Friday, February 25, 2011

Cotes de Provence Sainte-Victoire
Situated on the back side of Mont Sainte-Victoire, a majestic limestone ridge, rests old vines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache in the vineyards of Domaine Richeaume. Protected by Cezanne's beloved mountain, the vines experience more of a continental climate than Mediterranean and rarely bear the force of the Mistral winds. Saint-Victoire remains one of three cru classes of Cotes de Provence AOC.

Similar to Les Baux de Provence AOC, Sainte-Victoire consists of limestone and clay soils, which produce classic garrigue characteristics in the aromatics and flavor profiles of the wines. Soils are rich in bauxite.

As for terroir reminiscent in the palette, the flavor of the wine I selected from this region was completely opposite in style of the Mas de Gourgonnier red I tasted prior to enjoying this wine.

Fifteen miles east of Aix lies Domaine Richeaume, nestled up against the jagged limestone flank of Mont Sainte-Victoire. An historian and classical cellist, Henning Hoesch, founded the domaine in 1972 and farmed along regimented organic principals. He proved to be a pioneer after being one of the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and advocate organic farming, both now staples in Provence. Henning's son, Sylvain, followed in his father's footsteps when he took over the domaine after working alongside Paul Draper at Ridge Winery in 1996 and again in 2000. The domaine encompasses 200 acres of land, devoted to the vine, olive orchards, grains and pasture area for sheep. The Cuvée Tradition flaunts roughly equal parts Cabernet and Grenache, and sometimes a touch of Syrah. This traditional blend combines the masculine austerity of Cabernet with the feminine opulence of Grenache, producing a dark and rich red with lovely aromatics and full sumptuous flavors.

2007 Domaine Richeaume Cuvee Tradition
Opened. Poured. Inhaled deeply. Shocked--initial reaction. Huge oaky overtones. Smelt more reminiscent of Bordeaux, extremely tight, and honestly disappointed, because I went in with premonitions of floral bouquet, garrigue expectations. But, oh, so devastatingly wonderful this wine became. Paired with pork tenderloin I braised in the oven at low temp in a bath of Sam Adams Octoberfest beer (the only meager source of marinade I had at my Mom's house in remote location in Massanutten Resort, Harrisonburg, Virginia--my private escape). Placed pork over sauteed bed of spinach, garlic and onion. After tasting the pork and sipping the wine, the flavors exploded in my mouth. Rich opulence, smooth decadence, over-delivery in the velvet category. Leather, smoke, subtle game fused with red fruits, lavender and herbaceous undertones. Definite power indicative of clay soils displayed. Cabernet heavy for sure. Right on with proprietor's decription of Cabernet masculinity melded with rounded, sumptuous Grenache interminglings. I couldn't stop, be it the intoxicating aroma, the delicious flavor, or the addictive texture sensations, I entered a wine trance. My weekend was justified, my escape from humanity complete. My bondage with Richeaume sealed. The soul of Provence will never forsake me. I'm sold. Terroir or not, this taste forever unforgettable.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

March Madness Cupcake Face-Off

Better your batter with zany pairings. The ultimate battle between beer and wine, AND CUPCAKES! Thought the cupcake mania surpassed the fanatic zone? Well, it just went deeper. In tribute to tournament season and basketball mania, I am hosting a Cupcake Beer & Wine Pairing in partnership with Kristy Hofkens of Capital Cakepops - Washington, D.C. and Red, White & Bleu Wine Shop, Sunday, March 27th. Kristy will be crafting five cupcake flavors to challenge my pairing skills. Duo groups of beer and wine will pair up with each cupcake flavor. Team Vino competes against Team Brew. Each cupcake fanatic votes on which team pairs best with the cupcake flavor. Who will win: Team Brew or Team Vino? You choose!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On the Wagon or Off?

