Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bubbles are a girl's best friend...

says the tasting notes for Stone Hill Winery's Brut Rose. While I'm not totally sure that I prefer sparkling wine to diamonds (only one of these will help a damsel escape, James Bond-style, from a glass box in a villain's secluded island lair), it's a very good wine.

While Missouri is gaining a reputation for wine made from native grapes and French hybrid varietals, I certainly wasn't expecting such a balanced and flavorful wine. Not sweet, but not very dry either, Stone Hill's owner and winemaker Thomas Held has a deft hand, with the regional wine festival medals to prove it. Considering the necessarily high prices for small production wines, $18.99 for this bottle is a good value. And both the packaging and the wine itself is an attractive shade of pink. Yes sir, this is a girly wine...but an intellectual girly wine--like a physics student in a pink sweater.

Stone Hill Winery Brut Rose (NV), $18.99,

Interested in learning more about Missouri wine and native American wine grapes? The Missouri Wine Program's new Norton Says website is a fun, interactive place to learn about Norton and other Missouri varietals.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Virginia is for lovers...

of great wine!

I do have a west coast/European bias. I'll admit it. I do try to keep an open mind, however, so I've been enjoying New York Riesling and Cab Franc, and am even warming to Missouri and North Carolina, amongst other states. But one in particular has me in its spell: Virginia!

I went with a coworker and friends to a Virginia wine festival recently, and it was a very impressive showing. Although I was impressed with the range of both European vinifera and native grapes, reds and whites, one winery in particular stood out for me: Horton Cellars. The sparkling Viognier was the star of the show, and is now certainly one of my favorite sparklers. Citrus overtones with a great touch of sweetness, the wine is smooth, lively but subtle--it would be great for any kind of celebration, as well as a great accompaniment to food. I'm thinking smoky barbeque, spinach pie or a hamburger with caramelized onions and gorgonzola cheese--the acid can hold up to strong flavors. Their Cabernet Franc was also delicious--well structured and not overpowering green tannin, and the late harvest Viognier was lovely. Nice hints of petrol, and not cloying. Their fruit wines are remarkably well balanced, which is certainly rare. The peach wine was wonderful, ripe but focused, and the blackberry and cranberry wines were zingy. All three would be an excellent compliment to dessert--a rich vanilla bean ice cream, or a matching fruit tart.

Virginia makes great wine. I'm a believer.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Beer vs. Wine--The Smackdown

Wine lovers know that wine is about more than...well, wine. The appreciation of anything in a profound way is a lifestyle choice. A connoisseur should be aware of what surrounds his or her passion. Love Shakespeare? You probably want to read some Jonson. Adore beef? You probably want to try buffalo steaks. The same goes for beverage pairings.

The crackerjack staff at Food + Wine magazine on their website today published an article about beer versus wine pairings for several dishes. And they include the recipes, which is always fun. This just goes to show that with an open mind is the best way to live a lifestyle of aesthetic appreciation. And, frankly, sometimes beer is the better choice.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

2006 Parker Station Pinot Noir, California, $12.00 retail

I was out with the World’s Perfect Man a couple of weeks ago, and we ordered this bottle with dinner. We were out at one of the city’s old-school institutions (i.e. lots of taxidermy, highly polished dark oak paneling and tourists), where I ordered a steak salad (don’t judge me—it’s a good time of the year for vegetables) and he ordered a steak. Since I’m not a huge fan of typical steak house wines (read: over-oaked Cabs), we decided to go a little lighter. So, since there was no Merlot to speak of on the menu, Pinot is was! Even with the typical 150% restaurant markup, this bottle was still a good value. Nice earthy notes, though less than the typical—especially Oregonian—American Pinot Noir, with flavors of black cherry and plum. Nicely balanced acidity and alcohol, this is an excellent wine for food—it compliments and isn’t overbearing. The label notes didn’t lie— this is a good everyday Pinot Noir.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

We're having a heat wave...

...A tropical heat wave,
The temperature's rising,
It isn't surprising,
She certainly can, can-can.

It's nearly 80 degrees here in my new mid-Atlantic home--by far too warm for April, says this transplant from the frozen North. But, the good news is, more time to enjoy Rosé!

Sparkling or still, Rosé is the beverage of choice to pair with spring vegetables and summer fruits. Try a dry sparkler with BBQ or a juicy, but high acid, Rosé with potato salad. I've said this before, and I'll say it again, a heirloom tomato salad with fresh basil and cheese (I'm enjoying chevre right now) is an excellent compliment to dry whites and Rosés.

Rosé can be made with any red grape. My favorites, because of the natural herbaceousness tend to be Rosé of Cabernet Franc and Syrah.


If you're lucky enough to live where Chinook Wines (Washington) are distributed, buy the Rosé of Cabernet Franc before it's too late. It usually sells out within a couple of months (if not weeks). Perfectly balanced acidity, dry with a mineral and floral nose (depending on the vintage), this wine is one of my favorites.

Washington does dry Rosé very well. As usual, Chateau Ste. Michelle's Nellie's Garden Dry Rosé is a solid and affordable choice.

