Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pax, Saxum, Copain, Oh My!

Photo: l to r; Pax, Norm, Duncan

I have been drinking wine since I turned 19 (Pre-Reagan era Idaho). I had been to Napa, Sonoma, Monterrey and even France (2001) before the wine bug really hit me. I had always enjoyed wine, but I had never really thought (deeply) about what I was drinking and tasting. Once that tipping point occurred, there was no looking back.
Old Vine Zinfandel is what finally threw me over the edge. I was in a wine shop in Calistoga, Ca. and had come across an Oregon Zinfandel from "The Pines" vineyard. That led me to discover Owen Roe, Sineann and like a gateway drug this Zinfandel led me to Walla Walla Cabernets, a 15 case futures purchase of Cru Classe & Petit Chateau 2000 vintage Bordeaux, a 35 case wine cellar (suprising how fast that 5 case undercounter model seemed to fill up) and finally winemaking (100+cases of Dundee Hills-Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon-Del Rio, Syrah and Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon).
My wine "journey" had started with high alcohol, fruit bombs from literally my back yard and then with a bit of time, effort and much tasting, my journey left the wine Interstate and headed for paths less taken.
I was lucky enough to come across an article in Food & Wine Magazine that profiled a winemaker named Pax Mahle. Pax had been a wine buyer for Dean & DeLuca and had by chance been presented with some really exceptional Syrah grapes. What did he do?, of course he made wine. Following is excerpted from that Food & Wine article published in October 2005:

Pax Mahle got a good idea of what it was like to be a cult winemaker when a special five-case lot of his 2004 Pax Wine Cellars Syrah sold for an auction-high $18,000 at the Paso Robles Hospice du Rhône benefit this past spring. Word has gotten out fast about this talented, ultratraditionalist 34-year-old who released his first wines just five years ago. "We take a very pure approach," explains Mahle, "one that was more commonplace 100 years ago in France than it is today." That approach includes organic farming, foot-crushing the grapes, natural fermentations and absolutely no fining or filtering. Though he's new to winemaking itself, Mahle says, "Wine is the only business I've ever been in." His résumé includes stints as a waiter, sommelier, cellar rat and, finally, wine buyer at Napa specialty market Dean & DeLuca. After tasting a few thousand wines for his job at D&D, Mahle became convinced that the cool coastal vineyards of northern California could produce his beloved Rhône style of nuanced, layered Syrah. While working at D&D, Mahle met the owner of the renowned Alder Springs Vineyard, Stuart Bewley, who asked Mahle who he thought would one day make California's best Syrah. "I will," answered Mahle. "At the time I was kind of joking," he says. Today Pax Wine Cellars produces 15 small-production Rhône-style wines in a converted warehouse space in Santa Rosa. Among these wines are 11 vineyard-designated Syrahs from sources all over Sonoma and Mendocino counties, including the much sought-after Alder Springs Vineyard "The Terraces" ($75), a bottling that evokes descriptors such as marzipan, baked blueberries and roasted coffee.

