One Up, One Down

There I was just finishing tasting two different white wines, when my Bride walked in to D. Vine Fine Wines to see if she had been missing out on my occasional trips. She was doing some volunteer work and she was done with the session and she came to join me. I am always amazed at all the time that she can squeeze into her schedule with different volunteer agendas, while there are times when I can barely seem to fit in my usual stuff. Well, she came in like gangbusters and she had to play catch-up with the two white wines, so that she could roll with the reds. She was immediately happy with the whites and now she was in wine-tasting mode. Your demure Raconteur was playing George to Gracie.

The first red wine of the evening was Nico & Dado DADO Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. This was a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, but there was very little information about the wines or the winery, other than Nico & Dado are family nicknames. The glass showed very long legs, which meant that it had a higher alcohol proof, and there was a scent of cloves that I detected, which tends to make me think that the wine was aged in oak, but that is about all of the sleuthing that I could do. It had a decent color and a typical Cab nose, I felt that perhaps with a little more cellar time, this wine could go places, but I hedged my bet to see what else was being offered for the night.

The next wine was from Fowles Wine of Victoria, Australia. This is actually the first wine that I have had from Victoria and the Strathbogie Ranges, so I was rather eager to try something new. The Fowles “Are You Game?” Shiraz 2013 was different and not what I expected. I guess they are hunters at Fowles, and the “labels depicted animal illustrations as they appear in nature, and not on the supermarket shelve.” There was a bit of Viognier blended with the Shiraz which gave the wine a bit of a floral nose, and the color looked like a Shiraz, with long legs on the glass, but the taste left me down. Of course, my Bride immediately poured the balance of her tasting pour into my glass and kind of announced that she was not happy with the wine at all, even though we both agreed that this wine did not even get a maybe for a purchase, the general consensus of the rest of the tasters was a bit more pro, and I am not really one to pan a wine, but I would be willing to try another wine from them at another time.

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Two New Whites

You may not believe this, but my life does not revolve around wine, as much as I enjoy it. We had some last-minute changes in the schedule and I decided to go to a wine tasting. Almost every Tuesday night a wine shop near me D. Vine Fine Wines has a six-wine tasting and notes by a local wine luminary Lee Hershey. I like to go and taste some new wines and one never knows what can be discovered, and for the price of a Jackson, I can try six wines, have some cheese and all the Goldfish crackers that I can wolf down, it appears that I am the only one that likes plain crackers at these affairs. There are several that are regulars and some like me that show up every now and then. There are a couple of different ranked somms in the room, but the group is very laid back, and more of a good time. I have been to some tastings that are so full of decorum, that I find myself looking at my watch, and that never occurs when I am at D. Vine Fine Wines. That last sentence may sound like I am not serious about wines, and while I do not make a living in that industry, I have been learning more and more about wines since High School, and let us say that the Viet Nam War was at its peak.

The tasting began with a very light white wine, from a winery that I have enjoyed and may still have a bottle or two in the cellar. The Taft Street Winery Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 was a good choice. Originally the winery was known as Taft Street Garage, and they were what is now termed a “garagiste” and in 1979 they were making wines in a garage, and they gradually moved into an old apple processing plant in Sebastopol. Here was a wine that the fruit came from two estates, Bob Dempel Vineyards and the Giaquinta Valley Vineyard. The wine as would be expected for a Sauvignon Blanc was done in Stainless Steel to maintain the crispness and for the fruit forward taste. As much as I try to avoid descriptors, I feel that since I was at a tasting I should, and the wine was a very pale and soft color, with good aromatics and the tartness that I enjoy from this grape. This wine was a keeper, a fine wine from Sonoma County and the price of the Jackson, just increased.

The other white wine for the evening was Milou Chardonnay 2016 from the Languedoc district of France, the fruit coming from the plateau of Asperes. Languedoc is getting more and more scrutiny as people are looking for some more affordable table wines. The terrain for this wine was basically limestone and clay, and had the taste of a basic Chablis. This wine is designated as a Vin de Pays D’Oc and while some may turn their nose at it, it was really good. It had the color of light straw and a soft nose, but it tasted very good, with even a nice finish. I even heard a couple of people who claim that they do not like Chardonnay and they were impressed with this wine. Oh, what is a few more wines for the collection.

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Two from Ms. Yoga

I normally only write about wines that I have actually tried, as I think that is only proper. On occasion I will mention some wines from others, because I respect their wine choices, as we have actually been out with them for dinner and beverages. Ms. Yoga has been friends with my Bride, prior to my even meeting my Bride. In fact, we have been to Napa for a week with her, so I can appreciate when she sends me messages about wines that she has enjoyed, as I know that she won’t bother with wines that she thinks I will not like.

