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Monday, November 16, 2009

The Foodie Guide to Pairing Wine & Cheese

Whether you are hosting a soiree or a casual get-together this holiday, your mission is to provide your guests with warm hospitality, lively conversation and a delectable spread of food and drink. Whether the menu is complicated or simple it better be delicious. Serving a sumptuous gourmet cheese course is perfect as a starter or centerpiece of the meal. Not only is the preparation simple (no cooking!) but more importantly, your guests will enjoy discovering and savoring new favorites. As a wine lover and as a host you want to impress with the right pairings but the overwhelming selections of wine and cheese can make your head spin. Relax. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing the right combinations of cheese and wine. Just keep in mind a few simple considerations.

A cheese course is about observing and enjoying contrasting and complementary flavors. For a fool-proof gourmet cheese course, select 3 – 5 cheeses that vary in texture and flavor. Add some crusty bread, fresh or dried fruit, olives and nuts and voila!

Remember, wines are meant to cleanse the palate, wash away the tongue-coating richness of the cheese and prepare your mouth for the next delicious bite. It’s important that your selections don’t overwhelm the cheese and vice versa. Essentially, you’ll want to match wine and cheese of the same intensity level. Just remember “like for like”.

Take a look at the gourmet cheese categories and wine recommendations below for guidance. You’ll see how easy it is to serve an elegant wine and cheese course. For best results, just add friends and family.

Fresh – These cheeses are not aged and usually are white and light in flavor, smooth and sometimes tangy. Try chevre (goat cheese), feta and smoked mozzarella.

Beverage Pairings – Acidic white wines stand up to the tang and milky flavors of fresh cheese. Try a Viognier or a lightly oaked Chardonnay with French goat cheese, Boutari (a white Greek wine produced on the island of Santorini) with Greek Feta and Pinot Grigio with mozzarella.

Bloomy – Encased in a whitish, edible rind, bloomy gourmet cheeses are often velvety, gooey with a mild flavor. Add Brie, Camembert or Pierre-Robert to the cheese board for a decadent treat.

Beverage Pairings – Seek out a carbonated beverage to refresh the mouth from the rich and creamy flavors. Traditionally, bloomy cheeses are served with French Champagne but also try Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy. Another good suggestion would be for a oak-aged Chardonnay from California or Chile which have aromas of vanilla, smoke, toast that will complement the buttery notes in the cheese.

Washed Rind – During the aging process, washed-rind cheeses are usually bathed in a brine or washed with liquor such as wine, beer or a spirits. It’s this brining process that gives the cheese an aromatic quality. Almost all have orange or reddish hued rinds. Not mild and not sharp, washed rind cheeses are full-flavored. Give Taleggio, Drunken Goat, and Epoisses a taste.

Beverage Pairings – The fruity and tannic flavors of red wines work well with the stronger flavors of washed rind cheeses. Try Italian reds such as Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino with Taleggio, a Spanish Rioja with the Drunken Goat and a Cabernet Sauvignon with Epoisses.

Semisoft – These supple cheeses are rich, creamy with stronger flavors. Fontina is herbal and nutty while Morbier offers sweetness with greater pungency.

Beverage Pairings - Sample these with light and fruity reds such as a Pinot Noir or fruity whites such as Sancerre.

Firm – Typically, firm cheeses are still pliable and packed with flavor. The best are a bit crumbly and aged for robust, nutty goodness. Cheddar, Gouda and Gruyere are crowd pleasers.

Beverage Pairings - A pint of English ale is the traditional beverage of choice for Cheddar but a Sauvignon Blanc is complex enough to complement. Gouda is great with a Syrah/Shiraz and drink Beaujolais with Gruyere.

Hard – Hard cheeses are dry, crumbly and aged for intensity. Piave, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Aged Comte boast salty, caramelized, nutty flavors.

Beverage Pairings – You’ll find hearty wines can hold their own against these cheeses. Try a Barbera or Chianti with the Piave and Parmigiano and Merlot with the Comte.

Blue – The bluish-green veins give blue cheese its punch. Listed from strong to strongest in pungency are creamy Gorgonzola, nutty Stilton and salty Roquefort.

Beverage Pairings – Intense gourmet cheeses like blues can be tamed with sweet dessert wines, liqueurs and even a fruity beer. Port and sherry are traditional blue libations. For a unique treat, try a raspberry flavored beer like Belgian Lambic (look for Lindeman’s Framboise). All can be savored while lingering over dessert.

About Sara Kahn: Even though her passion for gourmet cheese was undying, Sara Kahn found shopping for it to be overwhelming, time consuming and confusing. She established The Cheese Ambassador to offer a simple way to select and serve the world’s finest cheeses. By providing the perfect combination of exquisite cheese along with a comprehensive cheese course guide, enjoying gourmet cheese is now a deliciously enriching experience.

