Thursday, December 15, 2011

Well, It's About That Time, Innit?

I know I promised a writeup on a vertical tasting of 2009-2011 Trader Joe's Vintage Ales, but I'm breaking that promise.  With vacation coming up, I'll have plenty of time to recount wines and beers while drinking wines and beers (and bourbon and bourbon and bourbon).  So today I'm going to indulge in one of my own favorite hobbies: ranking things.  It's become common for wine publications to publish end of the year "Top 100 Wines" lists.  I love ranking things, and I was inspired by Time Magazine's recent "Top 10 of Everything" to create some lists for Wines Over Somerville.  So, without further ado, here are some lists!

Top 10 Wines consumed during 2011:

10) 2007 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon.  I had this wine during a spring trip to NYC at Primehouse, and it did not disappoint.  Needed a longer decant than it received, but this was an old school Cali Cab that was all business and no vanilla/oak crap.

9) 2009 Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini.  This was my first Greek wine, and was not by any means my last.  Assyrtiko from Santorini has quickly become my go-to white wine to pair with food, especially seafood.  There is none of the aggressive fruitiness/herbaceous qualities that one can find in Sauvignon Blanc, and there is a beautiful saline quality that makes it perfect with shellfish.

8) 1999 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Windsor Gardens Vineyard.  The most recent entrant, having only been drunk last Sunday night.  This was a classic example of aged California Pinot Noir.  It showed plum and cranberry but had a wonderful brambly quality.  Glad I dug this out of Dad's cellar.

7) 2010 Paumanok Chenin Blanc.  Had this at Gramercy Tavern in New York and it was a revelation.  Paumanok is located on the North Fork of Long Island, and I had heard good things about their Chenin, but hadn't seen it anywhere.  Well, if you ever see this on a wine list, order it!  It was reasonably priced ($50 on a restaurant list) and was absolutely delicious.  The cool climate of the North Fork clearly is reminiscent of the climate in the Loire, where Chenin Blanc shines.

6) 1981 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill.  A gift from a fellow wine geek on my birthday, this bottle was EVERYTHING that I want from an aged Cali Cab.  Good tannic structure still present, some red fruits, and tons of tertiary notes (notes developed from aging, rather than from the grapes or oak) like balsamico, mushroom, and loam.

5) 2009 Turtle Creek Winery Cabernet Franc "Conservation Hill".  What's that?  Wine from Massachusetts?  Good wine from Massachusetts?  Well, this wine absolutely rocks.  It is BY FAR the best domestic Cab Franc that I have ever tasted.  What's better, the winery is located about half a mile from where I teach.  Can't get more local, and more awesome than that.  Wait, why am I telling people about this?  Move on...nothing to see here...MA wine sucks a lot!

4) 1987 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon "Special Selection".  A birth year wine on my birthday, what could have been better than that?  Oh, right, one of the wines still to come was from that same event.  This was a wonderful Cab that has settled into a sweet spot with plenty of food and tannin left, yet a softness around the edges (like wine love handles) that comes from aging.  A terrific effort from a less than stellar vintage in CA.

3) 1980 Chateau Leoville Las Cases St. Julien.  While the price of Bordeaux may currently be skyrocketing and completely out of line with the quality in the bottle, aged gems like this show why people are so eager to buy Bordeaux in the first place.  A 31 year old wine that was at the top of it's game with so much complexity I even hesitate to mention specific flavors and aromas.  Suffice it to say, this one will stay with me.

2) 1988 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia.  Sassicaia may be my favorite wine in the entire world.  It's essentially Bordeaux (Cab/Merlot) except it's made in the Bolgheri region of Tuscany.  I keep coming up with excuses for my Dad to open this wine on my birthday, and for two years prior to this, it held the number one spot in my end of the year rankings.  This year, it's demoted to number two, despite showing amazingly.  With plums, blackcurrant, and blackberry, as well as an adequate tannic grip and good weight, this wine has several years left in it.

1) 1982 Chateau La Conseillante Pomerol.  From magnum, on Thanksgiving, with my family, in VT.  What more can I say?  I already wrote about this one on Wines Over Somerville, so I dare not repeat myself.  This was one of those "Fuck yeah" moments that I have from time to time with wine.  It reminds me that, while wine is food, it is also art.

Come back tomorrow for my top 10 albums/songs/beers of 2011.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hooray Beer!

While the focus of this blog is obviously on wine, beer holds a special place in my heart as well.  I probably consume as much, or more, beer as I do wine.  I'm lucky to be surrounded by friends that are as passionate about beer as I am about wine and who have introduced me to many different styles.  While I know my way around the basics of beer, there's only so much room in my brain, and if I truly learned my way through beer it would likely be at the expense of something important, like Drive-By Truckers lyrics.

So, on to the agenda: I've had some noteworthy beers in the last few weeks, each of which is interesting for a different reason.

