine critic would write, but rather because it solidifies his book as a suitable guide for me, especially the French wine section of it. We're on the page, so to speak. I tend to like what he likes, which is valuable asset when Phaneuf tastes as many wines as he does.

Finding a reputable wine-buying source with whom you can identity is far from a given. Just ask any Parker-fearing wine blogger such as myself...

Return to top for original flow of post.

20061114

A Weekend Without Wine: Tea time

bigelow green tea earl grey stash english breakfast twinings lady grey teabags

How many winos out there have ever taken tea leave? I have. This is my story.

I am a regular wine drinker. If a day goes by without having a glass, I know something's wrong. I've caught a cold and can't taste anything. I have a sore throat and don't have an appetite. Or I'm eating Chinese food (not that there's anything wrong with that) and uncorking a bottle would seem like a waste.

The day before yesterday I was so busy working that I had no time for a proper dinner and as I was lying down in bed I suddenly realized how out of whack the world was. Had I not had a glass of wine? I wasn't sick. My kitchen was well-stocked. What's wrong with me that I've skipped out on a drink? I didn't like how this felt. Something about it felt very very wrong -- I didn't drink though nothing was wrong, which is so wrong!

Looking at the clock approaching midnight from my pillow, I held still. I braced myself as I thought of leaping from the bed and storming into the kitchen to rip open a bottle. I could have a nightcap. I could take a little moment here.

T IS FOR TIME

But I wasn't moving. I think that's because I realized that wine calls out for more than a clear nose, an appetite, or an attractive food complement. Wine calls out for time. Indeed, time. The wee hours of Monday morning tend not to offer that and so I turned over and went to sleep.

stash English breakfast red teabag packetBut back for a moment to the Weekend Without Wine that this post refers to. In the middle of last month I managed to acquire a cold smack at the end of the workweek, as luck would have it. My weekend was decided for me. I faced a bevy of numerous and sundry teas, all served hot so as to soothe, all taken throughout the day at various times and with meals. The switch was instinctual I guess you could say.

Yes, with my cold, substituting teas for my usual glasses of wine was immediate. I drank teas, and my stuffed-up self managed to get some sense of aroma from the penetrating heat. I drank teas and more teas and appreciated their flavours.

T IS FOR TANNIN

tea earl grey blue teabag wrapperI used to think tea was the teetotaler's perfect answer to wine. Both drinks are tannic, tend to have bouquets, and in general offer heightened taste experiences in liquid form. I respected tea's structure like I did a fine wine's, and went so far as to give them the wine tasting treatment. Yes I actually made tea tasting notes!

But how could tea and wine be more different if the only time I have tea is when I've ruled out wine. Unlike wine, tea doesn't require a clear nose. Tea doesn't require an appetite. Tea doesn't require an attractive food complement. Tea doesn't even require time! I'm practically having tea in mind as I write this.

T IS FOR TASTING NOTE

bigelow green tea packetI expected to have something well-researched and insightful to say about tannic connection between wine and tea, but it turns out that I don't. I'm already moving on to the next T - Tasting. (It is interesting though how Wikipedia's entry on tannin swiftly goes from tea to wine to pomegranates to leather; and how the discussion on wine and tea both explain how we go to great lengths to minimize the tannic quality in our brews -- don't steep tea too long and always avoid press wine, which doesn't extract juices through gentle crushing.)

But I digress. Here are those tea tasting notes I wrote up.

Listed in order of serving:

Stash English Breakfast
Bigelow Earl Grey Green
Celestial Seasonings Green Tea

Lipton Orange Pekoe
Twinings Lady Grey
President's Choice Ginger & Peach Herbal Tea

Twinings Earl Grey


The green teas generally paired better when served with dinner meals or after dinner, however its level of caffeine could be considered an drawback of enjoying its strong flavour profile, its depth and its firm tannic finish.

Teas flavoured with bergamot, orange, and lemon were well-suited to light desserts and breakfast meals, especially breakfast loaves and breads. The citrus tones complement the yeastiness in the food.

