Kenneth Volk Negrette – Tasty and Odd

Courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards
Courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards

Negrette is a true Oddball Grape if ever there was one. It’s not seen that much outside of France – or even within France.  It is a French grape, but if you’re going to find it, it will be in the southwest of France, in the Toulouse region.

Kenneth Volk’s negrette has the deep red, almost black, color of a syrah. The nose has cedar, earth and dark fruits similar to blackberries. This is a textbook example of that perfect balance of acids, tannins and alcohol that create a whole that is better than the sum of its parts. The finish lasted a good 15 seconds after we decided to swallow it.

The tannins were drying and could easily withstand a year in the cellar, in spite of negrette’s reputation as a wine best drunk young. The flavors can stand up to cheeses – we tried some yellow cheddar – and we can’t wait to enjoy it with Brie spread on a good baguette with some dried salami on the side. But a steak might be too much for it and it would be a shame to miss the fruit.
The negrette seems to be available in the Kenneth Volk tasting room but if you call the winery, they might ship it. It’s worth hunting for.

A Shrimp-Loving Verdelho

Label art courtesy Kenneth Volk Vineyards
Label art courtesy Kenneth Volk Vineyards

This wine deserves to be enjoyed at the drop of a shrimp fork.

Seriously.  There’s a strong core of minerals in the flavor that brings almost a briny character to the wine.

Verdelho is perhaps best known as a Portuguese varietal, mostly because it’s one of the components of Madeira and often used in that other Portuguese classic fortified wine Port.  In France, however, it is fermented into a crisp, dry white.

The Kenneth Volk version has a clear yellow color, and the honeysuckle in the nose (aroma) is delicate and not overpowering.

The flavor of citrus peel balances out the mineral flavors mentioned above, giving the wine a crisp, light cleansing feel in the mouth.  Which means serve it with light seafood.  Maybe some nice, big cocktail shrimp that have been steamed and chilled, or a big green salad with chunks of lobster or crab.

If you can’t find the verdelho at your local wine retailer and you can get wine shipped to you in your state, you can order it from the winery directly,  with bottles going for $24, plus shipping.

It’s Calibration Week! Start Your Bottles

The winery’s tasting notes called the smell in their wine “gaminess.”  Michael wrote down “barnyard.”  Anne just wrinkled her nose and said, “Ooo.  Ick.”  Someone could have said, “Wow, that’s great!”

All of us would be right.  Or correct.

Tasting wine is an inherently subjective process.  And Napa-centric snobs notwithstanding, any wine you like makes it a good wine.  True, there are certain characteristics that most people seem to agree make wine taste good.  And there are certain smells and tastes that distinguish different grapes (aka varietals).  But the way we might describe a basic cabernet sauvignon is not necessarily the way you would describe it.

So this week  we will be doing a calibration tasting.  We have purchased two wines that should be available around the U.S. (we got them at Target – although we recognize not every state in the Union allows wine to be sold there).  The first is a Fetzer Vineyards, Valley Oaks Chardonnay, 2008.  It should retail between $10 and $15,  unless you catch it on sale, like we did.  The second (coming in around the same price point) is a Blackstone Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

You are invited to buy the same wines – or as close to them as you can get and taste along with us.  On Wednesday, we’ll post the chardonnay notes and you can compare what you tasted to what we tasted.  The idea is that if we say, “this chard has a nice pineapple tang,” and you tasted peach, then you’ll know that when we say pineapple about some other chardonnay, you’ll probably taste peach.  And if you like peach, then you’ll possibly like that wine.  And, of course, Friday, we’ll do the cab sauv.

Now, what if you taste the wine and you taste… wine.  It’s good, or possibly not.  But peach?  Pineapple?  Barnyard?  Bacon fat?  What in bloody tarnation are these wine geeks talking about?  It’s wine, for crying out loud.  Exactly, we say.  Seriously – the genius behind our tasting notes is Michael.  Anne can seldom taste all the more subtle flavors.  That doesn’t mean she can’t tell a good wine from a bad wine – or more importantly, that her impressions of a wine are any less valid.  It just means that she evaluates a wine in a different way.

So the first thing to remember is that tasting notes are supposed to be fun.  Unless you’re judging wines for a competition (something Michael has actually done many times), the only real reason for tasting notes is to communicate something – usually to yourself and/or life partner.

Maybe you just want to remember what it was about that syrah you tasted at your local wine bar that made you want to buy the bottle.  Maybe you want to pretend you’re Uber-critic Robert Parker.  And why not?  He is, in our not so humble opinion vastly over-rated.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you get to choose what words you use, your preferred short-hand, whatever.  Just write down your impressions.

Then we invite to post your comments so we can all share what we thought about the wine.  Just remember, no snarking on anybody else, because all of our impressions are valid.  And maybe we’ll come up with a new way to describe that soft, creamy feeling on the back of the palate as something besides buttery.

Slainte!

Anne Louise Bannon and Michael Holland

Ceja’s Vino de Casa, Not Your Ordinary Blend

The thing with Ceja’s 2005 Vino de Casa is that it’s a basic, food-friendly, delicious little red.  Nothing pretentious.  Even the name just means “house wine.”  Who’dathunk that it would come from 62% pinot noir and 38% Syrah?  It’s hard to imagine two more different grapes.
Pinot noir is, of course, the heartbreak grape.  Notoriously finicky, unless conditions are perfect in the vineyard and it’s treated with the right respect in the winery, you’re going to get crap.  And usually expensive crap at that.  Ask us how we know.  Syrah, on the other hand, is hardy and usually as a wine it’s slightly spicy – think black pepper, licorice, cloves instead of fruity character – and in your face.  As delicate and rich as the best pinots are, syrah is bold and almost overripe.  Blended together, the two make an intriguing combination.

