Our Favorite Thanksgiving Wine

IMG_20131124_131011As we noted in our last post, our favorite wine for Thanksgiving dinner is the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau. From the Beaujolais region of France, it’s the first wine to appear from the current harvest. In other words, yes, that is a 2013 you see on the label (or should see), and yes, that wine was grapes a mere few months ago.

It’s basically new wine – made to be drunk, like, now, and as such is usually very light and fruity, which is why wine snobs love looking down their long bony noses at it. But that’s also why it’s one of the best matches for the full range of flavors at a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not a sweet wine and there’s enough acid to stand up to the stronger flavors of the turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes, but there’s also not so much that it will go sour and icky with the sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and that strange fruit something or other that Aunt Hazel puts in the stuffing. Being more fruity helps on that end, too.

This year’s release seems to reflect the really hard year France had weather-wise. They had a tough time getting their grapes to ripen fully, and this Nouveau doesn’t have as much fruit as usual. We tried it with the turkey pot pie and baked sweet potato the other night. While it was definitely tighter and a touch more tannic (that drying sensation on your teeth) than in years past, even Anne thought it worked with the sweet  potato, and her palate catches sour flavors faster than Michael’s does. All-in-all, it remains a great option for your big dinner.

There are two other reasons why it’s a great option, especially if the whole fam-damily is showing up. One is that it tends to run around $10 to $12 a bottle. Since your average bottle of wine serves four (five if you’re stingy), you can afford to serve everyone a glass or two, even if you have a crowd. That high-end pinot noir or fancy tempranillo could force you into serving that fifth glass from the bottle. Secondly, there’s bound to be someone or other at your table whose palate just isn’t up to a fine red. The new boyfriend who only drinks whites. The aged grandmother who prefers sweet wine, if she drinks at all. The brand-spanking new 21-year-old who hasn’t tasted much wine before now. Beaujolais Nouveau is a nice introduction to finer reds that isn’t so dry and heavy that you need to get used to it.

One little warning – do make sure you are buying the 2013 Nouveau. When Michael went to pick up our bottle, he noticed that there 2013-11-22_13-06-25_141were a few cases of the 2012 next to the 2013s. Nouveau doesn’t usually taste good aged. In fact, by January, the current year is already past its prime and just barely drinkable. We don’t even want to think about year-old Nouveau. Blech. So double check the vintage date on your bottle and be sure it’s the current calendar year.

Riedel’s Variety-Specific Glasses? Busted, Baby!

2013-04-27 21.49.12
The Riedel Burgundy glass (standing) and malbec glass. (The cabernet glass broke before we could get a picture of it.) Yep, busted.

We love Riedel glassware. The stuff is gorgeous. It’s light and beautifully crafted. It just feels elegant sipping wine from it.

However, we’ve always been rather skeptical about their claim that their variety-specific glasses actually make a significant difference in the flavor of each different wine. So we decided to test the glassware and found out one rather interesting thing, but overall? To quote one of our fave TV shows, Myth busted.

The tasting came about because we were generously included in a special unveiling of the Malbec glass, put on by Argentinian winery Graffigna. Both of the malbecs they served, the Centenario Reserve and the Grand Reserve, were amazing, dry and lush. We couldn’t help but lust after a good steak from the Pampas while drinking them. The wine was served in the new glass, alongside a Burgundy glass and a cabernet sauvignon glass.

The idea, we were told by Riedel’s Regional Sales Manager Melissa Hawkins, is that the shape of the bowl and the opening of the glass direct the wine to the part of your tongue that tastes the wine’s best attributes. In fact, we started with water, and while Anne didn’t think the water tasted all that different or was that much more refreshing out of the Burgundy glass, there were others who did.

Then, of course, we had the tasting with the wine, itself, and sure enough, everyone began remarking on how the malbec really did taste better in the malbec glass. Hmmmm. Well, we wanted to see if we could replicate the results at home, and one of the publicists (whose name we do not want to drop so she doesn’t get into trouble) kindly gave us a Burgundy and a cabernet glass to take with the malbec glasses they’d already given us.

Why were we so skeptical in the first place? Truth be told, we had tried a similar test a few years ago when we found some variety-specific glasses (not Riedel) on sale at World Market. After all, some of our friends had raved about how the wine really did taste different. But something just wasn’t adding up. We certainly didn’t notice any great difference in the wine we tasted in the different glasses we had.

