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Vermouth: Imbibe Imbue

Imbue VermouthI’ll admit to not paying much attention to vermouth. All I knew is that I like a little dry in my martini and a little sweet in my Manhattan. But after recently trying imbue vermouth, I think I may have found my new favorite drink.

A wonderfully fresh and fragrant blend of Pinot Gris, brandy, and an assortment of botanicals, imbue does (as promised) have a wonderfully balanced bittersweet quality. Even better, it’s made right here in the Pacific Northwest; both the wine and the brandy are from Oregon. I though it was great just chilled and poured into a glass, but I’m envisioning a summer of imbue with rocks, a splash of soda, and a twist of orange. I’ll have to break this news to white, sparkling, and even rosé (gasp!) wine gently; they won’t take too kindly having to step aside for the new kid on the block.

I highly recommend picking up a bottle and creating your own cocktails with this delicious vermouth. What drinks would you make with a bottle of imbue?

The Bordeaux Report: 2009 and 2010

Bordeaux
Our own Arnie Millian is chronicling his recent European wine adventure, starting with Bordeaux. If you are curious about the heavily hyped and highly regarded vintages of 2009 and 2010 (and what Bordeaux from 1949 and 1961 tastes like), click here.

Long Shadows Riesling Forever

Poet's Leap
The red wines produced by Long Shadows, an innovative program started by Allen Shoup, brings together some of the heaviest-hitting names in winemaking from all over the world to produce wines made with Washington grapes. As Gilles Nicault, Director of Winemaking and Viticulture (who was our guest for a recent tasting of Long Shadow’s releases) explained, visiting winemakers “come to Washington and bring their savoir-faire.”

While the reds seem to get the lion’s share of the attention, I was truly impressed with the quality of the Rieslings. The Long Shadow’s “Poet’s Leap” is a collaboration with Armand Diel of Germany’s Schlossgut Diel. Its refreshing qualities and nice, zippy acidity on the finish were so pleasing. The 2009 is the best version of this Riesling I’ve tasted. A definite porch-pounder for those hot summer months. Grab some sushi or some spicy Asian fare. (Then call me; I’ll be right over.)

The real stunner, however, was the 2008 Botrytis Riesling, a dessert wine. Botrytis is often called “Noble Rot” as grapes affected by it make arguably the world’s most famous dessert wine, Sauternes. All other kinds of rot, however, just make a wine that is…rotten. Botrytis helps concentrate the juice and flavor of the grapes so that by the time you harvest it, you get a juice more akin to nectar. As Gilles commented, the sugar levels are so high for this wine that when it gets into the tank it “ferments like maple syrup.” In some logic-defying manner, while there is an insane amount of sugar crammed into every slender bottle, it’s not cloyingly sweet. (Like, for example, a Jolly Rancher.) There is enough acidity on the finish (the looooong finish) to provide a bit of refreshment. Add this to gorgeous aromatics and you have a dessert wine that is one to sip, savor, and repeat. Just get some blue cheese and some thin slices of apple. (And, seriously, get a hold of me via phone, fax, text, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, carrier pigeon, whatevs. I will totes be there.)

Here’s my real-time reaction to the Botrytis Riesling on Twitter:
http://twitter.com/#!/Esquin/status/65964123455881216

Apparently I wasn’t the only one impressed; Annie, a Washington wine enthusiast (to put it mildly) who was also attending our Long Shadows seminar, responded:

http://twitter.com/#!/BlackPearlSEA/status/65978357514379265

So enjoy those Long Shadows reds, but don’t sleep on the Rieslings!

Wine Gets Vegan and Vegetarian Friendly

vegan 001
While tasting (and enjoying) the 2010 Oxford Landing Cabernet Sauvignon, I perused the flowery prose on the label but was most intrigued by the last sentence: “Vegan and vegetarian friendly.” If you’re wondering how meat or dairy is involved in your wine, it has to do with a clarification process called fining. (Winedefinintions.com has good overview of the process) You use a protein, such as egg whites or isinglass (aka fish bladder), to attract unwanted particles that could make a wine cloudy or affect its color. The goal of fining is to make a wine more stable, especially if it is exposed to heat. (Useful if you’ve ever left wine in the trunk of your car, but I know you’ve never done that on a hot day, right?) A clay, bentonite, is a popular alternative. This is not to say you’re going to see a egg white or a fish bladder floating in your wine; these are removed, too, once their work is done. And you’ve got to think, considering the size of wine tanks, that there are negligible amounts of these fining agents that make it all the way to your glass. But I’m sure to many vegetarians and vegans it is a matter of principle and, if animal products are being used in the process of making wine, that needs to be disclosed.

