Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tuscany wines are the great food wine

Tuscany has a distinctive culinary tradition and the region is certainly famous for its wines.
In Tuscany wine is usually the highlight of the meal and the food and wine go so well together. Sangiovese is king. Tuscan wines are typically reserved for meats whether in the form of sausages, salami, pepperoni or different cuts of beef, pork or lamb. A big juicy porterhouse steak, slow cooked short ribs, marinated ox tail, or game such as wild boar is normality. It's great food wine!
In addition, bean soups, hearty stews, acidic salads and antipastos; large portions are the standard too; sort of like the ‘American-way’; very straight forward.
It’s fair to say Tuscany is considered the origin of the Renaissance being the home of the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante and Galileo. Tuscany has been admired for its wines for over a thousand years. It’s a major part of the fabric. There is loads of tradition and a lot of rulemaking.
Tuscany is an enormously diverse area and there are four key regions of importance when thinking about wine and food: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the Maremma. All make a smashing combination with food with plenty of acidity and dry earthy and juicy flavors with deep aromas that keep opening up to different levels of layers and textures.

In a country with about 1500 different indigenous grape varieties, Tuscany won’t present the sheer varietal diversity of Campania, Piedmont, Sardinia or Veneto; yet it gives back in a major way with the deliciousness, the nuances and what seems to be a measureless number of choices in wines.
For instance, In Tuscany, the ‘Chianti Classico’ appellation was created only in 1966. It was created because the heart of the area produced the better wines(hence the word Classico). Yet there are seven surrounding subzones that produce fantastic Chianti.

In 1966 the Tuscan Government also made the recipe of Chianti into law which had to contain 50 to 80% Sangiovese, 10 to 30% Canaiolo Nero, and Malvasia and Trebbiano at 10 to 30%. Over time this did not sit to well with some winemakers which led to the birth of the Super Tuscan wines which blend in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah with the Sangiovese grape. Eventually room was officially made for these wines on the Tuscan stage because these Tuscan wines are among the greatest. Yet there is still plenty of debate. Because now people are asking… What really is a Super Tuscan? What really is a Chianti Classico? In fact it’s in Maremma an immense area bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea is where many Tuscan producers started blending in the late sixties and early seventies making great wine and forcing classification changes. It’s on going. Try a producer like Antinori and Castelli Di Bossi.

Which leads us to Brunello di Montalcino; Brunello is a wine that’s been made in Montalcino since the early 14th century and the feelings there were that its wines were above all others in Tuscany. The wine which is made from 100% Sangiovese that is darker, richer and more powerful than the Sangiovese in Chianti region and can age for decades. It’s a little more expensive that Chianti as well. During meals the Brunello is usually the focus. On the other hand, the simpler Rosso di Montalcino(Rosso meaning red wine) appellation was carved out Montalcino only recently in 1983 to allow declassified lots to make a tasty alternative to the Brunello. These ‘Baby Brunellos’ are great for their early drinkability and more affordable. Try Antinori, Caparzo and Poggio Antico

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ( not to be confused with Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo) is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape and the town was already in existence way back in the 3rd Century BC. In this area of southern Tuscany the wine is aged a minimum of 2 years with an additional year for Riserva.
Montepulciano is a very proud area that is constantly tinkering with their wines and only recently in the last 10-15 years taken note of the modernistic wine world and has realized that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in way back in the past. They are resisting the modern blending though and pushing for the new identity. Its’ potential is to be a sturdy and substantial wine that can outlive Chainti Classico’s. It’s more compared to a Brunello in that respect. Yet, preferably its profile has attributes of both Chianti and Brunello. It has the violet minerality of the Chianti with the muscle and structure and aging of the Brunello. Avignonesi, Bosscarelli and Valdipaiatta ones worth seeking out.
Now go enjoy some Tuscan’s and a hearty meal!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spreadable Cheese and Good Wine

There’s nothing better than spreading good cheese on a cracker or a baguette; especially with fois gras or any kind of pate’. Having some jams and jellies and figs along with spreadable cheese works well too, it’s just sinful.