Now, we suspect there may be someone out there reading this and thinking, “Well, obviously, they don’t have very sophisticated palates.” And we say, go put some clothes on, Mr. or Ms. Emperor. Let’s start with the basic mechanics of the bowl shape and opening directing the wine to your tongue. We checked in with Anne’s cousin, Jim Mason, who holds a PhD in mechanical engineering, and while fluid dynamics aren’t his specialty, he knows and understands them. His thought? The whole bowl shape and opening thing doesn’t make sense simply because you can’t control the opening of your mouth each time you drink. In addition, Anne can’t figure out how something is going to direct a fluid to the perfect place on your tongue when everyone’s tongue is a different size – can you say Gene Simmons?

But what the heck, we tested it with the actual Riedel crystal. We used the three wines the glasses were made for. Okay, we used California pinot noirs for the Burgundy glass, but that’s what was available. Michael did the tasting and they were all blind. He could see which glass was which – kind of hard to not notice that. But we did two of the tests in a darkened room so that the lighter color of the pinot noir wouldn’t give it away. We used several different brands of wine, including the Graffigna Centenaro, all of which are widely available.

The first test was several flights, with a different wine in each glass, randomly assigned. The idea was that Michael should have been able to tell the variety each time he got a glass with its matching variety in it. Essentially, did the right glassware make the wine pop? There was only one flight out of six where he was able to guess each variety correctly, and none of them were in the correct glass.

We tried again, this time, making sure that at least one of the glasses held the correct variety, and we invited some friends of ours, Dale LaCasella and Jim Vitale, to try it with us. Again, the theory was if the “right” glass made a difference, they’d be able to find the wine that was in the correct glass because it would taste the best. Not even close. Michael, Dale and Jim did get a taste of each wine in its correct glass as a test flight, so they’d know what they were looking for. Didn’t help. They could neither guess the variety and the wine they liked the best was seldom in the correct glass.

Finally, as Anne’s wonderful daughter pointed out, there should be a test with all the same wine in each flight, making the glass the only variable. Here is where it got interesting. There was one glass that did stand out, but interestingly, it didn’t matter what wine was in it. And when we went over our notes, time and time again (not every time, but at least 75 percent of the time), the wine tasted best in this glass – no matter which wine it was. It was the Burgundy glass, which features a wide, round bowl and a relatively narrow opening.

We think we know why. It’s because smell is such an important part of taste. The round, wide bowl creates a larger surface area of wine exposed to oxygen, which then picks up the aromatic elements in the wine. But because the opening is comparatively small, the aromatics are more or less trapped in the bowl as opposed to being dispersed through the air, and you can get more of them into your nose, which then enhances what your tongue receives.

So why did everyone at the tasting, including Michael, all get so excited and swear that the malbec tasted best in the malbec glass? Simple crowd dynamics. First, we were told it would. Then as the tasting went on, someone agreed out loud, then someone else, and so forth and so on, so eventually even Anne was buying into it. No one was lying or faking it. They’d just bought into what everyone else was saying because that’s what we humans do when we’re in a group.

As for buying Riedel, as we said, we love the stuff, but there are some serious downsides to it. First up, it is insanely fragile. You look at these glasses wrong and they break. In fact, the cabernet glass that we used in our tasting broke before we could get a picture of it. Secondly, it is very expensive. We did find a pair of the stemless glasses for almost $30 at Target – that’s $15 a glass. For something that breaks very easily. Burgundy glasses on the site run as much as $125 a glass. Not in our budget. But if it’s in yours, there’s no reason not to buy it. It is lovely stuff. You just don’t need a different glass for each variety of wine.

Nine Wines Nine! Library Tasting Notes

Last Friday, we were again asked to help out at the Altadena Public Library’s Art Salon – part of the library’s fabulous Art on Millionaire’s Road annual art show.

If you were at last spring’s fundraising wine and cheese event, then you’ll probably recognized most of the whites. We did have leftovers from that event and wanted to use these delicious wines up. When you add the four reds we found, we poured a total of nine wines for a truly expansive experience.

Segura Viudas Cava Brut Reserve NV

Type: Dry sparkling white wine
What Makes It Special: It’s a Cava – Spain’s version of Champagne
Plays well with: Almost anything – it’s a bubbly!

The nose was clean without yeast, toast or chalk. But there was a hint of fresh apples. The taste was very dry and crisp with acidity. The cava dissolved into bubbles at the back of the mouth like the better sparklers do. A classic taste and an excellent value.

