Monday, November 28, 2011

Drinking, Off the Beaten Path

I love wine for two wholly disparate reasons:
          1) It is delicious
          2) It is interesting

While reason #1 has gotten the most play on the relatively short life of this blog, today I want to talk about reason #2.  I first got into wine the way most people do: someone pours you a glass of something good and you have that tremendous "Oh shit!" moment (this was mine, a 1994) when you realize that whatever is in your glass is special.  The pleasure of drinking wine is what hooks us.  For me, what made wine more than something I like to drink now and again was the intellectual aspect of it.  And that, in a nutshell, is why I am completely addicted to trying wines from regions I've never tasted from before.  This is what I'm referring to when I say "Drinking, Off the Beaten Path."

There are two ways that this concept manifests itself in my wine buying and consumption.  The first is that I seek out bottles that are from regions I have never heard of, though they are located in "traditional" winemaking countries.  An example would be finding a wine from a region like Irouleguy in the very southwest of France.  Though I have drunk a lot of French wine, I have never found an Irouleguy.  Right now my goal is to find wine from the Canary Islands--a goal that is likely suspended until my next visit to NYC.  The second, and I think more fun, way to drink off the beaten path is to try wines from countries/states you've never had wine from.  I almost can't help myself when I encounter a wine on the shelf that's from Slovenia, Uruguay, or Lebanon.  It's almost a given that that wine is coming home with me.  Why?  Why not just stick with the wines you know you like?  It's a fair question, since often these mystery wines end up down the drain (like an absolutely horrid 2001 Amadeu Tannat from Brazil), but I love the idea that I am getting a tiny glimpse into life, or at least the viticulture, of these places.  It's like traveling only less expensive (and more delicious).

At last count I've tried wine from 22 countries and 10 US states.  And there are plenty more I want to try.  On the international side, I can't wait to try the up and coming sparkling wines from England, or the Koshu wines from Japan.  As for the USA, there are wineries in every state, and while I have hit CA, OR, WA, NM, VA, WV, MA, CT, VT, and NY, I still want to check out the wines from Idaho, Texas, and Arizona.

So, what's the purpose of this post?  To talk about an awesome wine that I recently had, obviously!

The 2001 Wolffer Estates Merlot "Estate Selection" hails from the Hamptons on New York's Long Island.

I've previously had Wolffer's Cab Franc (in fact if you look carefully you can spot it on the banner picture of this blog), and absolutely loved it, so when I found this bottle in my Mom's basement, I decided that it should be opened.

We're on a bit of an unintentional Merlot kick here at WOS, but it seems appropriate given the disregard shown to the grape by the masses.  This wine was NOTHING like your typical California Merlot with it's syrupy, jammy fruit and vanilla oak. This wine showed the structure and minerality that comes from the cool climate of the Hamptons.  While this wine had plenty of fruit left, it was drinking at maturity and was better with food than it was alone (to me, the sign of a well-made wine). 

So, go forth and try wines from places you've never considered before!  When you see that bottle of Georgian Rkatsiteli, Slovenian Tokai Furmint, or Pineau d'Aunis from the Loire Valley, buy it and drink it!  It'll probably be delicious, and it'll definitely be fun.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is a time to step back and appreciate all that we have in our lives.  I'm thankful for more than normal this year.  I have a supportive family, friends that I love, and a fulfilling job.  But for all of these "big" things I'm thankful for, I'm just as thankful for the "small" things, and last night's Thanksgiving feast provided more than a few of these "small" things.

I alternate Thanksgivings between my Mother's and Father's houses.  It's yet another of the benefits of having divorced parents.  It's hard to get tired of the same old Thanksgiving when everything is alternated.  This year my dad, stepmom, sister, brother, and I decamped to Waitsfield, VT.

It might just be ingrained in me as someone who grew up in the city, but there's nothing I love more than escaping to the country.  Until this year, I didn't even get cell service within 5 miles of our house.  While I can now text, tweet, and instagram to my heart's delight, I miss the days of turning my phone off as I pulled into the driveway and not turning it on again until I left.

This year's Thanksgiving consisted of a locally sourced Turkey (a mere 20 lbs.), Italian sausage and bread stuffing, carrots with cumin and crushed red pepper, curried cauliflower, and cranberry and onion relish.  Everything turned out delicious, and there was something nice about a Thanksgiving with no mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes to sit heavily in my stomach for the rest of the day.  My family has always eaten Thanksgiving at "normal" dinner time, rather than at midday like many people do (a custom that I've never quite been able to wrap my head around).  This gives us the whole day to do things like walk the dogs, drink Chapin recipe bloody marys (which, after you have tasted them, completely change your bloody mary frame of reference), watch football, and drink beer (yes drinking was in there twice).

