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Monday, November 25, 2013

Top 10 Thanksgiving Holiday Wine Picks

"Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car." ~ Stephen Colbert

Ah yes, another wonderful year nearly ready, to be neatly tucked away in the can and stored away for posterity. But every year at this time we [folks who live in the states] collectively sigh or I mean take time-out to give a "thanks" for our collective blessings.

Do you know a curmudgeon, perhaps there's one in your family? A cranky Uncle or Aunt who's tired of giving a crap? They're easily spotted by their "keep off my lawn" demeanor and defensive remarks to strangers. They resent holidays, like the one right around the corner and for many it has become all too clichéd, to take it seriously any longer. After All there's football on TV, pumpkin pies, roasted, fried and barbecued turkeys, the ugly sweater contest and homes so hot you it's easy to be overcome with what some call the "meat" sweats, and there are the crazy family members, you're glad you only have to see once a year. 

Man, do I totally get that attitude. But [here it comes] I think many of those "grumps" just may need a couple glasses of decent vino or other "holiday cheer" to help them get over their anti-holiday feelings. So this year when you gather with your families or choose to serve others, use it to embrace them and thank each one of them for being a part of your life, just this once [whether you mean it or not is another story]. I’m now stepping away from the soap box and returning you to your normally scheduled holiday wine review.

Every year at this time, I give my Top 10 Thanksgiving Holiday Wine "picks" and this year is no exception. I know my post is a bit "danger" close for those wanting to stock up for the holiday, but chalk-up these recommendations for the procrastinators [last minute wine-buys] in the audience who've been waiting to read about ten tasty wine selections to brighten up their holiday menus this week. Yes, most of them, if not all will be a red wines [my favorite] but I do have at least one almost white-wine to recommend this time around as well. 

1. 2011 Pinot Gris Orange: from Beauregard Vineyards [Santa Cruz Mountains[ orange is the new black. This is a standout wine, for it's unique approach to Pinot Gris, its unique aromas and flavors. This was the first time, I've had the opportunity to sample a wine like this, frankly I had no idea what to expect. But that said, I really did like where it took me tho. Read more.

2. 2009 "Cum Laude"Castello Banfi, Montalcino: Okay folks the moment you've all been waiting for, the tasting notes: In the glass, you'll find a beaming crimson core inviting the first splash across the gums. The aromas attempting to escape from the glass are more like bunglers attempting to escape the loony-bin, none-the-less you still get vibrant black/blue-berry compote wrapped around some cedar and a faint whiff of wet-earth. Read more.

3. 2011 Brancott Estate Pinot Noir: Now that said, once I got the bottle opened via a quick flick-of-the-wrist, poured a few ounces, I immediately noticed the bright [but very lightly colored] cherry, raspberry core. On the nose a light perfume of crisp summer fruits, strawberries, cherries and cranberries dancing around, black-tea and rich earth. Taking out my deluxe tasting straw from a recent boxed-wine, I sampled this delightful Pinot Noir. Read more.

4. 2010 Hawks View Washington Cabernet-Sauvignon: The grapes were harvested from the Double Canyon vineyard found just across the Oregon border, [see above] an 88 acre site located in Alderdale, Washington.It's quite an amazing vineyard site, one which falls within the Horse Heaven Hills American Viticulture Area [AVA]. 

I hear the vine rows are two miles longs and hang precariously above the Columbia Gorge. This wines pairing ability is epic; it really will wow any Thanksgiving guest you may have. Read more.

5. 2010 Ettore Germano "Langhe" Nebbiolo: The wine you see pictured above was a superb representative of what a wine with soul should be. From the first drop to the last splash, it over delivered in finesse and flavor. The color you can see in the glass is amazing, the nose a virtual potpourri of dried red/dark fruits, herbs and leather. 

After the first slurp, you'll find this wine to be very generous, slapping your palate with vibrant red-currants, strawberry, licorice, and dried-violets. It has a SRP of $23 and in my estimation well worth the price of admission [Drink this one while carving the turkey]. Read more. 

