Monday, June 25, 2012

Wine That Stands Up to Pesto

It's officially summer. Unofficially, it's basil season. Right now, I am overwhelmed with the stuff. Pictured to the left is one of my behemoth basil plants. Having a lot of basil isn't exactly a problem, I admit. Who doesn't love basil? But for wine lovers, basil can make for difficult pairings. This is one assertive herb, and you need a wine that isn't going to clash with it, nor do you want your wine to disappear on the palate.

My usual go-to wine when strong green, herbal notes are part of a dish is Sauvignon Blanc. But New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are often quite citrusy, and US Sauvignon Blancs can be too melony and soft for basil. So I opened a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc--and it was perfect with my linguine tossed with homemade pesto and topped with some heirloom cherry tomatoes.

The 2011 Viña Carmen Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva (available for $13-$15 in the market) is made from grapes grown in the Leyda Valley. It has vibrant aromas of grass, gooseberry, and that uniquely weird smell of boxwood that I often smell in Sauvignon Blancs from the southern hemisphere. This wine was green and leafy rather than citrusy, with a backbone of acidity that was neutral in flavor but kept your mouth watering for more. The midpalate was herbal, making me think 'this is what Cabernet Franc would taste like if it were white and not red.' Cool and refreshing, this stood up to the basil. If you have the wine with something less resolutely green, you may find that its assertiveness is a problem but if you have basil, this is a good wine to go with it--and it represents very good QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fish Eye Pinot Grigio: A Genuine Bargain in White Wine

I first enjoyed the Fish Eye Pinot Grigio in 2009 with my fellow wine bloggers at our annual conference (and wrote about that experience here). It was a humbling moment for many of us, who were a bit sniffy about the wine based on the cute label, its availability in large-format bottles and boxes, and because it was Pinot Grigio. There is a lot (and I do mean a lot) of terrible, cheap Pinot Grigio out there. So much of it, in fact, that I've stopped ordering it in restaurants.

So it is with great pleasure that I report that the 2011 Fish Eye Pinot Grigio still has a suggested retail price of $7 (though you can find it in the market for prices between $5 and $10), it is still delicious, it is still widely available throughout the country, and it is still excellent QPR. Expect zesty, pure lemon and lime aromas and to have those scents echo through the flavors. You might detect a nice peachy note as you sip, which takes off some of the bitterness that can be associated with Pinot Grigio.

This is a versatile, food-friendly wine that is light enough to pair with vegetables and salads at a weekend lunch, will be a great companion to asparagus and lemon pasta as you work your way into your spring recipes, and will be welcome at summer barbeques so if you see some on the shelf give it a try.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Miracles Happen: Three Worthy Pinot Noirs for $25 or Less

Pinot Noir is a budgetary nightmare for most of us. Pinot is a finicky grape, which makes it difficult to grow, which translates into expensive bottles on the shelves. And that was before the movie that put Pinot Noir in everybody's glass, displacing Merlot.

Recently, I had not one, not two, but THREE bottles of Pinot Noir that were impressive--and none cost more than $25, which is quite reasonable by Pinot Noir standards. If $25 is too much for you--or you like more traditional tasting wines--scroll down to the final recommendation. At $12, it's a steal.

2010 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir (suggested retail $25; available in the market for $20-24) This excellent QPR example of Russian River Valley Pinor Noir has full-bore raspberry aromas and flavors with a burnt sugar edge. The mouthfeel is silky, with lots of toast and spice. The finish is long, with cinnamon and clove notes.

2010 Echelon Pinot Noir Russian River Valley (suggested retail $24.99; use the winery's "where to buy" feature to find a bottle near you) For around the same price as the Davis Bynum, and from grapes grown in the same place, this very good QPR example has intense raspberry fruit with a slightly candied edge to the flavors. The aftertaste is spicy, but less complex and dominated by clove notes.

