Champagne Friday: MONTSARRA Brut Cava, NV

WELL,it is Friday but this is little “c” rather than big “C” champagne. Which is to say that it is not real Champagne but rather Cava from Spain. Even though they can no longer use the term, Cava producers utilize the methode champenoise (the classic Champagne process) in producing their wines. As Cava producers go, Montsarra is on the small side and as smaller Cava producers go, on the traditional side in that they use only the three classic native varieties (Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo) rather than adding in Chardonnay and even Pinot Noir.

MONTSARRA Brut, Cava (Spain), NV ($17)

A blend of 65% Macabeo, 17.5% Parellada, and 17.5% Xarel-lo grown on a 99 acre estate near Torrelles de Foix in the classic Penedes part of the larger (and non-contiguous) Cava zone, fermented using methode champenoise, and aged 18 months on the lees in the bottle before disgorging. Finished at 12% AbV.   Sensory: Medium straw in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity.  Clean but classic Cava offering toasty-yeasty notes with some mineral earth supporting citrus and an essence of earthy red fruit. Has a welcome richness and enough weight to accompany food. Think of Montsarra as the entry level to “top tier” Cava; it is way past the high-volume mass market offerings that come in black bottles or sport fake French names. 90+. We have often enjoyed this with a range of tapas and recently had a bottle with grilled lamb served over a hearty spinach-and-spring-mix salad with red grapes, blue cheese, and black walnuts.

Wine of the Week: OPUS ONE 2009

OPUS is a consistent personal favorite Napa Valley Cabernet-based red. It fits in with my other favorites such as Araujo, Quintessa, Dunn, Snowden, Oakville East, Kenefick, Shafer, The Fourteen, Reynold’s Family Reserve, etc. in that the flavor of ripe (but not over-ripe) Cabernet comes through with its tobacco, cedar, black pepper nuance intact. It does not taste of chocolate or chocolate syrup. It is elegant, balanced, and has the acidity to go the distance. This is what Cabernet-based Napa Valley red wine is all about and what current wave of ripeness and extraction hounds have gotten too far away from. If this is old school, I guess that makes me an old school kind of guy. Oh, and I’ll take that steak to go with it rare-to-medium-rare with a nice crust on it.

OPUS ONE, Napa Valley, 2009  ($205)

A blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6%, Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, and 1% Malbec macerated for 20 days (including fermentation) and aged 17 months in all new French oak barrels.  Bottled un-fined at 14.5% AbV one year prior to release. Sensory: Deep-purple-black in color with well formed legs that stain the glass; dry, medium-full-bodied with a fresh balance and chewy but well-integrated phenols (tannins).   Supple, juicy, beautifully balanced. Offers red and black fruit with notes of tobacco, spice, black pepper, cedar. Dusty oak and earth. Lovely integration. Elegant. Rich but very approachable with a classic dusty feel in the mouth. YUM. 97+. In the short term, a splash through a decanter wouldn’t do it any harm. Neither would serving it in large glasses that allow for some vigorous swirling. Longer term, this 2009 Opus is a wine with a demonstrated track record that will easily repay aging for twenty or more years.

Champagne Friday: DOM PERIGNON Oenotheque Brut Champagne, 1996

Riedel Vinum Riesling Glass

WHAT DOES IT TAKE to reduce three grown men with over 80 years of wine trade and tasting experience to giggling like a trio of tippling teenagers? Maybe it takes what may be the best bottle of Champagne I have ever tasted – Dom Perignon Oenotheque 1996. Back on October 5th of 2012, Wayne Hannah of Glazer’s, Robert Gilroy of LVMH, and I were tasting in my office when Robert opened and poured a bottle of Dom Perignon Oenotheque 1996 into Riedel Vinum Grand Cru Riesling glasses (which are both my standard tasting glass and my favorite for drinking vinous Chamapgne). I picked up the glass and tasted it and … nothing. The fizzy gold-leaning-toward-bronze liquid in the glass showed me nothing. The nose was completely closed and the first taste was just wet. I looked over at Robert who had just tasted the wine and he had a horrified look on his face. Rather than saying anything, I gently swirled the wine in my glass (yes, you can swirl Champagne). When I tasted it again, it was better. Actually it was excellent and it quickly moved to outstanding. After maybe five minutes, all three of us were giddy over how good it was. And we stayed giddy as we kept coming back to it as we tasted several other wines. Is this the best Champagne I’ve ever tasted? I can’t remember another that was better. This is a Champagne worthy of decanting.