The first wine that she sent me, she must have been out for dinner, there was no background information, just the wine. The Paul Hobbs Russian River Chardonnay 2014 really floated her boat, as I know that she is vary partial to good Chardonnay wines. The Russian River district in Sonoma County has been heralded as one of the best and Paul Hobbs has a history of making fine wines. This is a wine that was aged Sur Lies and was produced unrefined and unfiltered. The wine spent four months in Stainless Steel and twelve months in French Oak, of which half were new. It is a wine that I will keep on my radar when we are out.

The other wine that she gave me a shout out for was Jayson Chardonnay Napa Valley 2014.  Jayson is the second label for the very well respected Pahlmeyer wine group.  The fruit was harvested not only from the Pahlmeyer Estate, but also from Atlas Peak and the Wayfarer Estate.  This Chardonnay wine was also produced using the Sur Lie method and was aged for eleven months in eighty-five percent new French Oak.  So, Ms. Yoga is two for two on a couple of fine wines, and we look forward to the next time we see and enjoy her company.

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New Year’s Day 2018

New Year’s Day is a quiet day around here normally. I have a quirky superstition that what ever one does on New Year’s Day is what one will do for the rest of the year. Hence, I try to only do fun things and I try to avoid doing work, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We usually just try to do pleasant things and maybe even go to the cinema. This particular day we were invited out to see my Bride’s Sister’s in-laws, which was a great invite, as even though they live near us, our paths never seem to cross.

It was just a casual afternoon lunch affair with all of their family, most of which we have met before. First there were some appetizers laid out while we were all just chatting around the kitchen table, while others were watching games on the television. I am not a fan of watching sports, so I lose track of what games are on, as it isn’t in my realm of interest, some big jock I am. Then the pizzas arrived, and one thought that a school team was there to dine, as they ordered a large assortment of pies with a variety of toppings and some for special allergies; the world in the free market is so accommodating to change. As for me, I am a died in the wool traditionalist and I just adore the classic Detroit style pie with an assortment of meats and other basic toppings. I just can’t get used to the new pizzas, as I feel why change something that doesn’t need to be changed. My taste in pizzas originated back in the Fifties when this particular curiosity arrived on our shores. What more can you ask for than pepperoni that curls in the heat and cups a little grease with plenty of cheese.

We brought two wines for the day, one to pour and one as a gift to our hosts. The wine that I selected to pour was a more casual and fun wine and everyone nowadays seems to like a good Rosé. The wine was M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé 2015 from the Cotes du Rhone on the right bank. The wine was basically Grenache with some Cinsault and Syrah blended in. The grapes were pressed without maceration and had twenty days of cold fermentation and aged in vats for the winter and then bottled in the Spring. I liked the color and the flavor of the wine and I think it is a very easy wine to pair with pizza, no matter the style of the pie. Our host then brought out a bottle from his cellar and it was a very nice bottle that I have had in the past. The Marchesi Antinori Pian delle Vigne 2011 is a very mellow Brunello di Montalcino DOCG which is pure Sangiovese. After the pressing the juice was fermented initially in Stainless Steel for about three weeks, and then spent over two years in large oak casks to age and it was finally bottled in 2014. The Pian della Vigne estate is about three and half miles south of Montalcino and while the estate is a good size, only about a third of it is used for planting. It had a rich Sangiovese taste, not bitter as some of the wines made from it can be, and had a good nose and a rich color. All in all, it was a great way to spend the day and I had a great beginning for the New Year of eating and drinking wine.

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New Year’s Eve 2017

New Year’s Eve is one of the most celebrated evenings of the year, a chance to say goodbye to the woes of the past year and look forward to the promise of the forthcoming year. New Year’s Eve seems to be a night when people think that they have to go out and celebrate, unfortunately it tends to make restaurants limit the menu options, and the service is stretched to the max, in an attempt to get people in and out, to make room for the next wave of diners. Another type of venue that I dislike is the one price fits all, usually at a banquet hall, where most people think that they have to eat and drink to make up for the price of admission, which is not a well-thought out plan, unless one has that proverbial hollow-leg that I had heard about especially in my early years.

Consequently, we have a house party that evening, and the revelers are all somewhat of the same age group, as for the moment, most of their children are out that evening trying to create new traditions. It is a little bit of a low-key affair, which works out well. My Bride had settled on making port tenderloins for the dinner, which she marinated, she also made her Bourbon Salmon, as both of these dishes are beginning to be part of her Signature series. There were also salads, Armenian Pilaf, vegetables and all the assorted sides, some of which were brought in by others, including cakes, pies and other desserts. We also had a birthday cake to celebrate all of the January birthdays, some of whom did not make it to their own party.

