Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy new year!

Unfortunately, I had a nasty cold this week and so I was not in the best condition to enjoy wine. However, I happily ate lots of oysters — only my favorites: Miyagis and Belons — on the half-shell, no sauce, accompanied with a bone dry Trimbach Riesling from Alsace.

The Maison Trimbach has been one of the major Alsace producers since 1626. This Riesling is one of the entry wines produced by the estate. It is easy to find in the US, reasonably priced, and with its dry and mineral backbone and its natural acidity, it complements particularly well the tangy and briny flavors of fresh oysters. I found the wine at Trader Joe's and they may still have some. If you like bone dry minerality, don't hesitate, grab a couple of bottles, it's good stuff.

Happy new year!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Menu for Hope III: 3 days left!

Hunger and malnutrition are still the number one risks to health worldwide. 852 million is the total number of undernourished people worldwide: 815 in developing countries, 28 million in countries in transition and nine million in industrialised countries. Today, one in nearly seven people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

The Menu for Hope campaign will be running for three more days so if you're thinking about participating and help UN World Food Programme , there is still a little bit of time but do it soon!

So far, we have more than doubled last year's record of $17,000, and have raised over $35,000! Thanks to all of you!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

WBW #28: A sparkling wine but not a Champagne

Brenda from Culinary Fool is hosting December's Wine Blogging Wednesday and asked us to be in a festive mood. Therefore, this month's theme is a sparkling wine, although not from the Champagne region.

She also asked us to categorize our wine into one of three categories:

• Party Sparkler: a bargain sparkler that you would not be embarrassed to serve at a party.
• Special Sparkler: a more expensive bottle that you think is worth the price.
• Dud: you tried it but sorry, you wouldn't buy it again.

Today, my choice is the 2002 J Vintage Brut from J Vineyards & Winery a winery located in the Russian River Valley and owned by Judy Jordan, daughter of Tom Jordan of the Jordan Winery. The stylish bottle is one of the reasons why I like the J Vintage Brut. The second reason is that it is pretty good.

J Vintage Brut was the first product that the winery produced when it was founded in 1986. Today, J Vintage Brut is still the winery's main product and accounts for half of J's total production but the winery also produces several still wines from Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay grapes.

This wine is a classic Champagne blend of 49% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir and 2% Pinot Meunier. It is vinified using the Methode Champenoise that induces a second fermentation in the bottle. The wine had a light straw color and a delicate citrus nose. The palate had fine bubbles, a fresh acidity and a creamy mouthfeel that led to a vivid grapefruit finish, definitively, a Special Sparkler.

We enjoyed this fine bubbly with various holiday appetizers including a two-fish terrine, shrimp in endive boats, an avocado, pink grapefruit, and shrimp salad, and a sweet potato gratin. What a treat!

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Menu for Hope III: give and win fabulous prizes!

Every year, Food and Wine Bloggers from all over the world get together for a fundraising campaign called Menu for Hope. Last year, a record $17,000 was raised to help UNICEF. This year, Menu For Hope is going to benefit the UN World Food Programme, an organization that provides hunger relief for needy people worldwide.

We need you to participate and it's really easy: donate $10 and receive a raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. The more you give, the better your chance to win. Check the detailed donation instructions below.

There is an amazing list of food and wine related prizes: a meal at a renowned restaurant, a chance to have coffee with Thomas Keller, chef at The French Laundry, a dinner with Eric Azimov, the New York Times wine critic, and many more.

Now, if you are interested by everything that is related to wine, geography, history, winemaking, the whys and the hows, I have a special treat for you: my gift (use code WB16) is a copy of my two wine bibles: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition and the The World Atlas of Wine. Both are edited or co-edited by one of my favorite wine writers Jancis Robinson. I use these two books constantly. The atlas is indispensable if you want to understand why and how vine grow in the great wine regions of the world. And I love the 180 or so detailed maps that are included in the book. The Oxford Companion has more than 3,000 entries on anything that is related to wine. The information is so broad and detailed at the same time that I have never been disappointed; I have always found what that I was looking for.

Check the Menu for Hope III page on Chez Pim to see all the food and wine prizes. Here are the main categories:

Have a meal of your life
Delicious experiences
Feasts for the eyes: books and more
Tasty treats
Cooks' tools
and last but not least, the wine related prizes all listed by our friend Alder at Vinography: Drink yourself silly

How to donate:

1. Go to the donation page at (

2. Make a donation, each $10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize or prizes you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. This is very important. Do tell us how many tickets you want to allocate per prize, and please use the prize code -for example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for UW01 and 3 for UW02.

3. If your company matches your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we can claim the corporate match.

4. Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

5. Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 when we announce the result of the raffle. (The drawing will be done electronically. Our friend the code wizard Derrick at Obsession with Food is responsible for the wicked application that will do the job.)

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Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Hungary

After studying the wines of Germany and Austria, Derrick took us to Hungary for our fifth session of the Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class.