Villa Alfieri Pinot Grigio 2008

Type: Dry white
What Makes It Special: Made in Italy
Plays well with: Salad, cheese plates, seafood

The nose was slightly spicy and the color was very clear and clean. The weight in the mouth was medium in weight. The dryness went all through the palate to the back of the mouth.

This has the typical Pinot Grigio subtlety, which means it’s good with food.

Cantarutti 2008 Friuli

Type: Dry white

What Makes It Special: Italian wine made from local grapes including friulano or pinot blanco

Plays Well With: Salad, seafood, sharp cheeses

The clean light color of this wine opened to some nice florals on the nose with a hint of lime and these flavors carried through the taste as well. The mouthfeel was somewhat lush – meaning full in the mouth with some very bracing acids. An excellent palate cleanser between bites of seafood ceviche or shrimp cocktail – hold the cocktail sauce.

Chateau de la Roche 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Type: Dry white
What Makes It Special: Good and citrusy, typical of sauv blancs.
Plays well with: Salads, seafood, light cream sauces. Also a good sipper by itself.

The color was light and crystal clear. The nose had hints of grapefruit and none of the catbox aroma common to some sauv blancs. The citrus profile extended from the front to the midpalate and had a lemon twist at the back of the mouth. The texture was medium weight and the juicy acidity added a cleansing effect to the mouth. The wine was bone dry.

PKNT Chardonnay, 2009

Type: Dry white

What Makes It Special: Grown and made in Chile

Plays Well With: Light fish and cheese and crackers.

There’s just a touch of oak on the nose of this one, maybe a little toast, as well. But that hint of oak played nicely into the flavor, in which Michael also caught some apple and tropical fruit notes. Anne just caught a nice, light wine that stands pretty well on its own, making it great for parties. But it would also be nice with a fish dinner, say, sole or red snapper.

Sonoma Landing 2008 Pinot Noir

Type: Dry red
What makes it special: Good pinot for the dollar spent

Plays well with: Prime rib, steak, pork, lamb

A nice ruby color leads to a nose of rose petals and high toned red fruit like cherries. The mouthfeel is light and approachable. There are good acids to alert the taste buds and the cherry and berry nose continues into the creamy finish.  Very nice by itself but great with food, with a nice low alcohol of 12.5 percent.

Xplorador 2008 Carmenere

Type: Dry red
What makes it special: Carmenere grapes
Plays well with: Tomato sauces, soft and hard cheeses, BBQ

Carmenere is the sixth grape of Bordeaux that vanished from France after the phlox killed the vineyards in the 1860s. It reappeared in Chile and has been making quite an impression on those people who have tried it.
The nose is dark fruits like plums and some smoke. The feel in the mouth is medium bodied and the balance of acids to tannins is very nice. The finish is good.

Beauzeaux Red Wine Blend

Type: Dry red
What makes it special: Unknown blend that tastes good.
Plays well with: Steak, asparagus, good sipper

This non-dated blend from the Beaulieu family of wines is indeed pronounced Bozo, like the clown.
The nose is alive with sweet fruits like raspberry and berry patch. The mouthfeel is substantial that gives some time to savor the fruits and acids. A slight bit of sweetness all through the palate leads to a good finish. It tasted great with asparagus, a typically hard food to match with wine.

Novella 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Type: Dry red

What makes it special: Cabernet from Paso Robles

Plays well with: Grilled meats, stews, a good pizza

The nose is a little closed – not very fruity. The acids are balanced against the tannins which makes for a nice mouthfeel. There is no noticeable sweetness to get in the way of whatever flavors you are enjoying. But think of this cab as the special last minute addition to the dish that fills in the hole that you didn’t know about. Not a big wine but still a team player.

Flying Goat 2007 Pinot Noir Salisbury Vineyard

Type: Dry red
What makes it special: A pinot noir that’s not from the Santa Rita Hills.
Plays well with: pork, lamb, salmon, cheese.

The 2007 Flying Goat Pinot Wine comes from San Luis Obispo, a little farther up the California coast from where Norman Yost makes his wines in Lompoc.