With pinot noir (and since that’s the larger part of the blend, those characteristics will presumably dominate), the aromas – or nose – will generally include cherries, raspberries, violets as well as sassafras, mint, leather and mushrooms. The taste can be any of these and oak is almost always part of a winery program, as long as there isn’t too much.

In the Casa de Vino, the Syrah adds color and flavor to the blend.  There’s a nose of earth and some cedar/redwood. The medium weight mouthfeel contained pomegranate, some blueberry and dry red fruit. A good long finish lingered.  And it’s more food-friendly than a lot of other pinot-based wines. At 13.2% alcohol, it will go well with lighter meats like pork with a light pomegranate reduction glaze or even with a little bit of oak smoke from the grill with the glaze as a grilling sauce. Vegetarian options could be smoked tofu or a French-inspired salad of artichoke hearts, olives and tomatoes over baby greens sounds yummy especially if there’s good bread alongside.

Ceja Summer Sipping

Sauvignon blanc is finally developing a following for the right reasons as opposed to being the Anti-Chardonnay. Lean, citrusy and crisp, it’s a great summer wine, and the Ceja 2007 sauv blanc, out of the Sonoma Coast region, fires on all the right cylinders.
If harvested and made with slightly underripe grapes, sauv blanc can have a distinctly “catbox” aroma. If overripe, it goes soft with melon and pineapple/tropical fruit aromas and taste. It is in that thin middle ground that its characteristic grapefruit aroma and crispness really gets to express itself.  Although, too much grapefruit and the wine is definitely out of balance.
The Ceja had the grapefruit aroma indicative of a normally ripe fruit at harvest. Not much oak was detected due to the use of older barrels, which added almost no flavor to the wine but did concentrate the fruit flavors. The concentration became obvious in the mouth with the lemony/lime crispness and minerals on the mid-palate. The decent finish and modest mouthfeel make this a good palate cleanser and an excellent aperitif.
While many sauv blancs are little more than lemony water, the Ceja is a nice summertime refresher.  Or try it alongside any number of dishes from chicken that’s been marinated in lime juice and garlic, ceviche or anything that has citrus elements.

Heavens to Twisted Oaks 2005 Murgatroyd

2005_murgatroydWe love blends. They can express the full palate of a terrior – think Burgundy or Bordeaux. They can also demonstrate the combined skills of a winemaking team that includes vineyard staff and cellar rats alike. As a bonus, every winery has the option of creating its own brand of cola product.

As in Twisted Oak’s Murgatroyd (and if you know the cartoon reference, post a comment). The wine is a blend of four varietals and five vineyards: two cabernet sauvignons (accounting for the extra vineyard), a petit verdot, a tempranillo and a grenache, which means there’s a potential range of aromas and tastes the could include violets, blackberries, molasses, plums, tobacco, blueberries and bell pepper.

In this case,the resulting aroma is licorice/anise with some berries. The first taste was that of spices like black pepper and cloves. Dusty fruit, or a ripe taste that’s not overly sweet, is balanced with less acid and more tannins, thanks to a combination of American, Hungarian and older French oak barrel aging.  There is some noticeable dryness from the tannins that would cut through the weight and richness of a steak, a savory winter beef stew or some lamb chops medium-rare with some pinkness at the bone.

You could age the wine for another year or so.  It would be interesting to see if it improves.  That being said, it’s darned tasty now.

Twisted Oak 2005 Tempranillo – Yum!

2005_tempTwisted Oak’s 2005 Tempranillo is one of those wines that just seems to fit in anywhere.  It’s rich, but not overpowering – the subtle kind of wine that stands out just enough to be memorable without taking over.

Tempranillo is one of those up and coming grapes.  We’ve seen it here and there for a number of years.  In fact, tempranillo seems to be about where syrah was almost 10 years ago.  People had heard of it, but you rarely saw it on the shelf at the supermarket.  Of late, in places like California, tempranillo is getting the treatment previously reserved for cabernets and pinot noir and in the right hands and in the right soils, it is a glorious thing.

The grape, itself, is a blue/black grape most commonly used in blends in Spain. It’s chief flavor characteristics are blueberry and other berries, grassy or herbal qualities, hints of earth and/or leather.  Leather may sound a little odd, but that’s what the books say.  Your mileage may vary.  Because the grape has a thick skin, it can have some powerful tannins, which is why it’s often blended with grapes with less color and/or tannins.

The Twisted Oak Tempranillo has a deep ruby color and a nose full of the characteristic blueberries and cherries.  But don’t let that fool you.  This is no fruit bomb. Winemaker Scott Klann used some French oak (which you can taste) but not enough to drown out the fruit. There are some nice acids in the center of the palate which make for a clean, easy drinking mouthfeel.

This is a great food wine – an Oddball Grape hallmark – and should go well with grilled meats like tri-tip, or grilled chicken or anything Spanish-style. Mike was amazed at how well it worked with some seared scallops in a caper sauce. You might also try it with a cioppino or even a good surf and turf.  We do not recommend it with rubber chicken.