Hungary may not be a well-known wine producing country, but with various soil types and climate conditions, it produces a wide variety of wines from an equally wide number of grapes. Although the country has no coastline, it is home to Lake Balaton, Central Europe's biggest freshwater lake, and is divided in half by Europe's second-longest river, the Danube. Hungary's climate is continental with long warm summers and extremely cold winters. Twenty two official Hungarian wine regions has been defined, with the most prestigious one being Tokaj-Hegyalja.

Vineyards have flourished in Hungary since at least Roman Times. Many Italian and French grape varieties had been brought in and cultivated until the Turkish occupation between the 16th and 17th centuries. The Kadarka grape, now Hungary's most widely cultivated variety, has been brought by the Serbs at the time when they were persecuted by the Turks. It is around the 16th century that the Tokaj region became internationally famous for its late harvested Tokaji Aszú, also known as the king of wines and the wine of kings. Sadly, wine production had been greatly neglected during the Communist years. However, the last ten years have seen a rapid awakening and modernization of the wine industry and fortunately for us wine lovers, Hungary is now trying to rediscover its own style of wine.

Vineyards near the Lake Balaton (from

The wines we tasted:

• 2004 Craftsman Sauvignon Blanc Neszmély: the wine is made by Hilltop Neszmély, one of the largest producers and exporters of Hungarian wines. The wine comes from the Aszár-Neszmély wine region, located northwest of Budapest, between the Danube and the Transdanubian mountain range. My notes: golden color, herbal nose with strong gooseberry aromas. On the palate, vivid acidity, dry, grassy with a dusty finish. An unusual Sauvignon Blanc.

• 2005 Woodsman's White Cserszegi Füszeres Neszmély: this is another wine from Hilltop Neszmély. The grape variety Cserszegi Füszeres means spicy grape from the town of Cserszeg and is a crossing of Gewürztraminer and the local white grape Irsai Olivér. My notes: light straw color, aromatic nose with floral aromas. On the palate, grapey with white blossom notes, fragrant.

• 2005 Craftsman Cserszegi Füszeres Neszmély:also from the Hilltop Neszmély winery and from the Cserszegi Füszeres grape. My notes: golden color, fresh muscat-like nose, crisp with a good backbone and mineral notes on the palate, slightly more complex than the Woodsman's.

• 2005 Szõke Mátyás Valogatas Selection Chardonnay: the Mátraalja wine district is located at the foot of the Mátra Mountains in Northern Hungary. It is one of the country's largest historic wine regions. Records as old as 1042 show that local peasants already cultivated vines in the area. The Szõke Mátyás estate is the most important family owned winery of the Mátraalja region and exports half its production to Europe. My notes: light straw color, floral nose with citrus and green apple aromas, fresh acidity on the palate. Interesting Chablis-style Chardonnay.

• 2003 Oremus Tokaji Dry Furmint Mandolás: The Tokaj Oremus winery was created in 1993 by the Alvarez family, the owners of Vega Sicilia in Spain. The wine is 100% Furmint sourced from the estate Mandolás vineyard and vinified dry. My notes: dark golden color, spicy nose with pear aromas, peppery and mineral on the palate with a smoky finish. It is an opportunity to discover what Furmint tastes like just by itself.

• 2002 Vitavin Egri Bikavér: Egri Bikavér means Bull's blood from the Eger region in Magyar and it is one of Hungary's best known wines. It has an interesting story that dates back to the 16th century. At the time, the Eger fortress was under attack by the Turkish troops. To give themselves courage and strength, the defenders drank the local wine in large amount, spilling it all over their body. When the attackers saw the defenders covered with red wine, they thought that the men had been drinking the blood of bulls and they fled in terror.

Eger is a medieval city in Northern Hungary famous for its historic buildings, its Minaret (northernmost minaret of Europe), and its wine cellars located in the nearby Valley of Beautiful Women. Egri Bikavér is usually a blend of several varietals including Kadarka, Kekfrankos (Blaufränkisch), Médoc Noir (Merlot), and Cabernet Sauvignon. My notes: red/brown color, musky nose, rustic flavors on the palate, slightly oxidized. Not recommended.

• 2003 Craftsman Falconer's Cuvee Neszmély: from the Hilltop Neszmély winery, it is an unusual blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Kekfrankos. My notes: brownish red color, Cabernet nose with notes of sweet blackberry. On the palate, tannic, oaky, with some good acidity, leaving some green flavors on the finish. Rustic but much better than the Egri Bikavér.

• 2004 St. Donatus Estate Balatonboglari Merlot Semi-Sweet: this wine comes from the Southern shore of Lake Balaton, which is noticeably colder than the Northern shore where the deep waters have a temperate effect on the climate. My notes: medium red color, strawberry/raspberry on the nose, slightly sweet on the palate with a peppery finish. Not a bad wine but not easy to pair food with.

