Monday, April 16, 2012

A Summer Sunset in a Bottle: Rosés

Originally Published July 2010

Oh Rosé, the light easy drinking wine that for me is summer in a bottle. My fondness for this style of wine stems from both its versatility when paired with foods and vacation memories where it was sipped  on the beach in St. Martin F.W.I. Very few  wines easily pair  with burgers, barbeque chicken, shell fish and summers salads as well as a variety of ethnic cuisine such as Indian, Spanish and Mediterranean dishes. This flexible versatility makes Rosé a hostess’ best friend when entertaining during summer months.

 Traditionally Rosé wines ranges from dry to off- dry (the latter characterized by a slight residual sugar). The two Rosés featured in this month’s article demonstrate both styles. Both wines are from Breaux Vineyards. The first is a 2008 Syrah Rosé (dry) and the second is a 2009 Cabernet Rosé (off –dry).

Breaux Vineyards is located in Loudoun County, Virginia, in the Loudon Heights Cluster of the Loudoun County Wine Trail. Breaux has 100 acres of vines planted in 18 different varietals. Breaux Vineyards first planted 3 acres in 1985 and opened it doors to the public in 1997.  Under the guidance of a very skilled winemaker, Dave Collins, Breaux Vineyards’ wines have won many national and international awards including “Best of Class” at the L.A. County Fair Competition for its 2001 Merlot.  Breaux Vineyards is nestled into Loudoun highlands at the base of South Mountain. The vineyard is a perfect place to gather with a few friends and enjoy a glass a wine while taking in the spectacular view that includes beautiful vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Summers in the greater Washington DC area, like most of the Mid-Atlantic, are hot and humid. This summer is turning out to be one for the record books and extreme heat has often dashed my hope of outdoor dining.  While  this food and wine pairing aspired to be held outdoors, extreme heat hustled our entertaining indoors and still served another wonderful casual evening of food, wine, good friends and family.

 First Course: Goat Cheese with Cranberry Chutney; Vegetable Samosas with Yogurt-Cilantro Dipping Sauce; and Paired with 2008 Breaux Vineyards Syrah Rosé

The Breaux Syrah Rosé (“Syrah Rosé) is a dry Rosé that at first taste hints of a mix of berries (reflecting most notably strawberry) with a dash of spice. The Syrah Rosé is a light, crisp, refreshing wine with nice acidity and finishes dry. The goat cheese with cranberry chutney brought out other berry notes in the wine. The acidity of the wine helped balance out the heavy creaminess of the goat cheese on the palette. 

The curry in the Samosas really pulled out the spice notes of the Syrah Rosé, most notably the black pepper. Once again the acidity of this wine complimented and tempered the palate coating nature of the yogurt-cilantro dipping sauce and simultaneously pulled out the earthiness of the spices and herbs in the dipping sauce.

Entrée: Marinated Gilled Chicken with Tangy Barbeque Sauce; Roasted Asparagus; and Arugula, Baby Green Leaf Lettuce, Endive, Strawberry and Roasted Almonds Salad with a White Balsamic Vinegar Reduction.
Paired with 2009 Cabernet Rosé

Despite the record heat, the Weber grill was fired up to tackle the chicken and asparagus thus sparing the kitchen any additional unnecessary heat.

2009 Breaux Vineyards Cabernet Rosé (“Cabernet Rosé”) is made in the Blanc de Noir method (meaning white winemaking methods are applied to red wine varietals). Chilled immediately after picking, the grapes are whole cluster pressed (without crushing or destemming) and result in a bright pink juice.  The Cabernet Rosé, with its slight residual sugar, is an off-dry Rosé. At first sip one detects summer fruits, especially cherries. The wine is notably sweeter than the 2008 Syrah Rosé, but still has nice balance and finishes slightly drier than expected.

Off-dry Rosés can be almost as versatile as dry Rosés when pairing with foods as long as the sweetness and savory levels of the wine and food match. That is why I chose to pair the Cabernet Rosé with the Marinated Grilled Chicken with Tangy Barbeque Sauce. The Cabernet Rosé blossomed when paired with the chicken. The acidity of the wine and barbeque sauce were well matched. The tanginess of the barbeque sauce tempered the sweetness of the Cabernet Rosé and brought out notes of strawberries and raspberries in the wine. The wine became much smoother and supple when paired with the chicken dish. The earthiness of the asparagus also tamed the sweetness of the wine while bringing out hints of spice on the finish of the Cabernet Rosé.