DOM PÉRIGNON OENOTHÈQUE BLANC, Champagne, 1996  ($370.00 – price corrected down from $670)  

Tech Note: 12.5% Alcohol. The blend is unnpublished but the producer notes that typically, there is “a commensurate amount of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in any given year of Dom Perignon.” Whatever the blend, the cuvee was aged 15 years on the yeasts before disgorment and finishing.     Sensory Note: pale-gold-straw in color,  and  with sparkling; dry, medium bodied with fresh acidity and minimal phenolics.    Pale gold color. Starts with nothing and then … WOW!. Changes in the mouth with richness and flavor added to richness. The color actually lightened in the glass after it was poured. Has the minerality of a grand cru chablis along with lemony citrus and darker red fruit. The complex and complete flavors come in waves. Super length with the toasty Champagne character completely integrated. Stunning. This is Champagne as WINE and really outstanding wine at that. Drink this from wine glasses rather than flutes or tulips. Consider decanting it.  BS: 100.

Champagne Quote: (I never imagined I would use this one but it seems appropriate.)

I am drinking the stars. – attributed to Dom Perignon

Wine of the Week: EXPRESSION 44° Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills (Oregon), 2010

So last night at dinner at Charivari, we (that would be me and 33 of my nearest and dearest)  tasted (OK, drank) ten different wines. I really liked nine of them – and the tenth wasn’t bad but it wasn’t showing nearly as well as it should have. The one that really stood out for me was the 2010 EXPRESSION 44° Pinot Noir  from the Eola-Amity Hills area of the Willamette (remember it’s “Will-am-it, Damn it”) Valley in Oregon. It was perfect with an elegant duck leg and wilted grains. The pairing made me think of Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing. This wine would be brilliant. Now, if only I can finish with my Turkey as moist as that duck leg. At least I know that with this Expression 44°, the wine will be perfect.

EXPRESSION 44° Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills (Oregon), 2010 ($41)

Tech: 13.9% Alcohol.  100% Pinot Noir (whole berries with some whole clusters) given a seven day cold soak before fermentation (open tops with punch-downs and some pump-overs) and aging 11 months in all French oak barrels (no new barrels).   Sensory: Medium-red-purple in color with well formed legs; dry and medium-bodied with refreshing acidity.  Supple with lots of ripe red and some black mostly cherry fruit accented with earth and mocha with notes of black pepper and subtle oak. Very tasty and easy to drink. Elegant, Alive, Delicious. BS: 92+. Perfect delicious wine to pair with, you know, that bird.

Champagne Friday: GOSSET Brut Excellence

A few weeks back, I tasted Gosset Brut Excellence and thought “This is a winner.” Last weekend, it was. A winner that is. Gosset Brut Excellence won the award (a pair of chaps) for the top Sparkling wine in the 2013 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. The chaps come in addition to the Class Champion belt buckle and Double Gold medal it had already won. A winner indeed. My note from a few weeks back:

GOSSET Brut Excellence, Champagne, NV ($41)
Tech: 12% Alcohol. A blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 36% Chardonnay, and 19% Pinot Meunier sourced primarily from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. Gosset bases this blend on three vintages and then adds 20% reserve wines (wines aged in a sort of solera with many vintages blended together). The wine spends over 2.5 years en tirage (resting on the lees before disgorging). Sensory: Medium straw in color with a hint of green highlights. Dry, light-to-medium-bodied with crisp acidity and scant phenolics. Focused, classy, classic, and delicious. Tart lemon-citrus fruit with some some subtle red fruit notes along with lots of toast and a lot of minerals. Fine style. Gets richer and more satisfying as it warms and flattens (which I like very much). Delicious. BS: 92.

This week’s CHAMPAGNE QUOTE: “One holds a bottle of red wine by the neck, a woman by the waist, and a bottle of champagne by the derriere.” – Mark Twain

Thanksgiving Malaise … but the show must go on

I’m thankful for lots of things. I am thankful for the food and wine I eat and drink, the home I live in, the peace and prosperity I enjoy. I am thankful for my job at Spec’s, the church I attend, for my friends and family, for my freedom. And I am thankful for the coming holiday meal or meals but I just can’t do it. I just can’t write another article extolling the virtues of pairing this wine or that with the Thanksgiving meal.