Photo: Sharon, Norm, Larry -ZAP 2007

Fast forward to January 2007 when I was in San Francisco for ZAP (yes, that is me with Larry Turley...what a really nice guy!). I had been in loose email contact with one of Pax's associates (Tripp Donelan). Tripp had extended an invitation to "Stop by when you are in the area", and I had taken him for his word. I scheduled a morning appointment to stop by the winery and meet Pax and tour the "winery". I had been smart enough to join the mailing list after I had read the F & W article and had been buying Pax's Sonoma Hillsides Syrah online. I also thanked my lucky stars that I was smart enough to Mapquest the location of the winery before venturing out, because driving around Santa Rosa in a funky residential/industrial neighborhood I would have thought I was lost. No vineyards, no tasting room, heck, I think one of Pax's neighbors in this tilt -up concrete, flex space, office park is a garage door manufacturer/screen door repair business (Although to be fair, Copain Cellars is less than a mile away).
Okay, so it is my 48th Birthday, I am amped up on coffee, and I am FINALLY getting to actually meet Pax. We walk up to the glass entry door (which is locked), Pax lets us in, and introduces us to his assistant winemaker Duncan. I don't know what I was expecting, but these guys are super nice, down to earth and after I hand them a 2003 Sineann Old Vine "The Pines" Zinfandel we head back to the production area. However funky the outside of this facility is, the wine production and barrel storage area is 1st class. Clean, well organized and I could tell these guys weren't flying by the seat of their pants.
A quick look at the facities and then we proceed to taste (and spit.....well mostly spit) about 10 different wines. Pax is modeling his wines along the lines of a Northern Rhone Syrah in California. When I took a bottle of his Kohbler Vineyard Syrah to a large BYOB cellar party with a ton of wine people in attendance, the response was that this wine "Kicks ass" and if it had a French label it would be selling for $100+/bottle.
I regret I didn't take notes, but we tasted though nearly all the single vineyard wines in barrel.
We talked about his wine, wine we collect, wine we drink, how if we made more money it would be invested in more wine. I sensed an intense passion and drive for what they are trying to do. These wines are very "Terroir" driven wines.
These wines have good acid, a nice tannin structure to age well, lower alcohol, flavors of game, smoked meat, dark purple fruit, plums, blackberry, blueberry's, earth, tobacco, baking spices, minerals, tar (and a partridge in a pear tree...just kidding) and a REALLY light hand with oak (love that). These wines are part of what I have been discovering this past couple of years and describing as "cool climate Syrah". John Alban was a pioneer and now the next generation that includes labels like Pax, Copain, Saxum, Peay and the like are producing Syrah like we in Oregon produce Pinot Noir. That means the wine is made in the vineyard, with attention paid to how much fruit is grown (2 tons or less per acre), sorting of fruit prior to fermentation, minimal handling, natural fermentation, no fining or filtration with bottling. These wines are unlike any other Syrah, in fact it is almost an injustice to call this just "Syrah", it is like calling a Lamborgheni a "car". Interestingly enough there are several vineyard growing these "cool climate" Syrah grapes that also make a dynamite Pinot Noir (Peay sells fruit to Williams Selyem.......nuff said?) I admit to having had few, if any Northern Rhone wines from France but my feeling about these California Syrahs is that they are attractive with a ton of depth and interest and complexity-kind of like if Heidi Klum the supermodel had a Ph.D in quantum physics, had a show on the Food Network, played professional beach volleyball and also happened to be the U.S. Secretary of State.
Lets just say that if I made more money from selling the wine I make, I would be buying more wine from the above group of producers (anyone wanna buy some Oregon Pinot?).

By the way, Pax is a super fun guy to hang out with, plus, since I brought an offering (Sineann 2003 Old Vine "The Pines" Zinfandel) he sent me home with a Kohbler Family Vineyard Syrah-(I love it when that happens!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Clos Erasmus

Photo: Clos Erasmus

I started tasting wine with the intention to educate my palate starting about 1999.
In 2006 I was fortunate enough to be invited to a 11 vintage vertical of Clos Erasmus.

Clos Erasmus is produced from four vineyard sites, with a miniscule (total) vineyard surface of only 2 hectares (about 4.5 acres). All the vines are planted on deeply sloped terraces originally carved into the mountainside by the Ancient Greeks, for their cultivation of vines, olives, and almonds.

Las Escalas, the first vineyard site in the area that Daphne visited, became Clos Erasmus. The terraces were restored, vines planted alongside the existing old vines of Grenache, and in 1990 Clos Erasmus was born. Yields are only 18-20 hectoliters per hectare, and the number of cases produced has never been more than 140 per year.

The Priorat wasn't always a home to many of Spain's most exciting wineries, but with names like René Barbier, Alvaro Palacios, and now, Daphnie Glorian of Clos Erasmus, there is no denying how deserving it is of its current status as a "Spanish Darling."

