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Label Lust: Hugo Sparkling Rosé

The Hugo

I’m not above admitting that a flashy wine label gets my attention; I appreciate some thought, graphic design, and artistry wrapped around a bottle. It’s nice to have a little sizzle on the outside and deliciousness on the inside, no?

The Weingut Markus Huber “Hugo” Rosé Sparkling (or Sparkling Rosé?) is a true delight. These pink bubbles from Austria are a blend of Zweigelt (a traditional Austrian red grape that I have previously noted a fondness for) and Pinot Noir. I first had a glass of the Hugo at my new favorite restaurant, La Bête, and was charmed by its freshness, elegance, and style. With two of my wine industry brethren in tow, we naturally had to order a bottle. The only thing more clever, playful, and fun than the label of this great bottle of pink bubbles was this trio of dudes at La Bête. We held court at the bar, ate delicious food, gabbed with fellow patrons, and create more than one inside joke. Drinking bubbles just makes everything that much better.

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Big One-Liter Austrian Wines: Ready for the Holidays

1L Austrian Wine For Thanksgiving
Though I recently gave a compendium of Thanksgiving picks, I overlooked a couple of my favorites. The theme for my Thanksgiving drinking enjoyment will be this: Austrian wines in one-liter bottles. For under $15 you can get 33% more wine than the standard, puny, insignificant 750ml bottle.* Both of the wines, the Hofer Gruner Veltliner and the Brundlmayer Zweigelt, are notable for their lightness and moderate alcohol. I would venture to say that anyone who likes crisp, dry, unoaked wines would enjoy the Hofer. And with Beaujolais and Pinot Noir being such popular Thanksgiving reds, I think the Zwiegelt would play nicely with those wines; it’s a lighter-style red that will help you wash down the overflowing bounty of the holiday table.

I don’t know what the origin is of the 1L bottle versus the 750ml or why Austria seems to have cornered the market on them (though I have seen German wines in this size). All I know is that I love drinking them and they will please a large, thirsty crowd. And the icing on the cake (the stuffing in the turkey?) is the Hofer is sealed with a bottle cap. How fun is that?
The Hofer Gruner: Bottle Cap Top
I guarantee this will facilitate conversation around the table. (Like the time a customer at a previous job said to me about the Hofer: “This beer is flat.”)

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

(*If these bottles were 750mls I’d still feel they were a good deal at the same price. Therefore, I am getting an extra third for free. At least that’s how my math works.)

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Thanksgiving Picks: Unveiled

Thanksgiving Wines
Yup, it’s that time of the year. Roll out the Thanksgiving picks! Though I will be detailing numerous selections from near and far, I’d like to point out that there is no correct or, better yet, no incorrect wine to serve during this holiday meal. Whether you’re having turkey with all the traditional fixings, a standing rib roast, a vegetarian feast, or take-out Chinese, here’s the best wine to drink: The one you like.

Having said that, it is my duty to point out the wines that make me happiest around a large table of contentious, loud, and sometimes embarrassing (mostly me) family members. Naturally sparkling wines come to the forefront. Not only are they seriously underrated food wines, what’s more festive than popping a few corks and knockin’ down some bubbly while you watch football (if you’re lucky) or get pressed into kitchen duty (if you’re not so lucky)? My first two picks: Prosecco from Italy and Cremant from France. The Adami is a perfect way to start your day and the Antech is a gorgeous rose at a give-away price. And if your feeling a bit celebratory, the Voirin-Jumel Champagne is my new go-to. It’s an all Grand Cru fruit, grower Champagne (the people who own the vineyards make the wine), and a Blanc de Blancs. I like the style of Blanc de Blancs: all Chardonnay and they always seem to be a bit livelier and crisper than their red grape-blended counterparts.
Thanksgiving Wines
I have a real fondness for the white wines of Northern Italy and the above are three perennial favorites. All are very dry, elegant, and fantastic with everything from seafood to poultry and vegetables. And, with my well-documented penchant for the obscure, I like drinking wines made from the Kerner, Arneis, and Cortese grapes, respectively.
Thanksgiving Wines
Though we just hit the Beaujolais Nouveau season, I’d like you to turn your attention to Cru Beaujolais, especially from the justifiably-hyped 2009 vintage. These two from Dominique Piron are gems; I’d proabaly choose these Gamays over any Pinot Noir in the same price range. A slam-dunk!
Thanksgiving WinesFor the last three years I’ve had these two wines from South Africa’s Mulderbosch on the table. Love the Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé and the dry Chenin Blanc. Great labels, screw caps; I like how they look on the table. It’s not often you have a rosé made from Cabernet that is this pale and light; really nice stuff. The Chenin is lovely; has wonderful ginger notes and a little bit of weight and richness for fall cuisine. And even though we’re pushing December, rosés are a great food wine year-round and are probably the only wine that can hang with the cranberry sauce.