The wine was flowing from the moment that party started and the appetizers of pate and cheese were laid out. While there was an assortment of wines being poured, some being rather obvious good party wines, two were rather unique for the evening. The first wine was one that I found down in the cellar and it was a bit of a gamble, as it was an older Spatlese wine from Germany, but the more I read and talk with people, the more I realized that these wines have rather long lives. The Langguth Erben Heritage Late Harvest Spatlese 1991 was the gamble. Franz Wilhelm Langguth started his business in wines back in 1789 in Traben-Trarbach, and the family started the Erben wine range in 1964. They are one of the largest selling wines in Germany and from what I can perceive is that they are a popular priced winery even with the late harvest wines. This wine is from the Rheinhessen district, which is the largest wine producing area in Germany. While the leading varietal is Riesling, this wine is a blend of several different grapes, and the other white grapes from this area are Muller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Schuerebe, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Colombard; all of which are grown by Langguth wines. As can be expected there is not a lot of technical information for this 1991 wine. While the cork did not crumble, it did get pushed into the bottle, which alarmed me at the moment, but I decided to decant the wine and see what happens. The wine was a deep golden color similar to the color of Crown Royal whisky, and it had a very subtle nose. There was a trace of sweetness, but hardly cloying, and I offered some to a couple of people that never drink wine and they even gave it rave reviews. The wine made me smile. The second wine that I will discuss, is one that my Sister-in-Law bought specifically for this dinner as she and her husband are big Pinot Noir fans. The Domaine Philippe Charlopin-Parizot Gevrey-Chambertin La Justice 2011 was everything one could expect from this famed area in the Cote de Nuits of Burgundy. In the Burgundy region Domaine Charlopin-Parizot is a newcomer as they began in 1977 with four acres of vineyards and they now have sixty-two acres in several locations. La Justice is just east of the village and prized for its alluvial soil. This wine spends four to fourteen days in fermentation and then is aged for about eighteen months in new oak. While the color and nose were both delightful, I am sure that several more years in the cellar would have made this wine that much greater. The funny thing about the evening was that I had several bottles of sparkling wine chilling, and the party broke up early, partially for everyone to get home before the midnight hour to avoid the potential drunks on the road, and partially to get home to receive their children when they returned from their night out. Now what to do with all that bubbly?

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No Escape

Escape Rooms seem to be all the rage these days. We just went to a big family get-together and there were about seventy people that showed up. The party was held at “Time 2 Xcape” out in Clinton Township which is on the other side of the world for us, but we were game for a good time. The entire complex was rented for the evening by this group, so that there was no rushing and everybody could visit in peace. To the best of my understanding, a group goes into a room that is sealed off and then there is a group endeavor to solve an intricately designed puzzle of questions to escape from the room in a finite amount of time. Neither my Bride or I actually entered into any of these chambers as there were so many that really wanted to, that we allowed those to use the tickets. As you may imagine, my Bride was one of the instigators of this evening of revelry and the logistics of getting everyone together was under her watchful eye. Since the company was not used to crowds of this nature, there was a request for people to bring tables and folding chairs for each family. Our car was loaded to the max with all sorts of necessities for the party.

Not only was our car filled with a folding table, there were plenty of chairs, and all of her records for collecting the fees for the night.  It was also loaded with food.  We got there early with some others to lay out the floor plan as best as we could for the crowd. I might also add that the evening was a pot-luck dinner and one whole side room became the food headquarters. There were several salads and munchies, there were all types of hot foods like chicken wings, kielbasa and kraut, Fettuccini Alfredo, Lasagna, Swedish Meatballs, a ten-foot long hero sandwich and other dishes, I think you can imagine how the room filled up with food. There was also a sweet table set up with cakes, cookies and that type of goodies. Also with today’s dining requirements there was even a table set up for Gluten-free foods. My Bride and her sisters worked to get everything set up, both before the evening and then for getting the evening set up properly. Several of the guys, myself included set up a card table in the back hall behind the designated kitchen area and we held court there, eating and enjoying some adult beverages.