A group of 16 people got together and menu planned a full evening around these terrific wines. A couple of nondescript Spanish white wines for the "starter" wine and then we proceeded to sample the vintages 1992-2002. Our host Scott Fitzwater and his wife, Karla were very kind to have shared these wonderful wines in their home.



Romesco (a Catalan dipping sauce) & Antipasto Cantalano
Catalan Tapas

-Side Dishes-
Catalonia Brecol con Nueces Y Pasas
(Broccoli with Walnuts and Raisins)

Catalan Aubergines (eggplants)
Pulpo en su Tinta
(octopus tossed in olive oil, garlic, squid ink and potatoes)

Catalonia-Style Spinach

Escalivada - Catalan Roast Vegetables


Venado Cazador
(venison stew with forest mushroom)

Paella a la Catalonia

Gambas Al Ajillo (Shrimp W/ Garlic) Catalonia

Pollo alla Catalana

Pine Nut and Almond Cookies (Piñones)
Crema Catalana

Needless to say, this was a marathon meal and we were eating and drinking for easily three hours. While we didn't blind taste the wines, we all kept notes and the following are mine from that evening. Notes and my Ranking # (though, this is like naming which is your favorite child).

1992 Clos Erasmus: Cedar on the nose with dried flowers, secondary fruit that gives way to leather on the nose and palate. 5th

1993 Clos Erasmus: A sweet and aromatic nose, good purple fruit and a nicely structured silky finish. 8th

1994Clos Erasmus:
A floral nose with dark Purple fruit with hints of hints of vanilla on the palate, silky tannins and dried fruit on the finish. 1st

1995 Clos Erasmus:
High alcohol on the nose, very ripe purple fruit that peels away to show some dried fruit as well, a bit of an "off" finish (slightly corked). 10th

1996 Clos Erasmus:
Purple fruit upfront that gives way to mouth coating tannins. Some acidity on the palate made this go well with the meal. 7th

1997 Clos Erasmus: Fruit forward wine with flavors of black olive and cherry liquor. Nice finish. 4th

1998 Clos Erasmus:
Sweet fruit that seems concentrated. Good structure. 6th

1999 Clos Erasmus: Dark cherry fruit with a layer of vanilla on the nose and palate, mouth coating tannins and a spicy finish. 2nd

2000 Clos Erasmus:
Dusty, fresh, purple fruit, mouth coating tannic finish. 11th

2001 Clos Erasmus: Soft cherry fruit upfront with gripping tannins, nice spicy nose and finish. 3rd

2002 Clos Erasmus:
Dried fruit on the nose with just a touch of fresh cherry. 9th

This entire lineup was pretty stellar. The wines from Clos Erasmus were selling in the early 1990's for around $30 bucks a bottle, unfortunately the Priorat caught the eye of Robert Parker and after some wine ratings in the high 90's the prices jumped dramatically. All of the above wines (if you can find them) are selling at auction for $150/bottle. Looks like this might be one of those "once in a lifetime " events.

The meal and the wines were wonderful and we added a
1975 Don Pedro Ximenz to put the finish on a great evening.

Be forewarned. It’s brown. And I don’t mean reddish brown. I mean flat Coke, plain coffee, or if-Tootsie-Rolls-were-a- drink-it’d-be-this-color brown.

But it’s soooooo good.

Don PX, as it’s called, is produced by Bodegas Toro Albalá, S.L. in the Montilla-Moriles Denominacion de Origen of southern Spain. Pedro Ximénez is a white grape with a naturally high sugar content. It’s particularly common in Montilla-Moriles, although it can be found all over Spain.

To make the wine, harvested grapes are dried in the sun — essentially making raisins — to concentrate the flavors. The wine is then aged in oak barrels — for a minimum of 25 years — until it develops the proper flavor profile.

Don PX has a nose that’s chock full of raisin and vanilla notes. Its smell reminds me of a cream soda or cream Sherry. In fact, Sherry hails from a nearby D.O. Don PX, however, is not a fortified wine. The high alcohol content comes from the naturally-high sugar content of the Pedro Ximénez grape.