Finally, lest you think I am an unrepentant foreign wine snob, here are a couple picks from one of my favorite Washington wineries, Syncline. Tiny production Rhone-style wines (and some Gruner Veltliner and Pinot Noir to boot), they have wonderful balance and are not overdone with sweet oak and pumped-up alcohol levels.
Thanksgiving Wines

So what will you be drinking on Thanksgiving?

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2005 Saint-Estèphe: Heavenly Bordeaux

2005 Bordeaux
Not to throw salt on the wound, but if you missed out on our Bordeaux Extravaganza last night (8 reds, 1 white, 1 Sauternes) you should be kicking yourself. The stars of the show were two offerings from the much-hyped 2005 vintage; now I’m beginning to understand why everyone went nuts over it.

The duo that stood out were the Calon Segur* and the Cos d’Estournel. Calon Segur has always been a favorite of mine; I’ve carried a torch for it ever since drinking a bottle of the 1999 with my coworker, Jeff. (Thanks, dude.) Impeccably balanced and elegance personified, the only thing that could keep me away from a bottle is knowing that it needs more time to develop. Buy now and tuck it away for five years. The Cos was remarkable for its concentration yet, for a wine with such depth, was not overwhelming on the finish. Hide a few bottles for another decade. (Coincidentally, I happen to know a place where you can store them.)

And although this was all about the reds, the white and Sauternes that were bookends to the tasting were pretty extraordinary. The white was a 2000 Carbonneiux Blanc, which at 10 years was no shrinking violet. It had a nice richness and texture from the bottle age but retained a lot of freshness. Behold the power of the Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend! I think I need to dedicate a future World’s Most Underrated Wines post wholly to White Bordeaux.

The Sauternes, the 2006 Coutet, was a revelation. Golden deliciousness but with lively acidity on the finish; great sweetness but very nimble. I um, think I need to dedicate another World’s Most Underrated Wines post to sweet wines in general.

*Tayrn Miller may have said it better while live-tweeting from the tasting:


So would you like to know about our next big tasting? Let me know in the comments!

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I Love Esoteric Wines: Moscatel Seco

Moscatel SecoI’ve always been a fan of Spanish whites, especially Verdejo, Viura, and Albariño. These wines are all great porch-pounders and crush it with seafood. Recently I was presented with the 2008 Botani Moscatel Seco and was intrigued; I’ve only seen sweet versions of Spanish Moscatel, which I’m guessing is why they make a point of putting “Seco” (“Dry”) on the label.

I was pleasantly surprised to read that the Botani is a collaboration between Jorge Ordonez and the late Alois Kracher. Most famous for legendary Austrian sweet wines, it was exciting to find out Kracher was involved in making dry whites in, of all places, Spain.

The Botani was also a geographic discovery.  The grapes are grown on the slopes of the town of Almachar. It’s not an area I am familiar with, and when I did a quick search I found an idyllic photograph. Wowzers! It’s funny how right it is that this wine comes from this place: I couldn’t dream of a better view to soak up nor a better wine to drink up. This wine is all blue skies, billowy clouds, and clean, thoughtful structure.

So are you a fan of Spanish whites? What are some of your favorites?

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The World’s Most Underrated Wines Part I: Loire Cabernet Franc

Breton Cabernet Franc
France’s Loire Vally is home to many of my most-cherished whites, like Sancerre and Vouvray, but lately I’ve been on a kick for the reds, especially Cabernet Franc. Breton is one of my favorite producers and this lineup of 2009s did not disappoint. These are medium-bodied wines with some tannin but have moderate alcohol and oak influence. They may be the ultimate food wines; I could see enjoying Loire Cab Francs with everything from salmon to chicken to pork to beef to…you get the picture. Extremely versatile, they’re the Swiss Army Knife of red wines.

My favorite of the lot, pictured on the left, was La Dilettante. It actually undergoes carbonic maceration, the process which makes Beaujolais so damn gulpable and thirst-quenching. I find myself wishing it was July and I had a slightly chilled glass of this delightful Cab Franc, while sitting under the shade of an umbrella, eating burgers and dogs. (YES!) I can’t think of a wine that’s more fresh or fun than this charmer.

