Tag Archives: cabernet sauvignon

Napa Royalty: Chateau Montelena

28 Aug

When you plan a special occasion with friends & neighbors, the wine has to be perfect! So an important summer evening recently became OTBN- “Open That Bottle Night”, when we pull a special bottle from the cellar, to enjoy with good friends. For our wines, I turned to new world wine royalty:  Napa’s own Chateau Montelena!

Chateau Montelena Chadonnay 2015; Napa Valley, Ca. 13.8%ABV, SRP $58/bottle.

 

The color is a medium straw with a green hue. The nose shows fresh melon with a touch of baking spice. On the palate is baked apple pie, a hint of peach, notes of vanilla and significant oak influence, followed by more spicy notes- ginger root, and young pineapple. Lush and savory with mid-weight appeal. This is a delightful chardonnay that sings of fruit in the barrel. Paired with grilled vegetables and chicken, the nose and flavors elicited verbal oohs and aahs from our guests of honor.

One tastes this wine, and immediately thinks of the 1976 Judgement of Paris that changed the way the game was played both in the old world and new world of wines. This modern-day offspring of that world-changing wine maintains the beauty of the classic vintage with restrained fruit notes, solid acidity, a savory mouthfeel, and age-worthiness. It has been years since I tasted Chateau Montelena’s chardonnay, -a 2010 vintage- but the wine’s flavors memory recall a near-identical, idyllic and glamorous tasting experience!

 

 

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2015; Napa Valley, Ca. 14.2%ABV, SRP $61/bottle.

 

The color is deep ruby with magenta edging. The complex nose offers mature black fruit followed by notes of forest floor, leather, oak and spice. On the palate, the fruit is a blend of raspberry and juicy red plum with bright acidity; there are secondary notes of mocha, clove, potting soil, and a lovely finish with rich tannins, featuring a timber note that suggests the wine aged in both French and mature, perhaps Eastern European oak. This paired beautifully with the main course of dinner of grilled meats, along with fresh fruit and hearts of palm salad, zucchini and greens, yet the wine’s impact was even greater afterwards when we simply chatted and enjoyed the depth of each sip, the enchanting, silken mouthfeel, the impressive girth and balance of the wine, and the expressive flavor profile.

 

 

Like some wines of the Old World, Napa’s Chateau Montelena demonstrates consistency and tremendous quality over the decades. Their wines are a trustworthy delight to experience, and provide a very high level of both value and pleasure, vintage after vintage. 

 

à votre santé!

 

Ranch 32’s 2016 Vintage

8 Jul




Ranch 32 Chardonnay 2016, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey, California. 13.5% ABV; SRP $20/bottle.

Color is pale yellow, with a nose of pear, pineapple, vanilla extract and toasted oak. On the palate, apple and pear dominate with a buttery and rich mouthfeel, wrapped up by hints of brown butter sugar cookies and lime zest. This is a great wine to sip on the porch in the afternoon; perhaps the ideal food pairing is baked chicken with fresh vegetables. This is the classic, savory, buttery chardonnay made with ten months of aging in French oak, a touch high in alcohol for me but the mouthfeel did not give that away. For my readers who love classic California chardonnay in the under $25 mark, this is a bottle you need to find!

 

 

Ranch 32 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Hames Valley and San Lucas AVAs, Monterey, California. 13.5% ABV; SRP $20/bottle.

A blend of two fruits from two Monterey estates, aged for 12 month in French and American oak. Color is deep garnet with maroon edging. The nose offers cassis and blackberry, then green vegetation with notes of eucalyptus, basalt, and cedar. On the palate: moderate dark fruit starts and finishes. Black plum and black currants cross the front palate, potting soil with loam and sodium on the back palate with a spice mix and heat from the alcohol across the top palate. Medium-long finish with strong fruit is retained thoughout. I tasted this over the course of a week and the fruit profile expanded to full maturity after a couple of days. It was delightfully young upon opening and evolved with air to a nice maturity, so I’d suggest decanting or using an aerator for maximum enjoyment. Ideal pairings with grilled meats and game, my preferred pairing was grilled steak and grilled vegetables (also endorsed by a vegetarian guest who did the pairing solely with grilled vegetables). I found this wine to be a solid value, especially at the street price you will find in the $15-20 range.

 

 

Ranch 32 Pinot Noir 2016, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey, California. 13.5% ABV; SRP $20/bottle.