There are some places in town such as Datz on Macdill , Bin 27 and Mise en Plas on Kennedy that can fix you up an excellent tray of exotic cheeses and the lot. Those establishments are good place to experiment with wine and cheese in a setting outside the home. Sometimes that’s all you need. A couple of bottles of wine and a couple of cheese platters are great for sharing and very filling.

It is totally in good taste to ask your server to help you select. Even if they don’t know that much about the cheeses, they should be able to distinguish for you whether it’s a fresh cheese, soft white cheese, semi-soft cheese, hard cheese or blue cheese. That’s where the fun begins.

A semi-white cheese like Camembert will have a creamy interior with a mushroomy taste and melds well with several wines like a Chardonnay(Burgundy or California) or a Cabernet Sauvignon(Bordeaux or California) even California Zinfandel. How about Spanish Tempranillo! A Brie may yield similar flavor notes. Feeling frisky? A hard cheese like Cheddar would be a great partner with the same wines. It’s great to experiment and pay attention. It’ll just make you say “sheesh that’s cheese!” it tastes darn good and the flavors can be out of left field.

Your local Publix has a spreadable cheese made in France that apparently went through almost a year of back and forward taste testings to get it right for the American market. So you can imagine there was a lot of compromise and debate on what’s good and not. French cheese is sometimes hard to get over here in the states for the masses to enjoy. It’s called Creme de Saint Agur. Check it out and try it with some grapes, figs or blackberry jam. Glop in the bread and crackers! It’s a fine place to start if you want to jump in with both feet in a general way.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Oregon Pinot Noir with seafood a great match

One of the best combinations for a meal is seafood and wine specifically red Pinot Noir; Oregon Pinot Noir.
There are many white great grapes that go with seafood. Chardonnay of course; but also Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Albarino, Chablis and Gruner Veltliner, Bordeaux Blanc’s to name others. But this article is about Oregon Pinot Noir and it's good seafood pairings such as Cod or Salmon, Trout or Shrimp Scampi. The kind of seafood one can grill on a cedar plank, cook in a clay pot or sear in pan.
A good Oregon Pinot Noir for example; Domain Serene, Rex Hill, Chehalem, Archery Summit, Elk Cove( they have a smashing Pinot Gris as well), Benton Lane and another great one Domaine Drouhin(of the French Joseph Drouhin family); are just truly scrumptious.
The bulk Oregon Pinot Noir wine production takes place in Willamette Valley and stretches from the Columbia River in the North of the state down through the middle of the state. Like the growers in Burgundy France; Oregon’s top wine makers can produce quality crops even in marginal years. Oregon is not only about Pinot Noir but as in French Burgundy and French Alsace; it has key grapes like Chardonnay or as the latter, Pinot Gris. Oregon has the right microclimates for Pinot Noir which is few and far between throughout the world(Australia and New Zealand are others to take nore of). It has taken 30 or 40 years but Oregon USA is truly matching the quality of the French Burgundy wines.
A good thing to remember is to serve your Pinot Noir at room temperature. Just like your Zinfandel and Petite Sirah; Pinot Noir is best at room temperature. When you do this the supple earthy flavors have the chance to caress the palate.
Moreover, herbs and seasoning such as Rosemary, Thyme, citrus rind and dill often complement good seafood along with some fresh greens or steamed Spinach or Kale. An infusion of these can be a very tasty experience as well. Combining the herbs with the veggies in a pot and grating some orange peel along with a handful of cranberries, pour in a bottle of wine and simmer it down. Grill or pan fry your fish with salt and pepper and when done place the stewed veggie mash on top of your fish or seafood by the side of some white rice or scalloped potatoes makes for a top notch meal with you Pinot. By the way bring a dollop of Oregon Blue or Triple Crème cheese along for the ride.
Another tasty treat is to take a bunch of mushroom and chop it up and grill it with just drizzle of grapeseed oil and throw in some bacon; while it simmers and the bacon is done to your liking, pour about a quarter of a cup of heavy cream and fold it in and cook it down in low heat.
Alternatively grilled or poached Wild Salmon with salt, pepper and thyme to taste; sauté shrimp or wild sea scallops come together with a squeeze of lemon making an unyielding companion to Oregon Pinor Noir.
It’s not hard to compliment delicious Oregon Pinot Noir.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review - Hip Tastes 2007 – Courtney Cochran

