Dating the Wind

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Speaking of Desert Wind Vineyards, our next wine selection was from their winery. The Desert Wine 2008 Ruah was poured by Amber Fries. If you are confused by Ruah as I was, then I am pleased to tell you that Ruah means wind in Hebrew. This winery is different from the others that we have encountered at the conference in that it is a destination winery. In addition to the tours, tastings and special events that we have come to expect as part of winery, Desert Wind also has dining and accomodations. Each of the four rooms is distinctly decorated in a southwestern theme. The small restaurant, Mojave by Picazo is also southwestern in theme.

Desert Wind Winery
2258 Wine Country Rd.
Prosser, WA 99350

Wine and Dine on Block Island With Amenti del Vino

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

For the 29th year, Amenti del Vino, a Southern New England regional wine society based in Mystic, Connecticut, is sponsoring wine dinner trips to Block Island.  The 2009 dates are Sunday July 19th, and Sunday August 23rd.

The day begins at the New London Transportation Center, where the group will board the 11:30 am jet ferry boat for the 75-minute trip to Block Island.  First stop of the day is Ballard’s Inn, where the group will dine on Ballard’s famous New England Clambake, which includes steamer clams, clam chowder,  your choice of lobster, steak or baked fish, corn-on-the-cob, sausage & onions, rosemary potatoes and chilled watermelon.

After dinner, participants will have time to explore the island or relax on Ballard’s private oceanside beach.  At the end of the day, Amenti del Vino is hosting a wine tasting event on the ferry as it cruises back to Connecticut below the setting sun over Long Island Sound.  The event is open to the public, and the cost is $110 per person, which includes round trip ferry tickets, the New England Clambake, one bottle of wine per person, and all taxes and gratuities.

Reservations can be made by calling 860-536-0249 M-F 9-5; advance reservations are required and must be made over the phone.

Catching Up

It has been a crazy week. Between computer disasters, basketball and early holiday angst I have not been pulling my VinoVerve weight. Luckily, I have been able to rely the ever clever Aunt Maggie!

I was lucky enough to be able to get out of the house this week. And for once not only were there not children involved but there was no Kevin either! I got to have dinner at Bin 36 with fellow wine lovers!

While there, I was so caught up in the conversation that I almost forgot to be my usual nerdish self… though I did manage to get a couple of pictures of what I was drinking.

The 2006 Falanghina, Vesevo, Campania, Italywas a pale white wine that was minerally and crisp with green apples. It was almost effervescent though this wasn’t mentioned in the tasting notes but melon was and I didn’t catch that. It just goes to show, everyone tastes individually.

The second type of wine that I drank was also a 2006 Falanghina/Cappretone, Bianco Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio. Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio translates roughly as Christ’s tears on Vesuvius and I remembered that was an old fashioned type of wine from vineyards near Naples. Naturally an old fashioned kind of wine appealed to me. So naturally, I ordered it.

The color of the wine was amazing, a rich old golden color. In fact, it was remarked on by either Marc or Matt. (I can’t remember… I had a glass of wine!) When I saw the color, I expected full, sweet wine. But it wasn’t. It tasted of golden raspberries and melon (strangely not noted in the description… again! I taste what I taste!)

Oy! Such delights!

And to make it even better, I got to meet Tom Wark! I am hoping to have similar adventures in the future! The only thing that I was surprised about was that we didn’t get to meet the wine director, at Bin 36, Brian Duncan. Oh well, perhaps next time.

More Tablas Creek

Yes, a wine dinner is about the interplay of food and wine. But the celebration is really about the wine.

And the Tablas Creek wines are worth an ovation…

The vineyard, which is a joint venture between the Haas and Perrin families went about their decision to make wine together a little different from most partnerships. They thought about the kind of wine that they wanted to make and sought out an appropriate location for growing the proper types of grapes. Maybe it is the geographer in me, but I love that approach because place matters. And it is especially important if you are making European style wines as terroir is their essence.

In the case of Tablas Creek, the goal was to create wine similar to those from the Rhone Valley in France. What do you need? A Mediterranean climate and limestone in the soil are a good start. And where do you find those things (other than the south of France?) Paso Robles, California?

And so that is where the winery was started. The cuttings for the vines were taken from Perrin et fils’, Chateau Beaucastel property where it remained under quarantine for three years and then another couple of more years being grown and propagated. The end results are blended wines that have the flavor and depth of those from the Cotes du Rhone.