 

Color is dusty rose, while the perfumed nose offers rose bush, raspberries, fresh cuttings and sand. On the palate, fully mature cherry and raspberry, notes of sea salt, moss, sandy loam, and white pepper. Considerable heat on the medium-long finish, notes of burnt coffee beans and tasted oak wrap up this little gem. I adored this wine with hot artichoke dip, both cured and baked salmon, and dried meats. I could see this wine easily pairing through an entire meal, tantalizing your mouth from the appetizer to after-dinner bites of strawberries, chocolates, or cheesecake. There is a sense of old-world glamour in this wine, perhaps an early California essence that permeates?  Regardless, this is solid value that compares well against wines in the $25+ range.

 

 

#WIYG?

à votre santé!

Lasorda Family Wines 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon

14 Jun

Lasorda Family Wines 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, CA, USA. 13.5% ABV; SRP $24/bottle.

 

 

Color is deep magenta with purple edging. The nose offers boysenberry, eucalyptus, and dried black fruit. On the palate is  blueberry and boysenberry, with secondary hints of raspberry and cherry, followed by notes of forest floor, mocha, cedar plank, and granite. There is considerable heat across the front palate, followed by dried blueberry, black plum, and stone across the  tongue; residual heat shifts along the rear of the top palate on the lengthy, fruity finish that features moderate acidity and medium-to-large tannins.

Winemaker Terry Culton has crafted a modern cabernet with a nose and mouthfeel that nod to old world cabernet style, while the flavor profile is unmistakably Paso Robles- that’s a great thing!  And it goes with food, let me tell you! In addition to pairing with American fare, this wine will sit happily along Italian, Spanish and French meats, game, and savory dishes. It is medium bodied with a warm, enveloping and gossamer mouthfeel. I paired this over a five day period with Italian, Mexican, Chinese, burgers, grilled chicken, and steak and I was pleasantly surprised every single time. This is a delicious, food-friendly wine that drinks nicely alone and pairs beautifully with American fare and, like the game, gets along with all others.

Did I expect to like it? No preconceived notion. 

Am I Impressed? Yes.

Would I buy it again? Yes!  

Would it be the perfect wine or gift for your friends & family who are BASEBALL FANS?  Oh HECK yes! 

Editor’s note: If you didn’t automatically THINK about Tommy Lasorda when you read the top lines of this post or saw the baseball diamond on the bottle, ok- you’re not a baseball fan, & here’s the skinny: Tommy Lasorda was a major league baseball pitcher and went on to become a Major League manager. For two decades he managed the LA Dodgers, and was one of the top managers in baseball history. His name is synonymous with professional baseball, regardless of who you root for. Yes, this is his family’s namesake wine. Tommy Lasorda, at 90, is currently the oldest living member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 

 

 

This wine is an absolute HIT. make no mistake about it, I expected a gimmick, and got scored on.

 

Surprised? Don’t be.
I AM a Yankee fan, after all!

But for any baseball fan, this is a treat! Take this bottle to the park. Or give it as a gift. You’ll thank me. 

 

à votre santé!

The Old-World Consistency of Napa’s Chateau Montelena

15 Sep

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and 2014 vintages. Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA; USA. 14% ABV, MSRP $58/bottle.

 

When an opportunity presented itself to compare back to back vintages of cabernet sauvignon from Napa’s famous Chateau Montelena, I simply could not wait! For those who don’t track annual harvest reports, 2013 was reported as a perfect growing year in Napa. To follow, 2014 started out badly with drought, but eventually this vintage was touted as a “dream” season for the Napa Valley, in spite of providing less tannin and structure than the previous year. Both years are ideal for collectors, and highly suggested for oenophiles.

 

 

In my tasting sessions, I found the vintages had significant similarities and minor differences, as you might expect from the vines, vineyard, and winemaker.  After much deliberation, I decided to use one set of tasting notes, and I’ll discuss the subtle differences in the vintages afterwards.

Color is deep purple; the nose full of blackberry, spice box, hints of fresh violets, and notes of earth. The palate is massive blackberry with allspice, cocoa, some green cuttings, and a hint of ripe raspberry, with a beautiful blend of complex minerals which demonstrate the Calistoga AVA’s flexible, alluvial soils.