First up is one of my favorite beers in the world: Duchesse de Bourgogne.  Brewed by Brouwerij Verhaege in Belgium, this is a Flemish Red Ale.  What is most noteworthy about this beer is that it is perhaps the seminal example of a style of beer that is regaining popularity: the sour beer.  Sour beers get their sourness by intentionally allowing bacteria or yeast to enter the beer during the fermentation.  Brewing usually takes place in a sterile environment to avoid exactly this scenario.  One of the yeasts most often used to make sour beers is Brettanomyces, long an enemy in wine production where it is the cause of excessive "barnyard" aromas and flavors.

The beer itself is unique and food friendly.  It has a nose of balsamico, sour cherries, and and red wine vinegar.  On the palate the red wine vinegar notes persist, but are joined by hints of molasses and cranberries.  This is my favorite accompaniment to any barbecued meat, and is at its best with pulled pork.  I recommend seeking this beer out if only as a gateway drug to sour beers in general.

The second beer I want to share with you is Heady Topper, brewed by The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, VT.  This is an American Double India Pale Ale (DIPA).  IPAs originated in England and are characterized by intense citrus and fruit aromas as well as bitterness due to their use of large amounts of hops during brewing.  A Double IPA is more alcoholic and has more hops than a regular IPA.  This beer is packaged in a tall-boy can.  Cans have been increasing in popularity in recent years, and I, for one, am a huge supporter of this trend.  Not only are cans lighter, and therefore more environmentally friendly from a carbon footprint perspective, but they do not allow any light to enter the beer, thus preventing the phenomenon known as "skunking".

This beer is available only at The Alchemist's cannery in Waterbury.  They also owned a brewpub in the center of town but it was taken out by Hurricane Irene, so they've shifted 100% of their production to the cannery.  I picked some of this up over the Thanksgiving holidays and am really glad I was tipped off to this.  The beer shows intense tropical fruit and pine sap aromas when opened, and on the palate is intensely hoppy, but completely in balance.  The hops balance the sweetness and the bitterness is in check.  This is pretty close to perfection from an IPA perspective, and a beer that I'd be happy to drink anytime.  I'd pair this with seafood, such as mussels steamed in white wine, or something like fried chicken.

My favorite thing about this beer, though, might be located on the back of the can:

That's all for this installment of Beers Over Somerville.  Check back in a few days for a writeup of a beer tasting I recently did: a vertical of the 2009, 2010, and 2011 Trader Joe's Vintage ale.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Housekeeping Part 2

For those of you who missed Part 1, check it out if you're interested.  Housekeeping part 2 will focus on three more wines, and will finally deliver what I've promised since I started this blog: wines that are excellent QPR picks.  The danger of drinking a lot of wine (apart from cirrhosis of the liver) is that only some of the wines are truly memorable.  These tend to be (though it's by no means universal), the more rare, more expensive wines.  While, as I mentioned before, there's no direct correlation between price and quality, there is a loose correlation.  While a $15 bottle is probably not going to be distinctly "better" than a $12 bottle, a $150 bottle is hopefully going to be noticeably better than a $12 bottle.  The three wines that follow here are excellent value plays, and the most expensive was $18 (a splurge for me). 

First up is the 2009 Clos de la Vierge Jurancon Sec.  As I've mentioned before on this blog, don't be intimidated by confusing/obscure names or regions in your wine choices!  AOC Jurancon is located in the southwest of France, near the Pyrenees and Spanish border.  The region is most famous for its sweet wines made from botrytized Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, and Corbu grapes.  This wine, however is completely dry, which we can discern from the word "sec" on the label.  This wine is primarily Gros Manseng, a grape that is seldom grown outside Jurancon.

The wine pours a light golden color and shows honey, pear, and lemon peel on the nose.  The palate shows a honeyed characteristic as well, wrapped around citrus fruits and wet stone.  There is a viscous, oily texture that I associate with white wines from the Rhone, which makes this unique.  This wine is perfectly at home as a stand-alone sipper or with food.  I could see this pairing well with anything from cider braised pork shoulder to seared scallops.  It's a very versatile wine.  For those in the Boston area, I sourced this bottle from Brookline Liquor Mart on Commonwealth Ave in Allston.

The 2009 Domaine de Fenouillet Beaumes de Venise "Terres Blanches" (link goes to the 2010 vintage) was another affordable gem that I dug up recently.  Beaumes de Venise is located within the Cotes du Rhone Villages AOC in the Rhone Valley.  The Villages system means that the French government has determined that certain sites within the Cotes du Rhone make wine that is unique enough to warrant them placing the name of the village on the bottle (overview here).  This can be tricky for consumers, because unless you have memorized all the villages, you won't necessarily know that you're buying a wine from the Rhone.  I picked this oddball up from Winestone, and didn't know what I had until I asked Patrick, the owner to tell me whether I wanted the wine.

The blend is a typical southern Rhone GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend.  In the Rhone valley, the southern end makes wines dominated by Grenache, and the northern end makes wines dominated by Syrah.  2009 is universally lauded as being a terrific vintage in the Rhone (along with 2007), and the wines are drinking very well even now, so quickly after vintage.  This wine showed typical Rhone characteristics of saddle leather and dusty raspberry fruit with smooth tannins and some acidic presence.  There were some notes of bacon fat from the Syrah, and a good peppery finish from the Grenache.  My friends and I enjoyed this wine with carnitas, fried plantains, and mustard greens simmered with linguica.  It was a wonderful match.