In the mouth, Don PX is heavy, but not syrupy, and full of raisin, prune, fig and date flavors. It is sweet in a fruity sense, not a sugary sense, with a long finish. It’s definitely an after-dinner wine that would pair well with chocolate or chocolate mousse.

We finished off the night with Spanish Coffees down at Huber's

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Chateau Rieussec

I never thought I was into sweet wines, that is, until I traveled to France and spent some time in Bordeaux and the French Perigord. The most renowned sweet wines from that part of France are Sauternes. Sauternes is made from Semillion, Sauvignon Blance, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cineria, also known as "noble rot". This causes grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in concentrated and distinctively flavored wines, typically with an arresting golden color. It is hard to imagine what accident occurred that would make a winemaker want to ferment rotten grapes, but these wines are in a word: "spectacular".
The fruit profile often has an intense peach, or apricot component and descriptions of honey, caramel, creme brulee, baking spice and vanilla are all common. These wines also typically have a sharp acidic edge that balances the sweetness. These are not a sweet wine in the mold of a white zinfandel, these are an entirely different animal.
I had a chance to taste an 8 vintage vertical of the Premier Cru producer Chateau Rieussec. This estate is currently owned by the Lafite Rothschild family and great care goes into each bottle. These wines are typically expensive and in relative short supply. I felt very fortunate to be able to sample vintages that spanned from 1961 - 1986.

Here are my notes from that tasting, as well as my ranking for the evening.

Chateau Rieussec 1961: Honey and caramel notes on the palate, great balance and a very full body. 2nd

Chateau Rieussec 1964: Slightly maderized (oxidized), petrol nose, nice acid balance. 8th

Chateau Rieussec 1967: Baking spices on the nose, with a nice acidity. 4th

Chateau Rieussec 1971: A light vanilla toastiness on the nose that gives way to honey and ripe concentrated peach fruit. Nice acidity and a very BIG finish. 1st

Chateau Rieussec 1975:
Baking spices on the nose, apricot fruit and great body. This wine also had a tremendous finish. 5th

Chateau Rieussec 1976: Deep amber color, concentrated fruit, licorice. Long finish. 3rd

Chateau Rieussec 1983: Light, nice stone fruit, barnyard nose, some mint on the finish. 7th

Chateau Rieussec 1986: Lightest wine of the flight, creme brulee nose, soft fruit and moderate finish. 6th

All but the 1983 and 1964 (bad bottle) I scored at least 17pts or more on a 20pt. scale. My wine of the night was the 1971 and I would be more than happy to have a case of that in my cellar.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Heitz Cellars-"Martha's Vineyard"- Vertical Tasting

Photo: Courtesy of Heitz Cellars
I was fortunate to have been invited to a vertical tasting Heitz Cellars "Martha's Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon.
The tasting encompassed wines from 1973 - 1984. Included in this tasting was the spectacular and impossible to find (for less that $1000.00/btl) 1974 vintage. The hosts for this event were Dick Stinson and Judy Erdman. Dick has a expansive cellar and he has collected wine for well over the past 30 years. All who attended this tasting owe a huge collective "Thank you" to Dick and Judy for being kind enough to share these wonderful wines.
These 12 wines were tasted in order, though I kept general notes I didn't rank these wines at the end of the night. To be honest, what struck me the most was how young, fresh and fruit forward nearly all of these wines were. The color on all but one wine was garnet and without a hint of brickishness. It was as though these wines had been stored in the the "Twilight Zone". I am sure that if we tasted these wines in another 10 years they would still not be on the downward side of their maturity.

Here goes:

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1973: Slightly sweetish, port-like, some leather notes that layer in nicely with silky tannins-perhaps some english walnut on the finish

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1974: Eucalyptus nose, well structured, perfumy and extremely well balanced. The wine was bright, fresh and not even a hint of brickishness in regard to color.

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1975: Slightly astringent, not well balanced, a hint of leather and again no discoloration with this wine.