 

 

 

 

I tasted these vintages with several neighbors over a mix of grilled meats, savory salads, fresh roasted vegetables, and highly spiced mediterranean chicken. Any red wine lover who tasted either wine was in heaven, but there were some differences. The 2014 was fruitier and more direct, while the 2013 more tannic, with more structure. Had I not known the vintages, I might have expected it was the same wine blend with 5 years of age. Overall, the 2013 appeared drier with the fruit more condensed, whilst the 2014 still demonstrated youthful fruit and an edge towards jam or compote with less tannin and a hint of mocha. By carefully rationing small portions, I was able to taste these bottles for four more days in which I expected the differences to become more apparent. Instead the opposite happened! I found that with more exposure to air, the wines showed stronger similarities as the fruit muted and the tannins melded, harmoniously, like some of the world’s finest old-world chateaux.

 

 

Both of these vintages drink beautifully now, but will show improved finesse and expression in another 5-10 years and beyond, if you can wait that long. The fact that they are an excellent value (and drink like an $85 Napa cab) should not be lost on the wine lover or collector: if you drink these now, you’re a smart drinker; and if you hold them and drink them later, you’re a brilliant collector!

 

Needless to say, I was impressed by both of these vintages of Chateau Montelena. They are proof to me that the winery continues to have tremendous consistency from year to year, and maintains their historic drive for excellence that shocked the wine industry at the famed 1976 Judgement of Paris. It is wonderful to be able to access these wines at a moderate price point. For the serious drinker, the quality of winemaking will make you yearn to taste their upper echelon “estate” series.

 

 

If you are a serious Napa cab lover, you won’t want to wait to take advantage of these two vintages. Now is the time to collect, if you have not already. Or if you are like me, now is the time to invite friends over and open a few bottles to enjoy!

à votre santé!

 

Charles Smith Wines: Eve, Boom Boom!, and The Velvet Devil to Tempt Your Tongue!

16 Jun

Charles Smith. If you’re like me, hearing that name is enough to scroll down to the reviews. If not, please continue:

Few names in recent years have acquired such rock star gravitas in the wine industry. Wait, You don’t know him? Taste his wines. Don’t have one available? Ok, so in 2016, Constellation Wines bought five of his brands for $120 million. Are you impressed yet? You should be. And I say this, being a superman of the CS Cabernet Sauvignon, because that wine has been one of the top, under-$20 Cabernet Sauvignon wines you can find in the USA, PERIOD.

So when offered a chance to taste a few, I jumped. YES, I want to taste them. I tasted two of these wines for five days. and the other… well, it lasted an hour before it was gone. (Not sorry.) The labels look like a tattoo chosen by a millennial based on their favorite song. So? It’s not about the label, it’s about the juice.

The motto reads loud and clear on the back of the bottle: “Land to hand, vineyard to bottle.” Charles Smith is irreverent and fanciful, yet an incredibly serious winemaker: these wines are seeing at least some portion whole cluster pressed, with fermenting on the lees. Straightforward, the best fruit he can give you from sustainable farming, ideal fermentation, a carefully controlled pH and moderate ABV. So? Ok, fine: TASTING NOTES!

 

Eve Chardonnay 2014 by Charles Smith Wines, Mattawa, Washington. 13.5% ABV, MSRP $13/Bottle.

Color is pale gold, while the nose offers tangerine peel, wildflower cutting, and gravel. On the palate, pure green apple- no wonder the name. It is like taking a bite of a chardonnay apple from the Garden of Eden. Straightforward, fruit forward, less acidity than I expected with a hint of marzipan. On the finish, notes of silt, clay and yeast. At this price point, what chardonnay lover would say no? An easy purchase, at double the price! At street prices, I’d easily put three bottles in my cart. You should do the same.

 

 

 

Boom Boom Syrah 2015 by Charles Smith Wines, Columbia Valley, Washington. 13.%5ABV, MSRP $18/bottle.

Color is a gorgeous, opaque dark orchid/byzantium. The nose shows blueberry, black plum, and crushed  violet while the palate offers up blackberries, plum jam, cassis and black cherry. Secondary notes of pepper, potting soil, wet slate, sandy loam and old wood. I love a good syrah but shy away from the fruit bombs- Boom Boom does a tremendous job of maintaining balance in the wine from opening until day five of tasting, never being overly fruity and only showing a hint of bitterness on day 5. With this gorgeous color, balance of flavor, and gentle alcohol content, how is this still on the shelves? When word gets out, you’ll have a hard time finding this for under $20.