Just had the opportunity to taste my new fav cheese for everyday consumption. Granted it was midday and I was caring for three beautiful children, the warm weather mid-February provided the perfect hiatus and excuse to bust open a low alcohol white wine spritzer. My roommate bought it on a springfever craving and had already consumed a couple of glasses the previous evening. I never considered pairing it with food, always drank Vinho Verde as a palate perker, something to bubble me up. Well, this midday snack was just what the doctor ordered, or at least the mommy fairies who witness the tedious challenges of caring for two infants and a toddler. I'm sure many moms mumble to them from time to time or shout in anxst. Regardless, I sliced some Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel cheese, their latest addition to the line-up, stacked it on some Parmesan-Reggiano flatbread and went to town. The bracing greenness of Vinho Verde utterly melted away in waves of Cowgirl Creaminess. I oohhhed and awwwed my way through a quarter pound in 10 minutes flat. Frightening decadence, but what a pair! A peek into spring sure did the body good.

The Launch of Terroir Study

Terroir is a page dedicated to tasting the "terroir" in a wine through pictorial, literary, and sensory exploration. This word, terroir, instills magical visions in my head that simply swirl into clouds of confusion. Big question marks pop up each time I consider the concept of terroir. Anyone who has blind-tasted knows terroir manifests itself in the aromas and flavors of a wine. I can pinpoint a wine from Italy in a heartbeat and smell a Virginia wine from across the room, an aroma I definitely termed "Virgina Twang." Smell a red wine from South Africa next to an Australian Shiraz, and then tell me terroir doesn't exist.

Terroir encompasses every aspect of nature a wine grape experiences like vintage, soil, microclimate, mesoclimate, topography, viticulture, geography, precipitation, sun exposure, wind, you name it. However, the expression of terroir shrouds itself under a veil of mysticism. So, I have decided to research this link between place and taste in order to document concrete descriptions versus elusive references to minerality, earth, and the vague word, Terroir.

Simply stated, Provence fascinates me. I close my eyes and transcend to a whole new world. Craggy outcroppings of jagged mountains resting among majestic purple plains of lavender. Times of chivalry and warlords flicker, displaced with images of King Arthur and Guenevere. Endemic wines evoke impressions of land braced by sea and alpine climes. Artists such as Cezanne, Van Gogh, & Dante depict a land of rugged beauty.

I set out to taste a number of Provencal red wines the other day, below my notes follow. I will continue to post as I source these wines; however, their discoveries prove challenging as distribution of Provencal reds remains very limited in the U.S.

Provence harbors two principal soil types: calcareous limestone and quartz. The soils of the northern and western hills and ranges consist largely of limestone and clay, while the eastern regions contain quartz. Soil type corresponds to the vegetation present. Garriguewhich grows on limestone, is a classic wine descriptor that refers as much to the soil as to the resinous herbs that grow upon it.  Maquis refers to a scrub that thrives on soils rich in quartz.

Les Baux de Provence
Vineyards surround the village of Les Baux, a 13th century fortress perched on a rocky plateau in the Alpilles Mountains approximately 800 feet above sea level. The town itself was named after its very appearance "Baou"--a Provencal term for rocky outcropping. The AOC Les Baux de Provence lies in the western most half of Provence just southeast of Avignon.
The soils in Baux are limestone and rich in Bauxite, a mineral that was named after this village and is used to extract aluminum. In reference to terroir, this area is extremely hot and resides next to the Val d'Enfer (Hell Valley). The wines are all organic, mostly produced by biodynamic practices due to the climate and the beneficial impact of the Mistral, a cold, dry north wine that reduces humidity and temperatures during the sweltering summer months. Reds must contain a minimum of 60% of at least two of the following grapes: Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault. Mourvedre, Carignan, Counoise and Cabernet Sauvignon can also be blended.

2007 Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence, Provence, France
Approximate 30% Grenache blended with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, all stainless steel fermentation--interesting considering the tannins are so formidable. First impression, barnyard funk, reductive nature of syrah playing out, but extremely aromatic wafting layers of garrigue, lavender, sandalwood, leather straight off the horses back, black pepper, intense red fruits. In the mouth, chewy with a faint sensation of powdered sugar, bracing acidity, gripping. Few minutes later the funk blew off and opened up. So soily on the nose and the palate, intriguing tastes of chalky minerality. Aromas of garrigue and black olive intoxicating. Great wine!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's: The Day After

