I n last’s week’s Grapevine, we covered the obligatory Thanksgiving-time topic of Nouveau Beaujolais. It’s what I call a “flimsy little summer cottage” of a wine, intended to be drunk early and often. But although Nouveau Beaujolais, thanks in large part to slick marketing, gets most of the press, it’s just one of four categories of Beaujolais wines that are produced—and the lowest tier of those wines at that.
It goes like this: First, there is Nouveau Beaujolais. A step up from Nouveau are the wines just called Beaujolais, followed by Beaujolais-Villages. At the “high” end (it’s all relative) are Cru Beaujolais wines. The good news is that even the best Beaujolais bottles typically sell for a fraction of good Burgundy or Bordeaux. There are bargains to be had.
Beaujolais: All Beaujolais (from the Beaujolais region just south of Burgundy in France) wines are made using the unique Gamay grape, from Beaujolais Nouveau through the Cru Beaujolais. It’s a juicy, fruity grape, probably the closest to actual purple grape juice in flavor. If Nouveau Beaujolais is the young, frivolous wine of the region, Beaujolais is its workhorse. It’s a blue collar wine drunk in bistros throughout France, produced by 440 different vineyards and wine growers. It’s not terribly interesting but then it is easy to get along with and, when all is said and done, it does the job. It’s a versatile wine made for comfort that pairs surprisingly well with comfort food. Break out a bottle of Beaujolais the next time you sit down to mac & cheese or roasted pork.
Beaujolais-Villages: Now things are beginning to get interesting. These Beaujolais wines are cherry-colored and taste of black currants, raspberries, and strawberries. They’re good with a variety of foods and I’d suggest pairing these wines with roasted turkey or chicken or cold meats and pate. Beaujolais-Villages gets its name from the 39 select villages in which it is made. Good examples are Beaujolais-Villages from the Beaujolais standard-bearer, Georges Duboeuf, and also the consistent and light-bodied Beaujolais-Villages from Louis Jadot. I also tasted the Joseph Drouhin 2003 Beaujolais-Villages on cask last week and found it to be very appealing, if still a bit green. These are wines that will last a year or two in your cellar.
Cru Beaujolais: If you get confused looking at bottles of Beaujolais in the wine store, it’s probably due to Cru Beaujolais. The Beaujolais section can look bewildering, but that’s because each bottle of Cru Beaujolais carries the name of its Cru appellation, of which there are 10: Brouilly, ChÃ©nas, Chiroubles, Cte de Brouilly, Fleurie, JuliÃ©nas, Morgon, Moulin Ã Vent, RÃ©gniÃ© and Saint Amour. Of these varieties of Cru Beaujolais, Brouilly is the most plentiful, with about 3,000 acres of vineyards. At the other end of the Cru Beaujolais spectrum is ChÃ©nas, which is the rarest of the Beaujolais Crus. It’s got nice structure and a woody bouquet, and is the best candidate of Beaujolais wines for cellaring. It’s even got enough bold character to stand up to game. Fleurie is a product of granite soil and is silky, “feminine” Beaujolais. Some would even call it elegant. On the more masculine side, Morgon is produced from fields of broken granite and schist and is relatively full-bodied for Beaujolais and actually needs to be aged a few years before drinking.
As with any wine, the best way to get to know Beaujolais is to buy some and drink it. And with even Cru Beaujolais priced at only $20, you can afford to try them all!Food Comfort Wine 1CD1E368-2BF4-55D0-F1FCBD9E94819471 2007-06-11 16:05:23.0 1 1 0 2003-12-04 00:00:00.0 0 0
Think of the world’s great wine-growing regions and you come up with names like the Rhone Valley, Sonoma, Alsace, Tuscany, Rioja, Willamette Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa and ... Idaho? OK, so Idaho doesn’t quite seem to fit. But there’s no reason that Idaho couldn’t become a key player as a wine-producing area. After all, cool Idaho nights and warm days combine with some of this country’s highest grape growing elevations to make for grapes that are naturally acidic and fully ripened.
Among the pioneering spirits to figure this out are Scott and Susan DeSeelhorst, owners of Idaho’s Snake River Winery and part of the family that also owns Solitude Ski Resort. Since the Utah state wine stores don’t carry Snake River wines, to taste them you’ll either have to place a special order through the UDABC, travel up to Idaho or dine at Solitude’s Creekside restaurant (see Dining) where they appear on the wine list.
