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Friday, February 27, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Domaine Tempier Bandol & smoked pulled pork

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

Collette wrote of France’s Jurançon: when I was a young girl, I was introduced to a passionate Prince, domineering and two-timing like all great seducers…

My lifelong affair has been with Domaine Tempier’s Bandol rouge, which began in the early 1980s, when I was first introduced to the French imports of Kermit Lynch. In the beginning, I did not understand the compulsion: it was a red wine that always seem to have a spirit – whether it was in the mysterious, earthy, scrubby, leathery notes that often seem to engulf the aromas of berry liqueurs in the nose, or the slightly sparkly, lively, lilting quality in the texture of the wine itself, almost belying a meatiness of tannin and dried grape skin flavor.

Whatever the case, it was like my first love, which happened to be a girl from a Hawaiian plantation – a black maned mestiza, first sighted bouncing up onto the back of a truck, work gloves belted at the waist, jeans snug around the thighs and tucked into dusty leather, steel tip work boots, and (like me) 15 years old going on whatevah. I was tongue tied and discombobulated for weeks; and even long after, incapable of understanding exactly why ordinary conversation seemed as strenuous as swimming in mud.

But conversation with the maddening mestiza did continue for some time, thank you; but with Bandol, the conversation has been going for much longer. It is, after all is said and done, a wine that never seems light or heavy, lean nor fat, zesty but never sharp, delicious with a stew of meat, and delicious with a stew of fish. In short, the perfect lifelong companion.

Many years later, reading the chapter devoted to Domaine Tempier in Kermit Lynch’s classic book, Adventures on the Wine Route, I came to understand why this wine, of all wines, retains its eternal, dusty leathered youth: particularly the fact that it comes from a magnificent vineyard in Provence’s Le Plan de Castellet, close enough to the Mediterranean where the air is pungent with the smell of the ocean mixed with scrubby herbs of the chalky hillsides. How François Peyraud plowed and hoed the field by hand rather resort to herbicides, and fought mildew by spraying the vines (mostly Mourvèdre, with some grapes of the Grenache) only with natural sulfur from the soil of a nearby region so that the terroir could remain pristine and protected from artificial intrusion.

And how Jean-Marie Peyraud, following his father Lucien’s lead, aged the Bandol strictly in large, well used casks (rather than new, small oak barrels) so that the wine tasted of grapes and earth rather than freshly hewn trees, and bottled with absolutely no sulfites so that years after, when drinking Domaine Tempier Bandol, you would still feel like you were drinking directly from the cask, when the wine still tastes like it is just squeezed from the grapes.

Indeed, Domaine Tempier’s Bandol is a wine that really doesn’t age. That is to say, it will retain its deep color and fragrance – in fact, deepen in color and fragrance – even as the years fly by. I kid you not, as this very fact was driven home to me one night (oh, about eleven years ago) when Kermit himself served me a muscular 20 year old Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape, followed by a regally scented 20 year old Chave Hermitage, followed by a 20 year old Domaine Tempier… all double-blind (the identities of the wines hidden from me in decanters), and densest, darkest, most fragrant wine of the three was still, after all that time, the Bandol!

But I wasn’t surprised, because I’d already been entangled with Bandol for some time. Now are you getting interested?

Okay, then you must first find yourself a bottle of the 2006 Domaine Tempier Bandol Classique (about $40); which, although is an entry level Bandol (Tempier produces several single vineyard Bandols with even more pent-up energy and power), has all the Bandolishness you need: a nose of sweet berries (sometimes I think cassis, other times framboise) floating over the glass with wispy, invisible clouds of earth (freshly composted humus… perfume to a gardener) and gunflint mixed with a subtle ocean salinity; and on the palate, juicy, rich, medium to full flavors, tugging at the senses like that old, familiar, perfectly agreeable pain (ah, that girl from the fields).

Island Style Smoked Pulled Pork

When Kermit and I tasted that 20 year old Bandol, he and his wife Gail Skoff served up squab and a casserole of scalloped potatoes layered with truffles. Of course, the match was perfect in every way, but not exactly your normal Friday night meal. In lieu of that, I prescribe slow smoked birds, like duck or Cornish game hen. But from many years of experience, I also know that Bandol’s salt and flint nuanced berry qualities are absolutely delicious with Island style smoked pulled pork (what we call kalua pig), which differs from Southern style pulled pork in that it’s not mixed in or served with a vinegary, sweet-spicy barbecue sauce (Bandol doesn’t have the pointedly sweet, berry jam flavors like, say, California Zinfandel to handle American barbecue sauces).

No, for Bandol all you need is a fork tender, steamy pile of smoked pork dolled up with nothing more than rock salt. The ancient Hawaiians traditionally dug a 6 x 4 x 3 foot hole in the ground to make their kalua – the whole pig cooked over blazing hot rocks, covered with banana leaves and burlap, and then buried in the ground to steam a good 24 hours. I’m not suggesting you find your fatted pig, dig up the backyard or drive down to Louisiana for your banana leaves. After many years of living off-island, I’ve devised my own total “lazy man’s” way of cooking Hawaiian style pulled pork, requiring nothing more than time:

5-8 lb. pork butt
¼ cup sea salt (Hawaiian if you can find it; kosher in a pinch)
2 oz. liquid smoke (or ½ bottle of Wright’s Liquid Hickory Smoke)

Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Score pork and place in a big enough Dutch oven. Combine salt and liquid smoke and rub all over pork. Pour water half-way up side of pork; cover with heavy duty aluminum foil and roast in oven, at least 1 hour per pound. The entire house will smell like a smoker, but that’s okay… just open a window and pop a well chilled bottle of Bandol rosé (some say, the finest dry pink wine in the world). Remove pork from water, place in large bowl and shred with tongs or strong forks. Mix in additional rock salt to taste. Serve with steamed white rice, collard greens or spinach, fresh sliced tomatoes, the Bandol rouge, and you’re in business!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Part One of the Guided Tasting - Vino 2009, Miami




On January 30 The Italian Trade Commission brought Vino 2009 to the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami, Florida. The morning session consisted of a guided tasting followed by a sumptuous buffet lunch. Sixteen different wines were poured from the regions of Lombardia, Toscana, Abruzzo and Calabria while moderator Lyn Farmer, the Senior Editor of Wine News, walked us through each wines history, characteristics and vinification. We will begin with Lombardia and Abruzzo for this first article and save Tuscany and Calabria for the next installment.

