Sometimes I just want a wine that is not the least bit complicated. Something that pairs with burgers. Something heady and full, like a plum left to ripen until it nearly bursts with its own heaviness.
Cabernet Sauvignon is my grape of choice for those moments. 2007 Finca el Origen Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chilean Cabernet of high auspices, has one of the most forward and aggressive presentations out of all of the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignons I have tried in the past few years. Exploding with fruit, well-oaked and textured, this is the answer to the timeless question: Are fruit bombs allowed? The answer is a decisive yes.
Dark ruby in the glass, nearly purple, with great legs and a brooding aspect. The nose bursts with raspberries and plums, with distinctly ripe crushed fruit character; a bit of tobacco and bramble here as well. There are supple tannins, though this one is a bit flabby for my taste. Smooth, long finish. Drink now or keep for a couple of years. $14.
Zinfandel stands alongside Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon as my red grape of choice. Its flavors range from juicy and bold raspberry fruits to darker fruit accented by leather and black or white pepper. It pairs perfectly with grilled steaks and burgers. Summers in California mean summers filled with barbecue nights and glasses of Zinfandel by the beach, or the pool, or the yard. There is every reason to love this wine. In a very visceral way, Zinfandel symbolizes California for me.
That said, everyone should have the opportunity to try a good one. Lolonis was the first organic producer in the United States; over 50 years ago they were using fully organic farming methods, before the idea was even being described in agriculture journals. The grape berries are hand-picked, and the wines are all handcrafted in keeping with a tradition that started in the 1920’s, and in fact, the Culinary Institute of America uses the Lolonis Zinfandel as the textbook example of what this varietal can achieve.
Forget Ravenswood. Forget Cline. The 2007 Lolonis Zinfandel was, first of all, beautiful in the glass, pure garnet red. Heady aromas of blackberry and dusty leather, with a glorious hint of pepper at the end. In the mouth the wine has bracing acidity, but perfectly balanced to the dark fruit, with just enough oak toast and supple tannin to complete the package. This is wine meant for marbled meat, grilled, seasoned, hearty. The finish was long and glorious. $20.
Thanksgiving is approaching, and so it is time to ponder some of my perennial favorite dinner wines for this particular holiday. When it comes to pairing wine, two things count most to me: the bird and the trimmings. Turkey is a naturally lean flesh, making it a perfect companion to fruity or even sweeter wines, such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Beaujolais, or some Pinot Noir. The trimmings tend to be better off when eaten with the reds in this list: my stuffing tends to have Italian sausage in it, and loves being wedded to more rustic Burgundies, while cranberry sauce is a natural pairing with Beaujolais, itself often hinting at cranberry fruit aromas. We also usually have some form of mushroom dish, which can harmonize beautifully with the notes of truffles and earth in Pinot Noir.
And Pinot Noir is the subject of this posting. The 2007 Cono Sur Pinot Noir, Chilean in origin, is a delightful value, perfect as the second red wine poured during Thanksgiving. I first tasted this wine’s 2005 vintage, and was equally impressed. It shows an intense brick red in the glass, with bright berry fruit, particularly raspberries, on the nose combining with truffles and dried leaves, with just a touch of meatiness. The mouthfeel is a tasty mix of suppleness and zesty acidity, balanced to just a hint of oak. A great introductory Pinot, although definitely New World in style; you need to appreciate this wine for what it is, instead of holding a Burgundian grudge. Simple and fine. $8.
Hailing from the high-altitude Maipo Valley in Chile, so named for the river producing the alluvial planes on which the vines grow, this Carmenère is a fine example of the grape’s potential even at a lower price range. As previously noted, I find that Chilean wine is a good value in general, although it tends to lack the lean acidity of its Argentinean counterpoints, something I prefer. In certain wines, though, everything comes together perfectly. The 2006 Chono Carmenère is a solid companion to summer or fall cooking, especially if you plan on using a barbecue.
Although wines made from Carmenère can taste green and brambly with insufficient ripening or poor handling, I saw none of that happening. A deep red in the glass. The nose was charged with bright red cherries and other berries, and spice: black pepper, cinnamon, along with hints of tobacco. More berry fruit in the mouth, especially cherries and blueberries, with a supple texture from the tannins; oak resulting from 60% of the wine being aged 10 months in barrel was well-integrated and balanced, lending hints of vanilla. Great finish, and seemingly designed for seasoned red meats on the grill – lamb, filet mignon, or t-bone. $13.
Just another photo taken on the beach with a fine bottle of 2007 Annabella Pinot Noir from Carneros. Rest assured, this is posed; there were glasses on a towel in the sand. This was the same trip where we visited Truro Vineyards for the second time, and discovered how fine those wines may someday be… good times.
Bordeaux: my ongoing drinking fetish, the ultimate wine in terms of structure, power, and complexity. Nothing grips like great red Bordeaux. With this in mind, it is time to reveal my latest love from the wine region I most often associate with greatness: Château Latour-Martillac, a grand vin from the Pessac-Léognan appellation exhibiting everything I love about the appellations of Graves. First, some information from the Wine Doctor, one of the preeminent wine bloggers. The name “Latour” is, of course, derived from the 12th Century stone tower which stands in front of the chateau, the chai or wine cellars, and the surrounding vineyards. Red and white vines both lie on Pyrrenean gravel, the common terroir of this region, with 33 hectares devoted to red plantings including 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot, and 9 hectares reserved for white grapes including 55% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle, with an average age of 30-40 years for all the vines.
Such terroir, along with improved winemaking techniques in recent years, results in wines with intensity and wonderful balance. The 2004 Château Latour-Martillac, comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and which received some mixed reviews in early tastings, has bloomed into a wine I would recommend for any table over the next 10 years. I found it to be a glorious dark ruby in the glass, with a highly perfumed nose full of ripe black fruits, cassis, violets, hints of smoke, and dried herbs. Over time it opened up in the glass, and emitted aromas of figs and stony earth. In the mouth, more blackcurrants and cassis paired to chocolate and silky tannins. Powerful, yet harmonious and balanced; far more velvet glove than iron here. Superb. $29 for a half-bottle.
Some nights I cannot help but roast a chicken in our clay pot, particularly in fall. While the leaves are turning amber and orange, root vegetables are fresh and in profusion, and the air is starting to have a bite, roast chicken with garlic, butter and herbs is the most comforting food I can imagine. We usually pair it with a medley of potatoes, onions, parsnips, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Roasting these in a clay pot infuses each element of the meal with the flavors of every other element, and adds a tender juiciness to the chicken that is unparalleled.
Only one wine should be paired with this meal, in my mind: Chardonnay. It does not have to be Burgundian, nor does it need to have excessive oak aging. Preferably, it should be fruity and have hints of creamy butter, with that toastiness provided by time in barrel. Chardonnay paired with roast chicken should also be suede-soft, and there should be just enough acidity to maintain its role as a food wine.
Thus the 2007 Edna Valley “Paragon” Chardonnay, from the San Luis Obispo County in California, perhaps the coolest mesoclimate around their AVA. A pale gold in the glass, with good clarity, this wine presents a nose of pure fresh pear and vanilla, with a healthy dose of oak, and notes of guava and other tropical fruit. In the mouth it is lush and opulent, viscous and soft, with more pear and green apple balanced to buttery oak. There is definitely some acid backbone here, just enough to keep it from falling into the “flabby domestic Chardonnay” category. Decent balance, and a great long finish. Pair this with roast chicken or Cornish game hen, or pasta dishes with shrimp or chicken in cream sauces. $15.