To go on a little tangent inspired by this wine, it's incredibly hard to pick up a basic Cotes du Rhone or Cotes du Rhone Villages that won't be an excellent wine for the price.  It might be the single greatest area (besides the Loire of course) for values, and it's also a reasonably simple area to navigate.  So, drink more Rhone wines!

Lastly for this housekeeping, I bring you the 2009 Domaine de Veigneau-Chevreau Vouvray "Cuvee Silex."  Vouvray is located in the Loire Valley and is, by far and away, my single favorite region for white wine in the world.  Even better, it's dramatically underappreciated, allowing one to buy stunning wines, like this one, for under $20.  The AOC Vouvray stipulates that wine must be made from 100% Chenin Blanc, which along with Sauvignon Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne, is one of the 3 major white grapes of the Loire Valley.  In my opinion, the best examples of Vouvray are fermented in stainless steel tanks, allowing the pure fruit and piercing acidity of these wines to dominate.

This wine poured a very pale gold and showed a huge nose of meyer lemon, fresh limes, and some honeysuckle.  The palate matched the nose, with screaming acidity and a long finish of meyer lemon that made it a perfect match for a dinner of Trader Joe's crabcakes on greens.  This wine is seafood's best friend and would be amazing with raw oysters, sushi, or even something like old-school baked cod.  It's incredibly versatile.

So, three examples of wines that, in my estimation, over deliver for their price.  In the case of the Jurancon, the price is low because there isn't much name recognition for Jurancon.  In the case of the Beaumes de Venise, the fact that the grapes are grown outside a more famous appelation such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, or Costieres de Nimes makes it a strong value play.  And the Vouvray, as so many of them are (thank goodness), is just dramatically underpriced.

I'll be back soon with a write-up on some beers I've been drinking recently (yeah, yeah it's a wine blog, but I do what I want, so there).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recent Wine Roundup

I'm thinking of this post as being "housekeeping" in the sense that I have a backlog of wines that I want to write about and a finite number of blog posts that my fives or tens of readers will pay attention to.  So welcome to the roundup of the wines I've enjoyed in the last week or two.  Many of these were excellent QPR bottles that I'm looking forward to trying again.

First up is the 2009 Martilde Oltrepo Pavese Barbera.  This retails for around $12 in the Boston area.  Barbera is the grape, and is one of the most widely grown grapes in northern Italy.  Most Barbera is grown in the regions of Alba and Asti, but this wine hails from Oltrepo Pavese in Lombardy.  Lombardy is a region that produces a lot of wine, very little of which makes its way to the US.  It is most famous for the sparkling wines of Franciacorta, which are some of the best outside of Champagne.

Barbera is a very food friendly grape, as it makes wines with good fruit but also solid acidic structure.  I find that it pairs well with almost anything, from pasta to pizza to burgers to chicken.  this was an excellent example of Barbera and showed good red fruits and juicy acidity.  This wine could likely age another year or two, but in my opinion Barbera is best drunk when young and vibrant.  Bottom line is that this a wine I'd recommend seeking out, but more than that, drink more Barbera (especially Barbera d'Asti, but that's another blog post).

Next up is the 2006 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino. Had this with some awesome pork ribs and the pairing was tremendous.  As with all BdM, we're working with 100% Sangiovese.  Sangiovese is the most famous grape of Tuscany and provides it's signature dusty cherry flavors to the wines not only of the Toscana IGT, but of Chianti Classico as well.

Brunellos are known to be long aging wines, and opening this bottle was a bit of infanticide, but after an hour in the decanter this wine was rocking.  It had a strong sangiovese core of cherry fruit and earth and incredibly deep and complex flavors.  I find Brunello to be best enjoyed with food and I'd recommend this with something like a roast chicken or, of course, any sort of Italian cuisine.

Third in line is the 2008 Truchard Vineyards Cabernet Franc.  Truchard is a small winery in the Carneros district of Napa Valley.  I've previously had and enjoyed their Cabernet Sauvignon, Rousanne, Pinot Noir, and even their Chardonnay, so I was very excited to taste this.  Cabernet Franc is my favorite red variety, but I've had negative experiences with most Cab Francs from California.  The grape's spiritual home is the Loire Valley in France, where it is vinified into a light bodied, high acid red wine that screams to be drunk with food.  Those are some of my favorite wines in the world.  Too often in California (and Bordeaux), it is treated like Cabernet Sauvignon (it's son) and smothered with oak in an attempt to create a soft, opulent wine.  Those wines suck.

This was somewhere in between the Loire style and Cali style and was very enjoyable.  There was an oak presence but it was firmly in the background, letting raspberry and some blackberry fruit take center stage.  I'd say this was one of the most successful CA efforts I've had.  It needed about 3 hours in the decanter to be approachable at all, so I'd recommend giving this one significant air time or holding it for a few more years if you've got a bottle.

I still have three more wines to talk about, but I've probably rambled enough already (shocking).  I've got to go get ready for a wine and cheese party, where I may or may not be bringing a 2008 Couly Dutheil Chinon "Baronnie Madeleine" to continue my cab franc chronicles.