The Cabernet Rosé held its own when paired with the salad. I was slightly nervous as a vinegar based salad dressing can be quite a challenge for a wine pairing. However, the white balsamic reduction dressing is light and sweet with balanced acidity. The sweetness of the dressing when mixed with the peppery notes of the arugula and the toasty taste of the almonds complimented the Cabernet Rosé nicely.

Towards the end of the dinner a few of my guests asked if there was any of the Syrah Rosé left, as they wanted to see how that would pair with dinner. I had no doubt that the Syrah Rosé would pair nicely, being a dry Rosé.  Nevertheless, I was quite surprised how the Syrah Rosé adeptly brought out the spices and herbs notes of the marinade that had permeated the chicken, that were not quite as noticeable with the Cabernet Rosé.  Having had the ability to compare and contrast the two wines and the effects of each on the food was a terrific educational piece to our entertaining.   

As summer marches on and the heat wave continues to relentlessly grasp much of the country, Rosé will continue to triumphantly serve as a delightfully, refreshing choice which can be enjoyed simply by the glass or effortlessly paired alongside most summer meals.   For me, Rosé will be a reliable guest at my gatherings if nothing more than to fondly reminisce of recent vacations when carefree toes carefully tucked themselves into the sand and nearby waves crashed on the beach.

Thanksgiving Cheer and Chambourcin

Originally Published November 2010

As the pages on the calendar are down to just two, the holiday season and the dinners that make the season complete are just ahead of us. Last month I hinted that I would be exploring Chambourcin with greater depth in a future article.  I was not sure if it would have been this month or next month’s article.  A friend on the occasion of a milestone birthday requested that for I hold one of my food and wine pairings and invite a few friends for an evening of good conversation, delicious food and fine wine.  After a few minutes of panic, I took a deep breath and said, “Ok, I can do that.”  What steeled my confidence was the realization of which wine I would center the dinner around:  a Chambourcin.

The wine selected for the Birthday Dinner was Zephaniah Farm Vineyards (“Zephaniah”) 2009 Chambourcin Reserve.
I had recently been exploring the Loudoun County Wine Trail on the Harmony Cluster, and stumbled across the smallest Loudoun County Winery, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard. The tasting room is in the living room of a historical rich manor house that was built in 1830. Due to the small size of the vineyard, the family that owns the vineyard does all the work themselves; they tend the grapes by hand and harvest is accomplished with the help of friends and family.  The result is fine hand-crafted wine. 

 In addition to being a vineyard, Zephaniah is a third generation, 376 acre working farm. One of four siblings who grew up on the farm, winemaker Bill Hatch, planted his first vines in 2002 after many years of dreaming of owning a winery.  Mr. Hatch uses the traditional practice of canopy management in order to maximize leaf and fruit exposure to the sun and incorporates sustainable farming techniques.  The winery is named after Bill Hatch’s great-grandfather, Zephaniah Jefferson Hatch who built and owned the Monticello Steamboat Company in the late 1800’s.  The Monticello Steamboat Company crossed the San Francisco Bay three times a day to Vallejo, the disembarking point then, for Napa Valley wine and travelers.  In addition to his duties on the farmer and winemaker, Bill Hatch is also a senior video operator for ABC news in Washington, D.C.