But since summer is long gone and we’re approaching the second half of November, I’d say Loire Cab Franc deserves a place at your Thanksgiving table. I have a few more Turkey Day selections that I’ll detail in an upcoming, ubiquitous post that will be delivered with aplomb, enthusiasm, and vigor!

So what wines do you feel are underrated?

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Tasting The Legend: Dal Forno Romano

Tasting the Legends
It’s not often that you get to cross a dream wine off your tasting wish list. It’s even less often that you get to cross off three in one night. And it’s the rarest of rare occasions that all the wines are from the same producer. That night was Wednesday and winery was the incomparable Dal Forno Romano.

Hailing from the Veneto in Italy, Dal Forno Romano wines demand that you totally recalibrate your perception of Valpolicella. The wines are painstakingly made through minuscule yields and a perfectionist’s mindset. Massively rich, concentrated, and yet somehow not over-the-top, these Valpolicellas will cellar for many, many years. If you are going to drink them now, I would say two hours in the decanter would be a minimum. (And I wouldn’t blame you if you drank them now; they are extremely difficult to resist.)

If it wasn’t enough to try two vintages of the Valpolicella, we were treated to the 2003 Dal Forno Romano Amarone. Whoa. What a wine! A little richer and denser that the Valpolicella, it had some of those lovely dried fruit characteristics that are the hallmark of Amarone. And like the Valpolicella, the Amarone is remarkable for its balance, especially considering the concentration and alcohol content. This wine doesn’t just strive for perfection, it’s knocking on the door.

Just when I thought I would run out of superlatives, the wine of the night (for me) arrived: The 2003 Dal Forno Passito Vigna Sere. Like the Amarone, it’s made with dried grapes, but it’s sweet. To call it the finest sweet wine I’ve had doesn’t seem to quite do it justice. I have to put it among the finest wines I’ve ever had, period. Having some blue cheese with it takes it into the stratosphere. I am loath to use words like “awesome” or “amazing” to describe anything because both words are so epidemically overused to be meaningless. (“That taco was awesome!” Awesome? Really? It inspired awe?) But if last night I heard any or all of these wines being described using either of those words, you’d probably notice me nodding my head in agreement and thinking, “Yes. Yes they are.”

Chris Zimmerman of Vias
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Zimmerman from Vias, the company that imports Dal Forno Romano and many other excellent Italian wines. Chris led us through a “Visions of the Veneto” seminar that proved his knowledge of Italian wines is only matched by his passion for them. And I’d be truly remiss if I didn’t mention the lineup of wines before the Dal Forno Romano, which were very impressive. We started with two Suavia Soaves, the unoaked 2008 Montecarbonare and the barrel-aged 2006 Le Rive. Fans of Chablis and White Burgundy, respectively, need to get a hold of these gems. And the Le Salette Amarones that followed were outstanding; made in a very refined style appropriate for the dinner table.

So what wines are on your wish list or which ones have you crossed off?

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I Love Esoteric Wines: Gelber Muskateller

Nigl Gelber Muskateller
Out of the hundreds of wines I taste a week, sometimes it seems it’s like a never-ending parade of the same thing, over and over again. Wow, another Napa Cab, one more Washington Syrah, hey, an Italian Pinot Grigio. Yawn. It’s not that I don’t enjoy these wines, but there is so much of them out there that for one to get my attention it really has to stand out. Thankfully every now and then, something comes across the tasting table that is unusual and exciting enough to make me forget about the unremarkable monotony that preceded it. One recent example is the 2009 Nigl Gelber Muskateller from Austria.

Gelber Muskateller? Huh? Even I had to look this up. It’s a type of muscat (wow, Sherlock Holmes) that is not only one of the most ancient, but one of the most ancient grapes, period. The first thing that struck me about the Nigl was the gorgeous aromatics: very floral, loads of peaches and pears reminicent of an Italian Moscato d’Asti. But that’s where the similarities end as this is a dry, steely white. I love the contrast of the aromas that make you think you might be getting a sweet wine but it finishes dry; just another delightful aspect of the Nigl. It would make a killer pre-dinner or lazy afternoon bottle. And as we get into November, I can’t help but think it would be nice on the Thanksgiving table. (Since I’m already seeing commercials for Christmas on TV, I feel comfortable talking about Turkey Day.)