We began our tasting with four sparkling wines from Lombardia, which is located in the north of Italy. The first, Ca’Maiol Brut Spumonte DOC Lugana is produced by Provenza located on the shores of Lake Garda. The estate is 100 acres made up of four separate vineyards. Provenza was established in 1967 by Walter Contato who also founded the Consorzio of Lugana which protects and enforces DOC regulations. This sparkler is produced in the classic method and aged three years. It contains a minimum of 90% Trebbiano grapes and has a delicate nose of peach, almonds and tropical fruit. Next we tasted Saten Brut 2007 DOCG Franciacorta. Franciacorta refers to the region as well as the product. The wine is produced by G. Ricci Curbastro & Sons, who hand pick the grapes for gentle pressing and ferment in French oak barrels. The estate has 28 hectares under vine, a wine making and farm implement artifacts museum, eight agriturismo apartments and a tasting hall. The “Saten” is made with 100% chardonnay grapes and has the fragrance of ripe fruit, flowers and nuts. Number three was Castel San Giorgio Brut Rose’ 2004 DOC, produced by San Giorgio in the center of Oltrepo’ Pavese. San Giorgio is one of the oldest vineyards in Oltrepo’ Pavese, purchased by the Perdomini family in 1978. They have 30 hectares of vineyards and a wine store where one can taste their wines along with other local products. They will even arrange full meals upon request. This Brut Rose’ is 90% Pinot Nero, 10% Chardonnay and shows off a pleasing rose color with a hint of orange, and peach and floral fragrances. Our final wine from this region was Montebello Rose’ Metodo Classico DOC from Oltrepo’ Pavese, produced by Ca’ Montebello. The estate was established in 1936 and has about 35 hectares of vineyards with grape varietals including, Pinot Nero and Barbera. Montebello Rose’ is 100% Pinot Nero, hand picked grapes and spends 18-20 months on the lees. The color is a bright rose with pinpoint bubbles and a delicate fragrance.

With our fifth wine, Spiria Cococciola 2007 IGT, we move on to the Abruzzo region, located south and east of Tuscany on the Adriatic side of Italy. The producer is Cantina Colle Moro, but unfortunately this wine isn’t yet available in the U.S. Hopefully they were able to find an importer at the convention. I would hate to have to wait until my next trip to Italy to sample another glass of this wine. It has a pale straw color with a bit of a greenish hue, delicate nose with hints of green apple and flowers. It is balanced, dry and very smooth and creamy. Lucanto 2007 DOC Trebbiano d’Abbruzzo produced by Torre Raone is number six. It is 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, the color of straw, intensely and persistently fragrant, dry, balanced, smooth and creamy with spice on the finish. Next in line was Pecorino Colle dei Venti 2007, IGT Terre di Chieti, produced by Caldora Vini. Pecorino is the name of the ancient grape that makes 100% of this wine. It does not refer to the goats milk cheese we all know and love. Caldora Vini is part of an area co-op called Ortono. Their most popular wine is Yuma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo made from very old vines belonging to “Soggiorno Proposta” which is an organization dedicated to helping people recover from drug addiction. To return to our Pecorino… the grapes are hand picked and the wine is aged six to seven months in lightly toasted Austrian Oak barrels, producing a wine of a light straw color with greenish reflections. It smells of white fruits, pears and a hint of balsamic. It has good acidity and a long finish. Our last wine from Abruzzo is Sorab Pecorino 2007, IGT Colline Pescaresi, produced by Contesa di Rocco Pasetti. Made from 100% Pecorino grapes, this modern winery boasts a low impact method of wine making that produces wines with a strong link to the territory. This wine is bright yellow in color with herbal notes and a smokey finish.

Stay tuned for my next installment of the guided tasting where we will explore samplings from Tuscany, an area that is familiar to many, and the southern region of Calabria. Thank you to the Italian Trade Commission for introducing us to so many great wines and the fascinating people who produce them.
- the Brew Crew

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Ca' del Solo Muscat & Dong steamed whole fish

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

Because something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is...

The 2008 Ca’ del Solo Muscat (Monterey County; about $18) is not just another pretty girl; as lightly sweet, delectable and fragrant a white wine as it is, blooming with notes of tropical flowers (jasmine and frangipani), lychee and white peppery spices (or as the back label describes it, with Nabokovan alliteration, “a musky, melodious, melon-like meditation on minerality”). It also ranks as another battle cry against convention launched by a winemaker who has done more than make a career out of idiosyncrisity – he has made a career out of turning idiosyncrisities into norms.

Ca’ del Solo, for those of you who’ve been around the block, used to be a brand, formulated by Bonny Doon winemaker (and “President for Life”) Randall Grahm, signifying Italian inspired grapes, wine styles, and yes, leetle girl labels. Today, Ca’ del Solo labels bear “crystalline” micro-snapshots of each wine, captured in their petri dish; connected to silver strings that make the crystallizations look more like floating ova than kids’ balloons.

Ca’ del Solo now also stands mostly for Grahm’s recent conversion, like an Kierkegaardian winemaker of infinite resignation, to biodynamic viticulture.

No matter how “loopy” anyone may say biodynamics – complete with the burying of manure filled cow horns in the vineyard, the spraying of herbal teas according to phases of the moon, etc. -- can be, there could be no sobering a reminder of exactly why many of the world’s most respected vignerons have recently turned to the teachings of the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner than the news, reported last week in the Associated Press, concerning allegations of an “organic” company selling fertilizers secretly “spiked” with synthetic chemicals to CCOF certified farms all over California.

Kathleen Inman, winemaker/owner of Sonoma’s Inman Family Wines, wrote me, saying that “it certainly adds another ‘tick’ in the yes column of why moving towards more self-sustainable farming is a good idea.” Inman, who fashions her own liquid fertilizers from worm castings from a nearby worm farm, says “being biodynamic is ideal,” although for now, she is content to make do by supplying her own small organic vineyard strictly from resources she can trust.

Grahm, however, did not simply convert to the full-fledged self-sustainability of biodynamic viticulture. In 2004 he went so far as to divest his wine production company of his two biggest brands, Cardinal Zin and Big House, thus taking his annual production down from 450,000 cases to 35,000 cases (what he called “Doon-sizing”), specifically to finance the development of 120 acres of vineyards near Soledad, California into a 100% biodynamic farm. Ca’ del Solo, the name of the property as well as the label under which these biodynamic wines are being bottled, was certified by Demeter® USA in 2007.

