Washington, white wine, wine

Eroica Riesling: A Retrospective

eroica riesling washington wine

Had the opportunity to take part in tasting a vertical of Eroica Riesling at Wild Ginger. This collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Ernst Loosen from Germany is a benchmark for Washington Riesling. What started as a handshake deal between two winemakers has become a great partnership showcasing the potential for great Riesling in Washington State. We tasted the 2005, 2007, and 2010. I preferred the 07 as it (to me) had the most acidity. And thought it’s kind of a duh to say that Riesling is great with Asian cuisines, the wines really shifted to another level with the food. Especially noteworthy was the green papaya salad; it was put on this Earth to be enjoyed with Riesling!

The real show-stopper, however, was getting to try two vintages of the Eroica Single Berry Select. A TBA-style dessert wine of miniscule production, it’s a treat to try one let alone two vintages. (BTW, TBA is German for delicious, rare, nectar-like Riesling that’s picked berry-by-berry.) The 2001 (seen on the right in the above photo) was poured first and I have to say I was astonished by the color. It had already taken on a much deeper, darker color than the 2007 poured next to it. It was the Wine of the Day for me.

This special event was part of a larger, summer-long celebration of Riesling. Whether it’s from Washington or anywhere else in the world, I cannot recommend Riesling highly enough as one of the finest, most age-worthy, food-friendly wines.

Full Disclosure: This tasting and lunch was provided by the winery.

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France, white wine

My Favorite Affordable White Wine

Cassagnoles Gros MansengI have to admit that I’ve been going a little crazy over this wine. (And I’m not the only one here; it’s a staff favorite as well.) And sure, there are a few obstacles to overcome when recommending this wine. Like, for starters, the name: 2010 Domaine des Cassagnoles Reserve Selection Cuvee Gros Manseng Cotes de Gascogne. Yikes! I’m already flummoxed. But let me council some patience.

Would it help to say, “Oh, it’s a Gros Manseng from Gascogny.” Umm…maybe not so much. But, as a champion of the obscure and delicious, I’d probably just mention that I love the white wines from Gascogny. Most are a cheap and cheerful blend of such grapes as the aforementioned Gros Manseng along with Ugni Blanc (!) and Colombard.

But this Gros Manseng distinguishes itself from the charming wines of Gascogny by having an unexpected golden richness and texture. And then it finishes very refreshing. For under $15, it’s hard to think of a wine that has so many layers and so much interest. What a pleasure to drink! I love finding wines that surprise you like the Cassagnoles. Every time I open a new bottle, I think, “Is this as good as I remember it?” And then I take my first (of many) sips and my response is always, “It’s even better than I remember it.”

Enjoy this wine with an ocean of crab and/or a pile of lobster rolls. Because you just saved all that dough on wine, right?

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Australia, white wine

Hunting for Hunter Semillon: Tyrrell’s Vat 1

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon

A legendary white wine from Australia.

For better or worse, in the mind of many wine-drinkers, Australia=Shiraz. Couldn’t blame you for thinking that way; a decade-plus ago, when I was first introduced to Aussie wine, I was guzzling oceans of Shiraz and little else from Down Under. Hell, I didn’t even know there was any wine besides Shiraz. My willful ignorance was cured when I discovered a world of wonderful dry Rieslings (criminally underrated) and great Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends reminiscent of good white Bordeaux. But the real gem, and one of the more collectible and age-worthy whites in the world, is Hunter Valley Semillon, particularly Tyrrell’s Vat 1.

Through a bit of providence I was able to get my hands on some of the 1999 vintage. And then, even better, got to drink some. I knew I was in for something good when I first poured the Vat 1, as aged Semillon takes on a hue that seemingly comes from the touch of King Midas. But what really blew me away was the freshness of this wine. An 12 year-old dry white wine has no business being so lively and exciting, but this Semillon was a smooth, delicious white reminiscent of a top quality dry Riesling. I had expected it to have developed some secondary characteristics, like a bit of nuttiness, but it was still quite primary. So it’s no shrinking violet; you could tuck it away in your cellar for years to come. (Though I’m not sure I could keep my hands off it, it’s so tasty right now.)

But don’t just take my word for it. One of my favorite wine writers (and customers), WINEcouver, had quite the experience with a bottle of the 1998. (Way to make me blush.)

http://twitter.com/#!/WINEcouver/status/21689785399648256

What regions or countries do you think have wines that aren’t getting their due or are a bit lost in the shuffle?

1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon $40 (limited)

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Italy, white wine

Quintarelli: Great with Thai Food

Quintarelli WhiteLike Dal Forno Romano, the wines of Quintarelli will change your notions of the heights that great Valpolicella can reach. And, to my pleasant surprise, Quintarelli also makes a hell of a white wine.

The Secco Ca’ del Merlo is an unusual blend: Garganega, Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin. (I have no idea what Saorin is.) Aromatic, medium-bodied, silky-textured, and refreshing as a mountain stream, it was pretty damn incredible with some Thai food we had delivered to the home of Esquin’s Wine Jedi, Arnie Milan. (I’m Luke to his Obi-Wan. Though I’d prefer to think of myself as more Han or Boba Fett. But I digress.)