I dedicate this tale of love to a friend forever seeking the higher road…
 She dreamed in color, she dreamed in red, she thought she had the better man. Tortured soul, tormented mind. Grounded by reason, torn by love…What wicked games were played, foolish desires gave way. The questions burned, the doubts incessant, the dreams oppressive, the tastes too real. Denial fought till the bitter end, “No, I don’t want to fall in love. This world is only going to break my heart.” What a wicked thing to say, never felt this way. What a wicked thing to do, let me dream of you (Chris Isaak). Too late, too much. Too soon forgotten. The path laid, the soul freed. The risks far too great…
The end left much debate, but I had faith in you. No looking back on this forward track. Best of luck. No fading whims. Pure hearts beat strong. Love life, live long. Nobody loves no one.  
Gravity settled. The attraction opposite, but equal. She requested affordable Pinot for the minutes shared between the two. Here's my thoughts, now try and experience more. Challenge his palate, turn him to France: 2009 Beaujolais, 2009 Cotes du Rhone, if he likes Pinots, these will swill better for much less $ :)
Pinot Noir for Your Valentine, you can be sure to find West Coast time.
A to Z Wineworks Oregon Pinot Noir $12-13
Sineann Oregon Pinot Noir 2008 $16
Torri Mor Oregon Pinot Noir $25
Anne Amie Cuvee A Oregon Pinot Noir $22
Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County, California $16
Ken Wright Willamette Valley 2009 $25

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Five Days of Wine Fidelity: A Homage to Valentine's Day

Undying Flames (Day 4) If you fall in the category of long-term love affair, you know first-hand the ups and downs of “till death do us part.” Valentine’s Day year after year might lack burning flames, but a spark could ignite that old flare. So venture out of the house this Sunday afternoon, February 13th, to Red, White & Bleu Gourmet Shop in the heart of Falls Church. Kindle the flame ever so gently with a unique wine and chocolate pairing: Liquid Love/Chocolate Devour. Why does this differ from all the same old pairings? Not a single sweet wine will be tasted; only big, bold, reds and velvety, smooth whites will be paired to locally crafted confections. Reservations are required, but can easily be made with a simple telephone call to the shop at 703.533.9463 (WINE).

ACKC Kingsbury White Chocolate & Toffee – No Oak Chardonnay Monterey, California

Artisan Confections PB & J Truffle – Thibault-Janisson FIZZ Cremant-Style, Virginia

Artisan Confections Fresh Mint Truffle – Chocolate Box Shiraz Barossa, Australia

Artisan Confections Raspberry Truffle – Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi, California

Artisan Confections Lavender Honey Truffle – The Rhon by Jeff Arnoux Rhone, France

Artisan Confections Chipotle Truffle – El Molinet Tempranillo Valencia, Spain

Five Days of Wine Fidelity: A Homage to Valentine's Day

Friends Forever (Day 3)  — Host a party at your home amongst friends. Olfactory conundrums unveiled. Stimulate your friends with a “nez du vin” challenge. At one time or another we have all pondered, “I know that smell, but can’t quite put my finger on it.” Unmask the aroma to immediately unleash the moment of revelation. How often do you think wine descriptors are complete bull? The wine descriptor guru, Gary Vaynerchuk, says it well with zany quotes, “asparagus wrapped in gym socks,” or smells like “rhino fart.” Yum. Well, my friends, a sensory exercise is long overdue! This Valentine’s invite your friends for a Nez du Vin tasting. Four simple instructions follow with Pinot Noir as the selected wine style. Feel free to break loose with different ideas, or ask me personally for more custom ideas.
·         Pick the type of wine you wish to drink. Explore descriptors classically associated with the grapes used to make your wines. Great ideas can be found on Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV. Watch a recent show on Beaune (Pinot Noir) for example sake. Check out the link
·         Select 10 different ingredients and individually place them in large wine glasses from which your guests will smell. For Pinot Noir organize the following ingredients: sliced mushrooms, soy sauce, sauerkraut, crushed cranberries, pulverized cherries, sliced strawberries, cooked radish or beets, cracked black pepper, squashed raspberries, flat Coca-Cola (stir all the carbonation out).
·         Have everyone bring a bottle of Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, California; Willamette Valley, Oregon; Russian River, California; Burgundy, France; Marlborough or Otago, New Zealand
·         Pour the wines and smell. Don’t drink anything until all the ingredients have been sniffed, and I advise to take BIG sniffy-sniffs. Then continue to taste and sniff. Educate your palate. Train your nose!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Five Days of Wine Fidelity: A Homage to Valentine's Day