As much as he loved sourcing forgotten, even “ugly duckling,” grapes up and down the California coast to make his Bonny Doon wines (such as his ground breaking, critically acclaimed Southern Rhône style blend, Le Cigare Volant, and his immensely successful Pacific Rim Riesling), Grahm says in the end it “wasn’t sustainable emotionally or spiritual for me.”

This is how Philippe Coderey, the biodynamic guru to whom Grahm turned to direct his vineyard operations, voices Grahm’s revised conception of terroir: “Most conventional wines are fruity… you can feel the fruit, and then, after that… nothing.” By eschewing chemical fertilizers and avoiding things like irrigation, however, the biodynamic grower “is training his vines to go deep into the soil.” Once vines are converted to biodynamic practices that establish a biological and, yes, even spiritual symbiosis with the soil, “you will find inside the bottle of wine the minerality that gives the wine complexity… you’re tasting not only the fruits, but also the soil.” Hence for Grahm, a more fulfilling, transparent sense of terroir.

Dong Festive Steamed Whole Fish

Enough verbiage, what can the Ca’ del Solo Muscat do for you? There are no less than three ways to enjoy this wine, in all its winsome, wise-crackling, perfumed precocity: First, utterly naked, as a well chilled, palate freshening apéritif. Secondly, poured over ice, upon which the wine’s mild sparkle perceptively sighs with pleasure, with a wheel of lime or sprig of mint to bring out the Muscat’s citrus zest and minty freshness of flavors.

Or third, to experience the full, dynamic food versatility of off-dry, buoyantly fresh whites like the Ca’ del Solo, with this recipe for Dong festive steamed whole fish, culled from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s fascinating cookbook/travelogue on the outskirts of China, Beyond the Great Wall:

One 1½ lb. red snapper, cleaned and scaled
¾ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. minced ginger
2 scallions, cut lengthwise into ribbons and then into 2 inch lengths
1 red cayenne chile, seed and cut into thin strips
Generous 1 tsp. peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
5 or 6 Sichuan peppercorns, lightly crushed

To steam fish, you will need a 12 to 14 inch wide bamboo steamer and a wok with a wide pot with a bamboo or metal steamer insert. You will also need a deep heatproof plate (there will be some pan juices) that fits into the steamer and is wide enough to hold the fish (curve fish or trim off end of the tail if necessary).

Wash fish well and dry. Place fish on cutting board and cut 2 or 3 parallel diagonal slashes on each side, cutting down to the bone. Rub all over lightly with salt. Rub minced ginger into the slashes and into the fish cavity. Place fish on plate, and sprinkle scallion ribbons into the cavity and over the fish. Sprinkle any remaining ginger over the top of the fish, and then sprinkle on the red chile strips. Place the plate with the fish in the steamer basket or insert.

Place the wok or pot on the stove and add about 2 inches of water. Place the steamer basket in the wok or pot (make sure water level is below steamer), and bring the water to boil over high heat. Cover the steamer tightly and cook 10-11 minutes, until fish is firm and the flesh in the slashes is opaque and flakes when pulled with a fork.

Meanwhile, just before fish is done (at about the 9 minute mark), heat the oil in a small wok or skillet. When it is very hot, toss in the Sichuan pepper, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

Uncover the cooked fish and pour the hot oil over it. Lift the steamer out and onto a work surface, then remove the plate from the steamer. Serve the fish on the plate, with its pan juices, hot or at room temperature. Serve with steamed white rice.

Final remarks: as with any recipe, you needn’t be slavish to this outer-rim style of steamed fish. In Hawai`i for instance, we typically add crushed garlic and rough cut sprigs of cilantro to our steamed fish, and peanut oil is usually sizzled with a dose of soy sauce. Either way, the Muscat’s peppery spiced, citrus fresh fruitiness is the ideal match; the sweetness balancing the chile spice, hot oil and/or soy to a tee, and the tropical flower and fruit qualities reflecting the gingery sensations and digging deep into the delicate white flesh of the snapper… a symbiosis of wine and food terroir!

CHEESE & WINE FACTS

The world has not changed for centuries. man has tried to preserve the earth's bounty for times when nature is not so generous to us. Grapes that mature, for a short time, are there for us to eat, but, what about the wine they produce for us for our future.
Summer milk from cow's, sheep, waqter buffalo, yaks and goats becomes cheese in the winter months.
Many locations worldwide are temperate enough climatically to have both grape vines and dairy animals. It would then become obvious that both wine and cheese are savored together.
As a daily ritual, for centuries, Europeons and the other countries blessed with a climate that is condusive for grape growing and dairy animals enjoy the fruits of both wine and cheese daily.
For most of us in America, unfortunately, this ritual is in it's preliminary stage.
What we need to do, as readers of The Wine Hub, is to learn facts about wine and cheese, so, we, too, can begin this marriage.
The true goal of all wine and cheese combinations is harmony. The objective is always the same. Never diminish the flavor of either the wine or the cheese. Wine should taste just as good on it's own as it will with cheese. And vice versa.
Philip S. Kampe
philip.kampe@thewinehub.com

Friday, February 20, 2009

Organic Wine & Food Matching: Domaine Carneros Brut & Authentic Hawaiian Poke

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

The French have been making sparkling wine in California for so long, you almost overlook the extraordinary quality of their wines: the closest thing to fine, complex champagne grown and produced outside Champagne, France in the world.

Each of the major firms have made dramatic impacts on the industry: beginning in the mid-1970s, Domaine Chandon with its focus on the three classic grapes of Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) grown in the coolest section (Carneros) in Napa Valley; Mumm Napa with its brilliant blending in adjustment to California’s sunnier climes, Roederer Estate for its bold exploration of Mendocino’s Anderson Valley, and now, Domaine Carneros by Taittinger for its French-like sense of long-term sustainablility, moving towards 100% organic grape growing soon after establishing its 300 acres in Carneros in 1987.

Consider this: in the early 1990s it wasn’t quite hip to be green; especially among neighbors who, although they may farm sustainably, still insist on the option of zapping their vines at the first sign of trouble. After receiving CCOF certification in 2008, Domaine Carneros’ longtime President and Chief Winemaker (since 1989) Eileen Crane (pictured above) remarked, “Certified organic viticulture means you can’t just give the vineyard a shot of penicillin when it gets sick.”

Committing to organics, especially in the beginning, is a process, often at the expense of perceived efficiency. Instead of wiping out mealy bugs with chemicals, for instance, you use chickens, who love mealy bugs. “Now, of course,” says Crane, “we have to protect the chickens from coyotes… if you think outside the box, some experiments might not work out, but you learn from them what the next step should be.”