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1976: Roasted meat on the nose giving way to currant fruit and gripping tannins. Long finish with some dark chocolate on the palate.

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1977: Tart fruit with a slightly thin mid-palate that gives away to gripping tannins and tobacco on the finish.

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1978: Dark fruit with Dark Chocolate, a hollow mid-palate that finishes with a big tannic structure. This wine had a touch of green bell pepper (underripe fruit?).

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1979: Port-like, dried/raisiny fruit. This wine was the only one of the line-up to show some age and my guess is that we just had an "off" bottle.

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1980: Fresh purple/currant fruit, amazing that a nearly 30 year old wine is this fresh! Layers of tobacco, mushroom with a well knit tannins. Very nice.

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1981: Fresh fruit, lively with nice structure. This wine could easily go another 10+ years.

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1982: Leathery nose with fresh lively purple/currant fruit, very nice effort.

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1983: "New world" fruit, this would be a wine that tastes 20 years ahead of its time. The wine is dominated by the fruit and has far less structure than the previous 10 wines tasted tonight.

Heitz Cellars-Martha's Vineyard-1984: Tobacco on the nose that leads to fresh fruit and very silky tannins. Nice balance and a long finish.

Monday, November 19, 2007


The November tasting for The Confrerie des Vignerons de St. Vincent Macon was held at Vino Vixens located at 2929 SE Powell Blvd. Sure, a wine shop next to a bowling alley seems kinda funky, but this is a very cool shop with a great space for tasting events.
So, a great space, 32 participants and 9 great wines and what does that mean? It means a very exceptional monthly event, which by the way was hosted by Sam "I am REALLY serious about Zinfandel" Sundeleaf. Thanks Sam!

The stellar line-up of Zinfandel is as follows with my tasting notes and my scoring and price per bottle. Keep in mind that taste is subjective and opinions varied greatly on this tasting. If you feel strongly about my notes, please comment.

2005 Turley Old Vine: Astringent, peppery, a hint of raisin/dried fruit. A long finish (5) $27.75

2005 Mauritson-Rockpile: Big alcohol on the nose, sweet, almost port-like. A vanilla aftertaste and on the second tasting I was getting some "stemmy" aftertaste. (9) $38.84 Note: This was a big favorite of the rest of the group.

2005 Biale-Black Chicken: Raisiny/dried fruit character, peppery. (4) $34.30

2005 Martinelli-Giuseppe & Luisa: Vanilla on the nose, dried/purple fruit, really great balance that was consistent throughout the tasting. Long, long finish. (1) $57.99 Apparently Helen Turley can go head to head with her brother Larry (Turley Wine Cellars)

2005 Bella-Dry Creek: Tart fruit, a hint of vanilla on the nose, good structure and a nice finish.
(8) $28.34

2005 Ridge-Pagani: Really tart fruit, I am wondering if they acidified this wine during fermentation. Long finish. (6) $36.40

1997 Ridge-Pagani: Dried fruit and dried rose petals on the nose, very perfumy and showing some of its 10 years of age. This is probably not a classic "Zin", but I loved this wine. (2) $36.40

2005 Turley Juvenile: Peppery, some graphite and an almost "candy-like' fruit quality with high alcohol to boot. (7) $22.75

2005 Shenandoah Vineyard-Reserve-Paul's Vineyard: Dry, astringent with a big alcoholic nose (this sounds more like a description of W.C. Fields) Well melded fruit and wood flavors with a long finish. (3) $24.94

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

2004 Bordeaux Cru Classe -Paulliac

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a tasting of Cru Classe wines from the Pauillac Commune in Bordeaux. I was a guest of the Portland Wine Group and this tasting was a follow up to one they had conducted a few months ago with the wines of St. Julian.

We double, blind tasted 8 wines (double blind means that the wine is decanted into numbered carafes and then the carafes are mixed up so no one knows the identity of the wine to be poured).
Please note that the bottom of the carafe is given a number so ultimately you can decode what is what.