Aphrodisiac Alcohol (Day 2): Couples Therapy--romantic setting for two
Men do not fear, she doesn’t have to think you’re being cheap by insisting on staying home. Simply dose your lover with edibles and beverages of love. Of course, candlelight, flowers, and sultry jazz enhance the mood, but make the theme rest solely on aphrodisiacs. Follow my guidelines, apply Google recipe searches to fill in the details. I propose a simple, but elegant, three-course meal including these most common aphrodisiacs: almonds, champagne, asparagus, figs, chocolate, and alcohol. I spell out your simple guidelines below, while leaving the ambience and recipe creating to your own imagination.
·         1st course, Palate Teaser—Champagne & Almonds—Buy a small wheel of Brie cheese, microwave it on low until heated and slightly oozing. Top with slivered almonds, serve with a crusty French baguette and a fruit chutney of your preference. Ignite the flames of love with a toasty, biscuity Champagne (make sure it’s a Blanc de Blanc Brut to play up the almond aphrodisiac). One of my affordable favorites: Pierre Moncuit Brut--grower champagne under $35.
·         2nd course, Aphrodisiac Overload—Figs, Asparagus, & Red Wine—Google a steak and fig recipe. The sky’s the limit, but here are a few examples: fig-balsamic sauce drizzled over filet speckled with gorgonzola cheese, flank steak salad with fig, pears, and blue cheese. Pair your steak and figs with a BIG, bold, fruity wine. Wow her with a California Zinfandel. Falls Church’s very own wine shop Red, White & Bleu sells the mind-blowing Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel $45.99, or on a different note the Cline Cashmere GSM for only $17.99. Don’t forget to steam some asparagus, add some butter slices as a finishing touch. Leave her senses reeling, watch your moods unravel, think “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.”
·         3rd course, Chocolate Touch—Need I say more? Your woman with wine and chocolate guarantees a smashing finish, a crescendo of love. I strongly suggest just buying a grand bar of dark cacao haute couture and finish your bottle of red wine from dinner. Possibly top off with a Tawny Port or aged Madeira. Some chocolate bars to consider: Amedei (Curious Grape in Shirlington), Michel Cluizel (Arrowines), Kingsbury ACKC (at Red, White & Bleu), Vosges (Whole Foods).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Five Days of Wine Fidelity: A Homage to Valentine's Day

           Wine Satiate (1) Searching Singles--Just the girls. Don’t be like Carrie and Miranda from Sex and the City stuck hating Valentine’s in a sea of balloons and pesky ribbons hunched over a make-shift table for two. Celebrate ladies! Start with making the invite list, read on and follow your instructions. Assemble at least four friends and have each lady bring a bottle of wine from the listing below and a bar of chocolate. The idea is to host a wine and chocolate pairing for all tastes, while keeping it simple, fun and cost efficient. Everything listed can be purchased locally if you plan ahead. Wines listed span a broad range of flavors from dry to sweet, white to red and bubbles to boot. You don’t need to spin your wheels of love, this event is guaranteed to make you fall in love. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend? Let’s try on chocolate and vino, see if the shoe fits!
·         Kingsbury’s Fleur de Sel Dark Chocolate Covered Caramels $3.99 (2 caramels in a pack) pair with Hungarian Tokaji or Madeira (Royal Tokaji 5 Putonyos $38.99 or Blandy’s 5 year Bual Madeira $25.99). Pick up through your local wine shop.
·         Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bittersweet Bar with Almonds $4.99 and Tawny Port (Smith Woodhouse 10 year Tawny $38.99
·         Coconut Macaroons (Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe) paired with Brachetto d’Acqui—sweet sparkling red from Piedmont Italy (Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui Pinetto $22.99 or Banfi Rosa Regale $19.99)
·         Bag of Lindor Truffles paired with fruity, creamy Chardonnay (Alamos Chardonnay, Argentina $7.99 or Avery Quinn Chardonnay Central Coast, CA for $14.99)
·         Artisan Confections Peanut Butter & Jelly Truffle $17 9 piece box paired with Terra Sparkling Malbec Mendoza, Argentina $22.99