Possibly the only thing nicer than having this wine on your holiday table would to be at the winery, drinking a well-chilled bottle. You’ve got to check this place out! Not only is the winery building itself full of charm, but it also houses a restaurant and hotel. (Yes, I will have another glass. I’m a guest at the hotel.) What’s not to love about being in a rural setting, surrounded by vineyards, and looking up at a striking castle ruin? Peruse the Nigl website and dream. The second best way to capture the magic of the wine and the region is to read the Austrian catalog put together by the man who discovers and champions these wines: Terry Theise. To call it a catalog is like calling the Sistine Chapel a room with a painted ceiling. It’s required reading for any wine geek; full of passion, humor, wit, contention, and a bit of stridency. And when you’ve finished the Austrian catalog, move on to Theise’s Champagne and Germany tomes. Theise will convert you to love the wines that are close to his heart; if he doesn’t, it certainly won’t be for a lack of effort nor prose!

So what are some of the more unusual wines you have tasted recently?

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Tasting Aged White Wines: 1985 Huet

1985 Huet Vouvray Moelleux
I have to be honest and admit I’m not a huge fan of aged white wines. Even with top-flight Burgundy or Chablis, I like to drink them fairly young. Though I do appreciate a few years of bottle-age for the oak and other elements to integrate, I usually prefer the fresh fruit and lively acidity of younger wines, regardless of their price. But when you talk about Huet, from France’s Loire Valley, it’s a whole different story entirely.

The region of Vouvray produces a wide range of wines from the Chenin Blanc grape: sparkling, dry, off-dry, and sweet. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Huet isn’t the best producer in Vouvray. Huet makes some of the most sublime white wines in the world, period. And they can age better than most reds. The sweetness of the wine and natural acidity are the one-two punch that make Huet’s moelleux wines so ageworthy. They are not quite at dessert-level sweetness but it’s certainly present.

The wines pictured about are from two different vineyards and were remarkably distinct. The Le Mont bottling was very honeyed in color and texture; very unctuous and golden. The Clos du Borg, however, drank like a wine in its relative infancy than one at the quarter-century mark. Very mineral-driven, racy, and lively, with subtle sweetness. If poured blind, I never would have pegged this wine at being more than ten years old.

It was a real thrill to get to taste two 25-year-old wines from a legendary producer. Discovering new things and being constantly surprised is what makes working in the wine business so great. And, uh, getting to try wines like these!

We’re getting tiny amounts of each bottling; let me know if you are interested.

So what is your take on aging white wines?

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Eat Your Vegetables (With Wine)

Romanesco
I can’t make it through my farmers market these days without getting broccoli, cauliflower, or some exotic variant like Romanesco. (Especially the latter, because it looks so cool. And it’s a fractal.) Though we all probably have recurring nightmares of steam-table vegetables at school, all mushy, bland, and lifeless, I encourage you to (re)discover Romanesco broccoli via roasting. All you need are three ingredients: Romanesco broccoli, salt, and olive oil. Here’s the technique. (Don’t sweat it.)

  • Preheat your over to 400 degrees.
  • Slice the broccoli lengthwise into fairly thin slices. You’ll have florets (and bits of florets) everywhere as well as slices of stem; that’s OK. (Don’t discard the stem; it’s tasty.)
  • Toss in olive oil to coat, put in a single layer on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt. Put the baking sheet on a lower rack in the oven.
  • Check often; you’ll want to toss the pieces around to make sure they cook evenly. The florets and pieces of floret get nice and crispy and, when the root pieces are tender and slightly browned, you’re done!

Now while you are eating this straight from the oven (the sheet pan is your plate), what wine should you pour into your glass? Excellent question. I love Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, or even a good-quality, dry sparkling wine. I would say this goes for all salad greens and green vegetables; even asparagus. I’m still mystified that the old saw about asparagus being difficult (as if it were a petulant child) to pair with wine. It’s good with all the above whites, and I’d add a dry, unoaked Chenin Blanc to the mix.

Some of my favorites we have on hand:

  • 2008 Gerard Bouley Sancerre $24.99
  • 2008 Hiedler Grunder Veltliner Loss $15.99
  • 2009 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc $13.99
  • NV Adami Prosecco $14.99

And two more esoteric picks that are my all-time favorite whites in the $20ish range; both are Italian. The more I drink wine the more I love Italian whites, especially from the North.

  • 2008 Abbazzia di Novacella Kerner $21.99
  • 2009 Vietti Arneis $22.99

So what are your favorite wines to pair with vegetables? And are there any foods you find difficult to match with the right wine?

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