6. 2011 Bruliam Gap's Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir: Get in the gap, even in tough vintages like 2011, it's still entirely possible to make fantastic wines, but with an entirely different expression than what you may be use to in the warmer years. A "different-expression" is what you'll find in this Bruliam 2011 Gap's Crown Pinot Noir, an elegant, but at the same time powerful expression of Pinot Noir. I'm giving this wine 93 points, it's an outstanding representation of the quality this vineyard has to offer. Read more. 

7. 2010 Domaine Jean-Marc Morey, Chassagne-Montrachet: This wine was very light in color, more like a light cranberry/strawberry. The nose jumped from the glass right away, fresh summer strawberries, raspberry puree, rich-earth, dried-florals and even a whiff of rhubarb. I didn't want to take my nose away even to grab my first slurp, but I resisted, dove right in and wow everything I experience in the nose exploded across my palate like a broad-side from a pirate-ship of old. Read more.  
"This is the wine you drink once all the guest have departed and it's just you, the dog and the leftovers." 
8. 2009 Marsannay, Les Longeroies, Vieilles Vignes Red Burgundy: This bottle while not expensive, a mere $27 was no slouch in the delicious category. A wine boasting of the rich, ripe fruit [but not flabby] many of wines of this vintage experienced, a wonderfully terroir-driven wine, that while very exuberant in style, it had a nice counter balance of acidity driving the wine home. I scored this wine 90 points, it's highly recommended. Read more.

"What's in a name, that which we call a rose? By any other name would smell as sweet" ~ Shakespeare

9. 2011 Marsannay Rose from Bruno Clair: This wine pictured above, is a serious wine perfect for the plucking, ready to be uncorked for an amazing Thanksgiving dinner. But it does not take itself too serious when it comes to fun food and wine pairing opportunities. This wine shows plenty of intensity and generosity on the palate, it will wow you great depth and balance. Baskets of mouth-watering, ripe summer strawberries, rich with minerality, earthiness, await the thirsty vino-sapien with each sip, slurp and maybe even the eventual gulp. Read more.

10. Sandeman's Founders Reserve Porto: It's time to bust out the Pumpkin pies and other desserts. So what wine do you serve? Well my go to is simple, but plush and will help put Aunt Mildred who has been droning on and on endlessly about her cat, out like the proverbial light. Wondering if it's worth the effort? For one, it's easily found and two it won't run you more than $20, but it will put a smile on everyone's face. It's plush on the palate, a gob-smack of freshly picked red cherries, dark [very ripe] plums, bakers chocolate and, rich earth which sails gracefully across across your palate, leaving you with a long finish.

Select Opportunities For Early Drinking And Great Values Amongst 2011 S. Rhone Wines

Beautifully constructed wines from Alain Jaume et fils provide great value in an awkward (2011) vintage.
I’ve been giving some thought to what wine I might taste for my first post since officially joining Bill on Cuvée Corner.   Should it be an elite Californian Cabernet or a value play from Spain? Should I look for something that personifies the incredible efforts of Aussie winemakers to reinvent their wine culture and their brand, or should it highlight the investments being made by old world winemakers in South American wine-making?

These are some of the many topics I want to touch upon but for the first few notes, I want to explore some of what the Southern Rhone Valley has to offer from a vintage that truly kept vineyards on their toes throughout the growing season (2011).

By all accounts a series of less than predictable/desirable events, including somewhat unseasonal temperatures and poorly timed rains served to increase the stress and workload of vineyard management.  A warm spring brought early bud break and robust flowering that promised great production and potentially early harvest. The hot spring was however, followed by a cool June and July, retarding the anticipated harvest. Worse still were the heavy rains that soaked vineyards in August and prompted additional steps to keep yields and concentrations in check.  September thankfully provided relief with warmer weather that facilitated late-season ripening.  Although some were challenged by rot, those vintners who had luck on their side and got their timing right were rewarded, and now it is our turn!

For the astute and the fortunate, the spoils of a busy growing season are proving to be elegant and pliant wines that offer great early drinking.  In fact the 2011 vintage looks like the perfect follow up to the ripe, extracted 2009 and the more elegant, sinewy 2010, both of which, though outstanding, will necessitate some additional bottle age to realize their full potential.  By contrast, although they are undoubtedly less extracted, many of the 2011s are wonderfully and gently structured and retain more than enough acidity to provide great accompaniment to food.