They are interesting wines worth seeking out, especially given low retail prices which range from $7.95 for a bottle of 2001 Snake River Riesling to $14.95 for the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon. Not bad prices for what is essentially a “boutique” winery. The DeSeelhorst’s produce a total of 3,000 cases of wine annually at their Snake River Winery.
Since purchasing the Arena Valley Vineyard near the Snake River in Idaho in 1998, the DeSeelhorst’s prime objective has been to improve the “balance” in the vineyard. According to Scott DeSeelhorst, before they bought the vineyard, “the previous ten harvests were all over the board regarding tonnage per acre, and the wines had a vegetative taste.”
With a rigorous program of irrigation monitoring, canopy management and pruning and harvest-ratio studies, the proper balance for grape growing and development has been restored in the Arena Valley. A new state-of-the-art trellis system for exposing the grapes to sunlight has also been installed.
It all sounds pretty scientific. So, it’s surprising that Snake River’s winemaker Scott DeSeelhorst doesn’t have a fancy degree in oenology from U.C. Davis. His knowledge of wine and growing grapes actually comes from his background in cooking. As a culinary school graduate and restaurant cook, DeSeelhorst says, “I treat winemaking like cooking. The key to winemaking is using the best ingredients, and with wine, of course, that means the grapes.”
Currently, Snake River Winery produces Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The DeSeelhorsts have also planted two new varietals, Syrah and the little-known Zweigelt. I recently tasted both the 2000 Snake River Merlot and 2000 Snake River Cabernet Sauvignon, and I was pleasantly surprised with these Idaho wines.
The Merlot is Snake River’s most popular wine, and it’s easy to see why. It’s silky smooth with soft tannins and a hint of sweet oak, the result of spending 12 months in a combination of Hungarian, American and French oak barrels. It’s an easy-drinking Merlot in a style that will appeal to American palates.
I actually prefer the less popular 2000 Snake River Cabernet Sauvignon though. This one spends 14 months in American and French oak barrels but is not an overly oaky Cabernet. What I detected was ripe dark fruit flavors (almost sweet) and a burst of cocoa and chocolate on the palate. To me, it’s sort of a chocolate cherry bomb wine. And when I get my hands on another bottle, I’d really like to pair it with an assortment of premium chocolates for dessert. Should be luscious.
Think Idaho is just about potatoes? Then try a bottle or two of Scott and Susan DeSeelhorst’s Snake River wines. Who knows? We could be looking at the new Napa Valley.Food Snake Bite 1CD1E414-2BF4-55D0-F1FFC1AC1891AACE 2007-06-11 16:05:23.0 1 1 0 2003-05-29 00:00:00.0 0 0
As the weather warms up, we’ll be spending more time eating and drinking outside. And there are some common sense rules when selecting boozy beverages, particularly wine, to drink at barbecues, outdoor concerts and picnics, bocce ball tournaments and nudist camp. The first is to remember where you are—outdoors. It’s probably going to be hot. So lock up those meaty Cabernets, Burgundies and Barolos when the ambient temperature hits 75. Choose lighter, low-alcohol wines that can be pleasurably and abundantly quaffed in the warmest weather. Even Chardonnay can get pretty cloying when the heat is on.
When thinking about drinking, think first about what you’ll be eating. Burgers and hot dogs? Paella or pizza? Barbecued chicken and bratwurst? Then choose wines (or beer) that will complement the food you’ll serve. Price should be a factor. I think it’s nutty to spend more than $15 for wine that I’ll serve outdoors at a barbecue from a tub of ice. So I look to less-prestigious toasty winemaking regions for my summer sippers: New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and the South of France. After all, the wine isn’t going to be analyzed, studied and pondered as it might be during a December meal of osso buco and saffron-scented risotto. Rather, it’s likely to be consumed quickly and in abundance. So more often than not, when the party moves outdoors, it’s a flimsy little summer cottage of a wine you want to be sipping.