The wines selected for our tasting included:

Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2006, a blend of 59% Viognier, 32% Marsanne, 6% Grenache Blanc and 3% Roussane. This wine was light and acidic with an apple taste and was delicious with the citrus in the Halibut Gravlax.

Roussanne 2006, tasted of honey and pears with a richer, more golden color then previous wine, along with more mouthfeel. It was served with the King Salmon and matched the spicy herb sauce.

Mourvedre 2006, another of Tablas Creek’s single varietal wines was paired with the super rich Pork Belly au poivre. It combines the “work horse” of the Rhone Valley, Grenache, with the Syrah that is more typical of the Northern Rhone and contained black fruit and bacony smoke to balance the chewy tannins.

Cotes de Tablas Rouge 2006, is a blend of 72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre and 8% Counoise. It was dry at the beginning and finished almost jammy. It stood up to the strong flavors in sirloin course, the chorizo and the garlic.

The last wine was amazing on a couple of different levels for me. Having done a lot of research about different kinds of wine… and having studied more French than the average high school student, I knew what the last wine was, although I had never had it before.

Vin de Paille Quintessence 2005 Paille in French literally means straw which is important to the process of how this wine is made. The grape clusters are layed out on straw mats and are allowed to dry. This allows the sugars to concentrate in the grapes and is in essence the warm climate version of ice wines. It tasted of caramel and honey and spice and I am sorry to have more.

To that end, I have taken the advice of our able host, Jason Haas, and signed up for the wine club. This way, I can get more information about their wine… at a discount.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for Tablas Creek wines in Chicago, you can contact:

Howard’s Wine Cellar
1244 W. Belmont Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657

Tablas Creek Wine Dinner

I think that I mentioned last week that I was planning on attending the Tablas Creek wine dinner at David Burke’s Primehouse. Well, on October 15th, I did. And so did Kevin.

I love these kinds of events because you get to hang around with foodies who are passionate about their vino as they are about their food. Add in winemakers who are passionate about their product and you have a great evening.

The menu:

Halibut Gravlax
bay scallops, citrus and avocado
Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2006

Pan Roasted Alaskan King Salmon
stir fried lobster, pea pods and mushrooms with spicy herb sauce
Roussanne 2006

Pork Belly “Au Poivre”
dried cherried, griddled ricotta dumpling
Mouvedre 2006

Petite 35 Day Dry Aged Kansas City Sirloin
chorizo whipped potato, garlicky swiss chard
Cotes de Tablas Rouge 2006

Bosc Pear Tarte Tatin
bleu cheese flan, apricot black pepper ice cream
Vin de Paille Quintessence 2005

More about the wines later…..

Flora Springs News from Richard

It is our pleasure to invite you to the upcoming Harvest Wine Dinner at The Carriage House Dining Room in South Bend, Indiana, featuring the wines of Flora Springs Winery. We hope you can join us!

Harvest Wine Dinner
The Carriage House Dining Room
Friday, October 17, 2008
6:30 p.m.

24460 Adams Road
South Bend, IN 46628
$150.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity)
Reservations Required – 574-272-9220



Walker’s Gravenstein Apple & Sherry Soup, Toasted Almond Garnish

Candy Striped Beets, Baby Spinach with Capriole’s “Sofia” Goat Cheese

Rabbit Chasseur with a Wild Mushroom Duxelle

Anjou Pear Sorbet

Braised Short Rib & Roasted Tenderloin with a Black Truffle Sauce, Duchesse Potatoes

Pumpkin Cream Puff, Mascarpone Cheese, Caramel Sauce

For more information, please click here . . .


The Perfect Dinner

Kevin and I don’t get out much without the kids Particularly when we are on vacation. See, our vacations pretty much always include family. And this last one was no exception.

I did try to arrange for us to meet up with Lenn from Lenndevours, but schedules conspired against us. We even hoped that Champagne Rory would join us for a day or two…. but again, no such luck.

So we did what sane grownups do all over the world.. We escaped. We went out to dinner.

And what a dinner it was!

We went to our favorite romantic dining place in the Hamptons:

The Plaza Cafe

As always, our dinner was amazing. We enjoyed the tasting menu and asked for a wine pairing with each course. The wine list consists of Chef Doug Gulija’s personal collection and has in years past been exclusively American wines. This year the list has been amended to include one European wine, a Croatian selection, Bibich which represents Chef’s heritage.