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pinot Envy

It was the night before Monday, all was quiet through the house. I awaited my guests anxious as all get out. I had run all about for baby, work, and now for dinner delicious beyond any doubt. More than anything, I wished to lounge on the couch, soak up some tweet deck, and raid my cheese pouch. At times in my life, I wish for the performance to end, but as a single mom and sommelier, I must bear and grin. Don't get me wrong, the hustle is for what I live. The energy just continues to cycle, never gives in until the ultimate moment of chagrin. As everyone knows, these moments when failure sets in, doubt lurks, you feel the energy slip...down, down, down, spiraling downward never to return again. I fidgeted around the house, wringing my hands, little did I know, the best for my soul was about to begin...and thus, this is the tale of Pinot Noir pinned Antidote to Chagrin.

Love has never been a strong suit for me. The trump card has consistently been fairytale romances spun in my head, always fed by renaissance literature or revolutionary periods for Western Civ. Jane Austen's pick of gentry, like Mr. Darcy, or Stephanie Meyer's Edward Cullen, could very well fit the fairytale my head lives in during those moments apart from the world, when reality has no bearings. Women pine, "Where are all these men?" I never dreamed one would walk right in eager to devour four plates of London Broil marinated in Dr. Pepper, molasses, garlic, curry spices, wine vinegar, and worcestershire--an attempt on homespin.

Homespun, indeed. This was the only ticket I would need. Brussels sprouts sizzled with bacon, and squash casserole baked with panko, butter and Prima Donna Gouda accompanied the 5lbs of London Broil served with a red wine demi-glace my roommate and I mastered for a guy she wanted to win. I have to admit, though, I didn't realize the potential of this male guest until after the Pinot sipping was put to the test. Four bottles of Pinot Noir brought on a plane by a dear, dear friend, sat on my table calling for me to succumb: stop for the moment, quit playing Artemis and sit down at the feet of Bacchus and listen to the trance brought on by his flute.

This story will not reveal the innermost thoughts of romance unwilled, but it does speak to hope in love, passion, and all the tingling feelings of raw emotion one can spill. Envy of love, I must say I am; but at least now I can be lost in Pinot envy.

My dear friend mentioned above visited Willamette Valley a few weeks ago and sought to buy a few gems. My contribution was the 2009 Ken Wright Cellars Willamette Valley, which I think still should win for all those dire pinot lovers envious to drink good vin.

Here's the lineup, and the notes to follow within:

Briefly I mentioned my favorite to be the 09 Ken Wright, following suit was the 08 Sineann Resonance Vineyard. I plan to write a comparison between the two vintages '09 and '08 in my Terroir section, and I will add some Pinots under $20 worth sipping, Just give me this weekend.

2009 Ken Wright Willamette Valley approx $29
Opulent fruit, the texture of the wine is what gets me everytime, so much to chew on, but yet silky soft. Bright acidity, bouquet lingers through the finish. Delivers what I want from a Pinot

2006 Methven Family Vineyards Reserve Willamette Valley approx $35
Most Burgundian of the four with the more earthy undertones, dark fruit, leather. Beautiful nose, but the wine began to disappoint on the finish after it had been open awhile. First sip, killer. Last sip, didn't deliver for the price.

2008 Sineann Resonance Vineyard approx $42
My second favorite. Bright cherry fruit with a sensation of standing in a wild strawberry patch with a wiff of a flat Coca-Cola in your hand. Ethereal palate feel, what makes Pinot so yummy. Vervy acidity, great with our cheese selection of Cypress Grove Purple Haze and Brillat-Savarin.

2007 Sineann Wyeast Vineyard Columbia Gorge $42
Consistent in style with its '08 Sister--female in sex with this wine because the delicate fruits play true on the nose as well as the palate. Red fruits of cherry, strawberry, touch of rhubarb, and some pomegranate play out on the palate. Good acidity, but just not the same depth as the 2008 Resonance.