Soft, fruity wines are terrific in the backyard or on the porch. One of my favorites is Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare RosÃ© from California. For fuller-bodied rosÃ©s, it’s tough to find better summer wines for a better price than RosÃ©s from Provence. I’d suggest Tavel ChÃ¢teau of AquÃ©ria. But if you can find it, try a bottle of RosÃ© Coeur de Grain from Domaines Ott with a lobster salad for an exceptional warm weather lunch.
Looking for something a little more exotic? Try to get your hands on a bottle of Albarossa Salice Salentino Rosato. This bone-dry southern Italian “pink” wine reminds me of strawberry pie in a bottle, and it’s terrific, slightly chilled, on a warm spring day. Then again, it’s hard to beat Spain’s MarquÃ©s de CÃ¡ceres RosÃ© at $5.95 in the bang-for-your-buck pink wine sweepstakes.
Grilled foods call for red wine with enough tannin to fight spices, smoke and bitter burned flavors. For foods off the grill (even charred chicken and fish), I often turn to Zinfandel. Zins from Ridge or Ravenswood (particularly the Vintner’s Blend) can be good, inexpensive choices. Ditto for Cline and Rancho Zabaco. Then again, so is an Australian Shiraz like Rosemount or my current favorite Aussie fruit bomb Zin, called Bulletin Place Shiraz. If you choose to go for a slightly lighter red—and in especially hot weather, I would—you can’t go wrong with a versatile, fruity Beaujolais like Brouilly ChÃ¢teau de la Chaize. You can drink it with everything from grilled rib-eye steak doused in A1 sauce to marinated quail with rosemary.
In the world of white wine, Pinot Grigio is a good choice for a light, low-alcohol white wine on the deck, as are Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, GewÃ¼rztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. The raspberry-laden Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is a slam-dunk for summer sipping, as is the less expensive Santa Rita Reserva. For a hint of the French Riviera, try Pascal Jolivet Sancerre or maybe Didier Dageneau Pouilly-FumÃ©.
And from this country, St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc is a fine choice. Alsatian wines are also wonderful backyard thirst-quenchers—look for Pinot Blanc and Riesling from solid producers like Zind-Humbrecht, Trimbach, Hugel, and Schlumberger.
Two final suggestions for imbibing when the heat is on: lots of water and lots of sunscreen.Food The Heat is On 1CD1E4FE-2BF4-55D0-F1F24897720DA491 2007-06-11 16:05:24.0 1 1 0 2003-05-22 00:00:00.0 0 0
One of my favorite New York City haunts is located in my old neighborhood of Murray Hill. It’s a restaurant called Asia de Cuba. And although Asia de Cuba is a bit trendier than I’d like, it has a good bar staffed with great bartenders who know what to do with a bottle of Cointreau. Yes, I said Cointreau. Although virtually every bar on the planet has a bottle of Cointreau (KWAHN-troh) on the shelf—right next to the Gran Marnier, Triple Sec and CrÃ¨me de Noya—chances are that it’s never occurred to you to ask for a glass of Cointreau on ice. You should.
Essentially, Cointreau is an orange-flavored liqueur that’s usually used to embellish mixed drinks such as Margaritas. Indeed, like most bartenders I know, I always request a splash of Cointreau in my Margarita. Triple Sec doesn’t quite get the job done and using Gran Marnier is just plain silly. The latter is like using Burgundy from RomanÃ©e-Conti to make beef daube. But Cointreau in a Margarita or many other mixed drinks elevates them in the way that a Prada purse or a Tissot timepiece bestows a little extra flair upon its owner.
Cointreau is classy and classic. It’s been around for more than 150 years, virtually unchanged. Even the bottle design remains almost identical to that which was unveiled in 1849, when confectioner Adolphe Cointreau and his brother Edouard-Jean created Cointreau in Angers, France. Since that time, the alchemy of Cointreau has remained consistent and invariable.
I say “alchemy” because Cointreau is made from a well-guarded secret recipe that’s passed down from generation to generation in the Cointreau family. What’s known is this: It’s done with orange peels. To make Cointreau, orange peels are combined and distilled with alcohol. But not just any old orange peels. In Cointreau, you’ll find the flavors of sweet oranges from Spain and Brazil, along with the bitter tang of the Caribbean Bigarade orange.