Amuse bouche of a seafood sausage over braised cabbage and topped with a lobster sauce
This we ate while finishing our cocktails (me: lemon drop; Kevin: Campari and Soda)

Tuna and Crab Tian which is a crab ceviche and tuna tartare layered with an avocado puree finished with a yuzu sauce. This was served with a Kung Fu Girl Riesling

Local Lobster Corn Chowder finished with basil oil and corn shoots

Sauteed Local Day-Boat Scallops served with a sweet corn polenta, shiitake-sea bean ragout, basil oil. Have you ever had a sea bean? You are missing out! They are crunchy, salty and a bit like asparagus at the same time. If anyone knows how one lays their hands on a sea bean I would love to know.. though no doubt, I would screw it up.

Striped Bass served over black beans with a tangy mango salsa and chipotle aoli. This positively exploded with flavor.

The chowder, scallops and bass were all served with a 2006 Grigch Hills Fume Blanc. Divine.

Next up was my favorite dish of the night. A soy-acacia honey marinated black cod served over an edamae puree with a yuzu vinaigrette. The flavors permeated the cod making it both sweet and savory at the same time and it was topped with a crisp slice of lotus root. I have every intention of trying to reproduce this back at home. Wish me luck! It was served with a 2004 Martinelli Vineyard Gewurtraminer.

Jurgielewicz Farms Duck Three Ways… or as called by the wait staff, Duck, Duck Goose. It consisted of sliced breast, leg confit, and a savory foie gras bread pudding.

Pesto Crusted Rack of Lamb served with ratatouille and fried goat cheese and a port wine reduction.

The “red” meats were served with the Bibich, which according to our server, the very knowledgeable Bari Citron, is made along the Dalmatian coast of three local varietals: a Babich, a Lasin and the Plavina. The wine was full and soft and perfect with meats.

Our dessert came in two parts… first a selection of sorbets. Blueberry, raspberry and white peach. For the final part of the meal Kevin selected a cherry bread pudding with cherry sorbet and candied cherries whereas I selected the tried and true (and exceptionally luscious) chocolate mousse cake.

Will we be back to the Plaza Café? Your darn tooting! Chef Gulija’s staff was attentive and friendly.. even putting up with my oddness (like bringing a big camera into the restaurant and taking pictures of all of the courses) and the food? Wow. It was the highlight of my vacation.

Remember that if you are in the Hamptons, do yourself a favor and have dinner there. And tell Chef Doug that those crazy Chicago people sent you!

Plaza Cafe
61 Hill Street
Southampton, NY 11968
(631) 283-9323

My Dinner With Roman 10/01/07

If you are lucky enough to be invited to a dinner at NoMi showcasing the wines of Clarendon Hills, the iconic winery of South Australia’s McClaren Vale region, be prepared to drink world class wine. And if Clarendon Hills Owner/Winemaker Roman Bratasiuk is hosting the dinner, be prepared to witness world class chutzpah (Yiddish for arrogance). Roman might have you believe that he is the only winemaker to conquer brettanomyces, that there is no other Australian wine worth drinking, and that his palate is the best in the world. And yet, somehow, Roman Bratasiuk remains likable. Roman clearly likes to hear the sound of his own voice, which is generally tooting his proverbial horn, and diplomacy or polite consideration doesn’t figure into his character. Producing great wine however, does.

Roman Bratasiuk produced his first vintage in 1990 from the old vines (planted circa 1845) around the town of Clarendon Hills, about 25 miles south of Adelaide. A passion for high quality old world wines and the recognition of specific vineyard sites allowed Roman to craft the style for which he is now known. Twelve vineyards contribute to the sixteen single varietal wines made from Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The vines are dry farmed, hand pruned and picked, and produce very small quantities of intense fruit. The wines spend an average of 18 months on the lees in tight grained French Oak barrels that are selected by Roman himself. There is no filtering or fining. The resulting wines combine the purity and finesse of classic Old World wines, particularly those of the Northern Rhone, with the focus and intensity of the New World.