In this, first of two pieces, I want to introduce you to a vintner whose wines have enchanted me from my first taste in 2009 (2007 Clos Sixte, Lirac). The portfolio is packed with beautifully constructed wines and incredible values produced under two labels - Alain Jaume et fils and Domaine Grand Veneur. The former is home to their négociant productions and the latter, home to their estate wines.

The negociant label produces a wide array of quality wines from Cotes du Rhone (CDR), CDR Village, Lirac and Vacqueyras – all at exceptional QPR. Similarly Domaine Grand Veneur produces exceptional CDR Village and Chateauneuf du Pape (CDP) wines. In their CDPs, they appear systematically to find synergy in the marriage of a contemporary style of wines/winemaking (including aging in barrique) with the retention of the wines’ Rhone heritage and identity – freshness and purity of fruit and character that reflect their terroir.  

The Jaume philosophy is to respect and preserve the health of soil and vine through the implementation of organic practices (Grand Veneur and Clos Sixte Vineyards), in the pursuit of powerful and balanced wines with character and cellar potential. They believe every great wine should drink well young, and evolve to provide something more. 
S. Rhone appellations - pictured on the website of Alain Jaume Pere et fils

Alain and his sons manage to achieve this goal with astonishing regularity, but the fact that they achieve this goal at almost every price point may be the greatest surprise of all. If you have not yet experienced their wines, you are in for a real treat.  Few winemakers can maintain such elevated quality to price ratios across their portfolio – year after year. 

 So let me set this in context. The US importer Fran Kysela (Kysela Pere et fils; @Kysela) kindly provided the samples tasted in this report. They span three of the many terroirs in S Rhone from which Jaume produces (Lirac, Vacqueyras and Chateauneuf). All had been opened at least an hour prior to their delivery. I sat down to taste through everything and then, about 30 minutes later, dinner arrived.  I had ordered portabella mushroom pizza from Toss Pizza (Portabella mushroom, herbs, roasted red pepper, baby spinach and feta cheese) – some of the earthy notes that predominate in Rhone wines.

2011 Domaine du Clos de Sixte, Lirac Rouge (50% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre).  This was the first Alain Jaume’s wines that I ever tasted, and I fell in love instantly. Four vintages later, I still love it. Poured into the glass it showed bright bing cherry and red currants on the nose. It’s a medium bodied wine with a lively initial attack. The palate is flooded by red fruits and currants, and edged with mushroom and black tea. In mouth the experience lingers revealing white pepper, cinnamon, and finishing with wonderful nori-like minerality and stone-dust, earthy fruit tannin. 

Wow! - In prior vintages Sixte has required a more air-time or a little more bottle age before showing this breadth of complexity. If this was the entry point to a four wine and pizza night – it was going to Rock! Importantly, this is a beautiful, balanced and complex wine with the potential for further cellaring but no need for it. I will be enjoying the 2011s long before I break into my 2010s, and at under $23USD/btl – one can do so relatively guilt free!  This wine very comfortably makes the 90 point meridian with room to spare (+) and I may be tempted to push it higher just because I do not have to wait (90+ points).

 2011 Alain Jaume, Vacqueyras, Grande Garrigue (60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Cinsault)This wine was new to me but it took no time at all for us to become fast friends. It pours deep ruby into the glass, releasing dark cherry, kirsch, black and red currant nose with spice and vanilla. The theme persists on the medium bodied palate with red and black fruits married with garrigue, provençal herbs, white pepper, clove and anise.  A focused stream of currant and cherry, linger with the pepper and herb in a long finished framed by fine-grained sweet tannin. At under $22USD/btl this is easily a 91+ points just edging out the Sixte on flavor profile and price.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) 
Stepping up a notch in price, construction and elegance, it is not unreasonable to expect a little more from the vineyards around Avignon.  Alain Jaume makes an outstanding range of CDPs, some extending over the $100 retail mark we normally allow ourselves to review. So – I wanted to show you some real values in CDP looking at a retail price window of between $47USD and $65USD/btl.