French Rosés are usually a value, and they led the charge for bringing back the dry style. Thank goodness--the 1980s and White Zin almost ruined Rosé for everyone!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reader Question--Syrah or Merlot? How does one begin?

Dear YoungVintage:

At a spring release tasting, I spoke with two people about Syrah. The conversation happened because a wine writer and I were tasting some amazing Syrah and I asked her and the winemaker what their favorite varietals were, if they could choose. I said mine was Syrah, and the winemaker at Va Piano Vineyard said that his favorite was Syrah, but he also added that he thinks Syrah is really on its way in, even though it’s a young varietal type, because it is so approachable for young people. It’s big, bad, bold peppery—all the things that I love about it, this guy was saying were the reasons he thought it was a great entry wine for young twenty-somethings.

I asked the Longshadows guy what he thought about that and he disagreed. He just thinks Syrah is a really great wine, and he thinks that Merlot is a better entry wine.

What say you, YoungVintage, about entry wines and about Syrahs?

Gentle Reader,

“Entry wines” are certainly an issue of concern for not only people starting out on their wine (or just plain drinking) path, but for winemakers and wine marketers across the board. How can you prove to someone that they like wine, unless you can magically, psychically determine what will appeal to him or her?

I love Syrah, but New World Syrahs especially tend to be big, bold, smack-you-in-the face wines, and old World Syrah tends to be kind of…stinky. If you have some experience with wine, these can be very appealing, especially if the wine is paired well with food. If your only drinking experience has been with wine coolers at frat parties then Syrah undoubtedly will come as something of a shock. Conversely, hardcore beer drinkers, especially of stouts, are used to earthy flavors and will probably enjoy a Syrah, and find Riesling and other sweeter wines repulsive. It all really depends on previously determined preferences.

I think there are ways to establish what will be a good first wine experience. The best way to figure out what will appeal to a new wine drinker is to go to a big tasting event like Taste Washington Seattle or a new release tasting like the one you attended and just taste through what is available. That way, it won’t feel wasteful if you buy an entire bottle, decide you don’t like it, leave it languishing in the fridge thinking you’ll use it for cooking, until you finally move and have to pour it down the drain. You get to try (and spit and dump) dozens of wines, and get an idea of what you find tasty.

Other than attending a big tasting, here is my rough guide on how to determine a good “entry wine”:

If you like: Guinness
Try: Syrah
A Guinness is a meal. So is New World Syrah. If you like Guinness, you can handle bold flavors, and can appreciate earthly elements.

If you like: Vodka Martinis
Try: Cabernet Sauvignon
You can take the high alcohol and big flavors. Provided you haven’t yet burned your taste buds off with Grey Goose.

If you like: Cosmopolitans
Try: Riesling
Sweet, but not overbearing, Riesling is a good gateway into dry and full white wines.

If you like: Microbrew IPAs
Try: Merlot
If you like complexity in your beer, but don’t like the fullness of a stout, Merlot is a good place to start with wine. With a complex flavor profile, Merlot doesn’t have quite the tannic punch of Syrah.

If you like: 25 year old Scotch
Try: Pinot Noir
Subtle and mellow, Pinot is one of the finer things in life. Though if you’re a devoted fan of expensive Scotch, you probably already drink Pinot Noir…in a gentleman’s club….wearing an ascot.

NB: But seriously, I think Pinot Noir is one of the most versatile wines available. I would suggest anyone try it regardless of wine experience.

If you like: Wine Coolers
Try: Lambrusco
If you like very sweet beverages, this is a good place to start getting your palate used to wine flavors, without a lot of tannin or complexity.

If you like: Bud Light
Try: Chardonnay
Chardonnay is a good place to start for light beer drinkers—both are light and refreshing. Also, note that wine has 120 calories or less per serving.

If you like: Hard Cider
Try: Sauvignon Blanc
There is a crispness to hard cider that’s reflected in the herbaceousness and citrus and apple flavors in Sauvignon Blanc. If you like Strongbow or microbrewed ciders (apple or pear), Sauvignon Blanc is a good place to start appreciating wine.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick's Day is, in my opinion, the best "holiday" we celebrate in the US. Perhaps it's not the most meaningful, we can leave that to holidays like Yom Kippur, Easter, etc., but it speaks to dynamic social shifts. Less than 100 years ago the Irish in America were a marginalized people (you've all seen the signs from the 1920s: Help Wanted--Irish Need Not Apply). Today, almost every major US city has a parade on St. Patrick's Day, it's hip to be Irish, and the country itself, with the exception of generally waning political and religious strife in Northern Ireland, is a model of cultural tolerance and economic prosperity. Plus, as a people they can drink the rest of the world under the table. As a holiday it's grand--there's no need for a gift exchange and you don't have to dress up. All you have to do is wear green and enjoy beer or whiskey.

I really want to post today, since it's my favorite holiday. I racked my brain--how does wine relate to St. Patrick's Day? Should I post about green tannins? Irish-born winemakers? Then it hit me--this is a holiday about beer (and I do love Guinness). And as every winemaker knows, at the end of the day, what you want is a brewski. So, I'd like to direct you to an excellent article about beer from Budget Travel today, and a blessing to toast your friends with:

May the roads rise to meet you.
May the wind be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rain fall soft upon your fields
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.