First, the orange peels are separated by hand from the orange pulp and meat. Then they are dried in the sun and carefully sorted. In addition, some sweet orange peels from Brazil are used fresh, not dried. The handpicked peels are then shipped to the Cointreau distillery in France where they are bathed and distilled in alcohol and pure spring water for weeks. During this time the essential aromas and flavors of the oranges permeate the alcoholic brew while the distillation process takes place in 12 red copper stills. According to Cointreau’s master distiller, “Only copper can achieve the unique taste of Cointreau.”
The result is a unique and wonderful liqueur, 40 percent alcohol by volume, that when poured over ice and sipped on the porch puts a quick end to any and all disputes about the existence of God.
But that sort of sipping is for purists. More often than not, you’ll find Cointreau used in foo-foo drinks like Asia de Cuba’s “Tika Puka Puka,” a dangerous concoction of three types of rum, three kinds of fruit juice, grenadine, sour mix and Cointreau. It’s also a key ingredient in elegant cocktails like the Blue Velvet, White Lady and Havana Side Car.
Here’s one of my favorite Cointreau cocktails, called a Screaming Orgasm: Mix the following ingredients in a shaker with ice: 2-ounces Cointreau, 1-ounce Irish cream liqueur, 1-ounce vodka, 1-ounce Amaretto, 1-ounce coffee liqueur. Shake and serve over ice with a strawberry or cinnamon stick for a garnish. Orgasm guaranteed.Food The Orange Glow 1CD1E5B9-2BF4-55D0-F1F16A2B44609ECE 2007-06-11 16:05:24.0 1 1 0 2003-05-15 00:00:00.0 1 0
Spain’s most respected and well-known winemaking region is Rioja. And the wines from Rioja (ree-OH-ha), which are also called Rioja, are the easiest to find of the Spanish wines available in this country. Of more than 30 wine-producing regions, Rioja is certainly Spain’s most famous and well-respected—an area in the north-central part of Spain between the Pyrenees to the north and Madrid to the south. If you haven’t discovered the wines of Rioja yet, it’s a good time to familiarize yourself with them. Because although prices for Rioja wines have skyrocketed in the past few years, they are still generally a good buy. Worthy wines from Rioja can be had for under $20 and even the very best typically sell for less than $50.
There are red, white and pink (rosÃ©) wines made in Rioja, with about 80 percent of the wine being red table wine centered on the Tempranillo grape. I’ll save the discussion of white and rosÃ© Rioja wines for another time. For now, I’d like to focus on the delicious red Riojas of Spain.
As mentioned, the primary grape that goes into Rioja is Tempranillo, a soft, cherry-flavored grape with very little tannin. In Rioja, Tempranillo is often blended with one or more of three common grape varieties: Garnacha with its peppery tang, Mazuelo providing tannins, and/or Graciano with its distinct blackberry flavor. The result is a wine that is surprisingly complex, yet soft drinking with very little abrasive tannin. Rioja also often has a slightly musty quality, probably due to the chalky soil that characterizes the Rioja region. Hints of vanilla and cinnamon are also typical. For me, the most appealing thing about Rioja is that the wines are, in a sense, “pre-aged.” There’s usually no need to cellar them since they are aged before they are ever released for sale. So with Rioja, it’s like buying old-wine quality at new-wine prices.
There are three varieties of Riojas: The least expensive and youngest Riojas are called crianzas. According to strict standards, crianzas must be aged for at least two years, spending at least six months in oak casks. A step up in quality from crianzas are reservas, which must be aged in oak for at least one full year and aren’t released for at least three years. And the finest wines from Rioja are designated gran reservas. These are wines from only exceptional vintages, which are aged for at least five years with a minimum of two years in oak casks. So with any Rioja—but especially the gran reservas—the wine has essentially matured and mellowed before it ever hits the wine store shelf. This takes a lot of guesswork out of the buying process, since instead of reading reviews which only speculate about a wine’s future quality (as with Bordeaux, for instance), wine experts can actually taste and review Rioja shortly before it appears on the market as fully mature specimens.