Hip Tastes 2007 – Courtney Cochran

This always busy impresario is always panning one endeavor or another. Don’t be misled by the books brown cover. This book is a new modern classic wine book. The basics, how to shop, store and taste; even how to talk wine! I read through this book and I thought to myself. “Wow! This is motivating!” It’s geared for young adults; but not so much because she communicates at a bigger level.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bordeaux Wines, Tasting Notes and Scores

Now that the summer of 2010 is in full gear; it’s a good time to look back at the Spring and some of those Bordeaux wines and how they fared at the tastings over the past few months. Whether it was the Ringling Museum tasting in Sarasota in January, the Tampa’s Einstein on Wine in February, Tarpon Springs B-21 Bordeaux tasting in April or May’s Bern’s Steakhouse Annual Tampa tasting to name some of the many good ones. Bordeaux was on everybody’s lips.

Many 2004’s and 2005’s Right Bank Bordeaux wines were being served and some oldies as well to talk about. It seems the 2004’s are being served not only because there are still many out in the marketplace but they are drinking very well now along with an ability to cellar them for another eight or ten years.

Also, the 2005 vintage was so great that there were just tons of values that were plain outstanding, that over performed and come within reach of the Grand Cru’s in quality, flavors and aging.

Here are some relevant tasting notes and commenting from some of those tastings:

2004 Pontet Canet – St Emillon: rich big dense sweet tobacco currants and oak, impressive.-'5L'

2004 Cannon La Gaffelierre – St. Emillon: Easy on attack but deep with Caramel notes, good nose.'3L'

2004 La Gaffeliere – St. Emillon: Elegant Style not overpowering, attractive texture.-'3SV'

2004 Clos Fouret – St Emillon: Dark ripe and succulent, good oak, round and coated in vanilla. '4'

2004 Lynch Bages – Pauillac: rich eucalyptus and black fruit flavors, pencil lead, good depth overlays god tannins.-'3V'

2004 Belle Vue- Haut Medoc: Excellent silky tannins with really good fruit, lush tobacco and cedar box, spice.- '4SV'

2004 Chateau Pavie Macquin- St.Emillon: firm rich deep black currants, nice touch of class.-'4L'

2005 Angelus – St. Emillon: fleshy and rich, black fruits, roasted flavors, luscious in scent and texture.- '5L'

2005 Domaine de Chavelier Rouge – Pessac Leognan: deep spicy tobacco, cedar, good nose and black fruits.-'5LV'

2004 Martinat Epicurea – Cotes de Bourg: Lush and velvet concentrated and complex, cherries, good body and admirable.- '4SV'

2005 La Rouselle – Fronsac: Smooth with nice textured tannins nicely refined solid wine. - '4SV'

2005 Chateau Plince – Pomerol: attractive and easy going, truffles, not sensuous but enjoyable.'2'

2005 Pauillac de Latour – Pauillac: Latour’s 3rd wine a great value for and expensive broad plummy style.-'4LSV'

2005 Chateau Batailley – Pauillac: Plums galore and black fruits, layered and supple.-'5LV'

2006 Chateau Montviel – Pomerol: rich with a lot of minerality, vaguely interesting.-'2'

2000 Chasse Spleen – Moulis: very dark fruits super flavors, leathery seductive lingering opulence found in 2nd or 3rd growths.-'5SLV'

1999 Chateau Ferriere – Margaux: Beautiful fragrance and charming and silky wine that is ready to enjoy.-'4LV'

A lot of these wines are delicious, available and make a great way to buy wines that one can enjoy today and for years to come. Seek out the ones that fit the budget and serve them with your favorite Steak, BBQ Ribs, Lamb or Pork dinner and please don’t forget those cheeses such as Camembert de Normandie, Maytag Blue and a good hard Cheddar!