Wine this year, after a little nudging from me, was a magnum of 1982 Chateau La Conseillante Pomerol.  As with most right-bank Bordeaux, this one was predominantly Merlot (80%) with the remainder Cabernet Franc (20%).  While Merlot might be going though a bit of a down period domestically, following this incident, no one seems to have made the connection that some of the most expensive and highly regarded wines in the world (Petrus, Angelus) are merlot based.

Anyway, for a wine that is 29 years old, this was absolutely spectacular.  I decanted this wine through a sieve to catch some particles of cork (as the cork had disintegrated and was pushed into the bottle during opening), about an hour prior to dinner.  By the time we sat down to eat, this wine was absolutely rocking. It was medium ruby in the glass with slight bricking toward the edges, but looked several years younger than it was.  The nose was pure Bordeaux, showing blueberries, plums, and graphite along with a subtle herbal character.  On the palate this lived up to the nose.  Subtle notes of coffee, blueberry, and plum worked in harmony together.  This is why we age wines, and yet so many wines (especially Bordeaux) aren't being made in a style today that will last for 30 years.  Given the choice between an up-front, in your face wine that's soft and oaky enough to be drunk (and receive Parker points) on release, or a wine that is difficult to taste at first but settles down into a wine this beautiful with age, I'd choose the latter every time.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from Wines Over Somerville.  Pop a special bottle next time you're with friends or family and give thanks for everything you have!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

QPR Done 2 Ways

I watch way more Food Network (and HGTV) than I should probably admit, and one of the things that chefs like to do, especially on shows like Iron Chef, is prepare the secret ingredient "two ways."  So "Duck  2 Ways" could be a Cognac & Duck Liver Pate served alongside a Confit Duck Leg.

Today we're going to explore what I'm terming "QPR 2 Ways."  QPR is, again, Quality/Price Ratio, and basically determines whether a wine over or under delivered for the price paid.  One of the most interesting things about wine is that people universally, when the tastings are not conducted blind (that is to say, when people know which wine they're tasting), prefer more expensive wines to less expensive wines.  It's a phenomenon that has been proven and disproven enough times to have grown tiresome.  Yet, while a $100 bottle of wine may taste better than a $10 bottle of wine more often than not, what's more interesting to me is determining which $10 bottle of wine is going to give me the most enjoyment for my $10.

So, with that, we move to the first wine of the day, the 2009 Castillo de Fuenmayor Rioja "Gran Familia." I sourced this wine for $12 from Winestone, arguably my favorite Boston area store.

According to the importer, this wine is 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano.  Tempranillo is the most famous grape of Rioja, and in many of the finest wines, comprises the entire blend.  Graciano is a traditional blending grape in the region, often used to contribute structure and minerality.

Rioja is a funny wine for me to love (and I do love it) because almost all Riojas see extensive aging in American oak.  Those who know me and my palate know that I hate nothing more than feeling like I'm licking a tree (or a vanilla ice cream cone, or chocolate milkshake, or coconut smoothie, all side effects of oak aging) while I'm drinking.  This wine spent 4 months in American oak, and then 4 additional months in French oak before bottling.  Tempranillo, in my opinion, is one of the few grapes that can take a heavy dose of oak and still retain varietal characteristics.

This wine, served alongside roasted chicken and root vegetables, was excellent as always.  The nose showed typical Rioja characteristics of stewed red and black fruits, as well as a core of wet earth.  There was an oaky component, but it was in the background, supporting the fruit.  The palate was much the same, with an attack of raspberry/blackberry compote, some cinnamon, and an autumn leaf component that was very interesting.  I'd say this wine is a fantastic QPR, and would be delicious with most fall/winter cooking.  Put this alongside some pork chile verde, and it would be a superstar.

Our second wine of the day represents the other end of the QPR scale.  It's the 1980 Chateau Leoville Las Cases St. Julien.  I have a friend who is just as interested in wine as I am, and we have been giving each other escalating birthday presents for a while now.  Last year I gave him a couple bottles of Chateauneuf du Pape, and he responded by gifting me a bottle of 1981 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill (which was absolutely rocking).  So, this was my answer.  For a 31 year old Bordeaux, I was able to source this (also at Winestone) for a "mere" $90.