English Breakfast could be a meal in a cup it is so full-bodied. The only one that could survive in the face of fatty foods and weighty dishes.

Summary: Each tea was so different that I liked them all in their own particular way. The Bigelow, in trying to compromise, is probably my least favourite. The blend is a nice idea but here it is not executed as well as could. The green overpowers the grey; the result seems disjointed. Both the Stash English Breakfast and Twinings Earl Grey are fine teas that I would return to any day.

20061113

Domaine Labrande 2001: mini review

I'm writing mini reviews in anticipation of the annual Quebec-centric Guide du Vin compiled by local wine chronicler Michel Phaneuf. And I am finding that I love the process. There's something about the earnest organization involved in maintaining constant tabs on wine production from around the world that really is exhilarating, in a geeky way. Lately I'm realizing that a lot of people do this very well, not just Michel Phaneuf or say Jancis Robinson.

Alice Feiring is one of the most fiercely dedicated chroniclers of natural wine produce. She just put up a two-part post explaining her most recent "dog and pony" show where natural wines like those of Clos Roche Blanche went head-to-head with Yellow Tail in a blind taste test. The way she explains the events, you'll find yourself laughing when you least expect it. She is always a very funny read, often poignant and a real writer. But with posts like these ones, it's clear that chronicling the wine she loves, vintage after vintage, is what drives her.

Turning to Quaffability, a blog I refer to a lot yet for some strange reason do not feature in my link list [I've added it now], you get another picture of the committed wine chronicler. After publishing his blog for over a year now, John G realizes that his regular and long-term attention to the wines he enjoys gives him a chance to assess the history of a wine. Casillero del Diablo, an everyday wine I've sampled myself over the years, gave me a real shot of recognition when I read it. This is what it's all about.

Domain Labrand Cahor 2001Domaine Labrande Cahors 2001 $12.65 (on sale)

Baldès owns the land, Clos Triguedina is the estate, yet this Québécois op Labrande is the name that appears on the label. I remember recognizing it as a bargain in the late nineties, and its quality-price ratio has only gotten better. The 2001 is as strong as the 2000, and drinking well now. The current vintage is spicier -- there are intense aromas of star anise, orange peel in throes of a tannic grip, earthy spices, and nice fruit. It's fairly full in body and loves food.

Ranking: 2 (but drink now like it's a "1" if you want to enjoy the bright anise tones)

***½

20061110

Perrin Réserve 2004: mini review

Perrin Reserve côtes-du-rhône 2004Perrin Réserve Côtes du Rhône 2004 $15.85

Switching now to mini reviews of red wine, this Rhône red has long been a staple among my circle of friends. After the hot 2003, the 2004 is easier-drinking if no more balanced. Beautifully pure fruit flavours and notes of spice with light-to-medium body. Fantastic with simply prepared meals like roast chicken. (SAQ's descriptive record -- click on the bottle -- suggests fancier dishes like duck but that's not at all what comes to my mind; their comment that this wine is "very dark red, almost opaque" strikes me as just plain wrong).

Ranking: 1

****

20061109

Penfolds Rawson's Retreat Sémillon/Chardonnay 2004: mini review

Penfold's Rawsons Retreat Semillon Chardonnay Southeastern Australia 2004Penfolds Rawson's Retreat Sémillon/Chardonnay South Eastern Australia 2004 $12.95

There may not be a broader appellation than South Eastern Australia and to it I've vaguely tagged the grapes for this entry "White" -- but make no mistake about it, this blend of two big international varieties yields a very distinctive wine that's far from generic. Rawson's Retreat Sémillon/ Chardonnay is quite unique. It's a particularly striking contrast to Sémillon blends from Graves, for instance. Bordeaux expressions tend to be a wee bit racy and full of complexity with mineral notes and levels of spiciness so rich that it can recall nutmeg, but clearly Australia can produce a more attacking Sémillon. This is sweet and cocktail-like, with bright lemon-lime notes, which might be largely imparted from the Chardonnay. Interesting blend and one that is quite Aussie. I see that the 2005 vintage has already been released.