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Toasted Pheasant, a nice little Tampa French Bistro...(Unfortunately this restaurant closed its doors in 2012)

...Unfortunately this restaurant closed its doors in 2012, enjoy the review nevertheless
There’s a great little Bistro in Tampa. A no-frills French Bistro no less. It’s called the Toasted Pheasant. It’s nestled in between the Tilted Kilt and the Red Elephant on North Dale Mabry . Easy going yet full of great food that is smartly prepared by Chef Peter. With a simple wine list and some great foods like Escargot, Foie Gras, Quail, Pheasant, Duck Confit, Sea Bass, Beef Burgundy, Short Ribs and Rack of Lamb. How can you go wrong?!?

There is a cork fee of $15 if you bring your own wine bottle. It is very worth it. Bring a nice French Chardonnay from Beaune and Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux. If you can’t bring those, a value Bordeaux , Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon and Unoaked Value Chardonnay will work(or just stick to their wine offerings for a good match). Why do you ask? because you will be able to match up the foods. They offer up small plate dishes that allow you to eat several items.

Furthermore, it is one of the only places in Tampa that you can take in a French inspired meal with a bottle of smashing wine in a setting where you can be totally comfortable and kids are welcome too! The staff is very friendly and eager to please. Let’s hope that place like this can thrive and improve and not get complaisant.

You can join them for Sunday brunches and cooking classes on the First and Third Monday of Every Month that includes a live demonstration in their dining room by Chef Peter. On some Saturday afternoons there are hands on classes in the kitchen. This week on Thursday, July 22nd, there is a 4 course wine dinner and on August 13th and 14th is a ‘Gone Wild’ weekend.

Toasted Pheasant is located in the heart of Carrollwood, immediately south of Ehrlich Road. 14445 N. Dale Mabry Highway. Tampa, Florida 33618 Telephone: 813-265-6700

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Great 2005 Bordeaux still available, a Fantastic Vintage - A Special Report by Ralph Del Rio Wine Correspondent

By Ralph Del Rio, Wine Correspondent

Bordeaux remains the point of reference for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The styles range from the firmer styles of Pauillac and St.-Estephe to luxuriance and richness of a Pomerol or St.- Emilion; the sweet perfume of Margaux or the tobacco bouquet of Graves.

The 2005 Bordeaux’s are a fantastic vintage often compared to the 2000, the 1982 and 1961 as the benchmark years. Those were the years that the terroir; the combination of climate, sun and soil was practically perfect for superior wine with aging potential. Depending on the year, because these wines develop well over time; how good they are can vary. For example, right now the 1996’s and 2004’s are just spot on and drinking very well!

The 2005’s have great tannin levels especially in the St-Julien and St.Estephe with a lot of concentrated fruit. Margaux, Graves and Pomerol’s quality was remarkably consistent and elegant. The fruit is round and rich which makes them approachable. Even the minor wines were of remarkable quality.

An interesting phenomenon occurred over the past 10 years. With the 2000 vintage considered so great, prices skyrocketed. The same occurred in 2005. Two earth shattering Bordeaux vintages in a decade! What is even more unusual is that the 2009 Bordeaux vintage is being tasted in barrels by critics currently and is being heralded as another blockbuster. How could this be? three stunning vintages in a decade in the new millennium.

Now here’s the catch. The 2008 and the 2009 vintages are not going to be released to the market until 2012 and the 2007 has been held back and has not been fully released. The 2007 was considered an erratic vintage. Plus there is no doubt that the 2007 would bring the prices back down to earth. There’s a lot of 2005 still out there and the 2006’s are just starting to show up at the stores.