Chambourcin wine is a deep colored, Franco-hybrid, whose exact parentage is a bit of a mystery. Chambourcin was developed by Joannes Seyve who often used Seibel hybrids from the 1860’s. Unfortunately, Mr. Seyve passed leaving no documentation as to the lineage of Chambourcin, but it is most likely includes the Sibel hybrids that Seyve often used. In Virginia, more likely than not, Chambourcin is based on a number of undetermined Native American species and Sibel hybrids.  Chambourcin is a relatively new varietal only being commercially available since 1963. While no longer a recommended varietal under French wine law, it is still widely grown in the western Loire Valley in the cool coastal region of Nantes.  Chambourcin is an easy growing, high yielder and due to its winter hardy nature has become a favorite grape of the cooler growing regions of North America (particularly in the Mid-Atlantic and the Ohio Valley).  Chambourcin is also grown in upstate New York, Canada and the cooler growing regions of Australia (particularly in the Riverina region and the South East Coast of New South Wales).  As an interesting bit of trivia, Chambourcin is one of the parents of the Regent varietal. The Regent is a new disease resistant varietal growing in popularity with German grape growers.

The tasting notes for Chambourcin wine, when grown the Mid Atlantic, traditionally read as a deep colored red wine with an herbaceous aromatic which does not suffer from the unpleasant hybrid flavors.  It can be made into either a dry or off-dry style and has been used as a blending grape.

The Milestone Birthday Dinner:

1)      Herb Rubbed Roast Beef With a Basil- Curry Dipping Sauce;

2)     Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes; and

3)     Herb Roasted Vegetable Medley (Button Mushrooms, Asparagus and Red Bell Peppers).

With the first taste of the 2009 Zephaniah Chambourcin Reserve (which was opened to breathe or decant for approximately one hour), one notes berries, hints of caramel, mild spices and herbs. The wine is medium-bodied and has a nice finish.  Upon tasting the wine with Herb Rubbed Roast Beef, the wine pulled out the cumin and coriander herb notes of the rub. The Basil- Curry Dipping Sauce pulled the spice notes out in the wine.

With the Herb Roasted Vegetables and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, the wine enhanced the earthiness of the herbs and roasted garlic but did not clash with the sweetness of the roasted red peppers or mushrooms. The wine did not overpower nor was overpowered by the mashed potatoes.  The wine was mellow and pulled the meal together creating a lovely tapestry of flavors that wonderfully complimented each other.

I capitalized on Chambourcin’s traditional food pairing:  beef.  However, this wine would pair well with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner or meals that one would pair a Merlot (non-peppery finish) or Pinot Noir.  So if you looking for an alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Pinot Noir, Chambourcin is well worth considering.  Enjoy and may this holiday season be filled with many happy memories.  Happy Thanksgiving and Cheers!

Spring, Hummingbirds and Straw Wine....

Originally Published April 2011
For me, the mere mention spring conjures up memories of the old Meyer lemon tree in my parents’ backyard. This still standing, ancient tree is always full of delicious Meyer lemons and is teeming with bees, sparrows and my particular favorite, hummingbirds. When I first sipped this month’s featured wine, a dessert wine, it had me thinking about that old lemon tree.

Dessert wines, those sweet darlings, that most of us love (and purchase) when we are out tasting at a winery or wine festivals, that when brought home languish on the wine racks. Languish on the rack you say? Yes, I am as guilty as many others who purchase dessert wines and never quite sure when to bring them out. The dilemma: Are they special occasion wines? What to pair them with? Will everyone like it? etc. and so, often times the wine stays on the rack. Why, because   dessert wines can be a challenge to pair with food. The main reason for this is dessert wine tend to be potent, full of flavor and very sweet; often overpowering the desserts, particularly sweet desserts. One can better appreciate such wine if it is paired with fruits, foie gras, cheese or not overly sweet cakes. Although there are those that say the dessert wine is often best appreciated by itself.

Chosen for this tasting is Loreley 2009 ‘Late Harvest’ (50% Viognier and 50% Petite Manseng) by King Family Vineyard located in Crozet, just outside Charlottesville, VA. King Family Vineyard was one of the three wineries that collaborated on the Bordeaux Styled Blend “3” featured in last month’s article. King Family Vineyard is a Family-owned producer of a range of red, white, rosé, sparkling and dessert wines. This winery is located in the heart of the Monticello AVA and was established in 1998.