• 2000 Royal Tokaji Red Label Aszú 5 Puttonyos: Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary's most famous wine region, is located 125 miles east of Budapest. The finest estates are on south/southeast-facing slopes overlooking the town of Tokaj. They enjoy a special microclimate characterized by hot summers and long, sunny autumns with morning fogs facilitating the development of Noble Rot or Aszú.

To produce Tokaji Aszú, Hungarians use unique vinification methods. The Aszú grapes (or botrytized grapes) are harvested by hand, one grape at a time, then crushed and combined with a dry wine. The proportion of Aszú grapes added to the base wine is measured in puttonyos. One puttony represents a 28-liter container that is poured into the traditional 136-liter cask of base wine. The number of puttonyos can vary from 3 to 6. My notes: the wine is a blend of Furmint, Hárslevelu (meaning linden leaf), and Muscat. Dark golden color, apricot nectar on the nose with additional notes of tropical fruits. On the palate, luscious mouthfeel, vivid acidity with caramelized pineapple flavors on the finish. What a treat!

Coming next: the wines of Croatia, Slovenia, and Romania.

Related stories:
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, and Mittelrhein
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau (Austria)

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My (current) favorite Pinot Noir winemakers by James Strohecker

I recently read the Wine Spectator's review of California Pinot Noir makers. And, though the article and featured winemakers were both interesting, I don't believe they've identified some of the smaller, niche or consistent Pinot Noir purveyors in our area. Frankly, the Spectator knows Cabernet Sauvignon -- but they don't know jack about Pinot Noir!

So I thought I'd share with you my own little private, opinion-laden email Blog about my current favorite Pinot Noir makers and their wines. Check these wines and wineries out -- I promise you'll be happier for the effort.

1. Ancien Vineyard
--> Ken Bernards is a hot, up-and-coming winemaker. He's made consistent, excellent Pinot Noir for the past seven years for Ancien, and prior to that, he was the winemaker at Truchard. Ken flies all over the world -- called in as a consultant for wineries who're desperate to find the magic that he brings to controlled, focused winemaking. And there's no doubt that they're turning to one of the (current and) future winemaking stars for help. If you can find the Mink Vineyards Ancien, you'll thank me for it.

2. Joseph Swan Winery
--> Rod Berglund is as steady as they come. He focuses on creating and producing terroir-defined wines, including their fine Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. This is a hard winery to find -- and the wines are even harder to locate (generally they are in stock at Draeger's and Beltramo's). Well worth the effort. Excellent.

3. Alloro Vineyard
--> Actually, I went to High School in Oregon with the winemaker, David Newmarnik, of all things, who's a great guy with a passion to create excellent Pinot Noir. After he graduated from the University of Portland, he bought land in Sherwood, Oregon and started growing grapes. For years, he's been growing and selling grapes to the Ponzi Winery, a notable leader in the Oregon Pinot Noir industry. And for the last four years, he's made his own Estate and Vineyard select wines. Similar to Ken Bernards of Ancien (who, by the way, grew up in McMinnville, Oregon), Dave focuses on hand-crafting his wine.

4. Adrian Fog Winery
Jane Farrell & Stewart Dorman believe in creating small, hand-crafted, cool-climate (they check on fog patterns in the vineyards), small vineyard fruit-based Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley. The result is tremendous -- small lot, vineyard-reflective Pinot Noir that ages and drinks incredibly well. This, unfortunately, makes for higher end Pinot Noir, not everyday drinking wine . . . well, unless you've won the Lottery. But it's excellent for a good meal or if you want to win a Pinot Noir tasting event.

5. Babcock Winery and Melville Winery
OK, these two wineries are actually right next to each other. You drive down the same driveway and have to decide, "Hmmm . . . what do I want to try first -- the deep, dark, complex Babcock Pinot Noir made by Bryan Babcock, or the layered, granite and elements-wild Pinot Noir made by Melville's Greg Brewer?" The current Melville Estate Pinot Noir is one of the best-kept secrets around -- and it's just sitting on Draeger's shelves, for the taking, at under $30.

6. David Bruce
The man, the myth, the legend. What got me really angry about the recent Spectator's article on Pinot Noir, was that they ignored David Bruce. He practically invented high-end, precise Pinot Noir wine creation and development in California, after he finished Med School in Oregon, and realized he had two choices -- start his practice, and his winery, in Oregon or in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Since then, he's never looked back -- and if you've tracked his Pinot Noir productions over the years, you've noticed the intricacies of every vineyard-select wine, every Estate wine and every blend he creates from Bien Nacido, Carneros, Russian River and the Santa Cruz hillsides. Quite frankly, the latter are far more complex and lasting than most of the Pinot Noirs from other California regions. I've tended towards David's Bien Nacido and Windsor Gardens Pinot Noir over the past years -- and have always been pleased. If you haven't tried his wine lately, it's worth circling back to check it out again, for the first time, as they say. He truly is, the man, the myth and the legend.


James Strohecker

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