If you travel to one of our local wine establishments like B-21 on US19 in Tarpon Springs; ABC Fine Wine & Spirits (near the Toasted Pheasant, a great little modern French Bistro) on North Dale Mabry; or Vintage Wine Cellars on Henderson (right across the street from the adventurous Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant) you will find plenty of the great 2005’s.

Furthermore, because the 2005’s are so good, one can find great bargains even now. Now is the time to snatch them up. There are many sleepers and over performers in 2005. Many of these wines are just as good as those selling for $75 to $125 per bottle. Great 2005’s like Reignac, Charmail, Chateau D’Escurac and Chateaux Poujeaux are just hard to believe and are all priced between $20 to $35 and they’ll easily age well for many years.

Some 2005 Bordeaux values under $20 to seek out are Chateau Trebiac from Graves; Epicurea from Cotes De Bourg and Cote Montpezat Cuvee Compostelle from Cotes de Castillon. They will not disappoint. Sometimes it’s impossible to generalize but in this case run out and get some of these wines while you still can.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jefferson 4th of July barbecue and wine pairing

Thomas Jefferson once famously said, "No nation is drunken where wine is cheap and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes arden sprits as the common beverage..." He cared about the social pace of fine wine dining but he wanted to make a less formal atmosphere at his parties. He was determined that a mellow atmosphere with good wines added up to a more cordial acceptance of his suggestions for running the country.

As we gear up for the 4th of July holiday, barbecue and good friends come to mind as well as great wine. Grilling requires mature, full reds with tannins and heavy dark fruit. While grilling, use intense heat to seal all the juices in the meat and form a crusty outside whether it red meat, sausages or chicken. Since grilling uses high heat it's fast. Think Red Zinfandel or a young Bordeaux from Cotes de Castillon. Since BBQ is is genarally heavy it matches well with heavier rustic wines. Think Oaky rich and fruity whites as well, like a Washington Reisling. The intense smokey flavors bounce on the palate. Put out some figs, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon and seedless grapes along a healthy serving of Camambert, Stilton, Spanish Manchego and Irish Cheddar and you have the makings of a great holiday spread.

Yes, cheeses are great too at the barbecue! Try the Camambert with the Bordeaux and watch your eyes roll back. Then try it with the cheddar and so on. Induldge! Invite your friends and family over and make sure you talk about the wine and how it all works because it does. Your holiday gang will appreciate it and to think this thought bubble all started with musing about Thomas Jefferson and a great real old book from the past called Jefferson and Wine by the Vineferas Wine Growers Association; nevertheless have great fourth!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review - The Art and Science of Wine 2007 – James Halliday and Hugh Johnson

The Art and Science of Wine 2007 – James Halliday and Hugh Johnson

This is like when Paul Mccartney collaborated with Elvis Costello and put out some great songs on a few albums that more people should know about. It’s good for these two to work together. It’s about the How and Why of Wine; starting with Terroir to the different wine styles, cellaring, the machinery, chemistry, regional vs national, maturity of wine. Comprehensive and skillful but not a colossal book. A nice slow read that is really good and thorough.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Wine Scores and Reviews - It's Good to Keep Notes

Reviewing wines always come with a little trepidation. But generally to keep things straight it is good to jot a few reminders down. Many think it is not viable to talk about a wines worth without some kind of scoring system. Wine tasting is totally subjective.
For Example, wine scoring systems such as Robert parker’s 100 point scale or the 20 point scale that Clive Coates uses can be very detailed and influential to a wines price and success; Yet the ratings are meaningless unless readers actually try some of the wines recommended and see whether their appreciation or enjoyment is similar or not. It only really carries any great weight if there is agreement on certain wines.