In 2011, I wrote about pairing Champagne and Bordeaux with a wine tailored version of the traditional feast. In 2010, I wrote about pairing Beaujolais (specifically the top Beaujolais-Villages and Cru wines from the excellent 2009 vintage) with the Thanksgiving feed. Before that, it seems like I wrote something each year recommending Riesling and Pinot Noir. It’s not that I don’t like Beaujolais or Champagne or red Bordeaux anymore. Perish the thought. Nor is it that I somehow don’t like Riesling and Pinot anymore. I do still like them and I will be drinking them this year on Thanksgiving. It’s just that I feel like I have said (or at least written) whatever I have to say (at least for now) on the topic of pairing wine with the various variations of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

So one more time, with feeling: Riesling is a great match for Thanksgiving appetizers and Pinot Noir is the best wine to pair with turkey (whether roasted or deep fried in peanut oil). Amen. Please pass the gravy.

For my 2011 Champagne and Bordeaux Thanksgiving article, please go to http://www.specsonline.com/pdf/bear_Thanksgiving.pdf. None of my previous Thanksgiving efforts are still archived on the Spec’s website so I’m including and update of one below.

 

Giving Thanks and Drinking Wine (Updated)

This time of year reminds me that I have a lot to be thankful for. While I don’t think of it everyday, I live in good health and enjoy peace and prosperity. I enjoy my family and friends and have a lot of them. I have a great job. I enjoy the freedom to live where and as I want and the freedom to worship as I see fit. I am thankful for the wine I get to drink. I have much to be thankful for and, apparently so do many of my friends and customers. They are already asking me “What wines are you drinking for Thanksgiving?” The general answer is the same every year but the details change. Before I get into the specifics of the answer, let’s look at the challenge of the Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving is the most American of all our holidays and its attendant feast may be the most American of all meals. The holiday comes down to us from the some of our earliest European settlers. The feast is traditionally centered on the turkey (which Ben Franklin thought should have been our national bird) but offers a place for new foods from the many cultures feeding into the American melting pot. Every year, this Thanksgiving feast presents lovers of food and wine with a dilemma. Do we dial back the wine and let the traditional foods shine? Or do we dial back some of the tradition to make the meal more wine friendly? Is there middle ground?

For some wine lovers, the holiday is a chance to bring out their best wines and dazzle their friends, whether casual wine drinkers or fellow aficionados. As satisfying as this can be, there is also the potential for real disappointment if the wine and food don’t pair well or if the treasured bottle is overwhelmed by a traditional menu.

For many families, the traditional Thanksgiving foods are sacrosanct. Aunt Betty’s sweet-and-sour-jalapeno-pickles HAVE to be on the table along with Grandma’s buttered-mashed-yams-with-bananas-honey-and-marshmallows. Of course, these accompany Uncle Bubba’s Cajun fried turkey (“Kids – keep your distance from both Uncle Bubba and the fryer”) with oven-baked jalapeno-oyster-cornbread stuffing and a dozen or so other exotic must-have dishes. How do you pair wine with all that?

In most every Thanksgiving tradition, the turkey is the centerpiece of the meal. By itself, a properly roasted Turkey doesn’t cause any wine pairing problems. It tastes great with almost everything from light fruity whites to the fullest-bodied Chardonnays, and from the lightest, fruitiest reds (such as Beaujolais) to an elegant, perfectly-aged red Bordeaux. Season that simple roast turkey with certain spices or push a typical Italian basil-and-pine-nut-pesto between the skin and the meat and you narrow the wine field a bit. The same is true of that flavor-injected, Cajun-seasoned, deep-fried turkey. Add regional stuffing variations and the typical side dishes that grace many Thanksgiving tables and the difficulties are compounded. Many of the traditional garnishes and relishes include salty, vinegary, and/or pickled flavors. Candied yams and cranberry sauce are each sweet enough to cause lots of wine problems. While I never have figured out which wine goes best with deviled eggs, I still eat ‘em.

Add to all-of-the-above the fact that Thanksgiving has become a melting pot holiday. As cultural traditions from family and friends are merged into the traditional Thanksgiving celebration, Cajun, Italian, Mexican, African, and Asian seasonings, flavors, and techniques are finding a place as part of this most American feast. Fish sauce finds its way into the marinade. Mole may appear as a sauce for the turkey. Chiles grace the table and may be included in recipes. Pot-stickers, spring rolls, piroshki, egg rolls, or empanadas are as likely as boiled shrimp or deviled eggs to appear as appetizers. Anyone up for Jamaican-jerked-turkey?

Two more challenges to consider: Many who enjoy wine with their Thanksgiving dinner only occasionally drink wine (and may not be used to drinking really dry wines at all). And some (many?) turkeys are, regrettably, a bit dry by the time they’re served. It’s also good to remember that at this meal, perhaps more than any other, the traditional foods (from whatever traditions) really are the stars. In most cases, the wine – however good it may be – is in at best a co-star and is more likely playing a supporting role.