Green consciousness has always been important to Domaine Carneros (the winery also employs solar power, skylights and underground insulation rather than refrigeration), but the evolution has always been one and the same with that of this centuries old French Champagne house’s first priority, which is producing the finest wines. “We believe that you achieve this through healthy vines,” say Crane, while adding, “you want to be part of something that’s not just for the moment… we want people to enjoy their jobs and the vines.”

I’ll toast to that, which brings up our organic wine match of the day: the 2005 Domaine Carneros Brut (about $26); and make no mistake, this is as fine a sparkler made in California, organic grapes or not. In the classic Taittinger style, the highlight is its texture – creamy smooth, like waves of silk caressing the lips – and wispy fragrances of wildflowers, baking apples, rising bread and buttery slivers of toasted hazelnut, extending over a long, zesty palate of distinct delicacy.

Light and lovely sparklers like this certainly don’t need food to be complete; like food, its refined effervescence is resuscitative in itself. But you can also think of the Domaine Carneros in the same way as you would most lighter bodied, dry or off-dry white wines with crisp, sharply defined acidity that freshens dishes like squeezes of lemon. White fish and minerally shellfish (shrimp, crab, oysters and lobster) are naturals, especially in the form of sashimi, tartare, seviche, salsas, Hawaiian poke, or in salads with mild, winey vinaigrettes.

Authentic Hawaiian Poke

Speaking of which, have you ever had authentic Hawaiian poke (pronounced POH-kay)? Even in the Islands, the variations are endless, but I can’t say that most Mainland renditions, done at the hands of “creative” chefs, come decently close to the Hawaiian originals. When in doubt, stick to the simple, original style, in which you can taste the ocean itself.

Although the early Hawaiian fishermen didn’t use soy sauce or chiles (their poke was probably no more than chopped seaweed, rock salt and ground kukui nuts), this is a version considered basic in Hawai`i today:

2 lbs. sashimi grade ‘ahi tuna, cut into bite-sized cubes (poke means “cut piece”)
½ cup soy sauce
3/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1-2 tbsp. Hawaiian (preferably) rock salt, to taste
1 or 2 red chile peppers (small Thai types), cored, seeded and finely minced
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
½-1 cup limu kohu (seaweed), chopped
1 tbsp. toasted macadamia nuts (ground or finely chopped)

Making this is simply a matter of tossing and mixing (chill before serving); and if you do it often, you end up going by feel rather than measurements. Although the reddish-brown limu seaweed is a key ingredient in the Islands, you can enjoy the pure taste of poke style tuna – with which a dry, yeasty, refined sparkler like Domaine Carneros washes over like a hissing, foamy soft wave climbing up a feathery, golden sand Hawaiian beach – without it.

The sesame seeds are another nice option; if you find the seeds plain, you can toast them by placing them in a small dry saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until golden brown (about three minutes). Finally, although I can usually do without the macadamia nuts, I’d add it in for the Domaine Carneros because, like the sesame seeds, it offers a nice flavor bridge to the wine’s toasted nut nuances. To toast whole macadamias, spread them over a baking sheet in a preheated 300° F. oven 5-6 minutes, until lightly browned, and… aloha!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

CHEESE & WINE FACTS

I plan to post a CHEESE & WINE blog weekly on the site.
My goal is to educate, somewhat intellectually, you, the reader about cheese and wine.
Once you understand the basic facts, you can apply this knowledge when shopping
in a specialty store, entertaining or just showing off your newly found cheese and wine knowledge.
I plan, also, to try to educate everyone regarding basic food and drink pairings, not specifically wine.
Feel free to send comments or blog ideas to me at: Philip.Kampe@thewinehub.com
Philip S. Kampe

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Small in Size, BIG in Stature

They are all looking for representation in North America and they have all travelled from the Abruzzo and Puglia regions of Italy to show off the wines they make and some very interesting grape varietals. The Abruzzo region is one of those well hidden secrets but is gaining in popularity as a tourist destination in recent years, especially amongst Italians and other Europeans. If you are looking at a map of Italy, look at the back side of “the boot” about half way up – mid calf as I like to put it – and you will find the region of Abruzzo. It is a fairly mountainous region in Italy but their economy is very diversified making it a region that appeals to a lot of different types of people for a variety of different reasons. Looking a little further down “the boot” you find the region of Puglia, which is basically the heel of the boot. For the most part, Puglia is very flat land but there are some mountainous regions at the top of the region. Wine has always played an important role in Puglia’s economy which has seen the land occupied by Romans, Greeks, Hannibal’s forces, Goths, Lombards, Byzantines and the Normans.

Within the tasting, both Abruzzo and Puglia were represented equally with three wineries a piece. As I mentioned at the beginning, all of these wineries were looking for representation and a chance to break into the North American market. Some of these wines, for that reason alone, were priced EXTREMELY REASONABLY and, it would not surprise me that, in future vintages, we see the prices of these wines steadily increase because they simply tasted that great. From the Abruzzo region of Italy, we found

Azienda Agricola CIAVOLICH Giuseppe
Cantina COLLE MORO Societa Cooperativa Agricola
PEPERONCINO Vini

with a wide variety of white and red wines to sample. Cantina COLLE MORO had one white wine that stood out incredibly well – 2007 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. If you are unfamiliar with Italian grapes – since they do not use the same grapes that North American wineries use – Trebbiano is a very common white grape used in a variety of applications. It is widely used in Cognac production as well as table wines but with the table wines, it does not have a lot of aging ability so it is best drunk when young. This particular wine reminded me a lot of a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. There was a mineral component to the taste but it was also light and fruity. The aromas were the kind that are really hard to distinguish but were very interesting nonetheless. Aside from the Trebbiano grape, a couple of the other wineries brought wines that contain the Pecorino grape in styles that were both oaked and un-oaked. The oaked versions showed great balance and a lingering finish in the taste while the un-oaked styles were crisp and light and meant to be drunk young.