Wine Friendly Cheeses: Brie, Cambozola, Camembert, Roquefort, Port-Salut, Fondue Cheese, Frulano and for more suggestion please stop by The Cheese Ambassador.

Written by guest contributor Sara Kahn, Founder of The Cheese Ambassador.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rhone Ranger, the 2007 Olson Ogden Unti Syrah

Some call it Shiraz and others call it Syrah, but whatever you call it this is the Syrah you don't won't to miss out on! This is massive wine from the folks at Olson Ogden. if you are not familiar with Olson Ogden, this review represents a good opportunity to get acquainted.

Some times you wonder what's in a name, and in thinking about the label I wondered about how they came up with the name. In taking a peek at their website it appears Tim Olson has been a winemaker in Northern California for more than 21 years joined forces with John Ogden who manages the marketing, sales and business operations for Olson Ogden Wines and together they are Olson Ogden Wines.

Perhaps you are wondering what is their philosophy and approach to making wine? Well they state it this way; "Our primary goal is to produce balanced, complex and tasty wines that express the terroir and vintage from which they come. In order to make the best wines, we believe it must start with the best ingredients. And that starts in the vineyard. We prefer hillsides to valley floor, organic farming to agro-chemical approaches and we feel the most important variable in the equation is the attitude of the grower and their commitment to excellence. " In my view it is Mission accomplished!

Regarding the labels themselves I was surprised to see that each label is exactly the same size and shape with the same artwork. The only difference is the individual vineyard or AVA designation name on each bottle. There is no wine description or vineyard information on the back label. But since it appears most of the relevant info about these wines can be found online it does not pose much of a problem, since most folks carry a PC in their pocket disguised as phone. The only concern I would be worried about is if I was working in a tasting room with nearly identical labels that I may end up giving someone the wrong wine. But from a cost aspect and the laborious labeling requirements this makes perfect sense and in the end is a positive thing for the consumer.

Why is this wine being tagged as a Rhone Ranger? While I was drinking this wine I think I could hear Hermitage calling? Okay really I just thought it was a catchy title, but I think it's important to point out where Syrah got its start. So if you're old pro in the wine world feel free to skip over this brief history and if you're new to wine please click on the links I have provided to give yourself a little more detail. Now according to the French Wine Guide, "The "Coteaux (slope) de l'Hermitage" dominates the small town of Tain l'Hermitage in the Rhône Valley. The first plantations date from the 10th century but it is under Louis the XIV that l'Hermitage obtains its credential letters... Hermitage was the favorite cru of the Tsar court in Russia.The red wines of Hermitage are generous and well balanced, strong aromas and a complete bouquet. Wines from Hermitage, France - Rhone tolerate aging very well and become smooth and mellow when they mature. So to it is with the Olson Ogden Unti Vineyards this wine has the stuffing to age and mature into even better wine than the one I sampled for this review, so I have dubbed this wine a "Rhone Ranger".

The Wine: 2007 Olson Ogden Wines Unti Vineyard Syrah

First Swirl: Here is a wine that's opaque in color with thick legs that cling to the sides of the glass long after swirling the wine. In the glass this wine appears as ripe, fleshy with generous colored blackberry core, giving way to the cerise colored rim.

First Sniff: Just after pouring this wine and putting my nose to it there was a explosive perfumed bouquet which lept from the glass full of raspberry, blueberry, spice-cake, potpourri and anise, with a subtle mocha undertone. I thought to myself, wow this going to be awesome right from the moment cork popped to the very last drop, this wine was everything a Syrah should be and more. The nose knows!

First Sip: On the palate, where chewy cherry-cola and licorice qualities are complicated by notes of violet pastille and black cardamom. Large-scaled, fat and spicy, with strong finishing grip and supple tannins which linger on and on. In other words, this is a phat-wine with no pretense! A drink now and drink often rating of 93 points! If you can wait and cellar there will be an appreciable difference as this was just released this past summer.

Vineyards and Varietal Composition: These grapes were sourced from the Untis vineyard in the Dry Creek AVA of Sonoma. The Unti's began using bio-dynamic vineyard practices in 2004 and as a result has seen a shift in the wines personality! I would say it's this wine has a pretty sunny disposition. As far as I can tell this 100% Syrah.

Full Disclosure: In the interest of full-disclosure, this wine represents one of five samples sent to the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog for a review.

Alcohol and Ageing: This wine weighed in at 14.5% alcohol and glided effortlessly on my palate with no appreciable hotness. This wine was aged in 70% New French Oak 17 Months.