So, what’s a wine lover to do? The way I see it, we have three choices. A food and wine free-for-all with no real plan is the easiest … and you might get lucky. In this case, serve the wines you and your family and friends most like to drink on an everyday basis and let the chips fall where they will. Chances are most people will enjoy the food and the wine – but there will be only a limited possibility for the thrill of a great match.

The second choice is for one person to control all the food choices so that everything works well with the sort of wine served. If a treasured bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or red Bordeaux is the desired accompaniment, a simple roast bird seasoned with olive oil, rosemary, and a hint of garlic and served with a savory bread pudding (in lieu of soggy stuffing), mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, and a simple green bean dish will do admirably. But beware the cranberry sauce, yams, assorted pickles (I love pickled baby corn at Thanksgiving), Cajun spice, or jalapeno cornbread stuffing. This option may work best for a smaller celebration or for another meal besides the Thursday Thanksgiving feast. It is how I plan my normal dinner parties – but Thanksgiving is a bit different.

The third choice is my favorite: Turn everyone loose to contribute and create. Have a bird or two or three at the center of things and combine it all with a range of wines designed to refresh and accompany the broadest possible range of flavors. Some years back, I hosted a Thanksgiving meal where we had twenty-seven adults (family, friends, and strays) and a double handful of kids in one house.  Guests originated from various parts of the US as well as Mexico, Vietnam, China, Russia, and the Middle East – and they all contributed to the mix of food on the table. Our appetizers included lobster and scallop pot-stickers, piroshki, a multi-layered Tex-Mex dip, boiled shrimp, and baked oysters. For the main course, we had a roast turkey, a deep-fried turkey, and a roast goose. I lost track of how many side dishes both traditional and nontraditional were offered.  It was a riot of flavor and fun. And the wines were good.

To get down to specifics for this year:  At our house, we are going to drink Riesling and Pinot Noir this Thanksgiving (but more than one of each). The Rieslings will be served starting about 10:30AM while the cooking and pre-lunch nibbling is going on. We will continue to offer them through lunch to those who are so inclined but I will switch over to Pinot Noir as soon as I begin to carve the bird. While I like Zinfandel and Syrah, my number one choice for red wine with Turkey is Pinot Noir.

For Thanksgiving dinner, super depth and complexity are not necessary; maximum versatility and an invitingly comfortable, even “glug-able” character with lots of fruit are required.  The key to success is lots of fruit and flavor and little, if any, obvious oak character. Fruit and a hint (or more) of sweetness helps offset any spice and makes a better match with any smoky, sweet, and/or vinegary dishes. As tannic and/or oaky wines generally clash with salt, smoke, peppery spice (other than black pepper), and chilies so, I avoid most Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and oak-influenced Chardonnay. Fresh, fruity flavors allow the food to shine and serve to refresh the palate so I generally serve younger wines at Thanksgiving.

So what am I having? Here’s my Thanksgiving wine shopping list.

RIESLING
Donnhoff Estate Riesling of Donnhoff Kreuznacher Krotenpfuhl Riesling Kabinett 2011
Chateau Ste. Michelle – Dr. Loosen “Eroica” Riesling Washington State 2011
Kesselstatt Estate Riesling Qba 2011
Prinz Su Salm “Two Princes” Riesling QbA 2010
Schloss Vollrads Riesling Qba 2010
Selbach Riesling QbA 2010

PINOT NOIR
Talmadge Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands 2008
Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Santa Barbara 2009
Routestock Pinot Noir Oregon 2009
Healdsburg Ranches Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2010
Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Willamette 2010
Henri de Villamont Savigny les Beaune “Clos des Guettes” 1er Cru 2010
Remoissenet Beaune-Greves 1er Cru 2008

And of course we will need some BUBBLY:
Marniquet Brut Tradition Champagne NV
Montsarra Cava Brut (Spain) NV
Gruet Blanc De Noir Sparkling (New Mexico) NV
Varichon & Clerc Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling (Savoie, France) NV

A Thanksgiving Blessing

Lord God, Heavenly Father we bless You and thank You for this food and this wine which You have given us to nourish our bodies and make glad our hearts. We thank You for our families, our friends, and our freedoms. We thank You for this day of rest and reflection. And we thank You for the peace and prosperity that we enjoy in the midst of an often chaotic world. Grant us Your comfort, Your strength, and Your Peace. All of this we pray in the name of Your Son our savior Jesus. Amen.