This Cru Classe line-up included:

Chateau (Name) My Rank(#)/Group Rank(#)-Tasting notes

Chateau d'Armailhac 6/6-Tart red fruit, no mid-palate, long finish.

Chateau Clerc Milon 8/8-Corked bottle, unfortunate, this wine still showed some nice fruit, good balance and great structure.

Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste 7/7-A hint of lead pencil on the nose. Soft, almost new world fruit. No mid-palate.

Chateau Lynch Bages 2/3-I had originally scored this wine 5th, but after tasting through the lineup it really opened up. Good currant fruit, nice balance, long finish with just a hint of spice and oak on the nose and palate.

Chateau Pichon-Baron 2nd Growth 3/2-Spice on the nose, dusty red fruit (cherry), tart acidity, nice finish with a touch of oak on the palate.

Chateau Pichon-Lalande 2nd Growth 1/1-Spice, tobacco and cigar box on the nose,racy acid and a solid tannins in the background that still need some time to fully integrate. This will get even better (as it should).

Chateau Pontet Canet 5/5-Perfumy nose, red currant, graham cracker and licorice.

Chateau Senejac (this was a ringer) 4/4-Forward red fruit, dusty tannins, oak on the nose and a slight bitterness on the finish.

All of the wines with the exception of the Pichon-Baron and Lalande were 5th Growth wines. The Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce classified the wines of Bordeaux back in 1855 and there has been 1 wine (Ch. Mouton Rothschild-go figure) that has moved anywhere on the list.
In regard to the scoring above this is a group average of 15 people. Before you all start thinking that I am some sort of "Hella" wine taster, lets just say that I got lucky. By the way, the wines that finished 1st-3rd, by all rights should have place in that order. Funny how terroir shows its head again. It is just like real estate-location, location, location.

All in all this was a fantastic tasting. 2004 is considered to be an "off year". These wines are all drinkable now and will evolve for the next decade or longer. In my humble opinion if you like to drink Bordeaux then snap these up.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Your Liver is a Muscle

This weekend made me think of the skit on Saturday Night Live years ago (when John Belushi was still part of the cast). Long story short, they were discussing how your liver is actually a "muscle" and it can only get stronger with use. If that is the case, then my liver got a three day interval work-out that should put it in finely tuned condition for the upcoming holidays.
Starting on Friday evening and a Birthday dinner celebration for Andria Shirk at Navarre. We had a group of 10 with as many bottles of wine that night.
Standouts for the evening were:

2000 Robert Mondavi-Reserve-
2003 Pride Petite Syrah
2004 Grgich Caneros Chardonnay
2004 Sineann-Resonance Vineyard Pinot Noir

On Saturday I had dinner with my buddy Sam Sundeleaf at Cafe Mingo on NW 21st.
We started with a nice antipasti tray that included proscuitto, salami, and an array of figs. The whole table felt they had been transported back to grade school, as these figs were entirely reminiscent of Fig Newton Wafers. We shared a spaghetti dish that included clams and Italians sausage as well as an order of sausage & ricotta ravioli and a upscale mac & cheese dish that with the addition of crab elevated that comfort dish to a new level.
The wines we poured were:

1999 La Tour Haut Brion-Spicy nose, maybe even a bit of tobacco, nice balance, good currant fruit and a long finish.
1995 Chase-Spleen-This was the old school, bottle of the night....of course being the longest cellared it did show more polish than either of the other two wines. Nice black currant fruit with a whiff of leather, a great balance of acid and tannin and a long finish.

2003 Karl Lawrence-Napa Cabernet-This is a serious Cab that showed great purple fruit with a nicely wrapped tannic core. Just a hint of oak....this wine will do well with some cellar time and the two "old world" wines complemented this "new world" cousin.

After dinner we grabbed a drink at neighboring Serratto and then finally we shared a bottle of:
2003 Domaine Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape. That wine had a pale, brick-tinged red color. Floral nose hints at dried rose, lavender, and wild strawberry. Understated dusty red berry and floral flavors framed by very fine tannins that did not dry the palate. Finishes supple and long, showing an old-school blend of dried fruits and wild herbs.

Finally, last but not least, I had the opportunity to go the the Southern Oregon wine festival at the Gerding Theater and I actually opted to stay home and cook dinner.
As is pretty standard on Sunday's I invited my friend Sam to join us for dinner.
Sam, for you who don't know him is a lively dinner companion and he has a stellar wine collection that he is very generous with.

Sunday dinner:



House cured olives
Assorted Cheese Tray


Apple wood roasted Pork Loin, stuffed w/
Prunes, Apricots & Cranberries

served with

Shaved Brussel Sprouts & Shallot Saute
(See recipe below)

Heirloom Potatoes roasted in duck fat

The wine pairings were:

2000 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape-Bold, fruit forward, nice structure with a hint of herb (garrigue).
2003 Sineann-The Pines-Zinfandel- Big wine with dusty/racey raspberry fruit. This wine is always in the 16% alcohol range, though you would never know it by how balanced it drank.

Shaved Brussel Sprouts with Shallot Saute
Courtesy of

1 3/4 pounds brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Working in small batches, place brussels sprouts in feed tube of processor fitted with thin slicing disk; slice.

Melt butter with olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add shallots; sauté until almost translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add brussels sprouts; increase heat to medium-high and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in 3 tablespoons pine nuts and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon pine nuts and serve.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Food" reading list

This is an ever growing list of books I have read that relate to food, farming, and cooking.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: by Michael Pollan

The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection: by Michael Ruhlman

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly: by Anthony Bourdain

The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand by Jim Harrison

Salt: A World History: by Mark Kurlansky

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World: by Michael Pollan

Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar: by Jay McInerney

Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods: by Gary Paul Nabhan

Tender at the Bone: by Ruth Reichel

Comfort me with Apples: by Ruth Reichel

The Wine Bible: by Karen MacNeil

Diary of a Tuscan Chef: by Cesare Casella and Eileen Daspin

THE SILVER PALATE COOKBOOK: By Julee Rosso, Sheila Lukins, and Michael McLaughlin

A Chef's Tale: A Memoir of Food, France and America: by Pierre Franey

The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones:
by Anthony Bourdain

Norm & Fred @ Fredfest 2008

The Essentials of Beer Style: A Catalog of Classic Beer Styles for Brewers and Beer Enthusiasts: by Fred Eckhardt (a Portlander who is really a one of a kind personality. I have personally seen him wear a Prussian spiked helmet(Pickelhaube), ala "Hogan's Hero's" to a beer tasting).

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Confrerie - Zin-o-rama

November 18, 2007 Tasting
3:00 P.M.

My long time friend and wine buddy Sam Sundeleaf is hosting the November wine tasting event of the Confrérie des Vignerons de Saint-Vincent de Mâcon

With doing a two bottle tasting here are the specifics:

When: Nov. 18th, 3pm

Where: Vino Vixen
2929 SE Powell Blvd
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 231-8466


1) Blind tasting of 9 Zin’s

2) Each person will need 9 individual glasses for a one flight experience.

3) The tasting will focus on three items:

Focus on what wine tastes most like Zinfandel to you.
Pick out your favorite wine
Attempt to match each wine

The line-up:

2005 Ridge Pagani
1997 Ridge Pagani
2005 Bella
2005 Mauritson
2005 Shenandoah
2005 Turley Juvenile
2005 Turley Old Vine
2005 Biali Black Chicken
2005 Martinelli Giuseppe & Luisa

Please Note:

This is not a comprehensive wine tasting of all the key Zin producing areas. This tasting is an attempt at focusing on wines that expressed the character of the Zinfandel fruit. With this intent there will undoubtedly be disagreement and suggestions of what might have been a better choice and so forth. The case is I’ve devoted an hour to tasting wines that I think might fit this scenario. Also with the event there will be an education of the history of Zinfandel. The fact that the USA can call ownership to Zinfandel (in a matter of perspective that is).