This wine was everything that an aged, classic Bordeaux should be.  I decanted it just to avoid pouring sediment into our glasses, but it actually, despite its age, opened up even more when given time to breathe.  The nose showed delicate plum, cassis, and blueberry, combined with tertiary components (components derived from aging, not from the grapes or the oak) such as loam, mushrooms, and a delicate pine-needle aroma.  The palate matched up perfectly.  The fruit had not diminished too much, and there were notes of blackcurrant and plum to match up with the forest floor notes.  There was still enough tannin left in the wine that it paired perfectly with grilled ribeye steaks.  This was one of the wines that keeps me coming back.  If you clicked on the link to this wine, you'll see a bunch of people saying "past it's prime, yada yada yada," and they're entitled to their opinions.  With wine of this age, they say, there are no good wines, only good bottles.

Now, people not appreciating the subtlety that aging brings...well that's a whole other blog post.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Welcome to Wines Over Somerville

Yep, another wine blog.

As someone who reads many other blogs, it's with mixed feelings that I start my own.  I know that there are a multitude of more established choices out there, and that the likelihood of people willingly coming to this tiny corner of the internet is rather unlikely.  It's especially daunting because I'm starting from scratch.  In fact, as I type this, no one even knows that this blog exists (well, except me of course).  But, having tossed this idea around in my head for a year or so, it feels like time to start.  Why?  Because I have a lot of things to say.  So let's start off with some background on who I am and why you should read this blog.

My name is Deacon Chapin, and I live in Somerville, MA.  I live just around the corner from the venerable institution Wings Over Somerville (which incidentally delivers delicious wings very quickly), hence the name of this blog.  I teach 7th grade math to students with Dyslexia, and in my free time I drink wine, beer, and spirits, cook and eat food, and do myriad other activities not necessarily related to a wine blog (like exercise).  In addition to being a teacher (and therefore making slightly less money than your average tollbooth worker), I am also a graduate student at Boston College, pursuing a Masters degree in education.  So, as you might have worked out by now, the focus of this blog (though by no means will it be exclusive) is on relatively inexpensive wines, or wines that provide an outstanding QPR (quality/price ratio, not Queens Park Rangers).  QPR is a nebulous topic, as a wine can have outstanding QPR and cost $5/bottle, or $300/bottle, but it makes sense in my head.

Anyway, lets start this thing off properly with a bottle that I enjoyed this weekend with friends over a delicious dinner.

2010 Domaine Clos des Vignes du Maynes Macon-Cruzille Cuvee 910

Well, how about that for starting off with an easy to understand name?  This is a very obscure wine that I purchased at Chambers St. Wines in NYC when visiting there in September.  I asked the incredibly helpful clerk for 6 bottles under $25 that I wouldn't be able to find in Boston.  This, he said, was likely the most obscure.

The AOC, Macon-Cruzille, is so small that there is no Wikipedia entry for it, nor is it in any of my wine books.  From the "Macon" part, this wine is obviously from Burgundy, and from the Maconnais, more specifically.  I was able to determine that this wine was an attempt on the part of the vintners to make wine the way it would have been made in the year 910.  That means all the grapes were crushed, by foot, together and aged in wooden vats.  There is no added SO2, and the winery is certified biodynamic by Demeter.  The blend is roughly equal parts Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chardonnay, a blend that I can confess I have never seen before.  All it was missing was a bit of Aligote and every major and minor grape from Burgundy would have been included.

I opened this wine to go with a casserole of awesomeness prepared by a friend of mine, and four of us settled down to eat and drink.  The wine was popped and poured into my everyday glasses.  The first thing that is noticeable about this wine is the appearance.  Owing to the fact that there is a substantial amount of Chardonnay in the blend, the color of this wine is far from your average red wine.  It is more like a deep rose.  Also, due to the fact that it is completely unfiltered, there is a beautiful cloudy quality to it.  The nose was the first clue that this wine was going to challenge my definition of what "wine" is supposed to taste like.  While the nose showed bright red fruits (cranberry, cherry), it also showed a distinctly barnyardy component, as well as something that I can best describe as "sour dirt."  That said, it was a beautiful nose, and was not off-putting.  On the palate, this was as close to some Flemish Sour ales and Lambics that I've had as it was to your average California Cabernet.  The overwhelming flavor was of sour cherry with a green apple component (I assume from the Chardonnay) and undertones of sweet plum and blackberry.  There was good acidity and the fruit was juicy but not cloying. 

If you're lucky enough to live in NYC or anywhere that you can buy this wine, and you like unusual, funky blends, I suggest you try this out.  My favorite thing about wine is trying the wines that are "out there," and this surely qualifies.

I hope you continue to read this blog in the future, and I'll endeavor to keep it shorter, and sweeter, than this one!