Numanthia Tasted and Drunk

Wind blown old vine growing in the deep sands of Toro

Back on October 5, I tasted the three wines from the Numanthia Winery in Toro (Spain). In ascending order of price and quality, they are Termes, Numanthia, and Termanthia. Last night (11/14/2012), I got to drink these same wines and a couple more with dinner. When I tasted them in my office, we tasted out of excellent tasting glasses (Riedel Vinum Riesling Grand Cru which I use for virtually all of my extensive in-office tasting as well as for my everyday glass at home). Last night at dinner, we were drinking out of Riedel Vinum Bordeaux glasses. In my office, the Numanthia wines followed three amazing Tete de Cuvee Champagnes: Dom Perignon “Oenotheque” 1996, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1998, and Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 1992. Last night the Numanthia wines followed an aperitif of Krug Grand Cuvee.

Here are my notes from October and from last night.

TERMES, Toro, 2009  ($26.00)
In my office: Tech: 14.5% Alcohol. 100% Tinta de Toro (which may or may not be Tempranillo) fermented using pump-overs and aged 14 months in French oak barrels (20% new) and bottled without filtration or fining. The unique vineyards feature un-grafted vines planted in deep sand. Average vine age is 30 years for Termes.     Sensory: Purple in color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with balanced acidity; medium and chewy phenolics.  Dark earthy coffee scented Spanish red. Rustic, subtle leather and spice with a hint of cocoa. Somehow both fresh and rustic. MAybe best with simple grilled meats. BS: 90.
At Dinner: When compared side by side with three vintages of Numanthia, the Termes comes of as fresher and lighter, more open and quite ready to drink although it benefited from the larger glass and a fair amount of swirling. A rough decanting might have served it well. It stayed fresh for the whole two and a half hours we were at the table. Based on its performance last night, I’d bump the score to 91.

NUMANTHIA Toro, 2008 ($54.00)
In my office: Tech: 14.5% Alcohol. 100% Tinta de Toro from 20 hectares (50 acres) of 70 to 100 year old vines planted in deep sand. Fermented using pump-overs in temperature controlled stainless steel with malo-lactic fermentation in barrels during 18 months in 100% new French oak barrels. Bottled with no filtration or fining.   Sensory: Purple in color with well formed legs; dry, full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity.  Supple, rich, ripe. Spanish but with a decided new world bent. Rich leather. Supple. YUM. BS: 92.
At Dinner: Again, more open in the 25+ ounce capacity Bordeaux glass. The extra time in the glass and ability to swirl it up and let it open up really helped the wine show its stuff. At dinner we also drank the 1998 (the first vintage of Numanthia) and the 2007 out of magnum. The 1998 was drinking beautifully but had plenty of life left in it. The 2007 was drinking but took some time to open up into a truly delicious wine. The 2008 was very backward at first showing more tannins than anything else. While it is tight, it probably looked tighter in comparison to the other two vintages. By the end of the dinner, this 2008 had really come around. I’d also bump up my score here to 93. (Also, I’d score the 2007 at 94 points and the 1998 at 95+.)

TERMANTHIA, Toro, 2007  ($200.00)
In my office: Tech: 14.5% Alcohol. 100% Tinta de Toro from4.8 hectares (11 acres) of 120-plus-year-old vines. This gets a five day pre-fermentation maceration (aka a “cold soak”) in stainless steel before fermentation in French oak vats, plunged down by feet twice per day during the 10 days of fermentation followed by extended 14 day post fermentation maceration. Malolactic fermentation is in 100% new French oak Bordelaise barrels. Once malolactic fermentation is complete, the wine is transferred (racked) into other 100% new French oak barrels for 24 months of aging.    Sensory: Purple in color with well formed legs; dry, full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and quite chewy phenolics.  Super rich and chocolatey but in the best way. More black than red fruit with lots of extraction.  Notes of spice and subtle leather. Chewy, and somewhat rustic but with the elegance sand imparts and more. Distinctly Spanish but with echoes from Bordeaux and California. BS: 94+.
At Dinner: This massive extracted wine benefitted most from the larger glass but still needed more time to come around. As it was served later (the other four wines had been in the glasses on the table when we sat down), it had the least amount of time to breath and evolve. Nevertheless, it did open up in the glass. This is a monster big wine that reminds me of an Andalusian horse in that it offers both power and elegance. With food and in the bigger glasses with more time to both evaluate and appreciate, my score bumps up to at least 96. With more time, it may have gone higher than that. For me, this may be more of drinking wine than a dinner wine but I still think it would shine with braised beef short ribs or maybe a braised lamb shank.

All in all, a great opportunity and a very interesting chance to compare both the wines and the idea of tasting versus drinking.