Where to Purchase and Price: This wine retails in most markets for about $38.00 and can be found in a few restaurants here in San Diego and a few select wine stores of which I could not find one that had a current selection. But of course this wine can be purchased directly from their website by clicking here Olson Ogden Wines which is located in in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. Just a note to those considering making a trek over to see them, they do not have a tasting room.

Other voices: On March 31, 2007 Wine Spectator gave the 2004 Olson Ogden Wines Unti Vineyard Syrah rated 93 points by Wine Spectator. Want More Info? Connoisseur's Wine Guide gave the 2006 Olson Ogden Wines Unti Vineyard Syrah given 91 points and 2 puffs by Connoisseur's Wine Guide. Need More Info? Do you see a trend? My palate says a hearty Amen to that question.

Enjoy the video below by their wine maker commenting on the best way to taste wine!

My Recommendation: This is a lot of wine for the price. At this price point it's not in my everyday drinker category, but it's is a wine of exceptional depth and flavor. Immediately approachable right out of the bottle. The quality of this wine makes it a QPR winner in my book, because wines of this caliber normally will retail for well over $50 in most cases. So do your self a favor and give them a call or just order some online. They do have some discounts on buying variety packs with free shipping, which is a huge discount as shipping can cost as much as $30-$40 bones depending on many factors. But this is a wine not to be missed and you will be very happy to have some of this wine in your cellar. Until next time, stay thirsty my friends!

Stay Tuned: Their 2007 Olson Ogden Wines Russian River Pinot Noir is the next review in the pipeline and deserves it's own in depth profile.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Taste of Tuscany: 2004 Brancaia Ilatraia

The romance of travel is very alluring and a trip to Tuscany is at top of most folk’s to-do list these days, and who can blame them, the home of the romance language, is also home to some of the best food, art, and wines that have come together over many centuries, to wow even the most jaded of tourist.

Every time I visit Italy; I come away with a new sense of awe and wonder about the people and the depth of their history which in many ways just reaches out to you, pulls you in. It’s that awe, which brings me to this story about one of my many trips to Tuscany. This adventure involved a great restaurant and a wonderful bottle of wine.

This story started at a small, but obviously upscale restaurant located just on the out-skirts of Castellini in Chianti. This place is a gem in a sea of sameness. The wine service at Locanda di Pietracupa [San Donato in Poggio (FI) Via Madonna di Pietracupa] was a bit on the unusual side; as the waiter came to the table to show us the wine, then turned to the table behind us to uncork the bottle and then sniffed the cork. He then returned to pour the glass, for my evaluation, to see if I agreed with his assessment he derived from the cork, nodding in approval, he poured us both a glass. Taking my first slurp from the glass, wow, I knew Mrs. Cuvee and I were in for a treat; as the wine was in a word, spectacular. The service was first rate, the menu was well planned and the food was extraordinary and their wine list was "top-notch", many wines there caught my eye.

Vino da Tavola: This term use to be the catch-all category for everyday wines until the super-Tuscan revolution hit Chianti and Maremma. The creation of I.G.T. was made necessary by the inadequacies of the D.O.C. regulations. As a result of the widespread revolt against by many famous and politically powerful wine producers the Super-Tuscan was born, following the old adage; when in doubt just follow the money.

Location, location, location: Brancaia, located in the Tuscan Maremma, is made up of two estates, Brancia and Poppi, which have been owned by Barbara and Martin Kronenberg-Widmer since 1981. The consulting oenologist Carlo Ferrini; oversees wine making at Brancaia, and they also own vineyards in the Chianti Classico and Morellino di Scansano zones.

The Wine: 2004 Brancaia Ilatraia Maremma Toscana IGT [Italy, Tuscany] and the blend; It's what they call a proprietary blend, meaning this wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Sangiovese (30%) and Petit Verdot (10%).

Wine Makers Note: The 2004 shows elegant Maremma warmth in its expression of sweet dark fruit, herb, tobacco and earthiness, with good length and excellent overall balance.

Aging: It spent 18 months in French oak and bottle-aged another 4 months before its release. This wine can be kept in the cellar or your wine storage unit until 2016, but you probably can't wait that long as this wine is drinking fantastically right now.

Price and ABV: You will find this wine sells in the $49 - $65 price range; again depending on where you shop. This wine weighed in at a mere 14.4% abv, I found it generously balanced in each and every slurp.

Swirl: The waiter put our freshly poured glasses on the table, grabbing the glass, tilting it ever so slightly to the side against the bright-white table cloth, revealed a deep, dark garnet core fading to a brick tinged rim.

Sniff: This wine had tremendously fragrant and complex nose: A veritable bramble bush of dark fruit aromas on the initial whiff that transitions into ripe plum, blackberry jam, burnt tar, and a fate whiff of cinnamon.

