Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Here's to Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams: Happy New Years Everyone!

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wine of the Week: 2008 Parusso Armando Barolo DOCG, Piedmont, Italy

“I believe in science and data but the first truth to which we must answer when making wine is pleasure- the truth of our senses.” Alison Crowe

Here in this bottle lies a wine which will delight the senses, it will make your heart sing with joy and one which could easily join just about any item on the dinner menu without raising so much as an eyebrow, to those sipping on its very luxurious long lasting flavors and that folks is gospel [the truth]. 

Many folks new to the wine scene are a bit timid when it comes to Barolo. After all Nebbiolo produces a wine, that often are not in the entry level category [if you know what I mean]. Typically when very young, they are tight and tannic and difficult to wrap your tongue around. I tend to think of it as a bit of a beast, and often when it comes Barolo is not for the feint of heart or the palate.
{Traditionally} "The juice that Barolo produces is highly tannic and acidic, able to cause mouths to pucker, tongues to purple and teeth to stain." 
There is much to like about this young 2008 Parusso you see pictured above; especially for those who're fans of uber approachable styles of wine which take very little understanding to enjoy. It’s very modern and a style that many would label as an international style; meaning loads of low hanging fruit, polished tannins, and generous use of toasty oak. 

While the oak hides some of the ornate perfumed characteristics of Nebbiolo, this is still a very tasty wine. For me it’s like drinking an ice cold corona from seven eleven on a very hot, blistering summer day, a true guilty pleasure. I would have preferred that this wine had only been labeled as a "Nebbiolo" instead and they had not used Barolo on the label. But that's just me. 

Just know that his Barolo is not going to be your traditional Barolo experience and you should not use it bellwether for the traditional style of Barolo you could encounter later. Instead you should expect a [the 2008 Parusso pictured above] wine that I'd call a very modern style, and yes it’s a bit flashy. Soon as you pop the cork this puppy is ready to rock, with no fuss, no muss [read that zero decanting needed] just 750 ml of drinking pleasure waiting to rock your palate. 

I'm scoring it 89 points, it's a pleasure to drink and pairs easily with food. It sells for about $40 or more most places, but I scored mine for just south of $30, as I can often sniff out a grape wine bargain. Until next time folks please remember life is short, so continue to sip long and prosper cheers! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

(Shell)-Fishing For Great Whites

I love white Burgundy but, when it comes to the range of terroirs and producers, I frequently feel like I have barely scratched the surface.  More than this, the prices for Premier Cru and Grand Cru can often be a real obstacle to dipping one's toe in the waters without the fear of losing a limb. Driven by that combined feeling of naiveté and frugality,  I went fishing for some affordable Great Whites to taste.  So, I lined up two village wines from Olivier Leflaive (samples kindly provided by Southern Wines).  I have to say, I was truly looking forward to these wines.

In anticipation, I had encouraged (begged) my wife to prepare some wonderful steamed mussels and baguette. So while I opened the wine and allowed it to breathe, the kitchen was progressively bathed in the glorious smell of mussels, shallots, diced tomatoes and warm, fresh-baked baguette.

I pulled the corks on the Leflaive 2010 Meursault ($45 USD) and the 2011 Puligny-Montrachet ($60 USD).  Although Meursault can produce some of the richest and fullest whites in Burgundy, they are frequently delicate when they are young. I was intrigued by what I would encounter.

Leflaive 2010 Meursault  - Initially the Meursault appeared delicate but it was also a little too cold for my palate.  I know some like their whites to feel like they just stepped off a King Crab boat on the Bering Sea but I like mine a little less palate-shocking (60F).  When I returned to the glass, 20 minutes later, the aromatics had emerged. Lime and lemon zest (and pith) rolled over hints of white flowers, chalk and fern leaf. It almost reminded me of spring, despite the impending snow-storm outside.

The mouth feel was soft and round, and served as a great contrast to the wonderfully enthusiastic front of palate attack of bright acidity.   It was clean and bright, showing citrus, bitter apple pit, white peach, apricot, buttered toast and perhaps a little spice.  As it warmed up (and again on the second day) the palate was softer still, and showed progressively greater evidence of the buttered toast element. Think of it a little like the interplay of clarified butter and fresh lemon squeezed over freshly steamed Maine lobster. And now I’m hungry all over again. I fear weight loss is not in my future. In the land of ratings, the Leflaive 2010 Meursault definitely warrants an 89+ point score and should be readily found from any good Sommelier on the corner (fine wine store).  