Some people are totally against scoring; It is a respected point of view due to the fact that wine shouldn’t just boil down to single number because so much goes into it. The goal is to inform the readers of thoughts on certain wines for the plain reason that tasting experience brings strong insight, information and preferences which can be pretty useful to pass along.


To help illustrate, the 2004 Martinat Epicurea – Cotes de Bourg: lush and velvet concentrated, complex, cherries, good body and admirable; scores a “5-VS” as a great wine where there is an excellent value for the price along with being a sleeper wine( which is all around surprise and should be seeked out).
On the other hand, the 2006 Chateau Montviel – Pomerol: which is rich with a lot of minerality, and is vaguely interesting scores a” 2 “because it is questionable and does not really provide a great value.
A good scoring system and some notes to remember what you like is helpful in enjoyment of wine. Eventhough there are arguments that wine critics have preferences for flavors and that wine makers are striving to please the critics for high scores. The joy of wine is to find the one that pleases.
Should you always trust wine rating and scores? How do you know a wine is worth buying? How much should I buy? Is the wine good for a gift? All great questions that can be answered by taking some notes and using wine reviews and scores as a shorthand study of the critics thoughts while tasting.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spanish Wines and Chorizo Sausages are a great pairing

Spanish wines are all the rage these days. They are well liked not only because they are rich in tradition but their value to quality ratio is just out of sight! All over the Spanish countryside there are all kinds of terrific red wines that stand up to the greatest wines of Bordeaux and the Rhone of France and of course Napa Valley, California.

We all know that Spanish food is very tasty, colorful and very diverse and so are the wines. Sausages are a major staple. There’s lots of good ones especially all those flavorsome Chorizos.

One killer is Sobrasada; a soft semi soft Chorizo with pork, garlic, vinegars, sea salt and paprika. It’s usually spread on crunchy bread and toasted until it melts. Grilled onions only add to this incredible sausage. Sobrasada has a smooth texture and smoky flavor that is hard to match.

Another great one is Butifarra. It looks a little like Bratwurst but Oh boy! It sure has a lot more flavor, probably the most popular sausage. Any restaurant in the countryside, usually serves Butifarra in one form or another.

Often you will find these sausages grilled, accompanied with white beans, mushrooms, onions, apples or sliced into hearty soups or yellow rice dishes. It’s great with eggs and Swiss cheese for breakfast.
Speaking of Cheese; these Chorizo and Spanish sausages pair well with Manchego cheese and blue Roquefort. There’s also a goat cheese called the ‘Drunken Goat’ which is regularly available that is dunked in red wine that is a perfect compliment.

When you serve these sausages some of that great Spanish wine is a must. Rioja has its Tempranillo. It’s sort of the national wine, arguably their greatest grape. It’s juicy, dusty, spicy with loads of strawberry, leather and tobacco notes. Ribera del Duero and Toro have their versions that are concentrated with bigger cherry, spicy and earthy flavors.

Priorat also has excellent wines that are Garnacha based that go well with the sausages that are incredibly rich, rustic, full bodied with fruit cake, licorice and plum flavors that compare to France’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape or even Pomerol wines.

Try to seek out these great Spanish wines to serve with the sausages and cheese that are among the best in quality and value. They are high scoring on many best of lists and give a great representation of what is awesome about Spanish wines these days. Las Rocas Vinas Viejas (from San Alejandro), Marge(from Priorat) and Termes by Bodegas Numanthia (from Toro). Another really good one is Lan, a Rioja Tempranillo in a classic style old world style. So dig in and enjoy!
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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Taste for Wine 2006 – Vincent Gasnier

A Taste for Wine 2006 – Vincent Gasnier

Another high end DK Book with great graphics. Gasnier has made a very busy book that is a great primer to a WSET level 1 test. The typical wine drinker will be hard pressed to find his wines though. Which annoyed me. So you need to think about it in terms of regions. Which is still good but not the way a CMS thinks. But I guess only someone like me would care about that. I hope the update will address this; Otherwise it’s very informative.