Slurp: While dining alfresco, we slowly, sipped on this lovely wine, abundant fruit, tar and rich Tuscan earth were eager to meet us. A nuanced mouth feel, comingling nicely with a tangy spiciness and sweet dark blackberry, spicy earth tones and round rich tannins. The finish was long and lasting, blending ever so nicely with our meal.

Other Voices: The Wine Advocate gave this wine a mere 88 points, which good, but I thought it deserved better, easily 92 points in my book. The folks at Wine Speculator gave this wine high marks, in fact this wine had made James Suckling's Recommended Wines from Tuscany list and gave the 2007 Brancaia Ilatraia Maremma, Toscana with a whopping 96 points. I became an instant fan of Brancaia after tasting the 2004 while dining on my trip to Italy. I had no idea that Mr. Suckling thought so highly of the 2007, until I wrote this review of the 2004. So now of course the whole wine world will be doing some trophy hunting on this bottle and driving the prices up.

Where to buy: You may still be able to find this wine at JJ Buckley where find this wine for $50 each. A great price, considering I paid about 56 euro’s for my 2004 at the restaurant, so do the math, this is a great deal, but you may want to hurry.

My Recommendation: I would grab some of the 2007 if you can and also some of the 2004 vintage which is still available. This is one of the best examples of Super Tuscan you are going to find under a $100 dollars anywhere. So if you want to see what all the fuss is about, just use the wine-searcher link on my page to right on your screen and type in the name, it will give the name of all the shops or online stores who stock this wine, along with the prices. So this is another of my "run don't walk" recommendations. Until next time sip long and prosper, Cheers!

Above the fog, Villa Hermosa 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet

The beautiful and inspiring Howell Mountain Appellation located east of St. Helena in California's wonderful wine-making mecca called Napa Valley, is a wonderful place which is producing some fantastic Mountain fruit and the resulting 100% Cabernet Sauvignons are fantastic.

I've been to a few of the tastings at the marvelously appointed Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, where if you haven't been before it's a must for every adventurous oenophile on the days they have their tastings in the museum, not only can you taste some of the very best Cabernet Sauvignon being made in Napa, but as a bonus you can see one of best collection of vintage cars and some which were used in iconic movies. A two for one kind of event, now that's what I'm talking about.

While never having directly visited the wineries of this AVA myself, I've taken the time to learn that just above the fog in Napa Valley lies some of the best vineyards in Napa, one taste and you too will be convinced of what I'm trying to tell you. After meeting the folks from Villa Hermosa and tasting their wines, I've put it on my well worn and dog-eared map of "wine-destinations" which I must visit. What many would call their "bucket-list", and boy is my bucket is spilling over with must-see wine destinations like the over-flowing spit bucket Miles in the movie "Sideways" drinks during his meltdown at “Frass Canyon” [aka, Fess Parker] in the Los Olivos area.

Hopefully the next time I'm in the Napa area I want to make an effort to visit and meet the folks who call Howell Mountain home, like the wonderful owners of Villa Hermosa Cherie and Art Goulard who have crafted a brilliant representation of the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

Swirl: A beautiful deep garnet core, displaying freshness and fading to lighter colored rim.

Sniff: In the nose it exhibits ripe, vivid blackberry, wild plum and black cherry fruit, yet showing some maturity with mocha nuances.

Slurp or Sip: What I would call a complex, faint leathery notes in this full-bodied, intensely flavored, decadent display of dark fruits melding with lithe minerality, appropriate tannins and very persistent display of fruit and sense of place which is long and lingering.

Vineyards and Aging: A total of 21 months in 100% French Oak, with the vines grown in the rich, volcanic soil, on a south-facing hillside 2,000 feet above the Napa Valley.

Fruit: 100% Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon picked from three dfferent blocks and the alcohol is barely noticeable at 13.3 percent.

Wine Makers Notes: On the nose, this vintage has lush aromas of blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry preserves, and lilac with faint notes of juniper, white pepper, and truffle oil. The mouth opens with a warm velvety entry with lush berry and stone fruits. The full weight mid-palate leads to a lengthy, fruit finish.

Other voices: So okay, okay I know my opinion about this wine may not be enough to sway you to slap down nearly a Benjamin per bottle, so I will let someone with a little more credibility give her opinion to bolster what I've been trying to say, so this is what she had to say about Villa Hermosa and their wonderful Howell Mountain wine, faces that aim for the gold ring and could be the next cult wine...— Mary Ann Worobiec, Wine Spectator Magazine

My Recommendation: This wine is very approachable now and will improve with age, since only 330 cases were produced, availability is limited and even though selling for $75.00 each a wine of this caliber won't last long. I was very impressed with the efforts. This is an excellent wine worthy of a 94 point score. So run, don't walk to their website to order yours today.

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