2010 Casa Silva Pinot Noir Reserva (suggested retail $12) You might not expect to find Pinot Noir in Chile, but think again. This wine was much lighter in style, which some prefer, with pure raspberry aromas and flavors. You can't beat it for the price, this is a simple and delicious expression of the grape. Excellent QPR for a wine that will appeal to fans of more traditional Pinot Noir.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Sauvignon Blanc...from Slovenia

Wine is an adventure. At least that's what I've always thought. So many grapes. So many styles. So many countries to visit--even if it's only through the liquid in your glass.

So when one of my favorite addictions--er, on-line retailers--Garagiste up in Seattle offered a three-pack of Slovenian whites to try, I jumped at the opportunity. The three-pack cost around $45, which meant there was a $15 investment per bottle for a Riesling, a Chardonnay, and a Sauvignon Blanc. Recently, I opened up the Sauvignon Blanc and was extremely pleased at my first foray into Slovenian wine.

You might not think "Slovenia" and "Sauvignon Blanc" in the same breath, but there's no reason why you shouldn't do so. Most parts of the globe have a history of wine-making, and that includes central Europe. I had some amazing Merlot when I visited Prague, and have enjoyed some wonderful Romanian wine here on the blog, and one of my all-time-favorite wines from Trader Joe's comes from Hungary. As for Slovenia, they have a venerable viticultural tradition that goes back to pre-Roman times (check this site for more information). So don't be afraid to try wine from regions you may be unfamiliar with, as they often represent very good value, as in this very good QPR example.

2008 Marof Sauvignon Blanc ( purchased in a three-pack from Garagiste; available in the market for around $11) This terrific Sauvignon Blanc had tart lemon pith, gooseberry, and lemongrass aromas and flavors. It was very clean and precise, without being overly herbaceous. A nice balance of fruit and acidity made it an ideal partner for food, and you can't complain about the price! It would be excellent with all kinds of dishes, from salads, to fish, to roasted chicken with lemon. We had it with a soup made with ancient grains and vegetables, and the lively acidity was a lovely counterpoint to the earthiness of the kamut and lentils, and picked out the bright tarragon herbal notes.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Classic Cabernets for $15 or Less

There are all kinds of Cabernet Sauvignon out there. Some are too fruity for me. Some are too green. Some are too expensive. Some are too huge, with big alcohol and palate-punishing tannins.

I like my Cabernets to have a classic profile: plum and currant in the fruit department, pepper for spice, and enough acidity that I know I'm not drinking watered-down jam.

Here are three bottles that fit my preferences--and none has a suggested retail of more than $15. If you like your Cabernets big and bold or fruity and sweet, these wines may not appeal to you. But if what you're looking for is a wine that shows the grape's varietal character and an appealing price point, give one of them a try.

2009 Lander Jenkins Cabernet Sauvignon Spirit Hawk (suggested retail $15; available in the market for $7-$15) Rich plum aromas characteristic of this grape variety lead into a plummy palate with notes of mocha and eucalyptus. Though the tannins are fine-grained, they have a nice grip that will be appealing to lovers of more brawny wine. Excellent QPR.

2010 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Private Selection (suggested retail $11; available for $8-$12 in the market) This wine has classic aromas and flavors of cassis, plum, herbs, and green pepper with smooth, well-integrated tannins. This will not necessarily appeal to fans of hugely fruity Cabernets, but if elegance is what you're after, you can't do better than this for $11. Excellent QPR.

2010 Echelon Cabernet Sauvignon (suggested retail $13.99; available for $7-$9 in the market) Another Cabernet built along classic lines, this bottle has some green pepper aromas and flavors among the cassis and cherry. There is good acidity, and tannins that area bit astringent in the mouth--which will make it a great partner for juicy beef dishes. Very good QPR (though if you find it for $7, consider this excellent QPR!)

Classic pairings for Cabernet Sauvignon include burgers, roast beef, grilled steak, and (a personal favorite from my childhood) Pepper Steak. If you're a vegetarian and want something to go with Cabernet, look for a recipe that uses rosemary like this white bean and rosemary soup recipe (sub veggie stock for the chicken stock). Rosemary and Cabernet are a match made in heaven!

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.