Ranking: 1
***

[I posted this review earlier today not realizing that Michel Phaneuf had indeed reviewed this bottle in his last edition (p. 358) which diminishes the urgency of my current little mini review exercise, however I'm glad I went through the paces anyway as it's interesting to compare how similar our remarks were: he commented that the affect of the Sémillon added to the Chardonnay was distinctive whereas I made basically the same comment but inversed it, separating out the affect of the Chardonnay added to the Sémillon; he gave it three stars as I did but then he promoted it to "bargain" status.]

20061108

WBW #27 Icewine: Graf Hardegg Steinbugel Seefeld Weinviertel 2002

graf hardegg riesling eiswein steinbugel seefeld weinviertel 2002
It was a pleasure to be able to have my first encounter with an Austrian wine for WBW #27 Icewine, hosted by the The Kitchen Chick. And, being the Niagara boy that I am, I've had plenty of icewines, but never an eiswein. (Rarely does the New World obscure the Old World in my wine repertoire -- I think this must've been the only exception to that.) It's great to have finally tasted the European stuff with this bottle of Graf Hardegg Riesling Eiswein Steinbugel Seefeld Weinviertel 2002, which is quite a mouthful -- both saying it and drinking it. But before I get to the tasting notes...

graf hardegg riesling eiswein steinbugel seefeld weinviertel 2002Ahead of uncorking this eiswein, I found myself taken in by some interesting cultural-political markings on the bottle label. The crest was beautiful and the label it was on was even more striking. A minimal design on lovely parchment. To top it all off, the capsule was one of the most miraculous I've seen. It was copper-swathed along the shaft and at the cap a round version of the Austrian red-white-red triband proudly displayed a clever dot-matrix black eagle surrounded by more dot matrix printing, somehow done in a circle. A little background on Austrian symbology and legend is here, if you're interested. Personally I just liked admiring these decorations, making sure I got my money's worth.

Yes, all icewine is expensive, and this eiswein is no different, though I did get a good deal on Graf Hardegg Riesling Eiswein. So finally I went in to taste it.

A golden hue and an immediate aroma of petrol poured out, reminding me of the best Rieslings I have tried. This was a good sign. On the palate, the first sensation was of buttery viscosity. There was honey, agrume flavours, great depth. A nice prickly feeling around the edges of my tongue confirmed that this Riesling expressed its acidity and forged great structure and length. I found this assessment of the wine online:

Schlossweingut Graf Hardegg, in the Weinviertel, "produces brilliant eisweins from riesling with a very fresh, clean bouquet that brings to mind extremely cold but clear winter days in northern Austria." These eisweins, he believes, "are not sticky but quite lean, elegantly structured and very, very impressive.
I would agree. (Jamie Goode has a page on the wines of Graf Hardegg.)

As this was an occasion to taste such luxurious stuff, I had planned ahead for a suitable dessert pairing. A tart of apricots and pistachios echoed the sharpened and sweet fruit flavours. And it was while having dessert that my fellow diner Eric pondered over the Graf Hardegg back label, written in German -- a language he knows well. We could tell that the information was describing the harvest of the frozen grapes, supplying the exact location, date, and time of day, but most was not a term he made sense of, as in Most 31° KMW. I blurted out something about wind direction and then we proceeded to go through about four translation dictionaries before we finally figured it out by simply pulling out the Oxford Companion I bought last month. It ain't wind.

THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

The entry for the initialism KMW was the easiest to locate immediately. I found that it stands for Klosterneuburger Mostwage, which is Austria's standard measure for grape ripeness or "must" weight. And must weight is important because it indicates the concentration of dissolved compounds -- about 90% of which are sugars. This of course determines fermentation and what the final alcohol content of the wine will be.

In this case, 31° KMW came out to 11% alcohol for this eiswein. But I what I still need to examine is why -- after drinking no more than 150 millilitres of this, and after having had only a couple of glasses of red wine, all of which taken with plenty of food -- why did I wake up the next morning with a cloudy head that shaped up to be one of the nastiest headaches I have had in a long while?