2011 Grand Veneur, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) Rouge (70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mouvèdre and others) – The color here is deeper and the wine less translucent. Poured and instantaneously the air above the glass is filled with the sweet perfume on fresh, raspberry sorbet and market fresh cherries. On the palate, the depth and complexity of flavors draws you in. Herbs, garrigue, clove, cinnamon meld with black and red fruits in a broad and palate-coating rush of sensory stimulation.  All the while it retains a great mid-palate core with a kick of kalamata olive and pepper on a significant finish. At under $50USD/btl – this is a steal.  It’s a serious CDP with no need to wait. Pleasure-driven but sufficiently restrained to preserve the appearance of propriety and class. I loved this and by now the pizza is begging to be devoured but there is one more CDP before I can fully relax into the wine with food. Again this is easily a 91+ point wine. It edges out the Grand Garrigue on flavor profile but for the price I see them as having the same quality:price ratio (QPR).

2011 Grand Veneur, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Les Origines  (50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 30% Mouvèdre) - Now we have stepped up into another league entirely!  Blackberry, red currants, black raspberry sorbet, maraschino cherries, crème de cassis flood the air. Every sniff brings a new experience. Provençal herbs, white pepper and mushrooms join the dance.  All are represented on a wonderfully focused palate, with hints of mocha, licorice and toasty vanilla bean. The spine is sinewy, muscular and pliant/supple, showing dusty, sweet fruit tannins that persist on a finish that seems to outlast my ability to delay taking another sip. Plush and polished with no hard edges, this is undoubtedly the star of the night and still comes in under $65USD. This has to garner 92-94 points, almost on shear harmony and synergy of the many component parts of the experience.  I gave the 2010 Les Origines 96 points but they are in the cellar to remain untouched for five years – just sayin’.

Now I can relax - Starting to tuck into the pizza, I know I have made the right choice tonight. 

Portabella mushroom, herbs, roasted red pepper, baby spinach and feta cheese - A great, herby, earthy, cheesy mouthful cut and complemented by the wonderful acidity, fruit and salinity of these wines. Each one serves as an excellent complement and food-friendly companion. I know these wines are more commonly enjoyed with more robust, hearty and red meat-driven meals but this works perfectly for a Friday night.

I hope that in the process of introducing you to, not one but four, beautiful wines available from a single great Rhone producer, I have convinced you that 2011 in S Rhone will allow phenomenal, guilt-reduced (if not guilt-free) sipping without the need for cellaring or extensive airtime.  In doing so, I am priming the pump for one of my next challenges, to introduce you to a few more 2011 CDPs with exceptional, early sipping potential that may still be bought without significant injury to your wallet.  This tasting certainly got me fired up to buy and taste some more from the 2011 Rhone vintage. I hope it prompts some exploration for you too. Just remember - pull the cork on a great wine and you will never Rhone alone!

Santé à tous

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Think you know Bordeaux Superieur?

"Talents are best nurtured in solitude. Character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.” - Von Goethe

Mrs. Cuvee and I go to one USC Football game each year, it's quite far from the remote corner of San Diego we live in, and nonetheless we manage the trek to LA because we love the team. This year we had tickets for the Stanford game and had no idea what to really expect [we didn't even know it was homecoming]. Most of the early part of the season had been a bust [to say the least] under the [so called] leadership of Lane Kiffin and his father who's now running the defense for the Dallas Cowboys [how's that working out?]. 

An interim head coach was found internally, he's simply known to players, students and fans as Coach O. But Ed Orgeron, a simple D-line coach who had been with the team since 1998, had finally got his chance. We watched a few of the games he coached on TV, Mrs. Cuvee and I were both impressed with the new direction of the team and sense of pride this coach brought with him to the field. 

Once we arrived at the game, we tailgated a bit and we could already sense the buzz in the air. This was going to be a big game, one that would go down in the annals of sports history. If you're reading this and you're not a fan of team or of the sport feel free to look away for a moment or two. [Yes, I will eventually get back to discussing the reason you clicked over here.]

We arrived at our seats, purchased some freshly made kettle-corn sacked into a bag the size of small child [nope not kidding]. We had the unfortunate pleasure of being seated directly behind a very loud and proud Stanford fan, who seemed have every possible annoying utterance down to an artform. Who could forget his seemingly favorite phrase, whenever a USC player would get stuffed on a run play, "party in the back field, everyone is invited" haha, chuckle-chuckle. 