 

 

Are you ready to be severely tempted? You better be…

The Velvet Devil Merlot 2014 by Charles Smith Wines. Columbia Valley, Washington.  ABV 13.6%, MSRP $13/bottle.

Color is a garnet center with purple edging. The nose offers boysenberry, cherry pie and a hint of tobacco leaf.  On the palate, bright, acidic flavor of dark cherries, maturing blackberries, and blueberry. Secondary notes remind me of damp Northwest: wet earth, and young, freshly hewn wood. On the medium-long finish: plum wine, crushed leaves, sand, and the distinct mineral flavors of volcanic rock. And pour me another taste… (just watch, you will do the same.)

OK: I was hoping for the velvety mouthfeel I get from Chateau Margaux, but let’s be honest: should I expect the same mouthfeel from a $13 wine that I do from a $600-$900 bottle? No, but for the cost of this wine, the mouthfeel IS quite velvety. Why? Because Smith is giving us 94% Merlot and adding a few tremendous blending grape (cab sauvignon, malbec, and our beloved friend cabernet franc) and aging in new French Oak to take this wine from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Put this wine in front of ten people, and (incorrectly) they will probably not call it Merlot. It just has a totally different vibe! But they will call it delicious, and they will ask for a second glass, then a third. So will you- and the bottle will be dry, as mine is from tasting pour after pour. Trust me, this Velvet Devil is going to stick a pitchfork in your plans and you will love it.

 

Boom.

 

Now go rock your weekend with a Charles Smith Wine, you can thank me later by sending me a bottle.

For more information on these wines, check out: www.charlessmithwines.com/

 

à votre santé!

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards- Wines that Sing in the Glass

22 Aug

Sbragia Family Vineyards is a Sonoma winemaking family I did not know before..

And now it is one I will never forget.

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2012 Gino’s Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA.  15.1%ABV. MSRP $44/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

Color is garnet with violet edging. The nose shows red and black fruit, eucalyptus, anise and green pepper. In the mouth, plenty of black and red berries meet spice, black pepper, chewy tannin and nice acidity. Big in flavor, hot on the back palate when the alcohol crosses the threshold. Tasty by itself and with food, this matched up beautifully with pizza, chili, and by itself in the afternoon sunshine on the back porch. Refrigerated after opening the bottle, it lasted nicely for over a week while maintaining freshness and proper balance. Some great value found in the street prices of this wine. #HeyNow!

Sbrag ZIN

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2014 Home Ranch Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA.  14.5%ABV. MSRP $30/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

Color is deep straw verging on golden sunlight. On the nose, baked apple pie, pineapple, a hint of baked bread  while toasted cashews tantalize the senses with a strong sense of alcohol. On the palate, white stone fruit, kiwi, lemon zest, marzipan, and vanilla, with granite on the long finish that leaves a zesty heat across the top palate. #SoNice!

Sbrag Chard

 

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2012 Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Moon Valley District. Sonoma County, CA.  14.8%ABV. MSRP $65/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

What a gorgeous & classic California cab: deep ruby in color. Eucalyptus, menthol, earth, wet leaves and green pepper with cedar on the nose.  Massive cassis and blackberry fruit up front. Some mid-palate spice, some heat, forest floor, saddle leather, and a soil-rich minerality on the finish with lasting heat, lovely oak and a lingering body. Lovely to drink now but what perfection might this be in 5-10 years with the alcohol muted and the fruit sliding back? This wine drank beautifully for a week of evenings when stored in the fridge… rationing a half-glass of heaven each night. This drinks so well right now but I can’t wait to see what it is like in 2022. #BOOM!

 

Cab 2

 

Ed Sbragia of Sbragia Family Vineyards provides a classic California edge with a long-term family history and pedigree you can taste in the glass. Get a few bottles, pop them with friends, and listen got everyone tell you how good they are. They are just that crowd pleasing.

 

à votre santé!

 

If Chile Had a Margaux, This Might Be It!

18 Dec

François Lurton’s Gran Araucano Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Lolol Valley, Chile. 14.5% ABV, $35 list, currently $35-45 street.

I would never have tried this wine but it was suggested to me over and over from various vendors who know what I like, and that I prefer to buy wines in the under $20 for my readers but my personal preferences run higher. After the third time someone suggested this to me, one vendor finally put the bottle in my hands and said, “If you don’t like it, bring it back and I’ll exchange it.” For a perishable item like wine, that’s a sales pitch from someone who trusts his product!