  Loreley is a dessert wine maid in the “vin de paille” style. Often translated to mean “straw wine” due to the process the grapes go through before being made into wine. In classic times in order to make this wine the grapes were laid out in clusters on straw mats to dry. As the grapes dry the juice becomes quite concentrated. The result is similar to that of the ice wine process, but of course only used in warmer climates. The straw wine process dates back to pre-Roman times in Northern Italy and the French Alps. Today the straw mats are often replaced with racks for the drying of the grapes. King Family Vineyard uses modern racks and the grapes are dried inside under fans. Only 300 cases of the 2009 Loreley were produced. The wine is ready to drink now or could be racked until 2016.

While Viogneir is a fairly known varietal, often times referred to as the alternative to Chardonnay by “savvy” marketers. Petit Manseng does not enjoy the same recognition as of yet. Although there is some speculation that it may very well be the next “it” varietal, following a similar path to popularity as Viognier. Petit Manseng is a white wine grape that is primarily grows in South West France. The name comes from it small thick skinned berries. It can last on the vines until December and is often used to make dessert wines. There is a growing interest in the varietal in the “New World”, particularly Virginia, California and Australia.  

Pairing: Meyer Lemon Pound cake with macerated blackberries and lemon whipped cream.

I started with macerating the blackberries and letting them soak in a one-eighth cup of the Loreley wine. The scent of the blackberries intermingled with the citrus and floral scents of the wine nicely. The berries were left to sit in the wine mixture for the better part of the afternoon, while I mixed and baked the lemon pound cake. Once the lemon pound cake cooled, I prepared the lemon whipped cream. Using a microplane I carefully zested the lemon, as I did that the scent of lemon filled the kitchen. After zesting, the lemon was juiced for the whipped cream. After whipping the lemon juice, heavy whipping cream and a dash of powdered sugar the lemon zest was carefully folded in to the whipped cream.

The Loreley wine was served chilled. The color was a golden yellow with a nose of citrus, notably orange peel, and floral notes. After swirling the wine, notes of candied fruit emerged. On tasting the wine bright citrus notes, honey, toast and a touch of spice were detected.

The wine is balance with a medium density and a nice finish. The toast notes come from the wine being fermented and aged in new oak barrels. The wine by itself is a delicious dessert all by it self. When paired with the dessert the wine was a nice compliment. The pound cake tempered the sweetness of the Loreley wine which comes in at 10% residual sugar. The lemon enhanced the bright citrus notes of wine. The wine made the taste of blackberries pop.

Dessert wine can be a fun and rewarding adventure in wine. One just had to keep in mind the sweetness factor of both the wine and dessert. So if you have any bottles of dessert wine languishing on the wine rack, dust them off and pair them with this Spring’s bountiful offering of fruits and cheeses or enjoy them on their own. Happy Spring!

Trick or Treat? I'll Take Treat!

Orginally Published October 2010

In a matter of a few days children will gleefully take to the sidewalks going door to door, ringing doorbells and singing out “Trick or Treat” as the door opens. The little ones dressed up in their Halloween finery should not be the only ones enjoying treats. This month article features treats for the weary door greeter, the chaperon stewarding along the Trick or Treat-ors on their quest to fill their bags as full as can be or the person looking for a decadent but simple treat.

I selected a Port like dessert wine, Rosso Dolce Chambourcin by Three Fox Vineyards. The vineyard is located on the Fauquier Wine Trail in Delaeplane, VA. The Rosso Dolce’s (sweet red) residual sugar is at 6%, with strong berry/ red fruit and subtle chocolate notes. This wine is a nice alternative to Port as it is Port-like on the palate and finish. One can enjoy this Port-like wine without the high alcohol level of a true Port wine and thus it can be paired with more after dinner desserts.

Chambourcin, a French-American hybrid grape is a relatively newcomer to the world of wine being released in 1963.  Like other French-American hybrids it is quite disease resistant. It is an easy growing grape with consistent high yields; Chambourcin has become a popular grape among Mid-Atlantic growers. It is a deep hued flavorful wine, that can stand well on its own or great in a blend.

1) Dark Chocolate Brownies infused with Rosso Dolce Chambourcin; and

2) Strawberries dipped in a blend of semi-sweet and 60% Cacao chocolate.