The dinner was a showcase of the 2004 vintage and the pairing menu was superb. Spice Braised Pork Belly accompanied Kangarilla Grenache and the Blewitt Springs Grenache. I am a self declared ‘Grenache Freak’ and Roman’s expressions of the Southern Rhone varietal is a benchmark for his region. Both wines displayed a youthful reluctance to show themselves, though there was an apparent difference; Kangarilla exhibited softer floral aromatics while Blewitt had a smoked meat, and overall more aggressive character. The food and wine pairing can be explained by one comment from another guest, “bacon fat with bacon fat”.

The next course included Brookman Merlot, Roman’s only wine of that variety, and the Sandown Cabernet accompanied by Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Marcona Almonds, Pickled “Alisa Craig” Onions, and Dried Apricots. The Brookman Merlot was remarkable in that it was the most developed wine of the night, balancing red fruit flavors with exotic spice and harmony between the ripeness and acidity. I like to think of developing wines like teenagers struggling to feel comfortable in their own skin. Brookman Merlot was way more comfortable than its counterparts that night.

Duo of Jamison Farms Lamb; Roasted lamb Loin and Pave of Lamb Shoulder, Ratatouille Nicoise, Thyme and Red Pepper Infused Jus, was the course that for a moment made forget that I was there for the wine. Liandra Syrah and Hickinbotham Syrah paired with that spectacular dish, elegant decadence paired with elegant decadence, and it was an experience that I am not soon to forget. Roman declared one of the bottles of Liandra as flawed, but once corrected the wines were similarly tight in their expression, though still suitable for drinking right now.

The ultimate of Roman Bratsiuk’s arsenal of great wines comes form Syrah from the Astralis vineyard, and on that night was served with a trio of cheeses. Astralis has a special character, no doubt about that. What differentiated Astralis from the pack to me was that, while its expression of fruit and intensity matched or surpasses the other wines present, its freshness and acidity was more pronounced. I made a comment regarding acidity in the Astralis to Roman, but like he had done to everyone all night, he shot me down.

The wines that night were fantastic, though I would like to have a repeat of that lineup in five years and see where the 2004 Clarendon Hills wines are after a little more time in bottle. I have recently tasted 1998 Astralis, and some of the other Clarendon wines that were closer to ten years from the vintage, and the wines were more complete, integrated, harmonious, expressive.

There are many characters in our beloved world of wine and Roman Bratasiuk is certainly one of them. The wines he makes are impeccable, some of the best I have ever tasted. Roman the man is interesting, funny, boorish, pompous, loud, honest, passionate, blunt, unforgiving, and stubborn. Recently I met another great Australian winemaker, David Powell of Torbreck, who was similarly direct. Is it an Aussie thing, I wonder? Though he can be difficult, Roman is a great wine personality, and I appreciate that. I liked the wines before meeting him and I still do. Roman Bratasiuk makes wines that I cherish, and highly recommend for cellaring for 5 to 10 years, maybe more.

Sherry or Montilla-Moriles?

When was the last time that you ordered a Sherry? Have you ever? Do you know what it is and where it comes from?

One of the many aspects of Wine that stimulates my passion for it is the variety. Sure, as creatures of habit we turn to trusty old favorites like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon again and again. But, on occassion, the ability to have a new experience, hear a new story, taste something exotic or distinct, and buck the routine is, as the saying goes, the spice of life. I like to drink beer, Champagne, German and Alsatian Riesling, White and Red Burguny, Bordeaux, to name a few. This week I had the unique opportunity to attend a Sherry-Style wine dinner and that is exactly the type of variety and unique experience that chases the ho-hum away.

I had my first exposure to sherry about five years ago, and it blew my mind. Last night I attended a dinner that paired the wines of Alvear, a Sherry Style producer from the region of Motilla-Moriles, at Aigre Doux, a fine new restaurant behind Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. The dinner was hosted by Fernando Gimenez Alvear, Consejero-Delegado of the Bodega, Rafael Rodriguez Panadero, the export manager, and the local distributor, Robert Houde of Garchacha Ltd.

The Dinner:
Unrelated but needs mentioning; Before the room was ready I had an Austrian Lager called Stiegl, something that I will seek out for future consumption, refreshingly tangy with subtle complexity and structure and an excellent apertif in its own right.