For all its identification with California, Zinfandel's origins used to be considered quite mysterious. For a long time there was only speculation, then in the 1970's it was discovered that Zinfandel was identical to a southern Italian variety called Primativo. Everyone thought that Zinfandel was Primativo and the word even started showing up on California labels. The only trouble was that further research showed that Primativo first showed up in Italy during the 1890's but Zinfandel had been in California years earlier. The latest research shows that Zinfandel is the same as an old Croatian variety called Plavac Mali. Just how it came to be called Zinfandel has been lost in the mists of time.

To make high quality Zinfandel in California you have to use grapes from low yielding vineyards. You could just prune back the vines but there are a couple of other ways that give lower yields, and they are both natural. One way is to use grapes grown on hillsides. When it rains on a hillside the water drains off much more quickly than it does on flat land and the vines absorb less water. The result is smaller "unbloated" grapes. Smaller grapes have a higher ratio of skins to juice than larger grapes, and most of the flavor (and color) in wine comes from the grape skins.
The other way to get low yields is from old vines. As grapevines pass about 30 or 40 years of age they begin to decline in vigor and yield. Zinfandel vines are the longevity champions, and pre-Prohibition vineyards in California are not uncommon. When wineries use grapes from these vineyards they will usually put the words "Old Vines" on the label. The winner of the oldest vineyard title goes to the Renwood Winery of Amador County (in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains) for their Grand Pere Vineyard Zinfandel. The vines are over 130 years old.

We're talking about a vineyard planted during the administration of the eighteenth President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant!

Sometimes the three ways of getting lower yields from Zinfandel (pruning, using hillside vineyards, and using old vines) are all used by a winegrower or a winery. Sometimes a combination occurs naturally as with an old hillside vineyard. There's a winery in Sonoma (many of the top Zinfandel producers are in Sonoma) called Martinelli that produces a Zin from a vineyard called Jackass Hill. They say the vineyard got its name because it is so steep that it can only be farmed with a jackass. It's reputed to be the steepest vineyard in California. It just also happens that the vineyard was planted in 1905.

This would be a good time to describe what Zinfandel tastes like. Before 1980 or so the descriptors you always saw were "briary" and "brambly." I think it became an Emperor's new clothes type of situation where no one knew what they meant so the words fell by the wayside. (has anyone tasted brambles lately?") These days the word you see all the time is "berries," unidentified berries, as in "ripe berry fruit." "Cherry-berry" comes up a bit too, and raspberries make it in sometimes though not as often as cherries. "Ripe cherries, berries, and raspberry fruit," is about the textbook definition these days. Personally I think this varietal can take on a ripe peach component as well (think perfectly ripe peach on a warm day).

Another word that shows up in describing Zin is "Peppery," as in black pepper, not green or red. Old vines have roots that can go down a long way, searching for water it is said. In porous soil they can go down a couple hundred feet. When they do something like that they pick up traces of minerals that you can taste in the wine (fascinating beverage, isn't it?). In Zinfandel, as well as Syrah and Petite Sirah, the minerals show up as pepperiness or spiciness. Old vine Zinfandel usually has this added dimension of pepperiness or spiciness that adds complexity and interest to the wine. This spiciness and mineral quality is characteristic of old vines in other varieties too.

One mechanism that wine writers like to use to describe wines is a musical analogy. The might say something such as this white wine is one-note, or that red wine strikes a chord, or a First Growth Bordeaux is a whole orchestra, and Cabernet Sauvignon is like Beethoven where Pinot Noir is more like Mozart. I think that a better analogy is to movie actresses. Say that a 1st Growth Bordeaux would be akin to Meryl Streep and a Pinot Noir might be Audrey Hepburn, then Zinfandel would be the Pamela Anderson of wine-big & showy with more of everything. What this grape lacks in subtlety it makes up for on sheer enjoyment-it's eye candy (for your tongue).