Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Vinum Africa 2008 Chenin Blanc

Caitlin's family has been in town all week. They are fixing up the condo, organizing, and preparing an awesome Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.  I think they have fed me for the past three nights, so tonight it seemed like time that I cook a little something for them.  I made a simple paella, the recipe for which was on an iPad app called "How to Cook Everything."  The only ingredients were rice, stock, olive oil, chicken/shrimp, onion, saffron, salt, and pepper.  It was super easy--I made double the recipe thinking people would eat a ton, but we had a huge tupperware left over because it was so filling.  On the side I served a tomato salad in a chili-balsamic vinaigrette.  Tomato salad is traditionally more of a summer dish, but I wanted something fresh and simply flavored that would not clash with the paella.  With dinner we had a Chenin Blanc that one of Caitlin's coworkers brought to our last party.

In my head I had equated Chenin Blanc with Sauvignon Blanc.  I expected the chenin blanc to be light, crisp, maybe even a little watery--something that would accompany the shrimp and rice without much noise.  How insensitive of me; chenin blanc is its own distinct varietal, as I later learned, completely unrelated to the other blanc.  In South Africa, chenin blanc is also known as Steen and is the most widely planted varietal in the region.  Chenin blanc is rather malleable, in that depending on the terroir (climate, soil, etc.), the grape can create very different flavors, acidity, and sweetness in the wines it becomes.  South African chenin blancs are usually on the drier side with tropical fruit notes, while those wines from Loire, France, can be sweet or dry, still or sparkling.

This chenin blanc was heavier than I expected.  It reminded me a little of a viognier.  These are white wines that really sit in your mouth; they aren't refreshing or light like a sauvignon blanc, but they have a lot of character.  You can tell from the color--a deeper yellow--that there is more going on in the glass than with other whites.  The Vinum was thick and fruity, a little tart, but not overly sweet.  Caitlin tasted lime and honey--I didn't get that far, but I trust her palate.  This is definitely a white wine for people who like wine, not for the cocktail party white wine drinker.  It is a serious wine for a serious meal, and I think it matched well with the (slightly) greasy paella.  Not guzzleable, so good pair with dinner.

I googled the bottle, and it runs about $20.  I would recommend it, but only if you actually want to taste your white wine before you swallow it.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Marques de Montanana 2009 Garnacha

I just couldn't stay away. It's been almost a year, but I haven't forgotten you. There isn't a wine store window I haven't pressed my face against, a restaurant wine menu I haven't pored over, or a catchy label I haven't ogled and thought of you. It was only a matter of time; true love never dies. The Humble Grape is back up, sipping, swirling, and savoring its way through the economical wines around DC.

Saturday night Cait and I had a birthday party; it wasn't her birthday, it wasn't my birthday, but it was a pretty good party. Among the lovely guest gifts was a bottle of garnacha from Allison and Rob. Of course the real gift was their presence at the party, but I won't blog about dancing barefoot on the kitchen mat or Rob telling me he felt, "It is time to switch to whiskey." Tonight Cait and I were in the mood for a glass of red, and we sliced some meats and cheeses to accompany our selection.

Both Cait and I loved this bottle. It smelled a little like church wine and was immediately fruit-filled and fun on my tongue. But it settled on the sides of my tongue and finished slightly tannic. Medium-bodied and easy to drink, this garnacha was truly a treat. It reminded me a little of a big pinot noir, and the bottle was gone before we knew it.

We liked it so much that we looked it up online to find more--turns out you can find this at Trader Joe's for $4.99! Excellent find. I will pick up another bottle or two next time I'm at the store.

Update: Also great with chocolate cake.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Oyster Season

If you're thinking of diving into some raw oysters in the next month or so, take a peek at this article for wine pairings. It breaks down pairings by regional origin of the oysters and explains why each match works. Pretty neat. Note, the article only offers white wine pairings, the traditional choice for oysters. For speculation on potential red wine pairings, give this NYT article a read.

Happy shucking!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Legon 2007 Roble

"Where did it go?" - Emmett

This bottle had been sitting on my shelf since July. Over the summer, I started going to wine tasting at Zola downtown after work. They'd usually sample 5 or 6 wines and there was always an incredible spread of complimentary cheese and crackers. We're talking smoked gouda, goat cheese, various hard cheeses - it was awesome and often a makeshift dinner. When I tried this red, I was enraptured. It was one of the weirdest tasting experiences I'd ever had. Over the past few months, I'd started to wonder if my tastebuds had imagined the whole thing. Finally, after finishing Fall finals, I decided to open it up and revisit my curiosity.

100% Temparanillo from Ribera del Duero, Spain, it was aged for 6 months in American, French, and Hungarian Oak. As you know by now, different oaks create different qualities in wine. I've never seen something aged in Hungarian oak, so I did a little research. Though regarded as similar, when compared with French oak, Hungarian oak adds "more nutmeg, clove, and sweet oriental spice." Maybe you haven't heard much about Hungarian oak; that's because for about half of the 20th century, the forests and industry were state-run and most of the oak barrels that were made went to European winemakers. It seems like you'll be seeing more of Hungarian oak, though, because the forests are full of trees, so to speak. As the result of massive chopping by the British a few hundred years ago (for shipbuilding during war), Hungary enacted laws requiring sustainable forest management - which, I guess, means they have to plant more than they chop. Coupled with recently increasing privatization of forest ownership, the Hungarian cooperage (barrel-making) industry is redeveloping and expanding to North American markets.