While Cantina COLLE MORO excelled at making great white wines, their red wines seemed to be lacking something – possibly they just needed time or were experiencing some bottle shock. However, where the other wineries had been okay with their white wines, the red wines they were offering is where they were definitely excelling this day. The region of Abruzzo is very well known for using a grape called Montepulciano, which should not be confused with a town of the same name in the Tuscany region of Italy. Montepulciano (the grape) is a grape with a lot of fruit flavours to it that makes it best served young. However, the wines featured today tend to prove otherwise because we had a couple of wines there that were knocking our socks off and were already well in advance of five years old. Cantina COLLE MORO was definitely sticking with the light, easy drinking style of this grape which made for a lovely way to start the tasting but as we progressed through the wineries, the older versions were really holding up and made for some interesting revelations.

Azienda Agricola CIAVOLICH Giuseppe had brought three different versions of their red wines, each containing 100% Montepulciano, but with different levels of aging. The first wine – Ancilla – which means “younger” was their 2007 vintage which had an amazing ruby colour to it accompanying light and fruity flavours. It was very easy drinking and definitely fit into the dangerous category because you could easily drink a bottle of this and not realize what you had just done. Personally, I would love this on a hot summer day, by the pool with some simple foods – bruschetta, antipasto, stuff like that. Their next wine was their 2006 Divus which was 100% Montepulciano but had spent some time in old French barriques as well as stainless steel. The extra year of aging plus the introduction of oak made this wine very fruit forward but with a spicy backbone – very yummy! The final wine that CIAVOLICH brought they have called Antrum which translates into “cave” representing the locale of the winery back in Italy – it is built into the side of a mountain. This was their 2003 vintage so it is close to six years old now, is more than ready to drink and can only be described with one word – WOW!

The final winery from Abruzzo – Peperoncino Vini – brought two Montepulciano’s for us to try representing two different vintages. This winery’s focus was to show how the grape can progress from one year to the next with the only difference being that of Mother Nature and what has happened in the vineyard over the year. They started us out with their Capestrano 2007 which was fruit forward with a slight hint of smoke in the aromas. There was some good structure to this wine with medium tannins so it is more than possible to age this for a couple of years to smooth it out and make it really easy to drink. Fruity with backbone is the best way to describe the flavours. The second wine they offered us was called Trita’no 2006 which is also 100% Montepulciano but had spent some time in larger barrels for less amount of time which made some very noticeable changes in the aroma and taste. The aromas were very earthy – mushrooms, vegetables, etc – while the tastes were spicy and fruity. The best way to describe this wine was either a spicy Australian Shiraz or an intense red Zinfandel from California. Since those are two of my favourite types of wines from around the world (or at least in terms of red wines) this wine rapidly became one of my top picks for the afternoon.

Making our way down the coast of the Adriatic Sea, we reach the region of Puglia. This area of Italy has a very diversified history over the years. Due to its geographic location, Puglia was an important strategic location for invading troops in ancient times but, in modern times, have come to count agriculture, manufacturing and, more recently, tourism as major components to their economic makeup.

Given that wine is in their blood in Puglia, it was not at all surprising the quality and character of the wines we tasted that afternoon. From the whites to the reds, there were several great examples of tasty, well made, quality wines – some of which were at extremely reasonable prices. One winery in particular stood out for me that afternoon – L’Antica Cantina San Severo. The gentleman who was representing the winery that day was explaining to us that they are really anxious to break into the North American wine market so they have priced their wines at a level that, they hope, makes for an easy entry into our wine market. L’Antica Cantina San Severo had brought four wine s – one white and three reds – and all of them brought something interesting and exciting to the table. The one white wine – their Castrum White – is actually a blend of three grapes: Trebbiano, Bombino Bianco and Malvasia. The variety in the grapes made for an interesting combination of flavours and aromas. There was a slight mineral aroma introducing you to this wine but the flavours were very light and easy drinking. A good balance of acidity and light fruit, there was also an effervescent quality to the wine making it truly refreshing and inviting that would be perfect on a hot summer day. The first two red wines they had available for tasting were blends of Montepulciano and Sangiovese. The Castrum Red and the Red San Severo DOC The Portal were both great examples of everything these two grapes have to offer – fruity, spicy, some earthy components and a good back bone making aging a possibility if you are so inclined. The final wine from L’Antica Cantina San Severo was their Nobiles Uva di Troia which is a unique grape unto itself. Uva di Troia is a grape that is indigenous to Puglia but is adaptable enough that it can be grown elsewhere due to its comfort level in a variety of soils. The grapes have a violet coloured red skin to them, are aggressive when on the vine and ripen mid season. It can be used on its own, like it was here, but is also used in blends alongside Bombino Nero, Montepulciano and Sangiovese to add some complexity to the finished product. This particular Uva di Troia did not have much in terms of aromas but the flavours were powerful with great backbone, tannins and structure. Considering that all of these wines were being priced to come in at less than $10 Canadian once they enter our market, L’Antica Cantina San Severo is definitely making wines of amazing value and, once they are here, I highly recommend picking up several bottles before they raise their prices in later vintages.

Now, aside from L’Antica Cantina, there were two other wineries representing the Puglia region of Italy – Antica Enotria and Casaltrinita. Antica Enotria was the one winery that did not bring any white wines with them and is also completely organic in their operation. Now, normally, the organic wines I have had in the past have not impressed me much but this time was definitely different. These are definitely wines I would be adding to my collection if they were available to purchase in our market and, hopefully, they will be very shortly. They brought four different wines, representing four different grapes, and all were single varietals – Sangiovese, Montepulciano (called Falu), Nero di Troia and Aglianico. We already know that Sangiovese and Montepulciano are very fruit forward wines – lots of berry, chocolate and spice flavours are common for their taste profiles. Organic wines (or at least those commonly found in North American markets) tend to have a slightly bitter aftertaste with them which some people do not enjoy. I have definitely encountered wines like that but what made these different is that they were silky smooth on the palate with no unpleasant aftertastes. The tannins were completely mellowed out and considering that none of the wines were more than three years old – with most of them only being a year and a half – that is phenomenal for an organic wine. Moving along to the Nero di Troia, a colleague of mine actually detected a bit of an aroma similar to Madeira when we tasted this wine. It was faint but it was there which is rather interesting considering they are very different grapes and different production methods from regions that are thousands of miles apart. This wine was very powerful and complex making it a wine that would pair well with a wide variety of foods. The final wine on their table was their Aglianico which is an Italian grape varietal that is relatively new to this region. Traditionally from Campania and Basilicata regions of Italy, there have been traces of these vines found in Puglia and some wineries have been experimenting with making it into a single varietal wine. It is known for high tannins and a slightly pungent nose but if you have the patience to age a bottle or two, than it can be a very rewarding wine – it just needs some time.