Eiswein virgin perhaps?

Schlossweingut Graf Hardegg, Steinbugel Seefeld Weinviertel, Österreich. 11%.

20061107

Making do with mini reviews: Corvo Duca di Salaparuta 2005 (bianco)

le guide du vin 2007 michel phaneufNote: Yesterday I trumpeted the upcoming release of Michel Phaneuf's Le Guide du Vin 2007 hoping that today would be the day that wine lovers would find it on sale in bookstores. Not so. Librarie Renaud Bray, which probably has more copies on order than anyone, is still awaiting shipment and none of its stores have it. Since Tuesday is usually the day of book releases, the guide likely will be delayed for at least a week (online catalogs seem to have replaced a date of October 24 with November 14). I've also now heard that Phaneuf's publishers will savour the timing offered by the Salon des Livres happening November 16 to 20 in Montreal.

Weingolb will now present some tiny reviews I've done in the Phaneuf style. Over the next week -- except for tomorrow which is Wine Blogging Wednesday -- I will use star ratings and cellaring rankings to evaluate wines, and the wines will be ones that Phaneuf has assessed but in previous years. No, it won't replace the need for a new Guide du Vin but it may satisfy the intense desire for a wine buying guide that always hits around this time of year.

Corvo Duca di Salaparuta (bianco) Sicilia 2005 $13.55

The regional grape varieties in this intriguing blend are Inzolia (sometimes written Insolia) and Grecanico. The resulting wine is appley, but very nicely structured. This is a bargain. Inzolia typically makes quite a meaty wine for a white, offering body and richness. With some spritz provided by the Grecanico grape, Corvo supplies superior refreshment value with some dimension to it.

Drink young for its full flavour profile: 1

***½ (Three and a half stars, or three stars plus extra mark for being a bargain)

20061106

At home in one's glass

michel phaneuf guide du vinMichel Phaneuf and Cuvée réZin Nature - two big reasons why it's great to be in Quebec and drinking wine

As much as I enjoyed exploring New York, discovering new tastes and meeting new people, it is very nice to be back home.

November is always a great time for the wine lover in Montreal. For starters, Quebec's premier wine writer Michel Phaneuf publishes Le Guide du Vin -- more or less required reading for shoppers at the government-run provincial wine seller, SAQ. The book, which weighed in bigger than ever last fall for its 25th anniversary edition, is traditionally released in early November, offering value-based guidance on virtually all of SAQ's general repertory and very many of the spécialités found in select stores across the province.

The guide is indeed in French, but it is infinitely useful at a glance, as most better guides strive to be. Reviews are arranged intuitively by wine region and assessments come with more than descriptive notes. There are star ratings, rankings for wine evolution, and other symbology along with plenty of practical lists extracted for the reader into a simple and informational format. A little knowledge of French will help you maximize the usefulness of this book but pretty much everyone can refer to it and make themselves an informed purchase.

Usually, I favour descriptive notes on wine over any type of wine scoring, but Phaneuf's succinct reviews feature a five-star system that seems quite appropriate, especially when you consider his guide is conveying the SAQ repertoire within a pocketbook. Beyond that, I admire how he places the greatest emphasis on wine bargains and exceptional bottles (called Les Aubaines and Les Grappes d'or respectively). These worthy wines are endorsed as the cream of the crop without being ordered into a top one hundred or what have you.

Expect Le Guide du Vin 2007 in bookstores within a week's time.

rézin cuvée thierry puzelat 2005 Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Clermont-Beaudoin blancThe other notable wine event on the Montreal wine calendar is the annual fall launch of the Cuvée réZin. réZin is a local distributor and private importer that routinely comes out with its own "house wine" and then sells the stuff under its Importation Sauvage collection. These cuvées represent the Quebec agency in its unique, usually all-natural, refreshing approach to wine.

For 2005's edition, renowned Loire winemaker Thierry Puzelat has once again been recruited and the resulting wine was tasted last Wednesday at réZin's launch party. Not only was what I tasted delicious, it inspired me to play Michel Phaneuf -- if only en attendant -- while the wait for the 2007 Guide continues.