The color is deep ruby, and the nose is surpassingly complex and aromatic w/ black plum, spice, forest floor, a little funk and menthol. A nose like a champion, almost worth the price of admission for the nose alone.

On the palate, tart cassis is the powerful first impression. Swirled around the mouth, the upper palate gets the heat plus red plum,  pepper, oak, some clay. The tongue continues with cassis and now adds plum and blackberry, while the back palate senses silt, darker notes like forest and potting soil, and now tannins creeping in, first slowly, then with full force. Acidity and tannin take a second place to the fruit and nose in this wine, but are in no way diminished. This is a well-made wine, worthy of the price tag. Great for roast meats, strong flavors- even though I enjoyed it with mediterranean fare.

It was crafted with care by masters of French classic wines, no doubt, because I have a hard time putting down the glass, or it keeps refilling itself.

If Chile had a Margaux, this might be it. I would love to taste this wine again in five and ten years. If you take the time to google this wine, you might find the series of awards it has won. Or you might just find what matters: a place to buy a bottle or two so you can enjoy. If only I had cellar space for a full case!

gran araucano

 

à votre santé!

 

Castillo de Molina

15 Oct

San Pedro Reserva Castillo de Molina Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Central Valley, Chile. $11 at Mayfair Wine & Liquor. %14 ABV.

Color in the glass is deep garnet with rose edging. The nose shows cassis, young black plum, forest floor, young oak and a hint of menthol. In the mouth, a mix of fully ripe black cherry, blackberry and black plum, dried flowers, clay and some barnyard funk on the finish. A full-bodied wine with a very South American attitude. Pairs best with strong flavors, retains balance on the second and third day after opening. A solid value at this price point, best demonstrated with gamey meats, spicy fare or savory cheeses.

Castillo De Molina

à votre santé!

‘Drinking Local’ at Total Wine: A Big ‘ol Wine Store in Atlanta

8 Oct

On a recent trip to Atlanta I had the fortune to mix business with pleasure. The pleasure was seeing friends from high school at a get-together that was essentially BYOB. For me, that meant wine shopping. I had to hunt locally in Atlanta, but I’m no longer a local. I  haven’t lived there since the 1980’s, and had no clue where to go. So I opened my phone, tapped, found, & then shopped in the closest wine store that popped up on Google Maps: a store called Total Wine (Atlanta), near Perimeter Mall.

It’s a huge store by NYC standards. For the rest of the country, it’s about the size of a small CostCo, Kmart, or Home Depot. They have a LOT of wine here. There’s copious beer, too, though the sign says “Total Wine” it doesn’t say “Totally Wine”.

I wandered the aisles briefly. Towards the front of the store was a cooler than caught my eye, with lots of tasty delights to tempt the oenophile. First growths, some big name firsts and seconds, the range in the first minute was from $50-$1500/bottle. Color me initially impressed, and I saw a magnum of Far Niente that might be a great party favor.

While I was peering at options, I got the challenge. “Can I help you with something, Sir?” from my six. It was all I could do to say “I’m a sucker for a first growth, load me up and charge it”  but I managed to keep my NY attitude in check, smile, and ask for a suggestion for a white burgundy and a dry riesling, a little test for both the seller and the store. Show me your hand, buddy. Let’s see what you have.

The kid (ok, the employee…I’m showing my age. HEY! YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!)   was passable, he could walk the walk, and knew enough to be dangerous AND help my New York attitude. Ten minutes later I accepted his third suggestion, after two chablis I passed up. Domaine Patrick Javillier’s  “Les Tillets” Meursault  2012, @$50, 12.5%ABV with delightful subtlety, restraint, snobbery and balance. Oh yes, this will suit my needs, and my friends will reap the benefits!

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I then chose  his second riesling suggestion, Dr.Heidemanns-Bergweiler 2013 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett. @$17, 8.5% ABV (That’s a mouthful, let me tell you!) Semi-dry with apricot and orange peel, it’s a delightful if dense wine and the perfect opener for a party or closer for the “I don’t really drink” crowd.

Heidemanns

I strolled through the aisles of chardonnay and spotted a weakness of mine- DuMOL Chardonnay Need I say more? It shot into my arms. My friends are luckier than they think, this is a wine I can’t even find locally in NYC! Walking through the aisle of pinot, I was sad to see none of the wines I’d fallen in love with over the recent year. No Santa Barbara Pinot? No New Zealand Central Otago Aromatic whites OR pinot noirs? Sad clown face. What I did see was a ton of major producers whose names I knew well. If it was a big winery with wines scoring 85-95 points they had it. If they didn’t sell 10,000 cases it wasn’t in this store.