A brief side-note on fining: there are many winemakers who find the process anathema. While fining (and filtering) remove unwanted particles from wine, many feel something important is also fined and filtered out: flavor. You’ll see a lot of bottles proudly displaying “Unfined and Unfiltered” on the label; you’ll either have to decant the bottle or keep it upright and pour carefully when you get close to the bottom.

Interestingly, Australia’s wine labeling law for the internal market mandates that if dairy is involved in the processing of wine, it must be noted. This diagram of a wine label shows a “Produced With Milk Products” notice. And while certainly there is a marketing aspect involved with noting your wine is vegan and vegetarian friendly, I think the more information you get on a label about what’s in the bottle, the better.

A couple other things to like about Oxford Landing:

  • They respond to your queries on Twitter:

http://twitter.com/#!/OxfordLanding/status/60525640901865472

  • If the battery on your smart phone dies, they have the tear-off tag to remember the wine.

Oxford Landing

Oh, I guess I should tell you how it tastes. Quite good and a bargain for under $10! Breaks the stereotype of “fruit bomb” Aussie reds. It’s medium-bodied and easy-going. Very versatile! A worthy red to pull from your quiver of available daily drinkers.

I’ll be looking out for more wineries who are highlighting their vegan- and vegetarian-friendliness and would love to hear from more wineries who are doing so. In the meantime, Barnivore is a good resource. Are you interested in seeing more rigorous wine labeling?

A Second Wine Worth a Second Glass

2000 Pagodes de Cos
I recently opened a bottle of 2000 Pagodes de Cos, the scond wine of the famous Cos d’Estournel in the St. Estephe region of Bordeaux. In the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux, it was designated a Second Growth. Regardless of the controversy over the subjective aspects of classifying chateaus, and the accordant lobbying and politicking, Cos d’Estournel is one the finest wines in all of Bordeaux. But its price leaves it out of the reach of the majority of wine drinkers. My advice would be to seek out the less heralded vintages, which often are ready to drink much earlier and can be had at a much lower price. (Avoid 2000, 2005, and the stratospheric pricing of the mega-hyped 2009.) But if you, like me, just had to get your hands on a pedigreed Bordeaux from a highly regarded vintage, seek out the second wines of famous chateaus.

The Pagodes de Cos comes from the same vineyards as the chateau’s first wine, but is produced from the estate’s younger vines. And the 2000 was a beauty. Medium-bodied and mature, it showed great secondary characteristics that only come out of a well-aged wine. Pure pleasure and elegance. If I had to quibble–and you know I will–I wished that it was a little more concentrated. I think that’s where you really get the difference from the younger versus the older vines.

A ton of wineries from all over the world offer second labels or “declassified” wines that allow you to experience the finest of vineyards and wine-making talent. Seek them out!

I would love to hear of your favorite wine discoveries; know of some famous names and places at (relatively) reasonable prices? Let me know in the comments.

Wines of Chile: Pinot Noir and Syrah Shine

Vineyards in Chile
I’ve had the privilege of participating in the Wines of Chile blogger tasting the past three years. It’s always a great experience: 8 wines, bloggers from all over the world, plus a live video chat with winemakers ably MC’d by Fred Dexheimer. (And you can always count on my fellow bloggers to comment on the relative attractiveness of the winemakers as well as what celebrity they resemble. Naturally, I abstained from participating in these shenanigans.) I have to give Wines of Chile credit for acknowledging my insistent whining that Pinot Noir be a focus of the tasting, as they obliged me with a flight of four to begin the festivities:

Chilean Pinot Noir

My thoughts?

  • Valdivieso: Light and fresh with great acidity. A lively porch-pounder, lovely with a bit of a chill.
  • Nimbus: Put this in the cellar; for around $20 retail, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more age-worthy wine to purchase by the case.
  • Veramonte Ritual: Nice balance of fruit and tannin, though I wonder if the tannins (somewhat woody) will integrate with time. (Retasted the next day: tannins resolved.)
  • Cono Sur Ocio: People were going nuts over this wine; it’s gorgeous, no doubt, but expensive: $65ish retail. (Though I’ve had dreadful Burgundy and sub-par California and Oregon Pinot for that price.)