And though I really love stylized wine labels, there is something really charming about Quintarelli’s scripted label. I love the unique look of his writing; I wish my chicken-scratch penmanship could hold a candle to it. Can someone please turn it into a font?

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2007 Quintarelli Secco Ca’ de Merlo: $52

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France, white wine

Muscadet Built for the Cellar

Pepiere Muscadet Clos des BriordsAs a lover of the bracing whites of France’s Loire Valley, my introduction to Muscadet (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape) was a welcome delight. And if you love oysters and (like me) have a budget far from unlimited, Muscadet is the ultimate bivalve wine. It’s the kind of wine you want to drink ultra-fresh and well-chilled. At least that’s what I thought until I was introduced to the Pepiere Muscadet Clos des Briords.*

Produced from vines planted in 1930, the Clos des Briords defies the typical profile of your everyday light and crisp Muscadet. It has remarkable depth and length and is certainly well-suited for the cellar. Last night I enjoyed a magnum (with friends; not by myself) of the 2005 and it was lovely. I feel slightly guilty for opening it up so soon, but the pleasure of enjoying it with friends washed away any misgivings.

If you are starting to cellar wine, or already do so, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better value in a wine you can easily lay down for a decade. And nothing is more fun than pulling a big bottle out of the cellar; magnums rule!

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*I must give praise and a lifetime of thanks to my former Triage sales rep, Tom, for introducing me to this wine and the fact that I could get it in magnums! Go have a pizza at his place in Seattle.

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France, white wine

Viognier is Voluptuous

Lovely French ViognierIs there a wine that smells better than Viognier? It reaches its aromatic pinnacle in a tiny little sliver of the French wine world, Condrieu. This Northern Rhone appellation produces Viognier with truly ethereal properties: fragrant like blossoming fruit trees, with a textured richness recalling some kind of nectar only accessible to mythological gods or hummingbirds.

Condrieu and other transcendental white wines, unfortunately, come at a steep price. So I was thrilled to reacquaint myself with a lovely French Viognier that hints at Condrieu but at a third of the price. The Domaine Rougié Viognier is just a pretty, pretty wine to drink and requires no accompaniment other than a corkscrew and a glass. OK, maybe some butter-poached lobster and a fennel and apple salad. And a hot date.

This Viognier inspired me to pull my well-worn copy of Jay McInerney’s Bacchus & Me; his musings regarding “The Cult of Condrieu” make everything I’ve just written seem as passionate as a parking ticket. And he has a very logical justification for why you should shell out good money for this most fragrant of white wines: “Perfume is much more expensive, and it’s not potable.”

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(Oh, and the 02-09-2009 on the label is the date the grapes were harvested. Provincial American that I am, I wondered why they would pick grapes in February. Then it dawned on me that I was an idiot.)

(And when I say Viognier is voluptuous I’m thinking Rita Hayworth in Gilda)

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Spain, white wine

I Love Esoteric Wines: Moscatel Seco

Moscatel SecoI’ve always been a fan of Spanish whites, especially Verdejo, Viura, and Albariño. These wines are all great porch-pounders and crush it with seafood. Recently I was presented with the 2008 Botani Moscatel Seco and was intrigued; I’ve only seen sweet versions of Spanish Moscatel, which I’m guessing is why they make a point of putting “Seco” (“Dry”) on the label.

I was pleasantly surprised to read that the Botani is a collaboration between Jorge Ordonez and the late Alois Kracher. Most famous for legendary Austrian sweet wines, it was exciting to find out Kracher was involved in making dry whites in, of all places, Spain.

The Botani was also a geographic discovery.  The grapes are grown on the slopes of the town of Almachar. It’s not an area I am familiar with, and when I did a quick search I found an idyllic photograph. Wowzers! It’s funny how right it is that this wine comes from this place: I couldn’t dream of a better view to soak up nor a better wine to drink up. This wine is all blue skies, billowy clouds, and clean, thoughtful structure.

So are you a fan of Spanish whites? What are some of your favorites?

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Austria, white wine

I Love Esoteric Wines: Gelber Muskateller

Nigl Gelber Muskateller
Out of the hundreds of wines I taste a week, sometimes it seems it’s like a never-ending parade of the same thing, over and over again. Wow, another Napa Cab, one more Washington Syrah, hey, an Italian Pinot Grigio. Yawn. It’s not that I don’t enjoy these wines, but there is so much of them out there that for one to get my attention it really has to stand out. Thankfully every now and then, something comes across the tasting table that is unusual and exciting enough to make me forget about the unremarkable monotony that preceded it. One recent example is the 2009 Nigl Gelber Muskateller from Austria.

