Thursday, December 29, 2005

Beer Tasting and Choucroute

My friend Virginie is not fond of wine but she likes beer. Since we were making a choucroute for Christmas, we decided for a change to have a beer tasting. That evening, we tasted one German and three Belgium beers.

We started with a Spaten Pils, produced by the Spaten brewery in Munich. It had a light yellow color with a mildly bitter flavor and a light malty finish. This was my friend's favorite beer.

Our next beer was a Duvel, which is a golden Belgium ale that undergoes three fermentations, the last one taking place in the bottle. It had a light yellow color, and was full flavored and slightly sweet on the palate with a long and fruity finish. This was my favorite as an aperitif.

The third beer was a Chimay Peres Trappistes Cinq Cents, which is a non-pasteurized beer produced by the Trappist monks of the Chimay monastery. It had a deep amber color and tasted rich and spicy with a bitter aftertaste. This was the beer I liked the best with the choucroute.

We ended the tasting with a Trappistes Rochefort 10, which is a strong dark ale (11.3% alcohol), also produced by the Trappist monks. The beer had a dark brown color, a strong medicinal taste and a bitter finish. This was definitively not our style of beer.

Of course, a nice Alsatian riesling is always a great choice with the choucroute.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Very Sweet Christmas

For me, Christmas is the time to relax with my family and friends and indulge in rich food and wine. Our Christmas eve dinner started with a terrine of foie gras and two excellent bottles of Sauternes that we tasted side by side.

This was an enlightening exercise. The 2001 Château Rayne-Vigneau had a light golden color and a mild nose of candied pineapple. On the palate, it was lively and medium sweet with a refreshing acidity on the finish.

The 1999 Château Rieussec was very different. It had a deep golden color and a more intense nose of nuts, honey and dried apricots. On the palate, it was rich with a mouthfilling, unctuous texture and a long, lingering finish.

Both wines were fantastic with the foie gras but which one did I really prefer? The Rieussec was definitively richer and more complex but the Rayne Vigneau had a freshness and acidity that worked well with a side dish of caramelized apples that we served with the foie gras.

Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Champagne tasting

I am usually very busy around Christmas but luckily this year, I was able to attend our friend Arnaud's annual Champagne tasting. And this year, Arnaud had a special treat for us: he had invited Gary Westby, the K&L Wine Merchants Champagne specialist, to talk about a selection of seven different Champagnes, all coming from small producers that make wine mostly from their own land.

For this special tasting, Arnaud had also prepared some tasty hors d'oeuvres, canapes and petits fours.

We started the tasting with the Champagne Deutz Brut Classic. Deutz is a small Champagne house recently bought by Roederer and the Brut Classic is their entry level wine. With an aromatic nose of Granny Smith apples and a crisp, firm, and toasty palate, it was a Champagne of character and an excellent aperitif.

It was followed by the Champagne Franck Bonville Brut Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs. This Champagne is made of Chardonnay grapes coming from the winery's own vineyard in Avize, one of the Champagne Grands Crus. It was crisp with clean mineral flavors, notes of green apple, and had a dry, zesty finish. With its high acidity and minerality, this Champagne should go well with oysters or shellfish.

Our third Champagne was another Blanc de Blancs, this time from the Lancelot-Pienne Champagne house. The domaine is located in the village of Cramant, one of the best terroirs in the Côtes de Blancs. Made of 100% old vine Chardonnay. the 1996 Champagne Lancelot Pienne Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvée Marie Lancelot was flowery, full and soft with an elegant finish, and absolutely delicious with the salmon mousse. This was one of the group's favorite.

Our next wine was the Champagne Ariston Brut Carte Blanche, a classic Champagne blend made of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. The Ariston house makes Champagne exclusively from its own estate vineyard in Brouillet, a tiny village in the far northwest corner of Champagne. This is a unique terroir: the vineyard is located on steep sunny slopes that give the vines a better chance to ripen, and the soil is rich in shellfish fossils, which provide mineral flavors to the wine. This was a very food-friendly wine and with its aromatic nose, and rich, mouth-filling palate, this was one of my favorite.

The next Champagne was another Grand Cru. The Champagne Michel Arnould Brut Réserve Grand Cru Verzenay comes from Verzenay, the farthest north of all of the Grand Crus. Verzenay is an amazing, north-facing location where the Pinot ripens thanks to a mysterious warm air current — that's what some of the locals say. A blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, the wine had an aromatic nose of honey, pear, apple and blackcurrant bud. On the palate, it was rich and slightly sweeter than the others. It should go well with a fruit tart, or with some Asian food.