The nose has a spicebox aroma – think asian five spice powder ingredients such as licorice and cardamon. The color is the same gorgeous ruby red of a certain pair of shoes made in Oz (or more accurately the MGM costume shop).
But just check out the mouth feel and flavor: a medium density filling the mouth with cranberry, strawberry and raspberry without the cloying sweetness those flavors sometimes bring to the party.
The acids present quench the thirst and clear the palate for the next bite of something tasty.  Don’t drink this one alone. Share it with a good meat dish. You could drink it by yourself, but we don’t that would make you too popular.

Longoria 2009 Pinot Grigio

Type: Dry white
What makes it special: Italian grape finding a great home in Santa Barbara county.

Plays well with:
Salads, seafood, creamy sauces.
We are celebrating this humble, but lovely treat of a wine for a couple reasons.
First up, we do want to make note of the TAPAS Grand Tasting in San Francisco this weekend, one of the wineries pouring is winemaker Richard Longoria, who made this pinot grigio – even though it’s not one of the wines featured by the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society. TAPAS is, of course, about the Spanish grapes – tempranillo, garnacha albariño.
Longoria is going to be one of 44 wineries showing their wares to upwards of 1500 consumers. Address, ticket prices (there are still some left) and more information can be gotten at the TAPAS site, tapasociety.org.
The other reason is that we love pinot grigio. In the same way that sangiovese got a bad rap after years of cheap bottlings in straw baskets, pinot grigio got tagged with being a largely blah, insipid tasteless product produced cheaply for export from its native Italy.
Now, we ask you – is that any way to treat a perfectly nice, inoffensive little grape? We don’t think so and, fortunately, neither does Mr. Longoria and a bunch of other growers in Santa Barbara county, near the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez regions.
Thanks to them, pinot grigio is making a comeback, finding a new soul and a backbone.

The Longoria 2009 Pinot Grigio is clean looking and smells fresh without being too fruity. But there’s plenty of crisp fruit in the taste, including peaches and honeydew melon. It’s light in the mouth, and there are plenty of thirst-quenching acids to help cleanse the palate between bites of something tasty on a lazy afternoon.

There’s also a great feel of minerality to the wine similar to the added minerals in your bottled water. Consider it a feature of the terroir of the Santa Barbara region, which is finally getting some attention these days and not just for the abundance of chardonnay in the area.

This isn’t the cheapest wine on the market, but it is perfect for that special summer picnic. Just don’t try holding onto it for long. Pinot grigio – even the best of them – won’t age and should be as transitory as that lazy summer afternoon.

Sawtooth 2007 Viognier

Type: Dry white
Made with: Viognier
Plays well with: Cheese, light sauces, chicken dishes

We’re always on the lookout for grapes in unusual places.  So Michael was pretty stoked when he found the Sawtooth 2007 Viognier from Idaho among the bottles he’d won in a silent auction to benefit the Southern California chapter of the Rhone Rangers. The Sawtooth vineyards are in the Nampa region along the Snake River.  They’re fairly new and there is a lot of interest in finding out what will do well there as time goes on. So keep Idaho on your radar screens and taste whatever turns up from there.

The Sawtooth Viognier had the gold color and floral smell that shouts, “This is a well-made wine.” The nose had traces of melon and no oak – which is good because you don’t usually use oak on viognier. The first taste turned up some nice, light acids which popped up again on the back of the palate. There was melon and some lemony citrus and some white grapefruit in the taste. The finish after swallowing was a good long one – meaning the taste stayed with us for a good twenty seconds – along with a nice hint of creaminess. That’s from some the malolactic fermentation – a secondary fermentation done with red wines and sometimes with whites that turns the malic acid in the wine into lactic acid, the same acid you find in milk, hence the creaminess.

We served the wine with a roasted chicken and it really put the high note on a lovely dinner.

Dancing Coyote 2009 Verdelho

Type: Dry white
Made with: Verdelho
Plays well with: Cream sauces, sharp cheeses, non-oily fish

If folks know about verdelho, they know it  primarily as a blending grape in its native Chianti, Italy. But winemakers in Portugal have been making a pretty tasty white out of it for…  Well, a really long time.  And several California growing areas are starting to include it in their own blends or as a varietal of its own – including the nice folks at Dancing Coyote, in Acampo, California, part of the Clarksburg appellation.

The 2009 Verdelho has a nice floral nose. The taste is citrus and spicy with dry fruit flavors  – think fresh peaches instead of canned peaches in syrup. These are the kind of good acids that clean the palate and prepare the mouth for the next taste. It would be a shame not to enjoy it with food, like some nice sharp cheese, but it’s also very nice on its own. Alcohol is 14.5 percent, which is fairly moderate these days.