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Before I left another seller closer to my age saw the bottles tucked in my arms and said “I like your taste in wine”, then offered me a taste of something they had on sale: Courtney Benham Napa Valley Cab 2012. I think it listed for $20, but was on sale for $10. Tasting the dark fruit and wood, it’s a good red party wine I immediately knew would be gone through quickly. I picked up a bottle and headed to the party, where the BYOB became “drink JvB’s” from the serious wine folks. The red wine drinkers, as expected, finished the Benham in record time, while the chardonnay drinkers were able to argue whether they like the old world Les Tillets meursault or the new world (with classic old world approach) DuMOL. Yes, I spoiled them with really good & great wines, and told everyone where I got them- here, at the local wine store.

 

Benham

 

So I had a pretty good experience at Total Wine, and feel that anyone could find something they’d really enjoy in the store.  I was sad that I wasn’t seeing any of the highest quality, small-volume producers that I was specifically seeking from Napa, Alto Adige, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Northern Cali, The Finger Lakes, Washington State, and New Zealand. These are wines that you find when you’re visiting an area, they can blow your mind with their small production, huge quality, made-with-love-for-the-wines-sake bottles. This is what you learn when you drink locally in wine country. And this is why you become a fanatic, a regular wine club member, a champion of the small producer.

But, (and it’s a BIG but)  Atlanta is NOT wine country. So how do you drink “local” in the ATL? “Local wine” in Atlanta means something totally different: not bad, just Different!  I DID find a ton of options, so many of the high-volume wines you see listed in Wine Spectator, it was awesome on that level. I saw more names I recognized from print & region studies than I did from personal tasting experience. And what is in stock is delivered at a fair price, so it’s win-win… or maybe wine-win.

Did I mention that I kept the kabinett, to enjoy privately? Oops. Maybe I didn’t share everything. Hey, they can find it on the shelf  at Total Wine, where “drink local” means something totally different, but might be equally as satisfying.

 

à votre santé!

#MWWC12 

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #12
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Dinner With Friends- #MWWC11

10 Aug
Note: This post is 1) different that what I normally write, 2) about a recent wine dinner, as well as 3) a response to my friend Jeff ‘s request for submissions to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #MWWC11 which if you really want to (if you blog & want to write about wine)  you can see here.  Or if you ride or like comic writing, you should check out my favorite  section of  Jeff’s blog, which I really enjoy. I hope you enjoy this post! Feel free to comment and let me know -JvB
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A friend I’ve not seen for 28 years was in town for a family wedding- his! So I invited Joe & Kaz to come to our home for dinner while they were in NYC, visiting from Osaka Japan. Joe has lived in Japan for almost two decades and I knew we’d have a lot to discuss. I was a little nervous about making dinner since our Western meals are quite different than those in the East, so I enlisted my (much) better half to help create a solid dinner plan, while I, as in classic form, worried and worried about what wines to serve.

I stared into my cellar, pondering choice after choice, changing my mind several times. Finally I settled on a small- production petite sirah I’ve been holding for a special occasion to pair with beef, and a vinho verde I love on hot summer evenings. I grabbed a bottle of Chateau de L’Aulée AOC Méthode Tradtionelle brut sparkling wine from Touraine, France so we could toast the wedding. And just for fun, I selected two half bottles of dessert wine, a port and a sauternes. I felt prepared. No, really I felt terrified, but at least I had wine!

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Since both my wife and I are freelancers in the arts and work a lot of (ok, almost all) evenings and weekends, we rarely get to entertain. We also didn’t know how busy we would be prior to our dinner. As my schedule got increasingly hectic, she agreed to shop while I was working. Our menu plan included several cold salads that I could help prep and she could execute while I was grilling the entrée. The butcher didn’t have the cut of meat I wanted available, so she purchased several shoulder steaks and we agreed to make kabobs to allow us to serve efficiently.

As she sliced a butternut squash and put that into the oven, I cubed the beef and dumped it into a bowl for the marinade- then diced fresh garlic, onion powder, cracked 4-color pepper mix, and ground some Himalayan salt on top. I added two heaping tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, then raced to the cellar to get a bottle of my ‘everyday’ red table wine– a bottle of 2011 Los Vascos from Colchagua, Chile which is managed by none other than Baron Eric de Rothschild.

los vascos

This wine is one of the best values I keep in my cellar at about $10 a bottle, and is great to drink but doesn’t break my heart if I need a lot of it to make a meal taste wonderful. I poured it on the beef and mixed my marinade happily, putting the bottle aside as a backup to the Petite Syrah, then covering the marinade bowl and sliding it into the fridge to continue the prep.

Annette and I chopped Israeli cucumbers and diced roma tomatoes, parsley and scallions for a cucumber/tomato salad that could be dressed quickly with oil and balsamic vinegar. As I washed vegetables for the kabobs, she cut yellow and red peppers for me, moved to prep an avocado salad that had to be made at the last minute, then put sweet peas and water into a pan to cook while I scraped & preheated the grill.

Thirty minutes had passed and we were moments away from our guests arriving, so we enlisted a daughter to set the table while I aerated and decanted the petite sirah, using a True Fabrications Aerating Pour Spout to pour into the decanter. The petite sirah was a gorgeous, near-black purple in color, delightfully aromatic with the scent of african violets, and exciting even to pour. I was happy that the spout had caught some sediment as well as aerating. I rinsed it and set it aside, then pulled the meat out and built the kabobs for grilling, using mushrooms, onion, cherry tomato, yellow and red pepper, and of course the marinated steak cubes.

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Joe and Kaz arrived and we greeted them, opened the bubbly and toasted their wedding, and I took them with me to the backyard to grill the kabobs while Annette completed the salads and vegetable courses.

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The grill ran about 550 degrees and while kabobs require about five minutes a side for medium well (turning over once), I prefer to turn them every three minutes as neither the vegetables nor the meat always turns as one wants. After a quick sear, I moved several kabobs to a higher level to grill them to medium rare over the same duration. We chatted about their trip, enjoying the sparkling wine until it was time to take the kabobs off the flame.

Following our guests into the dining room with a plate of burning hot skewers, I noticed that Annette had made a couscous (when did she find time to do that?) and also managed to plate the butternut squash rings so that they enclosed the steaming hot green peas, a neat little visual I didn’t know was in her repertoire! I refreshed flutes with sparkling wine and poured the petite sirah, as Joe gave a quick Japanese blessing, “Itadakimasu” or いただきます.  A few bites in, Joe exclaimed his joy at the wine, which made me beam proudly and take time to explain my choice, ignoring the earlier requests from my 13-year old daughter who had begged me not to wax poetic about wine tonight…sorry, sweetheart!

Modus Operandi is the Napa, CA home of winemaker Jason Moore. I was introduced to his wines by a fellow oenophile who INSISTED I try Jason’s cabernet sauvignon- I loved it, noting the depth and complexities of flavors, with an unusual bonus: chocolate covered strawberry notes on the finish. I quickly joined the Modus wine club and have been a fan ever since. Jason may not be the first of the independent winemakers that I decided to champion and support, but he is highly accomplished and we share an affinity for passion in the things we do. His work is exemplary.

Back to the dinner table: Joe noted the sirah was more black in color than red, more floral than fruity on the nose, and deeply complex. I agreed, and explained that it was made in very limited quantity (only two barrels produced) and that I chose it specifically to complement both the meat and array of vegetables due to its flexibility to pair so well with grilled foods. I have a full review of the ’09 sirah here.

 

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The meal I had been so worried about had been a success, and we talked late into the night. After a small intermission we cleared dinner, I made coffee while Annette served berries and some small pastries I’d picked up at Financier for dessert, and I brought out the dessert beverages to our guests. These included the 2006 Chateau Doisy Vedrines which is showing beautifully right now, a tawny port from Kalyra Winery, from Santa Barbara, CA that I just tasted recently on my Wine Blogging trip, and a calvados: Christian Drouin Coer de Lion “Selection”, a delightful digestive that offers apples, spice, and cinnamon-all the best parts of apple pie- in the glass.

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We sampled sips of all three, and a little XO courvoisier that was a gift from a client.

My fears of failure seemed to have been conquered by paying great attention to detail. Fresh, flavorful, and colorful food well-paired with tasty wines and made for a lovely, memorable evening with old friends and our spouses. While I don’t know when I’ll see my friend Joe again, I hope that Annette and I will work harder to entertain more guests at our home sooner, rather than later.

à votre santé!

 

 

 

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