Then we shifted gears and tackled four Syrahs:

Chilean Syrah

Another impressive batch:

  • After I adjusted to moving from Pinot to Syrah, enojyed the earthy richness of the Tamaya. A little too much earth at first (for me), but time in the glass helped significantly.
  • The Loma Larga was a big bruiser of a Syrah that could go toe-to-toe with anything coming out of California or Washington.
  • The Undurraga won my (someday-to-be-coveted) Wine of the Night award. I loved that it had great acidity and was not too weighty. Very balanced and Rhone-y.
  • The Arucano was a lot of Syrah for a suggested $13 price tag. Hard to quibble with a rich, palate-coating red like this for under $15.

ChutneyI must give special mention to the chutney provided by Puro Chile. The uniqueness of Myrtleberry combined with the Merken (a cumin and chile spice blend)  gave it a sweet-and-spicy combination of flavors that went great with both the Syrahs and Pinots. I, alas, only had some bland crackers with which to accompany my chutney. Some of my fellow bloggers, however, went a little more upscale with a spread of great breadth. Behold the tweets that  mocked me as I typed and tasted at my desk:

And if that wasn’t enough:

If I’m lucky enough to participate again next year, I’m RSVPing well in advance with Mellissa or Winnie. Mind if I stop by? I’ll bring 8 bottles of Chilean wine.

Full disclosure: The wine was provided free of charge by Wines of Chile.

Thoughts on 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape

CdP09
Recently I attended a tasting of the Southern Rhone’s most iconic wine, Chateauneuf du Pape, brought in by Wines of France. One of the lessons I have learned in the wine business is that when you find an imported wine you like, check out the back label to see who’s responsible. I have a handful of importers whose track record I trust implicitly, and I’d add Wines of France to that list. (Look for Alain Junguenet Selection.)

This tasting was a mix of barrel and tank samples as well as finished wine. I have to admit that it’s not easy to evaluate wines in their youth. Some I find very accessible and open; others very tannic and mysterious. It’s tempting to reward the wines showing well early, but then a few years down the road the more stubborn wines might be the stars of the vintage. And though I gleaned a lot from this tasting, keep in mind these are impressions. Having said that, let’s get to work:

Clos des Papes

The Deals: Relative bargains (for CdP) that should arrive under $45.

  • Domaine de la Charbonniere
  • Chateau Fortia “Cuvée du Baron”
  • Domaine Moulin-Tacussel “Tradition”
  • Domaine Tour Saint Michel “Cuvée des Deux Soeurs”(very rich and mouth-filling)
  • Cuvée du Vatican (a powerhouse)

Top Wines: Price be damned, these were my favorites.

  • Bosquet des Papes “Cuvée Chante le Merle”
  • Mas de Boislauzon “Quet”
  • Domaine Tour Saint Michel “Cuvée du Lion”
  • Cuvée du Vatican “Réserve Sixtine”

Most Unique Wine:

  • Mas de Boislauzon “TINTO” (100% Mourvedre CdP; 1000% delicious.)

Most Impressive Lineup:

  • Domaine Tour Saint Michel for the aforementioned bargain Cuvée des Deux Sours, the ultra-rich Cuvée du Lion, and the smoky, meaty “Féminessance.” (Cuvée du Vatican not far behind.)

Best non-CdP:

  • Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras: CdP-like quality, power, and distinction for under $30.

Food and Wine Pairing Challenge

Food and Wine PairingThe majority of questions I get asked at work involve pairing food and wine. So I thought I would share some of my insights from many years of eating and drinking at the same time. (Well, not simultaneously, but you get my drift, no?) Let’s start in the upper left corner with the salad. Just a fantastically fresh garden salad enjoyed at the restaurant at Cullen Winery in the Margaret River region of Australia. The generous portion of avocado gave it an extra richness, so I was thinking a white with a little bit of body, but enough zip to handle the greens and dressing. Coincidentally, Cullen makes a fantastic duo of Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (or SBS as they call them there) blends with a perfect zip-to-body ratio. It’s interesting to note that the SB portion of the SBS is oaked and not the S. It’s more typical to oak the Semillon rather than the Sauv Blanc. (And I wish I could recall which one I had with lunch: the Mangan or the Cullen Vineyard. The former only has a small percentage of the SB oaked while the latter oaks 100% of it. Both were delicious; that I can recall!)

So now that you’ve been healthy with your salad choice, are you feeling like a burger? Just a classic beef burger from Built Burger. (I highly recommend you visit, especially for the potato beignets, which are deliciously crisp on the outside and like potato clouds on the inside.) This juicy burger needs a juicy red, so how about a Spanish Grenache? I’d go for either the Tres Picos or the Capcanes Mas Donis Barrica. (The latter has a dollop of Syrah as well.) They’re both under $15. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a fancy-pants wine with a burger; just a solid weeknight-drinker.

