Friday, June 26, 2009

What's In A Name? More Burgundy Stuff!!!

Well, there are the fanciful Burgundian names, such as the Meursault Les Gouttes d’Or (Drops of Gold), and then there are the more mundane origins. In Beaune, there is the famed Clos de la Mouches, wherein the French sounds much superior to the English “Enclosed Place of the Flies.”

Then there’s the very practical yet highly descriptive Meursault Les Perrieres (Stone Quarries). Or the Premier Cru vineyard in Volnay, Taillepieds, which means ‘tethered foot”. But for specificity, I’d have to go with La-Piece-sous-le-Bois (The Piece beneath the Forest), or St-Aubin Derriere-chez-Edouard (The Vineyard Behind Ed’s House. What did you think it meant?). And there is a Chambolle-Musigny named Derriere le Four, which means “behind the furnace”. Not exactly a compelling name for a wine, I think.

Finally, it may be because I don’t have a clear grasp of French, or the translation software is just confused, but I’m still puzzling over the St-Aubin Sur-le-Sentier-du-Clou: The best I can come up with is “below the path of the nail”. Or maybe it’s ‘below the path with the nail”? Don’t you just know there’s a great story in there somewhere?

There’s been an awful lot of argument over the years about how the Cote d’Or, that renowned stretch of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines that defines Burgundy, got its name. One group insists the name, which seems to translate as “hillsides of gold”, refers to the golden color of the vineyard covered slopes in autumn. A more practical group believes the name refers to the financial aspects, and “slopes of gold” is all about revenue generation. I’d put my money on the third version: All those golden sloping vineyards face east, which in French is “Orient”, or Cote d’Orient (Hillsides Facing East)...which over time got shortened to Cote d’Or. Voila!

Chablis Grand Cru Les Grenouilles
Les Grenouilles is a prestigious Grand Cru Chablis. It is also the home of quite a few frogs— hence, Les Grenouilles. Like I said, sounds better in French.

Lyon, for a day...

Like all cities, Lyon has many different faces, so you don't come away with any one impression, but several.

There's the hustle-bustle and clamoring youth of the Gare Part Dieu, the rather bourgeous sameness of much of the central city, the so-so
business blocks, the vitality of the river banks along the Presque'Isle, the touristy scramble of Vieux Lyon, and of course the towering presence of the cathedral.

One part---a fairly large part, to one who had not been to the city in many years---was the Muslim part, a densely populated and almost totally ethnic city-within-a-city between Part Dieu and the Rhone. Packed with countless modest little establishments selling kebabs and curries and kulfi and with even more than the usual number of coffee houses, filled primarily with men idling over espresso, chain smoking cigarettes, and talking in animated tones, it was an intriguing spicy blend of Turkish, Moroccan, Tunisian, and doubtless others in a colorful stew.

But Lyon, with all its spice, was but a layover, a meeting point, for the upcoming tour of the Rhone Valley wine region, so our small group was eager to be off, and soon we left Lyon behind for the beckoning slopes of the Cote Rotie.

The Rhone, and parts south.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Heading Off To Rhone and Provence...

I'll be going over to spend a couple of weeks in France, boys and girls. Learn a little about Rhone and Provence wines.

Still a little sketchy about the second week, but the first week is looking awesome.

Here's the lineup. If I survive.

Yves Cuilleron
Alain Voge
Delas Freres
Cave de Tain/Domaine Gambert
Dom. Alain Graillot
Dom. Bernard Gripa
Universite de Vin, Suze la Rousse
Dom. Chaume Arnaud
Dom. Mourchon
Dom. Montirius
Cave Balma Venitia. Beaumes de Venise
Cave des Vignerons de Caractere
Ogier Cave des Papes
Dom. de Cabasse
Ch. Saint Cosme
Dom. de L'Ameillaud
Dom. des Anges
Dom de la Royere
Ch. de Campuget
Dom. la Garrigue
Dom. de la Soumade

That's, uh, it.

Then off to Provence.

Depending on the availability of wi-fi in various and sundry locations, and my own personal stamina, I'll be trying to put some posts up as we go along. We'll see.

Promised Sangrita Recipe

In a previous post I extolled the virtues of good tequila with something called "sangrita", and promised a recipe. Here it is, from a previously written file:

Sonoma Sangrita!

If you haven’t yet discovered the variable delights of Sangrita----no, I didn’t say sangria, that wine, brandy and fruit concoction of summer; I said sangrita----then I must surmise you

a) haven’t yet discovered and become addicted to the wonderful high-end Tequilas that are worlds, if not universes, apart from the common “mixto” types, basically the “Gold” Tequilas you were introduced to in your college years, which you apparently are still stuck in, and

b) therefore, you have not been to Guadalajara and sampled the way they drink the good stuff at home, i.e., with sangrita. Otherwise, you’d know.