As fate would have it, Mrs Cuvee and I had the last chuckle at his expense watching him tuck his tail between his legs, head bowed low, shuffling out of the coliseum, ha-ha indeed.  

There was something tangible in the air, being at the game that simply could not be felt or even imagined had we only watched the game on TV. We went from sitting to being on our feet so often, I started to think, "Sheese, what are we were in church or at a football game" ha. The crowd was really into this game, the noise level clearly affected the ability of Stanford to call their plays and early on in the game we thought SC was going to crush them, but this was the number five team in the nation playing a non-ranked school. 

Stanford at halftime must have thought "We will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanish without a fight..." and they of course played like it [a real slugfest]. The second half, did not start out to well for USC, Stanford had figured out the Trojans game plan and it seemed as if the tide had turned against USC. But it was not to be their night; late in the second half a seemingly improbable interception [on third and goal to go] turned away what would have been a certain touchdown [The defense played lights out].

And then it was time for the offense to shine, way late in the fourth quarter the Trojans decides to go for it on 4th and 2 yards to go [the fans were urging the Coach to go for it]. An injured Marqise Lee tells the coach “I’ve got one more in me” and goes back in for one more play. 

That play just happened to be the nail in Stanford’s coffin that evening, but a shaky USC kicker had to make a long field goal attempt to be the hammer on that nail. It’s interesting to note, that same kicker who had missed a point after attempt earlier in the game, far before his pivotal moment on the field, fellow player Mr. Lee comes by, puts his arm on his shoulder and says, “I believe in you”. 

When the ball sailed through the uprights, the coliseum erupted and it was only a few tense moments after the last few seconds ticked off the clock, and the final victory was sealed that a good majority of the fans spilled out onto the field to celebrate.

In that moment I thought “there’s nothing like being there” in this great moment. Seeing USC upset Stanford reminds of an often overused motivational phrase, “that it is not the size of the dog in a fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”. 

What is true in sports, also happens to be true in wine. Wine really? Yes, and it’s why I adapted that phrase to describe something I see in the wine world all the time, “It’s not the size of the price on that bottle that counts, it’s the size of the wine in the bottle which makes all the difference”. 

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you imagine."- Thoreau

Just because you pay more, it doesn't all mean you'll will get more. Take the example of Lane Kiffin who I'm sure was paid exceedingly more than the current coach is making and we all know what the results of that decision were. 

This underdog status that Bordeaux Superieur seems to have in the wine world, from my recent experiences I think these wines need to be looked at in new light [discovery]. And being there seeing it for myself, meeting the great folks behind the labels and fancy Chateaus really did make all the difference. 

To be honest, I’ve never given those wines much thought myself and rarely went out my way to secure these wines for my own cellar. When I was asked earlier this year to take a week long journey into the heart of Bordeaux Superior I was intrigued by the opportunity and readily agreed. I've been back a few weeks now and I think about the adventures nearly everyday. 

I think many of you will most likely be surprised by some of the discoveries I've made, or perhaps you're just old jaded wine fossil who knows everything there is to know about wine. Either way, I hope you'll stick around for this fascinating adventure into the Bordeaux Superior and the great wine values just waiting for you. 

 "We delight in the beauty of a butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone thru to achieve that beauty." ~ Maya Angelou

One of the most amazing wine discoveries came the day our team visited Chateau Recougne, it was also one of the very best dining experiences I had while I was in France [mind blowing really]. Robert Parker at one time called Recougne the finest Bordeaux Superieur [personally I think it still is]. 

It is an estate that has produced wine for over 400 years, and its name is said to have come from King Henri IV in the early 17th century, in "recognition" of the quality of its wine. It would appear that even then, their wines were very well regarded not only for the quality, but for their inexpensive prices. So in drinking their wines it would be safe to say you can actually drink like a king.

Their vineyards [which surround the Chateau and the Crush Pad] were classified under the Fronsac Appellation back in the day, where Merlot is the majority planting taking up 75% of planted vineyard space. Merlot also happens to be the best suited to the terroir, which is then complemented by both Cabernet Sauvignon (15%) and Cabernet Franc (10%). 