A producer of Rioja called Bodegas Lan makes wonderful examples of the wine, and we’re fortunate to be able to buy it in Utah. In fact, the downtown wine store has an exceptional selection of Riojas in general. Bodegas Lan Rioja Crianza sells for $14.55 and has notes of cinnamon and cedar. I think it would be a really nice accompaniment for tandoori chicken. Much more complex and meaty is Bodegas Lan Lanciano Reserva, a steal at $29.15. Ripe tannins and thick, dark cherry flavors with anise and vanilla means that you can easily fool your wine geek friends into thinking this is a $100-plus boutique wine from California. Keep the price to yourself. And for another great bang-for-the-buck Rioja, try the Bodegas Monticello Rioja Reserva ($18.65) for a prototypical example of what a Rioja red tastes like. It’s a ready-made match for grilled meats and burgers.Food Relishing Rioja 1CD1E6B3-2BF4-55D0-F1F67F14B2D9A96F 2007-06-11 16:05:24.0 1 1 0 2003-05-08 00:00:00.0 0 0
I think there’s a considerable amount of confusion concerning Chablis, some deserved and some not. When people of a certain age (like mine) think of Chablis (pronounced shuh-BLEE), they might think of the medium-sweet California jug wine that was marketed—and still is—as Chablis in this country. If that stuff was how you met Chablis, then you probably swore it off for life. The other Chablis is a unique white wine from the Burgundy region of France. Chablis is a village in the northwest corner of the Cte d’Or in Burgundy, about equidistant from both Paris and Dijon. And good French Chablis is well worth finding out about.
Adding to the confusion about Chablis is that it’s made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes, but it doesn’t taste much like the Chardonnay produced further south in Burgundy. And that’s due primarily due to stony soil and a harsh climate. The climate in Chablis is cool and relatively harsh for Chardonnay grapes. That in itself produces grapes resulting in wines that are lighter and more austere than typical Chardonnay.
Vineyards in Chablis are strewn with chunks of limestone, which in turn gives character to the wine grapes grown there. The soil is rich with fossilized shells of bivalves from the Jurassic Period, which might explain the natural alliance of fresh oysters and Chablis. In case you hadn’t heard, oysters on the half-shell and Chablis is one of the classic food and wine pairings. At any rate, you can literally taste stones in Chablis. It rocks!
Unlike Chardonnay in France, Chablis is almost exclusively aged and fermented in stainless steel barrels. In contrast, virtually every producer of white Burgundy in the Cte d’Or uses oak barrels for fermenting and aging their wines. The result, even though the starting point is the same grape (Chardonnay), is two very different and distinct wines. Although a mere hour’s drive south, the white Burgundies of the Cte d’Or are voluptuous, toasty and full-bodied. The Chablis of the north is very dry, crisp, light-bodied (usually), bright and lean. The writer Jay McInerney describes the difference between classic white Burgundy and Chablis thusly, “If Corton-Charlemagne resembles a novel by one of the BrontÃ« sisters, then Chablis an early Raymond Carver story.”
Chablis ranges in price from bottles in the teens to more than $100. The most expensive, of course, are those from the seven “grand-cru” producers: Les Clos, Les Preuses, Bougros, Les Blanchots, Grenouilles, VaudÃ©sir, and Valmur. Those wines tend to be pricey and difficult to find. A step down in price, “premier-cru” Chablis ranges in price from about $30 to $75. In Utah, premier-cru Chablis like Fevre Fourchaume ($33.95) and La Chablisienne ($22.55) is available as is grand-cru LaRoche Chablis Les Blanchots ($40.60)—all very good wines for the price. Chardonnay fans will probably prefer Les Blanchots, which unlike most Chablis, is barrel-fermented, resulting in smoky oak flavors not so typical of leaner Chablis. The Fourchaume is a more archetypal example of Chablis, with a crisp texture and lots of flint and minerals in play. It’s like licking wet stones. While grand-cru Chablis will improve with age, lower-end Chablis like that from Verget ($17.90) and Latour ($15.95) should be drunk young.
For a slam-dunk food and wine pairing, do treat yourself to a bottle of Chablis and a plate of fresh oysters. Shellfish always cries out for acidity, which often comes from lemon juice or vinegar. So when paired with oysters, the acidic tartness of Chablis takes the place of lemon or vinegar. Also, Chablis has lots of flinty mineral flavors that utterly compliments the ocean mineral flavors of oysters. It truly is a beautiful marriage.