So, the funny thing about this wine is the finish. It just ... disappears. It starts out smelling a little fruity and rich. Medium-bodied and relatively mild tasting, the Roble is a little softer than most Temperanillos I've tasted. But just as the wine settles on your tongue and you start to grasp the flavors, it's gone. So weird. There is just a touch of tannin left, so you know you didn't dream the last 3 seconds, but everything else is gone. So you have to take another sip and try again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. To me, this was a pretty neat thing, and it made the wine light, fun, and easy to drink. But I'm not sure this lack of finish is technically a good thing in the wine world. I guess it depends what you're looking for, but as a precursor to a night out dancing, I liked that I didn't get bogged down in the details of this red.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Saintsbury 2005 Carneros Pinot Noir

No time for a full post, but I had an awesome Pinot Noir last week that I'll forget about it if I don't write it down. Somehow it was dark and complex while still light and drinkable. I'm sure it had something to do with the age, and I think this winemaker keeps the wine in the barrels for quite a while (judging by the fact that they are just selling the 2007 vintage now). You can buy their wine online! (

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Parker Station 2009 Pinot Noir

Thursday night I hit up Clyde's happy hour with some of my favorite people from the Mint this summer. It's always trouble when Allison, Danae and I get together; somehow the wine bottles empty at an alarming rate and hilarity follows. This night was no exception, and the pictured bottle was actually our second bottle of Parker Station. We were all unclear as to whether we actually ordered another bottle, but the bartender, who was young and flirting with Danae, came and sat down with us, this bottle in hand. Allison (pictured left) was pleased with the choice, because Parker is her soon-to-be last name come March 25.

Parker Station wines are the economic line from Fess Parker, a family owned and operated estate in Santa Barbara County. Fess Parker is the actor who played Davie Crockett and Daniel Boone - he started the winery with his son, Eli, in 1989. Eli now runs things as President, but the whole family is involved. Parker Station grapes are sourced from something like 5 area vineyards to keep prices down, so the quality is obviously not the same as something under the Fess Parker label, estate grown and bottled.

Clyde's menu listed this as a light-bodied red, but the label tells you that it's medium-to-full bodied. I'm inclined to agree with Clyde's on this one. This was a typical light and fruity Pinot Noir - no surprises, which I guess is good? Recently, I've been a bit bummed out by the Pinots I've tried. They are starting to all taste the same, "the same" being kind of foofy and simple. This one for instance, had a lot of cherry and not much else. These Pinot Noirs are easy to drink, but leave me wanting something with more character and heart.

This bottle costs around $12 retail, $28 at Clyde's, which is a surprisingly modest markup. Sidenote: Clyde's has a pretty extensive bottle menu, with the vast majority in the $22 - $38 range. We had no problem finding 3 different bottles to try without leaving the $20s.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Acrobat 2008 Pinot Noir

Wednesday was Peter's 28th, so I invited him over for cake and an awkward/inspiring rendition of Happy Birthday, complete with candles and video footage. When I was in Austin visiting Meg and Mon this summer, I tried an incredible chocolate cake that Mon's boyfriend's mom made for her. Ever since, I've been looking for an excuse to try making it, and this was the perfect opportunity. I tweaked her recipe a smidge - hers called for a layer of amaretto buttercream, and I used creme de menthe instead. To accompany the cake, I went with a Pinot Noir - a birthday gift from the lovely Gregor just a few weeks ago.

Acrobat is a more approachable line of wines from King Estate in western Oregon. The King Estate is devoted to organic and sustainable farming, not only for its grapes, but also for the produce it uses in the Restaurant on premises. One of the ways King Estate manages pests naturally is with a relatively large raptor (including owls!) population. The estate has actually formed a partnership with a local raptor sanctuary, which releases recently rehabilitated birds on the estate. It's a great place for them to thrive, because all the crops are organic, the landscape is diverse, and there are several birdhouses in place around the grounds. Pretty cool.

King Estate only grows Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, so I imagine they are skilled at crafting those particular varietals. The 2008 Pinot Noir was aged for 8 months in French oak - a pretty complicated mix of barrels. 17% were new oak, 19% one-year, 33% two-year, and 31% three-year. Does that even add up to 100? Anyway, the wine spec sheet said something about "cooperage", followed by some funny sounding names. I looked it up, and cooperage just refers to the brand of the barrels used for aging. This is a pretty big deal, considering that the quality of the oak essentially shapes the characteristics of the wine. There are a bunch of factors to think about in selecting wood that goes into barrels, like porousness, grain tightness, etc., so cooperage is a bit of an art, it seems.

The wine was a unanimous hit. It was incredibly light - in the glass and on the tongue. It was fruity like a typical Pinot Noir, but so delicate that it reminded me a little of those flavored waters that supposedly have no sugar, artificial chemicals, or calories but miraculously taste like some fruit. Peter was actually enthusiastic about this red, which means it definitely didn't taste like fish or mayonnaise. It went well with the cake, because it was easy to drink and didn't lay claim to my taste buds as soon as it touched my tongue. Instead, it slipped through my mouth quickly, and I had to spend a few sips just getting it to stay in place long enough to think about. In the end, it left a lovely impression and left everyone wanting a little more. Thanks to Gregor for the wonderful birthday gift; I'm so glad I got to share it with someone else on his birthday!