As you can see from the picture above we tasted the 1966, and the 1999 as well as the 2010 [not pictured]. Folks, you may not believe but look closely they have not changed the label too much in all those years. They also have not changed the recipe for producing uber high quality wines that won't break the bank. These wines sell for $15 to $19 each most places. 

These wines are not suppose to age well if you listen to the so-called experts who purport to know all and see all in the wine world. But I'm here to tell you that they're dead wrong. The bottle from 1966, a 47 year old bottle had aged amazingly well, I was blown away by the depth and polish this wine was still displaying. While you can no longer purchase the 1966, it's a reminder to all guest of the great aging potential of their Bordeaux Superior.

The 1999 wow, it wanted to party like it was still 1999. This wine [decanted] still had nice body to it, and smoothly textured; a wine with light tannin and a long finish, tasting of dark plum, under brush, cassis, licorice, vanilla, and toasty oak in the background. Another amazing blast from their past, that I thought had to be from a much finer pedigreed background, but no a Bordeaux Superior drinking like Grand Cru Classe [no I'm not kidding]. 

Their 2010, uh I'd grab all you can and then grab some more because it's off the charts good [to great] and will only get better with some more bottle age. If you have a case or two socked away, you'll will thank me later because it's that amazing. 

Folks, if you've not encountered their wines before [and to be honest I've never had until that day] you owe to yourself to give their wines a swirl at your earliest convenience. These are wines of real substance, wines with a soul that definitely taste like the region they come from, there's no mega purple here, no fillers just solid well made wines that may not blow your mind, but they will having you believing you really are drinking like a king for a pauper's price [don't doubt me]. So until next folks remember life is too short to drink bad wine, so sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, November 18, 2013

New Contributor: Andy McCallion [a.k.a.] the Bruised Grape

"The strength of the team is in each individual member and the strength of each member is the team." —Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson, just may know a thing or two about how teams work and how the right team [with individual talents] can move together to accomplish great things. It is in that same spirit of cooperation and collaboration which has helped the LA Lakers to win multiple championships, I want to introduce the newest member of the Cuvée Corner Wine Blogging team, Andy McCallion. Please help him feel welcome, in the comment section below. 

Many of you reading this may already be friends with Andy via his twitter page and if you're not already following his account, you'll definitely want to consider doing so. Although we never met in real life, Andy and I became fast friends via conversations on twitter. If you'd like to know more about his background and how fell into the wine-scene, feel free to check out his page here.

To be honest; I never thought I'd choose to have a permanent collaboration with another author and another voice, but I can only do this solo act for so long. I've been thinking about making this change for quite some time, of late. But I never encountered the right person for the job, until now. Many of the best and most endearing musicians and other artists have learned that through collaboration, they can achieve far more together than they could all on their own. 
"Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision and the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. 
It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. —Andrew Carnegie
I'm not sure why I didn't think of this sooner, but everything has its season, its rhyme and reason. Even if we can't or don't want to see it. This blog is in its fifth anniversary year, making a splash in the crimson colored pool of wine opinion and observation all coming from a solo voice. 

But like a great bottle of wine which changes and evolves as it ages, it to is time for the this blog to grow, change and evolve. To work together with another talented vino-sapien who will help this blog move forward with its continued mission statement.
 "The intersection where great wine meets reasonable prices". 
I really look forward to working with Andy now and in the future. I'm very excited to see where the "fuel" of mutual collaboration takes this blog. We both will bring our unique and very different [okay, maybe not so different] perspectives on the wine world to this forum. 

I would say to you dear reader, please be prepared for some very new and exciting styles of content to appear here very soon. I know Andy is currently working on CDP vintage report, it's one you'll not want to miss, so please [as they say] stay tuned, don't touch that dial. Until next time folks, as always remember life is too short to drink bad wine. So slurp long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Champagne Uncorked: 2006 Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque

"Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them." ~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin 

I had a great invite to sample the 2006 Perrier-Jouet BelleEpoque, to hobnob with like minded wine writers and nibble on delightful one of kind foods prepared by a super-star chef. Unfortunately, [sigh] the event was in NYC, I live in San Diego, and while great with the sunshine quotient it has very few events like the one I had a hot-little-invite in my hand. I thought "Ugh, I live no where NYC, so I'll have to miss another great tasting opportunity" but not all was lost.
"An unusual bottle designed in 1902 by Emile Gallé, one of the most famous designers of the Art Nouveau movement."
An enterprising young PR professional came to my aide, she offered to find me bottle at the event and then have it sent to me [a sample] once I returned from my trip. I was ecstatic to say the least, her enthusiasm only heightened the anticipation of seeing that bottle land on my doorstep here in San Diego.