The final winery of the day was Casaltrinita and they brought some very unique grapes unlike many of the others available today. Their one white wine is made from the Greco grape which is virtually unheard of here in North America. The aromas were a combination of fruit, honey and mineral which continued on to the palate. For a white wine, it was very complex and very tasty – it reminded me slightly of an Off Dry Riesling. They brought a Rose wine which they had made using the Uva di Troia grape and, single handedly, it showcased everything a truly great rose wine should. The wine was full of fruity flavours and aromas, a great balance of acidity and flavour and very easy drinking. This wine was the perfect level of dryness and standing there tasting it made me want spring and summer here even faster than it was heading our way. Now, on to the red wines – Terra di Corte, Coppamalva and Nero di Troia. Right from the beginning, these wines impressed me. Terra di Corte is a blend of Nero di Troia and Merlot grapes bringing two very different grape varietals together to make a very balanced, fruit forward wine. There were some complimenting spice and cedar notes making this definitely a WOW! wine. The Coppamalva is a blend of Nero di Troia and Cabernet Sauvignon and although there was not much in terms of aromas to this wine, it had a very powerful flavour profile for us to enjoy. The final wine – Nero di Troia – was, as I am sure you guessed – 100% Nero di Troia grapes. The flavours were what made this wine very interesting – it was fruity and spicy but very light in nature which is unlike any of the other Nero di Troia wines represented in this room on that particular day.

Now, as I mentioned at the beginning, all of these wineries are trying to break into the North American market so, for any of us living in the US or Canada, it may be a while before we see any of these wines gracing our shelves. If you are in Europe, than this definitely works in your favour since you can probably find these wines on the shelves of your favourite wine shop already. If any of you are importers and are interested in bringing these wines in, feel free to post a comment or send an email and I can get you the contact information I have for the different wineries.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Marcel Deiss Engelgarten & saffroned chicken biryani

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

In Alsace, a part of France full of famous rebels – like André Ostertag, Charles Schléret, and Zind-Humbrecht’s Olivier Humbrecht – Jean-Michel Deiss (right) has played the role of absolute pariah.

It’s not so much that he took the organically cultivated vineyards inherited from his grandfather, Marcel Deiss, and turned them into biodynamic farms by 1997. The domaines of Marc Kreydenweiss, Zind-Humbrecht, Ostertag and other top Alsatian vignerons are also farmed biodynamically. More than anything, what has rubbed colleagues and local authorities the wrong way has been Deiss’ total disregard of the sanctity of singular varietal bottling; for in Alsace, the finest wines have always been bottled by the names of the great grapes of Alsace – namely, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat d’Alsace.

Instead, Deiss’ finest wines are bottled simply by the name of Marcel Deiss along with the names of their vineyard sources: such as the grand crus Schoenenbourg and Altenberg de Bergheim vineyards, and premier crus such as Burg, Rotenberg, Gruenspiel and Engelgarten. But no mention of any grape on the label.

Deiss himself says that a turning point was in 1993, when a Riesling from his Burg vineyard was criticized for not tasting like a “Riesling.” This prompted Deiss to not just remove the names of grapes from his single vineyard bottlings, but also to start planting as many as seven different varieties in his best vineyards (which, also unusually, Deiss harvests and co-ferments all at once). No more blind following of tradition, he has said, because of obligatory feelings. “I realized that the grape in a vineyard is an ingredient, but not a dish… it is wrong to transform the energy of a unique place into a ‘Riesling’… by having many varieties in Burg I am giving the terroir different letters so it can create sentences.”

Hence, no winemaker in Alsace focuses as much on terroir as Jean-Michel Deiss. As in our organic wine of the day: the 2003 Marcel Deiss Engelgarten (about $45), which is a field blend composed mostly of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Auxerrois. True to Deiss’ intentions, this white wine does not taste of any one grape; but rather, in the words of Deiss’ winemaker Marie-Hélène Christofaro (right), like a “filtering” of wine through the gravel dominating Engelgarten’s soil. Nevertheless, the nose is honeyed, suggesting ripe, juicy, white fleshed stone fruits (peach, nectarine and lychee); and a steely, austere entry gives way quickly to almost sweet, viscous sensations of the honeyed fruit, before finishing with a mouth-watering bang and emphatically stony, faintly bitter, citrus peel dryness.

Peculiar, maybe even strange… yes. Expressive and flavorful… ditto.

Saffroned Chicken Biryani

And you know what I love even more about the Engelgarten? This wine’s electrifying minerality and multi-grape fruit complexity make a match for dishes few other wines in the world are up to handling. No, I’m not talking Asian/fusion sweet, sour, salty, or spicy food sensations. I’m thinking specifically of dishes dominated by the flavor of saffron – that wild, indescribably pure, organic seasoning derived directly from the stigma of the crocus flower.

Of course, being a wine guy, I do have words for saffron. To me, saffon infused foods suggest sea water, citrus peel, burnt hay, roasted clove, warm humus, dusty velvet, sun dried fruit and sex. I know many people say saffron makes them laugh, and many others just smile. Me, I just get hungry, like for this Kuwaiti style dish of saffroned chicken biryani, adapted from Peter Mentzel and Faith d’Aluisio’s Hungry Planet:

2½ cups basmati rice
1 tsp. saffron, soaked 10 minutes in warm water
2 tsp. canola oil
2 medium sweet onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp. fresh ginger, minced
1 whole chicken (about 4 lbs.), cut into pieces
salt (to taste)
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
3 tsp. allspice
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup plain yogurt
1 medium fresh tomato, diced
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Optional garnishes:
1 medium sweet onion, minced (fried to brown crispness)
¼ cup golden raisins, fried
1/8 cup crushed cashews, fried
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

Heat Dutch oven pot on stove and add oil; when oil is hot, add onions, garlic, and ginger, and sauté until onions are transluscent. Add chicken pieces, salt, coriander, turmeric, 1 tsp. of allspice, yogurt, tomato and lemon juice. Stir over moderate heat for 7 minutes, taking care to prevent yogurt from boiling. Add water to cover chicken, with salt to taste; cover with lid and cook at high simmer for 45 minutes. Towards end, preheat oven to 350°.

Add rice to pot with butter, saffron and remaining allspice; stir to combine. Cover pot with aluminum foil and pot lid, and cook in oven for 45 minutes. In meantime, prepare garnishes (fry raisins and cashews with onions). Remove pot from oven, stir to combine, sprinkle over garnishes, and serve.