Upon pouring the Rosso Dolce, the nose hints of alcohol, do not worry as that belies the true character of this velvety smooth wine. Sipping this wine one is met with notes of black currant and red fruit, notably raspberry. The 6% sugar contributes to the sweet taste and round feel to this wine. The chocolate notes of this wine brought forward the subtle notes of chocolate in the wine. When paired with the chocolate covered strawberries, the berries pulled out the savoriness of the wine. The wine, dark chocolate brownies and chocolate covered strawberries all had the same level of sweetness and thus nothing was overpowered.

 In the making of the brownies, the Rosso Dolce, wine was substituted for the water called for in the recipe. This switch added a depth and nice dimension to the brownies and of course paired well with wine. If I knew how simple it is to make chocolate covered strawberries, I would have started making them a long time ago, the key is good chocolate, plump strawberries (washed and patted dry) and ample space in the refrigerator; that last item can be the hard part.  


Three's a Charm for this Bordeaux Styled Blend

Originally Published March 2011

Three winemakers, three wineries, three vineyards, three varietals, one wine” is the tagline for Virginia Bordeaux styled blend named “3”. This unique collaborative effort was born from a conversation shared over a friendly beer by a trio of prize winning Virginia wine makers. “Wouldn’t it be fun if…?” and the idea for “3” was born. 
The wine makers Emily Pelton (Veritas Winery), Jake Busching (Pollak Vineyards) and Matthieu Finot (King Family Vineyards) thought this opportunity would not only give the three friends a chance to work together but learn from one another as well, while producing a unique vintage that reflects the blending of wine, terroirs and personalities. Between them, they have more than 30 years winemaking experience, and in creating “3” these three winemakers not only showcased their own individual talents they also selected two barrels from their cellars that they felt would highlight their fellow colleague’s wine.

“3” is a blend of three varietals in equal one-third portions all from the 2009 vintage. The varietals that were chosen were Merlot from King Family Vineyards, Petit Verdot from Veritas Winery and Cabernet Franc from Pollak vineyards. The wineries involved in this collaborative effort, are all located near each other on the Monticello wine trail in the Monticello AVA in central Virginia. The press release for the 3 stated, “the wine is a limited edition (production was 150 cases) that was crafted in friendship and bottled to show unity of the industry.”  

I decided a perfect pairing for the 2009 “3” would be a Mushroom Risotto with gorgonzola, Old Bay seasoned sautéed shrimp and roasted asparagus.    

The color of “3” is a gorgeous dark reddish purple. Since this is a young wine it was decanted for about an hour to an hour and a half. When the bottle was first opened the predominant aroma was red fruit, as time passed the wine opened up revealing quite the full aromatic profile. Darker fruits (plum), leather, currant, spice, cedar and hints of oak emerged as time passed. Dark fruits, leather, woodsy (cedar/maple) and spice are the dominate flavors. “3” does not have a long finish and there are notes of minerality.
After a bite of the risotto, the gorgonzola really makes the dark fruit flavors of the wine pop and adds a crispness to the wine. The creaminess of the risotto cuts “3’s” minerality. Even with the decanting, “3” still has a back bone to stand up and not be over powered the risotto. The the Old Bay seasoning on the shrimp brought forward the spice notes of “3”. The earthy notes of the wine were brought out by the asparagus and mushroom.

Since “3” was a wine born from the concept collaboration that is not often seen but should be encourage and due to its limited production, not many individuals would be able to enjoy this wine. With that in mind, I invited a few friends over to partake in this food and wine pairing. The marriage of “3” and the meal, in particular the risotto, created extraordinary conversation stopping moment several times throughout the meal.

2009 “3” is a remarkable wine born of an idea collaboration, supported by friendship and illustrates that something great can come out of the question “Wouldn’t it be fun… if? 

Pizza and the Fox

Originally Published August 2010

Inspired after to listening to a few friends one night debate the topic of what wine goes best with pizza, I decided that the food for this month’s pairing would be pizza. I am told that if this was Italy, we would not be pairing pizza with wine, the ideal beverage would be beer. Why? well that I think is for another debate on another night for a different column.