When Mrs. Cuvée and I sat down to enjoy this amazing Champagne the other night, I was sure we were in for a treat and the Belle Epoque did not disappoint. Like the beautiful flowers painted on the outside of the bottle, my first thought, "wow", this truly is bottled poetry". I was wowed from the first splash to the very last drop which somehow found its way to my glass [ha].
"While each of these vintage has its own distinctive character, they all without exception illustrate the excellence of the Perrier-Jouët vineyards."
In the glass a beautiful golden glow and after the first splash down my palate is greeted nicely with wonderful spices and round white fruit, this wine has all the good parts of apple pie with just a faint hint of the sweet. This Champagne which is racy enough to pair with the sushi we made at home, it had plenty stuffing to stand all its own and still wow you. A brilliant clean, dry and exquisitely-balanced Champagne that's well worth the price admission. I scored the Belle Epoque 2006 94 points, it sells for $150 most places. 

Many folks often wonder, "Champagne, isn't that just for weddings and celebrations and such?". While it's great for celebrations, honestly that is only the beginning. It's a very versatile style of wine, which requires no special tools to open it.
"The wines are selected one by one, in a precise and harmonious blend, carefully preserving the nuances of each. The Belle Epoque reflects the multitude of their aromas with elegance and delicateness."
Some folks may think, "hmm okay even if I buy Champagne, what will I foods pair with it?" A good question to which I and most other vino-sapiens would counter that question with a question "seriously, what doesn't pair with champagne?". So many things "go" or pairs so well with Champagne that it's often hard for me to decide which direction to go in. I finally did make a decision, and here is what I chose to pair with the Belle Epoque, Broiled Sushi [something at first blush may have folks scratching their heads, but hang on folks, this is a Hawaiian Islands treats. 

I prepare it with a full pound of fresh caught crab meat, a bed of Japanese sticky [2 cups] rice, sprinkled with Nori Komi furikake [1 bottle] and mixed with a special spicy blend of ingredients. Then once it comes out from under the broiler, I let it cool just a bit while I open a package of roasted season seaweed wraps, which are quite tasty to eat on their own. 

While Champagne is high on my list of wines I really enjoy, I'll admit I don't drink as much as I'd like to. I believe this something I need to change. I've found that Champagne makes for the ultimate go-to pairing choice. Especially when knee-deep in what is sure to be the varied snack pairing action you may be likely encounter tailgating with friends. And if anyone ask why you're drinking Champagne, simply remind them of the now famous Napoleonic quote below. 

There is always a perfect time for bubbly, specifically Champagne. 
'I could not live without Champagne - in victory I deserve it, in defeat I need ... 'The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.
While a warm baguette and a slab of freshly melted brie are common, simple and tasty pairing partners for an impromptu snack to have with Champagne and you’ll find it also pairs amazingly well with the average tailgate fare.Looking for the right wine to go with the sometimes difficult pairing veggies, like asparagus? I've found Champagne pairs ever so nicely and as a bonus it’s super easy dish to prepare. I typically splash a little olive oil, salt and pepper then pop them on a heated barbecue grill for 8 minutes until just brown, done.

How about as a dessert wine? Champagne and Fresh Fruit tarts are another great option, to match with the light flaky crust and Bavarian cream fillings [been there and done that, and wow!].And if brunch is your thing; it's my latest craze pair with eggs Benedict or perhaps eggs Florentine on a Sunday afternoon [holy Mimosas Batman!]. The kind of pairing which reminds me of a song which Etta James sings so beautifully, “I want a “Sunday kind of love”.

Even French cooking [which I experienced plenty of recently] might seem complicated, but in reality it is not. They simply use local, fresh, seasonal ingredients, many in the simplest forms to create some amazing dishes, taking the experience from mundane to marvelous all in one fell swoop. 
And when you pair with an excellent vintage or even non-vintage Champagne you have created a meal which can be as elegant as any four-star restaurant experience, absent the the white linen table cloths and a fawning waiters. 