Cuvée réZin blanc J. Clermont-Beaudoin 2005 Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France - Vibrant and mineraly with a strong northern profile: grippy and grassy but floral, and with more depth than pucker. This is substantial support for the Loire as the greatest site for Sauvignon bar none. It's a bonus this wine is all natural. "1" (drink now). ****

20061102

The city waits for no one

Manhattan moves fast. There's no stopping it. And so too do Manhattan bloggers. Yesterday, The Shophound scooped me (but Shophound sounds like nice people -- they at least left behind a link to Weingolb so I'm not totally spun out in their dust).

evicted tenants on madison avenue
manrico moves in soup burg bust

The removal of Madison Avenue's Soup Burg has been swift, to say the least. The new luxury clothing store that is taking its spot on the Upper East Side seems to be visibly moving in with each shutter opening on my camera. Blink and you might miss it.

soup burg on lexington sign of the timesThe Soup Burg diner, a restaurant I profiled over the summer just before it shut its doors, was a unique landmark on the UES turf. It was odd. It stood out. It wasn't at all cashmere; it was more like chamois, worn but still useful.

Come to think of it, Soup Burg in 2006 was more Madison Street than Madison Avenue. It was almost like the tiny eatery was in constant Halloween costume at the corner of 73rd St. It really belonged with the other Manhattan Madison.

And no one really mentioned it as it closed. Lord Norman Foster's project to add 30 stories to a building in need of renovation across from the Carlyle Hotel, just three blocks north from this intersection -- that change to the street scene was met with derision. The ambitious addition would make this posh area of the Upper East Side seem less like Paris, with its steady flow of architecturely similar seven-storey buildings. Lord Foster's plan to make five floors multiply up into the sky not be accepted. It would change the tone too much, or so it was deemed.

Somehow, without any impact on the surrounding architecture, the Soup Burg changed the tone of this section of the neighbourhood and changed it immensely.

But now it is gone. Did anyone blink?




nostalgic photo soup burg in happier times

20061101

Gourmet donuts, defined

doughnuts plant grand avenue lower east side bakery

Of all the things I've learned about New York, three single things encapsulate all the travelling gourmand needs to know. Quality coffee is scarce, wine selection is plentiful, and food portions are gargantuan to a fault.

So go to the great 9th St Espresso, enjoy the many fine wine shops that the island of Manhattan has to offer, and know that only mediocre kitchens overfill customers' plates (Monday's trip to A.O.C. Bedford was a shining example of how better restaurants have a real conception of serving sizes).

fresh daily doughnut rackBut this post is NOT about oversized portions. Yes, the doughnuts you see here are large, and yes they are served out of a huge galley on Grand Street that draws big crowds (consider yourself lucky if you can find room inside the building to stand in line, let alone to eat your purchase). And when I was there to order a half dozen, I was not allowed to leave without agreeing to a baker's half dozen. Hmph. Size matters.

BIG APPLE BEIGNETS

Doughnut Plant is all about being big but proportioned. Make no mistake about it; these delicacies are just the right size, as my vigorous testing on sample sizes shown above concluded beyond a doubt.

Largeness is constitutive for Doughnut Plant doughnuts. Why? That's a bit of a surprise. These doughnuts have holes have in them like you might expect, but many of them are actually filled in various areas inside the ring. A trail of fruit that trace out the shape of these adorably unctuous loops of dough. (Sorry to spoil the shock of delight.) So these things need to be big. Please give the people who make them the real estate they need to do their thing.

Doughnut Plant doughnut makers capitalize on the space they grant themselves in another way. To sizable volume they inject magnificent flavours from a sweeping list like ginger, Valrhona chocolate, vanilla bean, rosewater, pumpkin, real spiced apples, and peanut butter and raspberry jelly. Those are just the ones I tasted last week. There are more. Many more, all with big mouthfilling sensations harnessed in an appropriately sized torus deep-fried in fat and coated with sugar.

the donut plant on grand avenue new york lower east side factory of fried dough