Gelber Muskateller? Huh? Even I had to look this up. It’s a type of muscat (wow, Sherlock Holmes) that is not only one of the most ancient, but one of the most ancient grapes, period. The first thing that struck me about the Nigl was the gorgeous aromatics: very floral, loads of peaches and pears reminicent of an Italian Moscato d’Asti. But that’s where the similarities end as this is a dry, steely white. I love the contrast of the aromas that make you think you might be getting a sweet wine but it finishes dry; just another delightful aspect of the Nigl. It would make a killer pre-dinner or lazy afternoon bottle. And as we get into November, I can’t help but think it would be nice on the Thanksgiving table. (Since I’m already seeing commercials for Christmas on TV, I feel comfortable talking about Turkey Day.)

Possibly the only thing nicer than having this wine on your holiday table would to be at the winery, drinking a well-chilled bottle. You’ve got to check this place out! Not only is the winery building itself full of charm, but it also houses a restaurant and hotel. (Yes, I will have another glass. I’m a guest at the hotel.) What’s not to love about being in a rural setting, surrounded by vineyards, and looking up at a striking castle ruin? Peruse the Nigl website and dream. The second best way to capture the magic of the wine and the region is to read the Austrian catalog put together by the man who discovers and champions these wines: Terry Theise. To call it a catalog is like calling the Sistine Chapel a room with a painted ceiling. It’s required reading for any wine geek; full of passion, humor, wit, contention, and a bit of stridency. And when you’ve finished the Austrian catalog, move on to Theise’s Champagne and Germany tomes. Theise will convert you to love the wines that are close to his heart; if he doesn’t, it certainly won’t be for a lack of effort nor prose!

So what are some of the more unusual wines you have tasted recently?

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France, white wine

Tasting Aged White Wines: 1985 Huet

1985 Huet Vouvray Moelleux
I have to be honest and admit I’m not a huge fan of aged white wines. Even with top-flight Burgundy or Chablis, I like to drink them fairly young. Though I do appreciate a few years of bottle-age for the oak and other elements to integrate, I usually prefer the fresh fruit and lively acidity of younger wines, regardless of their price. But when you talk about Huet, from France’s Loire Valley, it’s a whole different story entirely.

The region of Vouvray produces a wide range of wines from the Chenin Blanc grape: sparkling, dry, off-dry, and sweet. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Huet isn’t the best producer in Vouvray. Huet makes some of the most sublime white wines in the world, period. And they can age better than most reds. The sweetness of the wine and natural acidity are the one-two punch that make Huet’s moelleux wines so ageworthy. They are not quite at dessert-level sweetness but it’s certainly present.

The wines pictured about are from two different vineyards and were remarkably distinct. The Le Mont bottling was very honeyed in color and texture; very unctuous and golden. The Clos du Borg, however, drank like a wine in its relative infancy than one at the quarter-century mark. Very mineral-driven, racy, and lively, with subtle sweetness. If poured blind, I never would have pegged this wine at being more than ten years old.

It was a real thrill to get to taste two 25-year-old wines from a legendary producer. Discovering new things and being constantly surprised is what makes working in the wine business so great. And, uh, getting to try wines like these!

We’re getting tiny amounts of each bottling; let me know if you are interested.

So what is your take on aging white wines?

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vegan, vegetarian, white wine

Eat Your Vegetables (With Wine)

Romanesco
I can’t make it through my farmers market these days without getting broccoli, cauliflower, or some exotic variant like Romanesco. (Especially the latter, because it looks so cool. And it’s a fractal.) Though we all probably have recurring nightmares of steam-table vegetables at school, all mushy, bland, and lifeless, I encourage you to (re)discover Romanesco broccoli via roasting. All you need are three ingredients: Romanesco broccoli, salt, and olive oil. Here’s the technique. (Don’t sweat it.)

  • Preheat your over to 400 degrees.
  • Slice the broccoli lengthwise into fairly thin slices. You’ll have florets (and bits of florets) everywhere as well as slices of stem; that’s OK. (Don’t discard the stem; it’s tasty.)
  • Toss in olive oil to coat, put in a single layer on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt. Put the baking sheet on a lower rack in the oven.
  • Check often; you’ll want to toss the pieces around to make sure they cook evenly. The florets and pieces of floret get nice and crispy and, when the root pieces are tender and slightly browned, you’re done!

Now while you are eating this straight from the oven (the sheet pan is your plate), what wine should you pour into your glass? Excellent question. I love Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, or even a good-quality, dry sparkling wine. I would say this goes for all salad greens and green vegetables; even asparagus. I’m still mystified that the old saw about asparagus being difficult (as if it were a petulant child) to pair with wine. It’s good with all the above whites, and I’d add a dry, unoaked Chenin Blanc to the mix.

Some of my favorites we have on hand:

  • 2008 Gerard Bouley Sancerre $24.99
  • 2008 Hiedler Grunder Veltliner Loss $15.99
  • 2009 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc $13.99
  • NV Adami Prosecco $14.99

And two more esoteric picks that are my all-time favorite whites in the $20ish range; both are Italian. The more I drink wine the more I love Italian whites, especially from the North.

  • 2008 Abbazzia di Novacella Kerner $21.99
  • 2009 Vietti Arneis $22.99

So what are your favorite wines to pair with vegetables? And are there any foods you find difficult to match with the right wine?

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