It’s counterpart on this occasion, the 2011 Puligny-Montrachet - kicked things up another notch or two. The high quality of Chardonnay produced truly there reflects a rarity of nature not unlike winning the lottery. A viticulturists Powerball or sorts, driven by climate, soil and the topographical context (limestone soils, climate, drainage, altitude, aspect).  Vines grow on elevated slopes that orient them to catch the best of the available sunshine while simultaneously forcing them the reach their roots deep into the soil in search of water.

Right out of the blocks, the aromatics of the the Puligny were much more prominent than in the Meursault, creamier and accompanied by great spice (hazelnut, almond). The nose was wrapped up in an intriguing and very lovely world of lemon zest, pear and almost smoky, stone dust/chalky minerality. Given the choice, THIS is the aromatic cloud I want to walk through when I enter the department store (or open a Chardonnay) and not the viscous, musky overly perfumed mutton dressed as Corton. 

The palate displayed a lovely complexity, with spiced poached pears, meyer lemon and apricot. There was a little more vanillin evident here than in the Meursault but it was well balanced. The mouth feel was smooth, like suede, though not so soft that it seems flabby. It retained a taut and energetic feel.  It was mouthwatering, clean and cleansing but the acidity and less overtly aggressive than the Meursault, and helped drive a long finish with a focused fruit core. 

Both wines performed wonderfully well with the mussels, and would equally support that outstanding lobster I mentioned at the start.  However, I won’t wait until my next lobster meal to buy some more of these, especially when there are plenty of fresh mussels waiting to by devoured with fresh baguette.  If you pick up a bottle or two, I trust you will find something similarly fun and delicious to enjoy with them.  If not, drop me a note and I will share my wife’s recipe for mussels.

In my book, the Puligny garners a little extra love (90-92 points). The structure, focus and complexity just edged out that of the Meursault, despite the additional cost. Both, however, do pass the "would I buy more?" test. These are beautifully constructed food wines, and well worth exploration with your favorite seafood. Go catch your own Great White. Happy fishing!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Nice Chianti Without The Liver Or Fava Beans

Sorry, I could not resist the Hannibal reference. Anyway, let me set the scene. It's Sunday evening and the normal scramble had begun. My wife and I were frantically running around the kitchen looking for things with which we can make a substantial evening meal, whilst establishing what laundry needs to be attended to and whose homework needs to be finished.  The usual madness, I reassure myself, that occurs in the home of every other parent.
I found some meatballs, some pieces of roast chicken breast, a jar of pasta sauce, some herbs, garlic and spaghetti. Sounds like a meal, right? I fired up the oven and dash downstairs to pull a bottle from the cellar.  I had been looking for an excuse to try the new vintage from Marchesi dè Frescobaldi Castello di Nipozzano Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva (2009), having been reminded of it in Montreal last month when I enjoyed the 2006.

Castello di Nipozzano as depicted on the Marchesi de Frescobaldi web site

Winemaking at Castello di Nipozzano dates back to 1864. The region lies east of Florence in the revered territory of Chianti Rufina, overlooking the valley through which flows the River Arno. Better still, it is blessed by a distinctive microclimate that, married with the soil and altitude, provide ideal growing conditions for elegant and long lived wines.  But I digress...!

I pulled the cork on the 2009 Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva and left it to breathe for an hour while I began to prepare dinner and check homework.

I don't know about you but I love the first sniff, that first impression.  On this occasion, as with many Italian wines, it made my mouth water.  It's bad enough that by now the kitchen now smelled wonderfully of meat, tomato and garlic that were not yet ready to eat but now my eyes, nose and brain were ganging up on my stomach to say "FEED ME"!

While I waited, the wine would have to suffice. In the glass it beamed with a delightful deep purple hue, edged by a translucent rim.  The nose revealed herbs, summer flowers, leather, black cherry, blackberry and licorice. The palate grabbed me from the first sip. It's like the energizer bunny decided had arrived in my mouth with great fists full of black cherry plum skins, licorice, leather and earth, and pummeled my tongue like that darned little drum.  The fruit was vibrant and pure, showing nice focus and depth on mid-palate and dogged persistence. This bunny kept on going with a layered finish that added a little spice and smoke to the occasion.  

Once the food hit the table, the Nipozzano found its true comfort zone. As energetic as a kitten entertained by a laser pointer, this Chianti possessed an ample core of fruit, acidity and earthy tannin to complement even the most rustic of homemade pasta and tomato sauce dishes.  A little freshly ground black pepper and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and all was right with the world, my grumbling stomach and my bickering children.

It never ceases to amaze me how the simple combination of good wine, food and family restore a sense of balance to my weeworld.

In summary, the 2009 Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva is an elegant wine with great energy, and old world charm but eminently approachable in its youth. What is even better to me is the fact that it's built for food!  It's also built with some cellaring potential and age gracefully over the incoming 3-5 years.  As I said at the start, I recently tasted the 2006, and it was drinking wonderfully well.  The 2009 is beautifully perfumed with a great core of fruit and dusty tannin, and at around $26 USD this is definitely a steal. As the night rolled on – proved itself to be a great companion to the meatballs and spaghetti. 

For those who like a score - it comfortably makes the 88-90 point range. For those who don't like keeping score, think of it this way.  

Was the wine worth the money?  Yes! 
Was is a great complement to dinner? Undoubtedly, yes!
Am I at all disappointed that I bought it or opened it tonight? No!
Would I buy it again? Yes

Now - I will have to leave you all so I may enjoy the rest of the bottle in the company of my beautiful wife.  Cin Cin!


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Wine Travel Uncorked

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.”  Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Ah yes the perils of travel, why is that "getting there" often seems to be the most difficult part of the journey? For some there’s the fear of Turbulence? The plane shaking like a can sardines in the hands of a hungry shopper, no worries I don't need the provided air-sickness bag. Go ahead, shake, rattle and roll for me, that is no problem.

But then there are the dreaded delays [flashing on screens overhead] which are irritating [and happen all too often] but survivable. Hell, I don't even worry too much about sitting next to a “chatty-Kathy” that’s what noise canceling headphones are for.

I’m not the frequent flyer type by any stretch of the imagination, so there is one thing I fear the most when traveling; it happens when I’m waiting at the baggage carousel, gulp. Everyone else is picking up their bags and heading off to their final destination, while I keep watching the luggage carousel go round and round. There is no worse feeling in the world, when you’re the last one waiting when the carousel shuts down [sigh].

This is when I have my moment of panic in which I think, “Ugh, oh-no..…I've bet on red and the roulette wheel ball of travel lands on black. Ugh, no they’ve lost my bag, damit. That is when I realize the cheap T-shirt my wife [aka. Mrs. Cuvee] told me not to wear feels so much more valuable and comfortable than it did a few hours ago. Then it hits you, I have absolutely no idea how my sizes are measured in Italy, oh-boy this going to be interesting

You know how folks sometimes like to say, "you have to take the "rough" with the smooth"? Well that had been my personal experience when I arrived in Italy back in 2009, and man let me tell you, it does suck! I flew into Rome in the latter part of a frigid January to find out that my luggage did not accompany me on the trip. So for nearly three days, I was without a change of clothes, which means you have to become real creative. I then came to find out, that since no one works on Sundays, it would take a full extra day to get my luggage to me, sheese thanks. 

So while yes I was in beautiful Rome, the eternal city, and all set for another blogger trip with a fine cadre of wine writers, grape-folks who I had only known by reputation at the time. My expectations for a fresh change of clothes sadly got side-ways real quick. Okay, okay I know enough of my wine-ing right? It's time for the fun stuff, the review of another wine chock full of soul and substance.

Nonetheless, I'm still very happy to have attended the International Wine Tourism Conference & Workshop in Umbria, Italy back in 2011. It was an amazing experience and fantastic opportunity to sample the great wines of Umbria and meet all the fantastic folks behind the labels. Everyone I met whether winemakers and/or producers what really stood out was just how passionate about they all were about experiencing life, they have a [don't miss this] "a deep rich history that ties together the present, giving a vision for the future".
So all you Tuscany wine fans, do yourself a great big favor and check into Umbria, there are many grape wine finds just waiting to be uncorked. They have an abundant selection of food oriented wines that dance on your palate, while playing nicely with the food on the table, wines that are very compelling. I had been here now a total of three days when I realized that not every wine works, but the ones that do, they hit every cylinder, especially for you "slow-foods" fans and adherents.

So for the first wine in the "Umbrian" review spotlight will be the 2009 Barberani 2009 Rosso, a wine which sells most places [yes, even here in the states] for about $12 Euros. This wine is a delicious blend of three grapes; including Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and rounded out by a bit of Merlot. In the glass a nice ruby-red color. On the nose you'll find a delicate bouquet, a wine destined to make your lunch time much brighter. 

Its nicely balanced persistence of ripe cherry, dark plum, wrapped in a nice piece of fresh leather, just makes your food sing. I found this wine to have a silky mouth feel, although a bit dry, soft on a nearly bitter finish eroded by the accompaniment of a nice baguette and a few slices of prosciutto. Wow, what a nice body and a clean character, not a rough edge in sight. 

This wine can easily handle a large variety of food, but some grilled or spit-roasted red meats, like fresh Umbrian boar, marinara sauce spilled over some fresh made pasta. I highly recommend this wine for everyday drinking and award it 88 points. What are you waiting for, grab yourself some of the Umbrian experience to see what I'm talking about, until next time sip long and prosper cheers!

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