Vinos Sin-Ley M4 Monastrell 2006

While other vintages of this producer came away with numbers that would appeal to any "Score Whore" out there, the 2006 was assigned 89. Since I love both the 89 Project and the varietal, monastrell, how could I resist? I snatched the bottle up. The winemaker's notes say:The 2006 M4 is from Bullas. Dark ruby-colored, this strong effort has a classy nose of smoke, pencil lead, mineral, and blueberry. Ripe and mouth-filling, the wine is well-balanced and long in the finish. "Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate89 Points.

Hmmm. Yes, I definitely agree. Very pretty color. Less fruit than I would have expected and a lot more mineral notes. While this is a tasty, easy drinking wine, it had a little too large a scoop of the bitterness that can drive people away from mourvedre. Examples I prefer are the delightful Juan Gill Monastrell or Cline we had at Wine Bar Wednesdays past. Opened several days, the aroma converted to cocoa powder dusted blueberries and the flavors became more chocolaty with a solid core of dark berry. At $11.99, this is a nice every day wine. It is worth picking up especially if you like less fruit forward wines and want to try something different.

Cabriz Colheita Selecionada 2007

Hopefully you will be able to find this great value wine where you are. Our newest BrixChick, Janesta, has a predilection for white wine. So, when she dropped by, I pulled this out of my fridge, furtively scratched off the $6.99 price tag and hoped for the best. Delightful! The nose had a lovely scent of dried pineapple and fresh coconut. A pale citrine color, the mouthfeel was almost silky. The wine itself was possessed of a well balanced acidity. The flavors when first opened were yummy with hints of green apple and stone fruit. As it opened up, it took on custardy hints of tarte tatin, underscored by a subtle twist of lemon, which I enjoyed very much. I paired it with whole wheat bread and a nice salty Garroxta.

Winemaker Carlos Lucas blends Malvasia Fina (20%), Cerceal(20%), Bical,(20%) Encruzado (40%) from the producer Dao Sul. The importer's website describes the vinification as: "Total destemming of the grapes pressed by pneumatic vacuum press followed by staging in stainless steel vats only. 3 months later the wine was filtered and bottled ready for immediate pleasure". And the wine totally delivered! I will be on the prowl for more Portuguese delights!


Friday, February 6, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Tandem Porter-Bass Chardonnay & roasted lemon chicken

Chard, schmard… if you think all California Chardonnays taste like Kendall-Jackson’s, you’re missing out on many of the world’s greatest wines, my friend. There’s a reason why, for instance, those French judges rated Chateau Montelena’s Chardonnay better than the finest of France way back in 1976, re the in/famous Judgement of Paris (recently part-fictionalized in the film, Bottle Shock): simply put, the Chardonnay grape excels in Californian terroirs.

California vintners have advanced viticultural and oenological light years since 1976. They’ve gone so far, so fast, in fact, that the best of them today are back to where the grape started: with more authentic clones, more sustainable vineyards in cooler climates, and barrel fermenting as naturally as possible in ways pretty much like what’s been done in France for centuries.

Winemakers like Greg La Follette of Tandem Winery are highly regarded among other California winemakers precisely because he takes so many “natural” risks: starting with pristinely grown fruit, and doing as little to it as possible to extract levels of viscosity, muscle, and terroir related minerality many connoisseurs thought possible only in Burgundy where the grape originated.

Behold, the 2005 Tandem Porter-Bass Chardonnay from a mature site (planted over 100 years ago) in the coldest, far western section California’s Russian River Valley, meticulously tilled by both organic and biodynamic standards to yield wines like this: unusually floral (like white ginger and citrus blossoms) fragrances mingling with aromas of wet stones, crème brûlée, honeyed almonds and baking brioche; the creamy, mineral and citrus flavors riding on a tart edged, silken body that is neither light nor heavy, but dense, steely, sinewy in texture.

In other words, absolutely nothing resembling the soft, fluffy, weighty style of wine associated with 99% of other California Chardonnays. Okay, Tandem Chardonnays are rare and pricey ($35-$40), but it gives me an excuse to talk about how Chardonnays like this (producers such as Littorai, Au Bon Climat, Keller and DuhNah make similar Burgundian style wines) match food like nobody’s business. A French sommelier might recommend sweetbreads or chicken like Bocuse’s poulet de bresse or à l’estragon (Julia Child has the best recipe for the latter, the whole chicken rubbed inside and out with butter and stuffed with tarragon), but what about us American philistines?

The idea behind sweetbreads or roasted chicken is to give an oaky, full alcohol Chardonnay a white meat fatty or oily enough to grip. Herbs like tarragon and dill amplify the sweet, creamy notes of well oaked Chardonnays, and sage helps define both fruit and stony qualities of the grape itself. But the one recipe I’ve always found to work best with more crisply acidic Chardonnays from both France and California is Marcella Hazan’s classic Roasted Chicken with Lemon – simple, satisfying!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Enough is Enough

The Wine Content Act in Ontario is actually not something new – it has been around in one form or another since 1972. Over the years there have been many changes to the act with the most recent visible change happening in January of 2001 when the wine content act was changed to allow a minimum of 30% Ontario-grown product and a maximum of 70% imported product in the “Cellared in” or “Cellared by” category. In actuality, the Wine Content Act had an expiry date of December 31st 2000 which, quite obviously, has been ignored by our politicians and has continued to remain in effect.

Now, not only are there no crop shortages, which is what precipitated the current changes to the Wine Content Act, but our grape growers are facing surpluses because the government is encouraging the LCBO to market the “Cellared In” or “Cellared By” wines side by side with wine made by our wineries using grapes that came from our soils. My father actually came to me just a couple of days ago because he had been in a local LCBO store and seen how the Cellared in Canada wine was on the exact same shelf as some of the smaller wineries he recognizes from my rather large collection of wine. It is a bit of sore point with me and I explained to my Dad that it is because the Cellared in Canada wine shares shelf space with legitimate 100% Ontario wines with no distinction in quality visible to the average consumer that I absolutely refuse to buy any wines from Ontario in a LCBO store. There are 160 wineries operating within the province of Ontario…how many do you think are available on the shelves of the LCBO. At last check, less than 25 of them are available according to the LCBO’s website. They then turn around and put “Cellared in” wines side by side with the lucky twenty five wineries who grace their shelves and it is not much wonder that the remaining 135 wineries are struggling, have grape surpluses and, in general, are having a hard time surviving from year to year. The true shame in all of this is that these smaller wineries continually make unique and interesting wines that most people are missing out on.