While the food was pot-luck, the beverages were also “bring your own” and I was more than able for that task as well, not to mention that I think I was the only one that brought a corkscrew so that endeared me to several people as well. The beer crowd and the screw cap legions were all set without my assistance. We started off with an organic Bonterra Chardonnay 2016 from Mendocino County. The organic fruit was pressed and aged in assorted ways. Seventy percent of the juice was aged in a combination of French and American oak, of which only sixteen percent was new. The other thirty percent was aged in Stainless Steel; so, there was a variety of different juices to be blended which made the wine very crisp with just a touch of oakiness or as some say “vanilla.” Bonterra is part of the much larger umbrella of Fetzer Wines. The other wine that I took was J Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015. This was a blend of Pinot Noir from three areas. Seventy percent of the fruit came from the Olson Ranch in Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County and I have been praising the Pinots from that region for some time. Twenty-six percent of the fruit came from the Russian River Valley and four percent was harvested from Santa Maria Valley AVA in Santa Barbara County. The different wines were aged for six to seven months in a mix of French and American Oak, then blended and bottled. The winery began in 1986 by Judy Jordan, the daughter of Tom Jordan, founder of Jordan Vineyard & Winery fame. All In all, a great time was had by all and a fine harbinger of the New Year celebrations.

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A Holiday Luncheon

One of my many colorful character Ms. Yoga was in town for the holidays and everyone wanted to see her and one way was to all meet for a lunch. The last time we all met for a Sunday dinner at Parc in downtown Detroit, and one of the venues suggested was Cantoro’s Market. I have written about Cantoro’s Market in the past, as it is a Detroit version of the Eataly, the mega-market and restaurant chain that has a couple of locations in the New World. They are an Italian specialty market with produce, fish, meat, a deli counter, a pastry shop, a wine shop and a coffee shop. The other big attraction is that they have a full restaurant, all of which keeps the parking lot quite full. A lot of their die-hard old customers still prefer the original location which is just a market and a very packed store between merchandise and the shoppers. Detroiters are traditional and some don’t require “new.” All of us were meeting at the new location and the revelers were from all points of the tri-county area.

The dishes were all fresh and served in abundance, in fact most were already at capacity after we shared several appetizers. Ms. Yoga was leading the way in the ordering and we all followed suit. We started off with the “Formaggi Misti” a platter of five assorted Italian cheeses with crackers, fruit and toppings. There was a Caprese plate with DOP Bufalo Mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, basil, pesto and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. There was Calamari Peperonati with sweet, sour and spicy peppers, fresh lemon and marinara sauce. The last platter that we passed around was the Gamberi Alla Griglia or grilled jumbo shrimp, fresh chili and lemon marinade, farro and grilled vegetables. There is no way I could recall all of the assorted dishes that were ordered so I will stick with the two that I was intimately aware of. My Bride had Linguine al Salmone, which was house made linguine, fresh salmon, garlic, red pepper flakes, white wine and marinara sauce. I thought I was going to go with something a little lighter, but I was fooled when I ordered the Penne alla Puttanesca, which was imported penne pasta with a Puttanesca sauce (white wine, garlic, anchovies, capers, olives, red onions, red pepper flakes and marinara). When the dishes arrived, the size of the bowls had everyone requesting carryout boxes, before they even dug-in, and some claimed that they had enough for two extra meals. I guess it was no surprise, that no one ordered dessert.

Ms. Yoga was ruling the roost and she also ordered the wine for lunch, but told our waitress that I should have the honor of doing the tasting of each bottle. I was curious to see what white wine Ms. Yoga had selected as she does favor the whites. The Kelerei  Kurtatsch Chardonnay 2016 was a refreshing choice. It is from the Trentino Alto Adige DOC district of Italy, and since it is so far North, it also included the area as Sud Tirol which is the Germanic term for the area. The winery was founded in 1923, and they made a very crisp Chardonnay, in fact, Ms. Yoga insisted after dinner that I follow her to the wine shop as she wanted to buy a couple extra bottles for herself for the trip. She also did a fine job selecting the red wine for the meal as well. The Travaglini Gattinari DOCG 2012 did not even carry the varietal, except in small print on the back. Gattinari DOCG requires that it be ninety percent Spanna, the local name for Nebbiolo and the rest could be Bonarda di Gattinara and Vespolina, but this wine was pure Spanna. This wine is aged for three years, of which two years were in Slovenian Oak casks of varying dimensions and at least three months in the bottle, before release (their Riserva calls for four years of aging). The winery was founded in 1920 and is still family owned, and in 1958 they created their iconic dark glass bottle that is designed to make decanting unnecessary as the shape of the bottle keeps all the sediment from pouring into the glass. We had the wine very young, so it was a big bottle full of the tannins that would probably mellow out in about eight to ten years, and with the “red” pasta dishes it was perfect. It was a great afternoon, with a little shopping after lunch, which just seemed so natural in progression.

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