With the 1985 Champagne René Collard Millésimé Cuvée Reservée, we had the most extraordinary wine of the evening. This Champagne was an unusual blend of 90% Pinot Meunier and 10% Chardonnay. It had a deep golden color, a smoky nose with notes of red berries, and on the palate, it surprisingly tasted like a sherry! A perfect match for our foie gras toasts.

The evening ended with petits fours and a Champagne rosé. Made of 100% biodynamic Pinot Noir grapes, the 1993 Champagne Fleury Brut Rosé Fleur de l'Europe had an exquisite salmon color and a delicate red fruit nose. On the palate, it was dry, elegant, and delicious with the hazelnut cookies.

A warm thank you to Arnaud, Gary and our hosts, Sabrina and Marty for this exceptional and festive evening!

Arnaud and Gary

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Picpoul de Pinet

Sometimes, it is not the label that makes you buy a wine, but the name, and Picpoul de Pinet is certainly one of them.

Picpoul is a little known grape that is native to the Languedoc and one of the thirteen permitted varietals in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Today, it is rarely used in the Rhône Valley and most of the production comes from the Picpoul de Pinet appellation. The meaning of the name Picpoul is unclear. Some believe that it translates into lip stinger because of its high acidity. Others think that it means pecking hens because in the old days, the hens liked to peck its early ripening fruits.

Pinet is a small Languedoc village where the wine is produced. The vineyards of Picpoul de Pinet overlook the oyster and mussel farms of the Bassin de Thau. Although the climate is dry and sunny, the lake provides coolness and humidity at night, which allows the grapes to retain a high level of acidity. And thanks to its freshness and crisp mineral flavors, the wine is the ideal accompaniment to the local oysters and mussels.

The other day, I didn't have oysters with my glass of 2004 Hughes Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet, but Dungeness crab. The wine was absolutely delicious with the delicate flavors of the crab meat. It had an attractive nose of floral and mineral aromas, a lively acidity on the palate and a clean, citrusy finish.

No wonder the hens used to eat the grapes, these animals certainly know what is good.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A new blog for South American wine lovers

A Che Guevara and wine route in Bolivia, painted horses on the streets of Santiago, the first ever international Carmenère competition, these are some of the stories that you can read in Andes Wine Zone. This new blog reports on wine-related events happening in South America and is also dedicated to the wines produced in the Andes Mountains — a land of natural wonders and a fabulous wine region!

Andes wine

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Pastries in Paris... support the Kashmir earthquake relief

Dreaming of spending the afternoon in Paris, sampling (or rather devouring) petits fours with a nice cup of tea? This is one of the cool gifts that you can win if you donate as little as $5 to support the victims of the earthquake that devastated the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan. The funds will be collected by Unicef through the First Giving website.

$4,400.00 has been raised as of today. So, are you ready to participate? Check the menu and find the gift you would like. Then go to the A Menu for Hope II donation page. You see, it's easy.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

President Bush and a Cabernet Sauvignon at your holiday dinner table?

The California Wine Club recently conducted a survey asking its members which public figure or celebrity they would like to invite for holiday dinner, and which wine they would serve. President Bush was the popular choice as well as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Now, which guest would I like to have for my holiday dinner? Certainly someone that could bring a good bottle of wine and tell interesting wine stories. Maybe a famous winemaker, maybe a famous female winemaker. Someone like Helen Turley from Marcassin or Laurence Faller from Domaine Weinbach or Sophie Armenier from Domaine de Marcoux.

Or maybe I could just serve their wines.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Manresa: That's absolutely true

It was after reading Manresa... All of it is True on the Gastronomie blog that I decided to make a reservation at Manresa . I had previously read several great reviews of Manresa, including Manresa Restaurant: a fascinating ride and Notes From the Vinography "Drink Small" Wine Dinner, but for some reason, this one made me pick up the phone and call the restaurant.

So last week, my husband and I drove to Los Gatos for a 6:30pm dinner, and as predicted, the experience was memorable. Just reading the menu was mouth watering. The wine list was small but the wines were well chosen. I was only disappointed by the small selection of wines by the glass. I could not find anything inspiring that could go with our first dish, a foie gras terrine. Fortunately, the problem got resolved thanks to the Sommelier, a friendly and helpful person, who recommended a glass of Prinz von Hessen Riesling Spätlese 2000 that was not in the list. To go with our four course menu, we ordered a bottle of Volnay Premier Cru Champans 1999, also recommended by the Sommelier.

After a couple of appetizers — a mango smoothie and a parmesan churro, the waiter brought us the famous Arpège Egg, a hot-cold soft boiled egg with maple syrup, sherry vinegar and cream. The dish certainly deserved its reputation. The combination of hot and cold ingredients and sweet and sour flavors was amazing.

We started our menu sharing a Terrine of Duck Foie Gras and Pig’s Trotter. This was an inventive creation that combined the rustic flavors of the pig feet with the delicate and silky taste of the foie gras. The 2000 Prinz von Hessen Riesling Spätlese was excellent and a perfect accompaniment to the terrine. The wine had a lot of purity and finess, a smooth texture, a complex finish, and the right amount of sweetness to go well with the foie gras.

I absolutely loved my second dish, the Sea Urchin and Dungeness Crab in Lightly Spiced Coconut Milk. For me, this was the most inventive dish of the menu. I loved its airy texture, its intense flavors combining the salty, iodized flavors of the urchin with the sweet and rich taste of the coconut milk.

My third dish was the Breast of Duck with Braised Red Cabbage and Prunes Poached in Black Tea. This was a more classic dish, yet rich and tasty. It worked very well with the 1999 Volnay Premier Cru Les Champans Domaine Marquis d'Angerville, a concentrated and spicy wine that started very firm and became smooth and unctuous towards the end of the meal.

My last dish, a Warm Date Cake with Caramel Pears and Ice Cream, was a real treat, a comfort food in its most refined form.

Feeling hungry? Call now. The number is 408-354-4330.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

WBW #16: Don't be fooled by the appearance

Today is December's Wine Blogging Wednesday and Derrick at An Obsession with Food (and Wine) is hosting. This time, he is asking us to present a wine that we have chosen solely for its pretty label.

When I choose a wine, I am usually influenced by the winery name, the appellation, friends recommendations — and the price. But once in a while, I have to confess that I buy a wine because I am attracted to its label.

That's what happened when I ran into the 2002 Eno Pinot Noir Presumed Innocent Morelli Lane Vineyard. At first sight, the wine's label looked pretty. I liked the subdued rose petal color and the delicate transparency of the main picture, as well as the flowery, red and green design on the side of the label.

And then I took a closer look and the label started to suggest a mystery as thick as the London fog. It showed a picture of a mysterious and seductive woman with a pearl necklace and perfectly manicured fingernail, entitled “PRESUMED innocent”. Who was this lady? An intriguing brunette like Mary Astor in the Maltese Falcon, or a cold and blonde Hitchcock heroine like Kim Novak in Vertigo? What was her crime?

On its website, the winery warns you: “Be careful, it's an iron fist in a velvet glove. You are "Presumed Innocent" until you have a glass or two...

When I finally turned my attention to the side of the label, the whole truth came out: she was guilty!

What about the wine itself? It has a bright bloody ruby color and an attractive nose of fresh cherry with notes of cinnamon and cloves. On the palate, it is medium-bodied and dry with a earthy-spicy finish. It is a fine Russian River Pinot Noir that should be delicious with a Salmon with Indian Spices.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

My 2005 Top Wines

Everybody talks about the Wine Spectator's 2005 Top 100 these days. And like every year, people wonder how the magazine came up with its ranking. For me, the list is interesting because I haven't drunk any of these wines, although I had some from a different vintage. So, does that mean that I completely missed the best wines of the year?

This led me to wonder what were my own 2005 Top wines. A simple query to my Wine Database returned a list of almost 100 wines that I tasted in 2005 and found excellent or exceptional (four stars or better in my rating scheme). These are the wines that I enjoyed the most this year and all of them are associated with fond memories of dear friends and delicious food.

I already featured several of these coup de coeur wines in recent posts. Here are some more :

• 1980 Page Mill Cabernet Sauvignon Volker Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley
• 1985 Château Lynch-Bages
• 1986 Château Raymond-Lafon
• 1995 Château Cantenac-Brown
• 1996 Merryvale Profile
• 1996 Santenay Premier Cru Clos de Tavannes Domaine de la Pousse d'Or
• 1998 Miner Family Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville
• 1999 Brunello di Montalcino La Mannella
• 1999 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Clos des Capucins Cuvée Sainte Catherine
• 2001 ZD Reserve Pinot Noir Los Carneros
• 2001 Gamba Old Vine Zinfandel Russian River Valley
• 2001 Gigondas Domaine Les Goubert Cuvée Florence
• 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de la Janasse
• 2001 Barolo Mauro Molino
• 2001 Schmelz Riesling Smaragd Durnsteiner Freiheit
• 2002 Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz
• 2003 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese
• 2003 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru La Maltroie Michel Colin-Deleger et Fils
• 2003 Vacqueyras Blanc Domaine La Monardière
• Champagne De Meric Grande Reserve Sous Bois Brut

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