While pizza may seem to be a rather straight forward food for pairing, it can be prove to be challenging and is not as straight forward as one may initially presume. Stop and think about it the last time you looked at a pizza menu, the options of choices are almost limitless, plain cheese pizza, 4 cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza, vegetarian pizza, white pizza, Hawaiian pizza, Barbecue chicken, I’ll stop now as I think I have made my point. So how does one pair wine with such a chameleon of dish like pizza? By thinking about the intensity, acidity, tannins and flavors of the wine and matching those to the pizza you will not go wrong. These factors will vary depending on the toppings, sauce and crust used to prepare the pizza. When matched well, one will truly enjoy the intermingling of flavors of the pizza and the wine. For pizza you generally want a wine that can stand up to the sauce with medium acidity and enough tannins to balance out or cut through the cheese(s). This type of wine is generally a young, medium bodied red wine.  Of course depending on how extravagant your pizza is, you can play with that last statement to work in more fuller bodied wines. One tidbit of advice for the fuller bodied red wines, they generally have more tannins and that can prove tricky with the pizza crust. Pizza crust sometimes has a drying effect on the mouth, so do the tannins in wine, the more tannin, the more of the dryness effect that is felt in the mouth.    
Since I tend towards pizza with at least one extravagant ingredient and a zesty sauce, my go to wine for pizza is generally a Sangiovese. This grape is the heart and soul of many wines from Tuscany especially ones from the region of Chianti. Sangiovese is rarely bottled alone; it is often blended with other red wine varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. The blending of different varietals often has a tremendous impact on enhancing or tempering the wines quality and flavor profile. If done well, Sangiovese is a smooth drinking wine with a beautifully balanced favor profile.

The Sangiovese that is featured in this paring is produce by Three Fox Vineyards located in Delepalene, VA in the heart of the Fauquier Wine Trail.  Three Fox Vineyards principally specializes in Italian varietals.  The 2008 ILVolpe Sangiovese is a blend of Three Fox Vineyards’ estate grown Sangiovese (75%) Cabernet Franc (20%) and Chambourcin (5%). The Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc are individually aged in American and Hungarian Oak. The wine is made in “Super Tuscan” style. The 2008 IL Volpe Sangiovese is a Gold Medal Winner, Eastern Seaboard 2008 Wine Competition and a Silver Medal, Hilton Head Island International 2009 Wine  Competition.  (IL Volpe means “the fox”).  

1)      Roasted Pepper and Tomato Salad with Herbs De Provence  Croutons

While to many a person, pizza can be a meal in itself. I generally like a salad along with pizza. I decided to roast a few red bell peppers, two types of tomatoes (Roma and Grape tomatoes) and torn up pieces of French bread. Herbs De Provence was liberally sprinkled on the tomatoes and bread prior to roasting. 

The IL Volpe Sangiovese paired wonderfully with the salad, the herbaceous notes of the salad really brought forth the Cabernet Franc influences in the wine. The nose on this wine was of cassis with a hint of tobacco. Taste was of darker fruits like cherry and was well balanced with a long finish. It balanced out the sweetness of the roasted peppers and tomatoes

 2) 2 Cheese Roasted Tomatoes, Mushroom Pizza with a zesty sauce on a whole wheat Pizza crust.

The two cheeses on this pizza were gruyere and mozzarella. For me, mozzarella can be rather one dimensional and the gruyere adds a depth and richness to the cheese mixture without overpowering the mozzarella. The mushrooms and tomatoes were sprinkled with Herbs de Provence before going on to the pizza (hint: place the mushrooms under the cheese mixture to prevent them from drying out during baking.)

The IL Volpe Sangiovese had the right balance of acidity and tannins to both bring out the richness of the gruyere and at same time cutting through the palate coating effect of the cheese. The wine was tangy enough and matched the zestiness of the sauce. The whole wheat crust brought out the toast and caramel notes of the wine. The touch of Chambourcin rounds out the full mouth feel of this wine. This wine has a beautiful long finish.  Notes of cassis, dark cherries and a hint of chocolate can be detected. This wine paired beautifully to the rich extravagant pizza. The Herbs de Provence brought forth the subtle hints of the herbaceous influence that both the Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin.

While I do not think the debate mentioned at the beginning of the article was resolved, it did inspire a wonderful meal.