What you do bring to the table after uncorking a bottle of Champagne, to me it's a celebration of life and all that goes with it. Until next time folks remember to sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Has your wine cellar "spiraled" out of control?

"The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars." ~ Benjamin Franklin

What do you do when you find a great bottle of wine for an amazing price? If you think like I do, you would buy the whole case instead of just a couple of bottles. But what often happens to me I can barely get one bottle into my current cellar, let alone a whole case [sigh].

Second, if you're anything like me you embrace wine-diversity. But keeping a few dozen different types of bottles, from different regions around the world in the cellar on standby can be a challenge. Even with a modest sized 200 bottle capacity cellar, maintaining region diversity [great for discovery] brings with it the unintended consequence of bottle shape diversity. Thus, you've just diminished that 200 count capacity quite a bit, just to accommodate uneven bottle sizes [been there done that]. 

Third, if you tend to keep some bottles for months or years before drinking them your 200 count [average] capacity Eurocave [or other storage system] most likely won't cut it any longer. If you found yourself nodding in agreement with any of the scenarios above, then you just may want/need to consider a Spiral Cellar [which you see pictured below]. 

The first time I took a look at this concept, I was quite excited about it. When I shared this marvelous idea with Mrs. Cuvee, let's just say she was less than thrilled [insert eye-roll right here] and I thought sheesh what a buzz-kill.  

"Go ahead, build a deep, dank dungeon, with a trap door no less, into your kitchen floor and of course your significant other will be so pleased with this idea." [wink, wink]
The question becomes, what to do? Well you could always rent a backhoe and dig a hole in backyard to create your ultimate cellar or you could order another Eurocave or alternative storage system? 

Maybe, but what if you are just flat out of space to add another stand alone? This system from Spiral Cellars may very well be that answer to those questions. It may be time to dig-down-deep, but before you do I've outlined  some of the pros and cons below.

Well then I may have the answer you've been looking for, a visit from the folks at Spiral Cellars who can for about 30k [ouch] on average, get to the bottom [literally] of your wine storage issue[s]. Who knows, it just may be the ticket to finding that "right-size" cellar so many collectors or vino-sapiens would [need] love to have. 

Seriously though, check out this option at Spiral Cellars [sadly I didn't have the coin to get one]. This appears to be a great (albeit, initially expensive) way to keep your wine chilling at the right temperature, save on energy costs and be "green-minded" all in one fell swoop.

You could potentially fill this cellar with up 1500 bottles or 125 cases. There are many sizes to choose from of course! You have an option for a glass trap door as well if you'd like to show off your latest innovation. Also the kitchen is not the only place you can install it, why not in your living room? Someone kicked this idea over to my inbox, because they know just how out of control a cellar in the living room really is.... do you think this was a hint?

Pros: You have easy access to a nice sized [1500 bottle] collection, which I think is perfect for a couple who loves to entertain and drink wine on a regular basis. 

Second, you don't have the problem of those irregular sized bottles not fitting in your Eurocave or other wine storage system, where you have to pull shelves [that's what I call "pita"] out to accommodate those kind of bottles. 

Third, it requires no energy to maintain your collection at preferred temperature, the only energy you will use is for lighting when you enter the cellar, to take out a few tasty treasures. 

Fourth, much easier to find specific [vintage, varietal, type] bottles for the right occasion or pairing situation, because of the ease of organizing your purple treasures. 

Fifth, umm there's of course the "coolness" factor, because if you had one of these in your home, you'd definitely impress some folks.

Cons: Okay yes there's a downside, as with everything in life. The cost is a bit prohibitive for a large majority of folks, including myself. 

Second, digging a hole down into the foundation of your home may not be the best idea for structural integrity no matter what their engineer's tell you. 

Third, well your friends or family may think you're just a kook [or eccentric at best] and further conclude that you should be heading to AA meetings to consult with your higher power.

My Recommendation: First take a look at this video, call them to discuss the potential project and then starting saving some serious coin you're going to need it. If you can afford it I would say I definitely recommend it enthusiastically, until next time slurp long and prosper cheers!

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