Then, after entering the private dining room downstairs, I was poured a glass of the Alvear ‘Fino en Rama’ 2003, a vintage Fino, the first one in modern history according to the literature. The Fino was richer and more complex than others that I have tried and led us from reception into the first course, Caulifower soup with Dungeness Crab and Black trumpet mushroom garnish. WIth that course we were poured the second wine, the Alvear ‘Carlos VII’ Amontillado. Amontillado, or ‘in the style of Montilla’, is basically an aged Fino. While Fino is produced by keeping the Flor, a layer of dead yeast, and protecting the wine from oxygen, Amontillado is produced when Fino casks see a degredation of Flor. This particular wine was a light golden brown with similar character to the Fino, but with added nuttiness. The earthy/sweet flavors of the soup and garnish worked well with the nutty, dried fruit notes of the crisp, dry wines.

Don Rafael Rodriguez gave an informative presentation of the history of the Bodega and it’s wines through the first course and up to the Entree course, Chicken with Pomme de Terre, Broccolini, and lemon confit. Alvear Oloroso Asuncion NV was poured with this course, displaying the ability to form a beautiful pairing between Sherry-Style wines and savory foods. The Oloroso was a balanced, and slightly sweet, expression of the walnut, almond, dried fruit, molasses, and baking spice character that these class of wines are know for. This is a wine that, when you open it, fills the room with these distinct aromas and makes itself apparent to all in proximity.

Dessert, a Hazelnut and Chocolate Pot de Creme, was matched with two wines. The first, Alvear Solera Cream, is an Oloroso with addition of concentrated Pedro Ximenez (grapes that have been dried in the sun on mats for about 10 days) and has a dark brown color, with an unctuiousness and creamy texture that befits the style name. The second, and my Wine of the Night, was the Alvear PX Solera 1927. The Solera 1927 comes from a specific Solera System that was begun in 1927, is made exclusively from the dried and concentrated PX grapes, and contains more than triple the sugar/liter of the Solera Cream. This is a wine that, despite its sugar content, is remarkably balanced and, at least interms of value, has no match in the entire world of wine. Its German, Austrian, French, and Hungarian sweet wine counterparts fetch prices 2 to 10 times the cost. Brown sugar, molasses, creme brulee, hazelnut butter, and a syrupy, balanced palate experience.

If you are happy wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, and drinking the same wines everyday, then you may not be interested in trying Sherry, or Alvear wines from Montilla-Moriles. But, if you are interested in a different experience, traditional, though perhaps unfamiliar wines like those made by Alvear are one excellent alernative. With Fall and holiday dishes like white meats surrounded by earthy root vegetables and sweet, dried fruits, finding themselves on menus of restaurants and dinner parties, think about Sherry/Montilla-Moriles. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

A brief explaination of Sherry, and the distinction between it and Montilla-Moriles:

Sherry, as it is known in the U.K. and U.S, hails from a region of southern coastal Spain called Jerez, or Xeres, from which the name Sherry is derived (somehow). The area is extremely hot, though the ocean moderates the temperature to some degee. This part of Spain is known for a very unique white, chalky soil called Albariza (Albero in Montilla-Moriles). The Albariza soil is important because it retains water in an area that is hot and dry. The absorbent chalky alberiza soil will be a source of water to the vines when the 120 degree summer heat bakes the surface of the earth into an impenetrable crust. In Sherry they use primarily the Palomino Fino grape and produce two general styles, Fino and Oloroso. The basic difference between Fino and Oloroso has to do with exposure to air. Fino, protected from oxygen exposure in the barrel by a layer of yeast called Flor, kept ‘alive’ by a network of barrels known as the Solera System, will be pale, bone dry, and high in acid with a toasty, golden raisin quality. Oloroso, exposed to oxygen and fortified, will have a brownish hue and exude nutty, caramel, and honey aromas and flavors, and can be sweet. Sherry of almost any style is an ideal apertif because of the high acidity and complex flavors that stimulate appetite.

Motilla-Moriles is not on the coast but farther inland and sees even more extreme temeratures than Jerez does. The varietal grown and used in Montilla-Moriles is Pedro Ximenez, a rich, early ripening grape that reaches high sugar levels and can result in wines that reach alcohol levels upward of 15% without fortification. Sherry-Jerez-Xeres and Montilla-Moriles became distinct regions with classification of Denominaciones de Origen (DO) in the 1930’s, but the wines are very similar and are generally known as ‘Sherry’.

For more information: