Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ways of Wine

"The Ways of Wine" is a new film by Argentine filmmaker Nicholas Carerras about Miami-based sommelier Charlie Arturaola, who travels to the Mendoza wine country in Argentina to participate in a typical international wine event, the kind of tasting event that many wine professionals take part in every year. Except nothing about this journey is typical. Charlie, the tasting master, loses his way. After realizing that he's "lost his palate," and cannot taste anything, he seeks help from a variety of well-known wine professionals such as French consulting winemaker Michel Rolland and winemaker Susana Balbo (playing themselves), but nothing works.
 Charlie finally undertakes a new kind of journey to connect with his family in Uruguay that results in an extended, poignant last scene that restores not only Charlie but also a belief in family, wine and the joys of life.
 Blending fact and fiction, the film uses innovative camera work and the lovely backdrop of the Mendoza wine country. One of the most arresting things about it is the way director Carreras coaxes natural performances from the cast --- none of them professional actors.
 "The Ways of Wine" is one of the best of the recent crop of "wine movies" from the last few years. I saw it at the inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival last weekend. It will be distributed in the U.S. by Shoreline Entertainment, but so far there are no dates for theatrical showings. Look out for it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Holiday Gifts

I know it's early, but it's never really too early to think about gifts for those you care about. And especially with the rush of the end-of-the-year holidays, it's best to start early so you can enjoy yourself later.
That's why I was scrutinizing the books and gift boxes that came to my attention in the last few months for holiday gift-giving potential. Following are my favorites:

For those who love to choose the wine but leave the food to others: Harry and David “Founder’s Favorite Gift Box” $79.95.  Attractively packaged in one gift box, this culinary treasure trove was a treat to open and savor. The Founder's Favorite (there are many different gift boxes to choose from) showcases fresh pears, apples, cheese, black pepper-encrusted dry salami, crackers, pepper and onion relish, and snacks and desserts like Raspberry Galettes, Chocolate Moose Munch, truffles and Bing Cherry Chocolates. It’s an easy, elegant picnic or portable lunch for 2-4 in a box. All you have to do is add a bottle of wine!

 For anyone who likes to cook and craft: Gourmet Gifts by Dinah Corley; Harvard Common Press, $19.95 (paperback). This book of edible gifts contains many recipes, from nuts and cookies to more unusual items like handmade herbal tea sachets and creme fraiche fudge. What adds to the fun is that Corley makes the presentation of the gift as important as the gift itself. She suggests such novel presentations as a chocolate chiffon cake in a hat box, and a poster-sized peach fruit leather in a shipping tube. Includes recipes for Orange Essence Wine (a staple in Southern France) and Cool Cucumber Vodka.

For Francophiles: The Bonne Femme Cookbook by Wini Moranville; Harvard Common Press,  $24.95 (hardback).  This book takes you from amuse-bouches to desserts using the ideas, techniques and traditions of the French home cook (bonne femme roughly means housewife). It focuses on casual, everyday cooking rather than 12-step recipes for culinary masterpieces. A sample of the recipes: Cucumbers with Mint, Chickpea Soup, Blanquette of Pork, French Lasagne and Tres French Green Beans. Along the way, the author tells amusing and informative stories of her personal encounters with French food, culture and people. Great food to go with your French wine.

For Italian food junkies: Piatto Unico: When One Course Makes A Real Italian Meal by Toni Lydecker; Lake Isle Press, $19.95 (paperback).  Another look at home-style cooking, this time from Italy. This book focuses on the one-course Italian meal, traditionally peasant food or that associated with religious festivals and funerals. Peasant food never sounded so good: Rice, Beans and Sausages in Red Wine Sauce, Brothy Bread Soup with Poached Eggs, and Mountain Salad with Bacon, Fontina and Sweet-Sour Onions.  Especially helpful are the author's shopping and cooking tips in such asides as "Italian Market Strategies," and "At the Butcher, Fishmonger and Deli Counter."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Interesting Box Wine from Octavin

Just when I was thinking of whipping up a great sangria for a party (according to my friend Marimar Torres's classic Spanish recipe), I was introduced to Octavin's Osborne Seven, a blend of seven red Spanish varietals.
At $21.99 for a 3-liter box that keeps the wine fresh for as long as six weeks, it's quite a deal.
Now before you start questioning the idea of wine in a box, consider this: boxed wine, or bag-in-box, as the French call it, is the fastest-growing segment of the French wine market. If France, that stronghold of wine tradition, can accept wine in a box, I think we can too. For more on this issue, see my story in Wine Enthusiast magazine's November issue.
Osborne Seven has classic Spanish red varietals: Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Graciano, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot, in a yummy blend that is moderate in alcohol (13.6%) and high on soft tannins and luscious fruit. Mixed with a little gin, Cognac and orange liqueur, plus lots of fresh fruit, it made a fantastic sangria.
Octavin has a line of eight-sided, self-serve packages that contain premium wine, including the one I tried after my sangria success, Herding Cats, a white blend from South Africa. Crisply acidic, with moderate alcohol (13.5%), the blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc was a pleasant aperitif and accompaniment to grilled fish and chicken at a barbecue. $24 for a 3-liter box. Available nationally in the U.S.

Monday, July 11, 2011

China a Power in the Wine World?

Wealthy Chinese buyers are snapping up the world's most valuable wines at auction and, at home, they are entering a whole new world of wine production, enticing some of the world's best brands to their shores.
Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) is currently planting vines on property the company bought in Shandong Province. See my story on this on Wine Enthusiast's web site.  Moet Hennessy is also planning to make a premium sparkling wine in China. 

 Wine Enthusiast magazine will soon publish another story I wrote on wine investment and China figures into this story, too. Chinese buyers are actively involved in making wine one of the most dynamic of the so-called "investments of passion." The Chinese seem to have a special affection for First Growth Chateau Lafite, but it doesn't stop there.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Le Sole Mio in Port-Vendres

This is fideuà, a Spanish dish that is a type of paella with short pasta strands instead of rice. This one was made with fish stock and large "gambas" (shrimp), and served to me and a group of wine writers recently at the beachfront Le Sole Mio restaurant in the picturesque southern French town of Port-Vendres near the Spanish border. With it, we drank some lovely local wines, Les Clos de Paulilles Collioure rosé (Syrah and Grenache) and Les Clos de Paulilles Collioure blanc (Grenache blanc). The restaurant is next door to Clos des Paulilles winery, the makers of some very good fortified Banyuls wine.

This last picture is of a very smart cat who waited until the humans were finished to sample one of the gambas.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Typical Sicilian Street Food?

I don't know how typical it is, but across the street
from the excellent Caruso and Minini winery in Marsala, I encountered a street food vendor with this pile of spiky sea urchins looking like round porcupines.  

One of my traveling companions, wine critic and
educator Michele Shah, forked over two Euros for
two of the creatures and the vendor cut them open with what looked like a pair of pruning shears and  then offered them for eating right there on the street. Michele offered a taste to everyone, but I wasn't hungry.

Even after living for almost six years in Japan, I am not a big raw fish eater. Interesting-looking, though.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just Another Day at the Office

Dinner at Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux and a tour of the private cellar:

With my foie gras ravioli and main course of sauced turbot I drank a 1990 Lafite. Diane Flammand, one of the winemakers at Domaines Barons de Rothschild, explained that it was an unusually opulent vintage for Lafite and one of her personal favorites. (She‘s a fan of California wines, too) The 1990 Lafite was amazingly fresh for a 21-year-old wine and the feature I was most entranced with was its mouthfeel: so silky you hardly need to swallow, it just glides down your throat.

Had the rare opportunity to descend stone steps to the private wine cellar of Baron Eric de Rothschild in the main chateau he calls home when he’s in Bordeaux and was astounded to find dusty, cob-webbed bottles dating as far back as 1797. Besides its heady aromas, stimulating tastes and mood-softening properties, wine provides an amazing link through time. In the same room with me were wines that survived Napolean, The French Revolution and WWII when Nazis occupied the Lafite grounds and plundered most of the recent vintages. The family, knowing that the Germans were coming, hid many of the historic bottles.


Monday, May 16, 2011

The Sweet Life

The setting: Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes, France, next door to Chateau D’Yquem and considered second only to Yquem among Sauternes producers. It was a beautiful, bright May morning and the vineyard property -- a chateau for receiving guests, a wine production facility and more than 300 acres of neat, orderly vines with vibrant red rose bushes edging the vine rows -- all spelled quality with a capital Q. I tasted the 2002 and 2010 vintages to see how the latest vintage -- a stellar one according to reports -- tasted, and to see one that has been evolving in the bottle. The 2010 was luscious and heavily concentrated in the mouth with firm acidity but lacked distinct flavors and aromas that will emerge during the planned two years in the barrel before it is released. The ‘02 had a powerful honeyed nose with flavors of apricot , white flowers and that sumptuous mouthfeel Sauternes fans luxuriate in. Michel Negrier, export manager for Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), which owns Chateau Rieussec among other properties in Bordeaux, Languedoc and around the world, told me that Europe is still the main export market for Sauternes, but Asia -- especially China, South Korea and Japan, is the real emerging market for Sauternes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Spring for Rosés

Spring has sprung in many parts of the U.S. or will soon, so it is time for wine lovers to break out the dry rosé. I’m a firm believer that dry rosés can, and should, be drunk all year round, but spring is when the new vintage is traditionally released and the bottles usually don’t last long – at least not in my house.

They’re getting popular in other houses, too. Rosé sales grew at five times the rate that total table wine sales in the U.S. did last year. A pair of studies shows dry rosé wine growing rapidly as a category. Provence, in France, is the birthplace of dry rosé wine, the world’s leading rosé region and the fastest-growing French region in exports of wine to the U.S. market.

Dry rosé wines are often made from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and other red grape varieties in much the same way red wines are, except their skins are allowed to soak with the grape juice for a short time – just enough to tint the juice a pink or light red color. They are not for aging, but for drinking fresh and young. Rosés are also known as rosado in Spain and rosato in Italy.

Here is a sampling of some roses that have crossed my tongue in the recent past. I recommend them all (or I wouldn’t list them). All reasonably priced, these wines possess another feature I love: they are all moderate or low in alcohol (13 percent alcohol or less). Enjoy.

* * * * Albrecht Brut Rosé, Non-vintage, from northern France. 100% Pinot Noir, dry, crisp, soft coral color. Sparkling wine made the same way as Champagne. $19.99

* * * * Lombardo Salvatore Nero D’Avola Rosado 2010. From Sicily.

* * * Cotes du Rhone "Belleruche," M. Chapoutier. Lovely, delicate, pale pink color. Made from Grenache grapes, medium weight, with red fruit flavors. Somewhat spare and lean, great palate-cleanser food wine. $12.99

* * * Bieler Père et Fils Rosé 2010 . Pale salmon color, medium weight in the mouth, substantial, yet restrained, palate. From Provence. $12

* * * Jaja de Jau Rosé 2010. The color of cranberry juice with flavors as bold as its hue. Juicy, vibrant fruit, tempered by acidty. From Southern France. $9.99

*** Gran Feudo Rosado 2009 From Grenache grapes, bright and fresh taste, lively acid, from Navarra, Spain $10

* * Les Deux Rives Rose 2010 From Southern France, pale in color, and lean and delicate. $9.99

* * Torrecilla Rosado The region this wine comes from, Navarra, Spain, is famous for its rosés. Lean and a bit steely. $10

* * Benessere Rosato 2009 Almost a red wine in color and weight, big palate, a touch of sweetness. Napa Valley. $16

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Vino from Sicilia

Americans love Italian wine -- in fact, many things Italian. So I was excited to venture for a week to Sicily, where I am writing from now.  My first day, I attended a wine tasting in the capital, Palermo, with dozens of Sicilian wine producers gathered under one roof. I did not know this until I arrived here, but Sicily is the largest wine-producing region in the largest wine-producing country in the world (virtually every inch of Italy is a wine region) so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of wineries (more than 200) in Sicily alone or the quality I was tasting. From luscious whites to deeply-colored and intensely-flavored reds, especially made from the predominant red grape here, Nero D’Avola, the wines were interesting, enjoyable, and in many cases exceptional. Some are in the United States, but hopefully, many more will come.

The best whites I tasted were made from three indigenous grape varieties: Grillo (pronounced Gree-low, and my personal favorite), Insolia (In-so-lee-ah) and Cattarato. But I also tasted Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier, so-called “international” grape varieties that Sicilians sometimes like to blend with their local grapes. Some even make stand-alone Chardonnays, with mixed results. All of the Grillos listed below are bright and fresh, with sensuous mouthfeels, medium-weights and because of their palate-cleansing acidity are excellent with shellfish, fried foods and light fish dishes.

The pink wines (rosato in Italian) below are dry, with bright strawberry and cherry flavors, lovely salmon colors and would match well with almost any fish dish, plus chicken and pork.

The star among red grapes here is Nero D’Avola (pronounced Nero Dav-o-lah), a fruity, juicy, somewhat spicy wine reminiscent of Australian Shiraz, but more toned down. Many local Sicilian producers bottle a fresher version that’s not aged in oak (I tended to prefer those) as well as ones that are oak-aged and often these bottling are blended with Syrah, Merlot and/or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Among my favorites, here are some recommendations of wines available in the United States, most under 13% alcohol and under $15:

Feudo Montoni Grillo 2010 and Nero D’Avola 2009

Firriato Alta Villa Grillo 2010

Rizzuto Piconello Bianco 2010 (100% Grillo)

Castel Venus Rosé di Nero D’Avola

Fondo Antico Nero D’Avola 2010

Lombardo Salvatore Nero D’Avola Rosado 2010

Lombardo Salvatore il Nero D’Avola 2010

Caravaglio Salina Bianco 2010 (organic)

Donnafugata Tancredi 2007 (Nero D’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon)

Caruso & Minini Marsala Superiore (dry)

Curto Eloro Nero D’Avola 2010

Ottoventi Passito 2007 (sweet dessert wine made from raisined grapes)

Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito 2008

Saturday, March 12, 2011

For Your Liquor Library

Did you know that the cocktail is an American invention? Or that the phrase "D and D" (for drunk and disorderly) dates back to the 1600s? 

The newly revised Everything Bartender's Book teaches you this and more, and if you're looking for an inexpensive, compact guide to drinks and bartending, the book may be for you. A $10.95 paperback, it's the perfect book for keeping on your bar and consulting frequently -- you won't care if you accidentally splash the pages with Maraschino cherry juice or Scotch.  Author Cheryl Charming (I am not making that name up!) gives us the usual cocktail recipes, bartending terms, and information about bar supplies and tools, but the best things about this guide are the offbeat offerings, such as the first chapter, "A History of Alcohol and Bartending," and an appendix of "Drinking Words Through Time."  A nice gift for a novice or yourself.

Also just out is the Everything Guide to Wine by Peter Alig, the wine educator at the Robert Mondavi Winery. This is an up-to-date, well-organized primer on wine with some informative chapters on topics that don't usually get covered in wine guides, such as "The Cost of Wine: What Goes into the Bottle,"  "The Power of Packaging" and "Strategies for Buying Wine."  The book is $16.95 and both "Everthing" guides are available from Adams Media, http://www.everything.com/.