When people from other countries around the world hear about Ontario wine, or wine from Canada in general, they tend to look down on it thinking our table wines are awful tasting, of low quality and not worth wasting time on. At the other end of the scale they think our very pricey Icewines. Although Icewine is one of my personal favourites and I do have quite a few in my cellar, there is so much more to wine from our country than Icewine. With the next set of Olympics set to take place a year from now in Vancouver and Whistler area, you would think that this would be the perfect time to showcase just how great Canadian wine can be. Now, since the Olympics are in BC, then it does stand to reason that the Olympic Committee would choose a BC wine. Well, they did…SORT OF! There is a buzz going around the wine community, which we are trying to get the word out around here on about how The Official Wine of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver/Whistler is actually one of these horrid “Cellared in Canada” wines. The winery making the official wine is one of the larger, conglomerate wineries who are only interested in making a profit and, in the meantime, it is damaging our industry in a variety of ways.

Cellared in Canada wines only require 30% of the content to be made from Canadian grapes. The remaining 70% comes from another country that is more than willing to cut a deal on their juice. Chile is one of the more commonly used countries in this scenario and, although Chile does make some great wines, you can be sure that they are not giving the good stuff away to us Canadians. Now, picture yourself as someone who is new to wine, living in Ontario and you want to try something new and exciting. So, you make a trip to your local LCBO, because you don’t realize you can actually go straight to the winery and get some really amazing wines that will never see the light of day on the shelves of the LCBO, and you see some wines that are much more “reasonably” priced than the other wines on the shelf. Since you are not interested in spending a lot of your hard earned money on something you may not like, you pick up the cheaper Cellared in Canada wine as opposed to wine made from 100% Ontario grapes. Now, you take that bottle of wine home, crack it open, and you can’t stand the taste of it. No biggie – it only cost you $10 anyway so down the drain it goes – but what kind of opinion do you now have of Canadian wines…NOT A GOOD ONE! The problem with this scenario is that you now think that all Canadian wine tastes like this and you are not overly inclined to try wines made by us, even though what you have just tasted was made up of 70% wine that came from ANOTHER COUNTRY! With situations like this, it is not much wonder that the Canadian wine industry is looked down upon for creating inferior table wines or overpriced Icewine.

So, how do we get around this? Well, if you live in Canada or if you are elsewhere around the world and see Cellared in Canada wine, there is a group of us who HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you boycott any wines whose label contains the words “Cellared In” or “Cellared By”. If you are part of the media – newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV or radio – use your voice. Our government needs to realize just how damaging this situation is to our farmers, our grape growers, our wineries and our PUBLIC IMAGE. Given the state of the economy in North America, we really cannot afford to keep up the practices that the Wine Content Act has forced upon us in the last ten years. Enough is enough – stand up for your country, your jobs and your way of life!

Organic wine & food matching: Vertvs Tempranillo & Hawaiian beef stew

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

There’s a memorable story in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, told by the faithful Sancho Panza, of the great wine judges in his lineage; particularly, two on his father’s side who were once challenged to identify a wine from a barrel. The first one brought the wine to the tip of his tongue, and declared the flavor of iron. The second one just needed to pass it under his nose before declaring a stronger flavor of cordovan leather. The owner of the wine protested, however, saying his wine was perfectly clean, with no trace of iron or leather. Days later, though, after the wine was sold and the barrel emptied, cellarers found a small iron key at the bottom of the barrel, hanging by a thong of leather.

The story of these men from La Mancha took place at the start of the 1600s, during the same period of time Cervantes wrote his epic tale. Sometimes we forget how old the fine arts – like literature, wine judging, and great winemaking – really are.

There are written records from the court of King Pedro I of Castilla in Spain, for instance, dating Bodegas Iranzo back to 1335. Evidently, the family of Iranzo Perez-Duque is still going strong after over six hundred years, as our organic wine of the day – Iranzo’s 2003 Vertvs Tempranillo Crianza (about $14) – is as bright, rose petal fresh, raisiny ripe and round as any red wine in the world. Doing justice to the Spanish connoisseurs of olde, Doug Frost MW/MS goes further by describing it as “layered and vibrant… soft… a little grippy… red raspberry, cooked cranberries, blueberry hints…” and whom, bodacious mis amigos, am I to argue?

The vineyard plantings of Bodegas Iranzo – in the region of Utiel-Requena, made up of lime-crusted sandy soils in hills some 2,700 ft. in elevation, just off the Mediterranean coast near Valencia – are also fortunate enough to be located in the middle of a National Reserve Park, and for centuries were cultivated naturally, without the use of modern day chemicals or fertilizers. So it was simply natural for this estate to attain, in 1994, one of Spain’s first EU/Agricultura Ecológica certifications; and the first in all of Spain to receive USDA National Organic Program accreditation as well.

Bodegas Iranzo’s fertilizers, as it were, are derived from sheep manure from extensively farmed flocks within the district; and the family has encouraged further biodiversity, since the 1950s, by maintaining a program of reforestation on some 75 acres of surrounding land with native woodland species, as well as the establishment of a nearby flora micro-reserve.

Hawaiian Beef Stew

But all this is beside the most important point for us: the wine makes damned good drinking; full flavored, yet soft and warming on the palate. It’s this kind of wine, in fact, that always makes me think of soft, warming dishes like Louisiana style red beans and rice, or Mexican machaca (shredded beef). But since I’m from the Islands, I have to say that it may be even better with a luscious tomato, carrot and beef studded Hawaiian beef stew, which comes in as many variations as Islanders who cook. This recipe -- adapted from Muriel Miura and Betty Shimabukuro’s What Hawai’i Likes to Eat -- is pretty much basic, but guaranteed deliciousness:

2 lbs. lean stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup flour
¼ cup canola oil
2 medium sized sweet onions, wedged
1 clove garlic, pressed
5 cups water
2 bay leaves, broken in half
½ cup red wine (or dry sherry)
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 cans (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (13.5 oz.) whole or stewed tomatoes
4 carrots, about ¾ inch chunks
4 potatoes, pared and quartered
1 cup sliced celery

Dredge beef in flour; brown lightly on all sides in hot oil. Add onions and garlic; brown lightly. Add water and bay leaves; simmer 1½ hours, or until beef is tender. Add remaining ingredients; simmer additional 30-60 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. If desired, thicken stew with flour water mixture. Serves 6-8, and strongly recommended with steamed white Japanese rice.