Be aware, it’s almost gone – so do make sure you skip over to the website, www.dancingcoyotewines.com,  sooner rather than later if you want some.

La Motte 2007 Shiraz/Viognier

Courtesy La Motte

Type: Dry red
Made With: syrah and viognier grapes
Plays Well With: Chili and other hearty fare

Shiraz.  Syrah.  It’s the same grape, just a different name.  The Australians made the shiraz term familiar to us in the U.S., and according to La Motte Winemaker Edmund Terblanche, the South Africans are just as likely to say shiraz as not.  Which means the following is going to get a little confusing unless we chose a name and stick with it.  And, by gum, we’re sticking with syrah, since we’ll be referring to the grape as it’s known in both France and South Africa.

So the La Motte 07 Shiraz/Viognier is made with only 9 percent viognier, a white grape known for its flowery nose and soft, fruity flavors.  It’s an old trick in France’s Rhone Valley to ferment syrah with either some skins from the viognier grape that have already been pressed and made into a white wine, or ferment with the actual viognier grapes.  We’re not sure which way Terblanche did it, just that the combination really made this wine come alive.

Usually, viognier smooths out some of the bad boy characteristics of syrah, which can get a little harsh and closed on its own, and in the La Motte wine, the viognier seems to have given the color a nice boost (from a white grape, go figure), not to mention the nose, which is still a little muted and could probably use some exposure to air.

Or, more likely, it could have used some more time in the bottle – since a muted nose can be a symptom of a too young wine.  Funny thing is, the tannins – that drying sensation that gives a wine some structure and ability to age – were a little on the light side, meaning it should probably be drunk sooner rather than later.

This should go really well with a nice, beefy chili that’s not too spicy, and a second glass after dinner should prove interesting, assuming the nose opens up.  With an easy 13.5 percent alcohol, an after-dinner glass of wine is just right.

Rideau 2007 Mourvedre

Type: Dry red

Made With: the mourvedre grape

Plays Well With: Hearty meats, such as herbed leg of lamb.

Call the mourvedre grape the stinky cheese of the wine world.  While it’s a good, hearty wine that does pair well with strong cheeses, like they do about some cheeses, folks will complain about funk in the nose or taste.  Which is probably why it’s getting more and more common to see US. wines blended with the lighter grenache and fruitier syrah – the GSM you sometimes see on labels – like they do in the Rhone valley of France.

But you’re just as likely to find it bottled as a single variety wine, like this one from Rideau Vineyard.

The nose is a combination of rose petals and a hint of leather which can be one way to describe the “French funk” as it is known. But the nose is only hiding some good fruitiness and some herb flavors such as sage and mint. That may not sound very tasty for a wine, but then, this wine needs to be drunk with food on the plate, such as an herb-roasted leg of lamb or some other hearty fare that will play off some of the herbs and other flavors in the wine. While some mourvedres are made with lots of fruit and can be served as cocktails, this specific model from Rideau is not of them and that is a very good thing indeed.

Dos Cabezas Wineworks 2008 El Campo

 

red wine stock pic

Type: Dry red
Made with: Tempranillo, Mourvedre and a field blend
Plays well with: Southwestern cuisine, grilled meats

There are several different points in the winemaking process where different varietals can be blended into one wine.  Many winemakers prefer waiting until right before bottling, then combining all the young, single grape wines into different formulations to hit on just the right taste – and, damn, that’s a fun process.  We know.  We’ve been doing it for the past several years with all the different wines Michael makes at home.

But the Dos Cabezas 2008 El Campo features a different kind of blending – what’s called a field blend.  That’s when two (or more) different varieties of grapes are crushed, fermented and pressed together into, basically right from the field.  The advantage is that you get a wine that can be more than the sum of its parts.

The dark red color had a slight salty aroma but given the venue –  a crowded tasting at Hospice DuRhone – that could have been a fluke.

The glass, on the other hand, delivered more than the nose promised.  The flavor was rich with dark fruits and good acids, both balanced for a lighter mouthfeel that goes down very easily. Being a Rhone-inspired blend, enjoying it with food is the best way to show it off, and given Dos Cabezas’ Southwestern location, try some grilled fajitas or carnitas tacos.

You can find more information about the winery and order wines at the website, doscabezaswinery.com