Okay, by now, you’re either nodding your head or saying, “What the hell IS sangrita???”

Sangrita is a marvelous concoction of the Tequila area most often used as a sipper-chaser for good 100% Agave Tequila, usually Reposado or Anejo, although it can be used as a sort of Bloody Mary-style cocktail too, which would then be called a Vampiro.

It’s easy to make, and the recipes vary from person to person, so you can often just freehand it and come up with some variations of your own. That’s what I’ve done. For lack of a better name, I call it my Sonoma Sangrita.

Sonoma Sangrita

Use a gallon jar or the metric equivalent.

Mix tomato juice and orange juice about three parts to one as your base. (I use Knudsen’s Organic Tomato Juice as it is tasty, and slightly thicker and less watery than most others). Be careful with the OJ, otherwise it makes the mixture too sweet.

Throw in the juice of three to four limes.

Optional: and this is one of the ways my sangrita diverges from most---add the juice of one fresh grapefruit!

Add a few spoonfuls of Worcestershire Sauce. Some people use Steak Sauce, but I don’t.

Add in either de-seeded and diced hot peppers, or as a shortcut, Cholula Hot Sauce (you may prefer Tapatio, but I sincerely prefer Cholula). If you want a smokier, chipotle-style tang, use a smokier hot sauce. Please note the idea here is to add a little smoky heat, not to burn your taste buds out. What's the point of that? Then you won't be able to appreciate the tequila!

Another divergence of my sangrita: in a blender, liquefy a couple of medium, juicy tomatoes and a small sweet onion, and then strain through a sieve and add to the mix.

Salt and pepper to taste. Add celery sauce if you want. Can’t hurt.

Seal the jar, and shake it wildly, and you have sangrita. Keep chilled in the fridge.

Serve it next to your caballito (the tall shot glass that good tequila is often served in). Make sure you use 100% Agave Tequila. I prefer Reposado. And I reccomend Herradura Resposado, because it's rested/aged for 11 months, rather than the two required.

Sip the tequila. Sip the sangrita. Repeat application as needed. Show your friends how sophisticated you have become.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Mature Riesling, Bree and Me...

There I was sitting blissfully atop Spring Mountain, overlooking Napa Valley and the town of St. Helena far, far below. The day was dwindling down into summer twilight, a chill fog was scudding in, weaving its way through the vineyards below, good friends were surrounding me, fine cheeses were on the table, and I had a glass of Navarro Riesling before me.
Ah, but it wasn't just any glass of Navarro: it was a bottle I had been husbanding in my wine cage for some time, intrigued by how it might age and develop. This was a Navarro Riesling Anderson Valley 2000.

The folks at Navarro typify the pioneering aspects of California artisanal vintners. They aren't interested in pushing the volume envelope or setting the business world on fire by posting ever-increasing profit margins; they are more concerned with producing wines of distinct character and style, wines that reflect their place and their passions. And they have a pretty loyal following in their endeavor.

Fellow traveler Allan Bree in particular is fond of Navarro, so I thought this the appropriate occasion to sample this moderately aged Riesling. I could tell I was right when I saw his eyes light up as I pulled the bottle from the bag and showed him the vintage on the label.

The wine was solid and foursquare, with distinct Riesling character, and it was handling its age---ancient by California Riesling standards; modest by Navarro standards---with grace and dignity. I use the words advisedly, because this is not, definitely not, a young and nubile Riesling. It is mature, developed, and far beyond the blush of youth. The pretty florals of honesuckle and jasmine are all gone. The juicy fruitiness has become lean, and crisp, and has transitioned to tart quince, dried apricot, and citrus overtones. It has also taken on heft, more muscle over fat than simply weight, though, for it is firm and far from flabby.
There was a fierce streak of lemon-pith bitterness at the very end that could be off-putting to some. It wasn't to me, or fellow drinker Brad Kane (although he identified it as well), and Bree positively bridled at the suggestion...first, that there was any bitterness at all, and second that it might be found unattractive. I tried to convince him that "bitterness" was not necessarily a negative term, but he was dubious and looked at me askance for the remainder of the evening with great suspicion that I was impugning one of his favorite producers.

Hey, I like bitterness. Sometimes. And it was more an accent statement here than anything, and definitely pulled back in intensity with the cheeses on the table. So all in all, an impressive wine, holding its age well, and showing the ability of Riesling to develop beyond the infant years to show other facets of its persona. Shows what can be done with a great variety from a good location, handled with attention and care.