But I can’t resist getting a little upscale here, so let’s move on to the pizza from Serious Pie. A simple (and simply delicious) combination of Yukon Gold potatoes, pecorino, and rosemary that has me craving a Champagne accompaniment. Potatoes, especially when topped with a salty cheese, have a great affinity for sparklers. Open up some Champagne with a bit of richness and plenty of refreshing, pinpoint bubbles: Vilmart, please.

I’m a bit stuffed, but a few laps around the block have given me some room for dessert. Bacon brittle gelato from Cafe Juanita? I encountered this at Seattle’s turn hosting pig extravaganza Cochon 555. Hmm. Rich gelato, smoky bacon, toffee-ish brittle? There’s a lot of brawn in this dessert! This calls for an Australian Muscat. A dense, sticky, amber-hued wine that will be like a sweet glaze for the bacon; look for Campbells Rutherglen .

So what would you drink with each of these dishes? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

Taste Washington: Pouring Wines Galore

1994 Hedges Three Vineyards
Shocking confession time: Sunday was my first ever Taste Washington. And I hit it with a vengeance. When the trade/press gates opened at 12:30, I was there. And I didn’t leave until they were shooing me out with push-brooms at 7. How did I manage to stay so long and be upright? The answer is below:

Hip to Spit Bucket
I did, however, drink the wine at the top of the post. Christophe Hedges poured some of the 1994 Three Vineyards into my glass from a nondescript plastic water pitcher. It was fantastic! Wine. Of. The. Day. I think you can get the current vintage (now called Red Mountain) for less than $25 a bottle; I’d buy a case of it and forget about it for a decade and see what happens. If you get a chance to meet Christophe, don’t pass it up. He’s hilarious, high-energy, and bit of a contrarian. I had loads of fun running around the event with him for a bit. Be sure and ask him about the 100 point wine-rating scale.

Naturally there were winemakers galore, like Brennon Leighton of Efeste:

Brennon of Efeste

And Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery, along with proof that he poured a bit of wine:

Mark McNeilly

The Gorman Winery crew (Chris on the right) was sporting a look I think was some kind of Top Gun tribute. And drinking beer. Plus they brought a barrel sample of a new wine coming in September, Behind the Black Curtain:

Gorman Winery Crew

Buty raided their cellar to bring out two whites from 2006. (The Chardonnay was poured from magnum.) The reds were special exclusive restaurant wines. I am still waiting for them to offer to make an Esquin wine. Ahem.

Buty

I ran into some of my favorite winos, Doug and Josh from WINO Magazine, at the Whidbey Island Winery table:

Wino and Whidbey

And what’s wine without some cheese? I had probably the strangest cheddar ever, hand-rubbed with coffee and lavender. Yes, lavender. And coffee. Together. You know what? I thought it was great. Behold the Barely Buzzed cheddar:

Barely Buzzed Cheese

And after all that wine, enjoyed the palate-saving refreshment of beer from Pike Brewing and a crazy good hard apple cider from Finnriver with a touch of blueberry juice added:

Beer-n-Cider

And when it was all over, my chauffeur drove me home in the Official Esquin Taxi, conveniently parked inside:

Maserati

So what were your highlights of Taste Washington?

Chandon: Sparkling in Australia

Chandon View
I love bubbles. Champagne, Cremant, Prosecco? Bring it on. I purposefully strode through the (automatic) doors at Chandon’s outpost in the Yarra Valley of Australia, ready for something sparkling. The full lineup of bubbles had nary a disappointment. (To my eternal surprise, I even enjoyed the Pinot/Shiraz, which is Thanksgiving-worthy. Is is wrong to be thinking about Turkey Day pairings in March? In Australia?)

Zero Dosage

The 2006 “Z*D” (Zero Dosage) Blanc de Blancs was the star of the show for me. Most sparkling wines made in the traditional or Champagne method have a bit of a sweet liqueur (dosage) added to them just before corking that tames its acidity. The Z*D is devoid of this so it is super-dry. (I wish I could find and cite the page that described zero dosage as “ferociously” dry. Love that.) This 100% Chardonnay sparkler just screams for oysters or (at least) a seat in one of the green chairs on the patio at the top of this post.

One other thing I like about the Z*D is that it’s sealed with a crown cap rather than a cork and cage. It’s distinctive and unusual:

Crown Cap

Before leaving I had to indulge in an ubiquitous “I Was Here” photo:

"I Was Here" Photo

If you need to find me, I’ll be under this tree, with a bottle of Z*D, watching the clouds blow off as the day turns sunny and sparkling.

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