Thursday, January 5, 2012

Root 1 Carmenére 2009

Come on….Don’t deny it. You do, and in fact we all do it. What is it? Look now, it’s a little late and you’re rushed to get home after work; so you bolt into the local convenience quickie stop to grab a jar of red sauce and a bottle of cheap grocery store wine. You know what I’m talking about: that acrylic/glass container with the catchy label filled with high alcohol easy fruity yummy deliciousness for two bucks off the regular retail price. I was pressed into such a situation last night. Yes, yes, I purchased the obligatory pre-fab red sauce and a bottle of the shelf ubiquitous Root 1 Carmenére 2009. How could I resist with those couple of dollars shaved off the usual $11.99 down to $9.99?

In so far as every day recognition is concerned, Carmenére is not a varietal rolling over the tongue and down the gullet for a majority of us. Originally found in the Medoc region of Bordeaux in the pre-phylloxera days of the 18th and early 19th century, it served as a companion with Petit Verdot for many of the wines produced there. Now, however, it has found a home in Chili as a single varietal bottling.

This Root 1 ’09 is actually a blend of 90% Carmenére with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah giving it a little boost. To the eye it revealed transparency and a shining quality with a few specks of sediment and a ring of large bubbles clinging to the inner diameter of the glass. At first the bubbles gave concern about some “secondary” fermentation still going on, but ultimately that was not the case.

Right out of the bottle this Carmenére blasted a medicinal quality and a jaggedness on both the nose and the palate, but fortunately they dissipated after a few minutes and the wine rounded out.

Aromatically the wine exhibited itself to be quite healthy with a medium-plus intensity while still lingering in the primary fruit stage. Deep dark ripe fruit along the lines of blackberry, dark raspberry and cherry dominated and companioned with some vanilla, light caramel, smoky spice, (was that a violet?), and hints of warm crushed stones. But peeking around the corner lurked a twiggy, green vine-like note.

Once on the palate the dark fruit hung in there mingled with some char, leather and stirrings of minerality. Acidity approached a medium level while the ripe moderate tannins held everything together. The 14% alcohol was nicely integrated, resulting in a mid-weight body, although there was just a smidge of thinness flowing through the mid-palate. The wine finished modestly with the prominent aspects char and minerality: akin to a smoldering camp fire with the ring of stones still warm from the night before.

But hey…for the price this is a good wine value. And after a long exhausting day with some pasta—you know it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ferrari-Carrano Siena 2009 Sonoma County Red Wine

Tasting Note:

Sangiovese/Malbec/Syrah from Ferrari-Carrano Vineyards and Winery.

To the eye it was clear and shining. The color was a translucent with a dark ruby core radiating out to a dark pink rim. Overall the wine was quite young looking with an abrupt and well defined  variation from the dark ruby to the dark pink.

Right out of the bottle and into the glass without any swirling huge aromas of dark cherries, ripe red plums, sweet vanilla, caramel and some other “candied-ness” overwhelmed the nose. But after a minute or two the wine settles down revealing stones and violets teased by a background of tea and twigs.

The same fruit sensed on the nose also found its way onto the palate, with the addition of some smoke/applewood char. The texture was near to velvet in the beginning but was halted from going any farther by the partially integrated alcohol. (The alcohol does blow off  after ten minutes or so). As far as weight and body are concerned, there occurs a modest thinning in the movement from the mid-palate to the finish. Acidity was mouthwatering and constantly encouraging me to drink more, while enough easy ripe tannins existed to hold it all together. The finish was medium in length exhibiting lingering fruit and smoke. I would judge the wine to be rather well balanced, unless the usual California alcohol heat is troublesome for you. Recommended.

I found this wine at Enoteca Wine & Provisions in Shelburne, VT., for $15.99.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Domaine de Reuilly Pinot Noir 2009

Recently I ran into a French  Pinot Noir from the Kermit Lynch Collection aged in stainless steel that caught my attention more so than any other stainless Pinot I’ve tasted. Admittedly I’m not a cheerleader for pinots not aged in wood. Usually they’re insipid and lack inspiration, other than for a rapid road to the market place. But the 2009 Reully Rouge 2009 from Domaine de Reully is a refreshing exception.

At first it approaches you with an undeniable freshness and delicacy, yet paradoxically resting on a foundation of strength. Vibrant red fruit, raspberries and the typical Pinot Noir aroma drive the nose and palate. The acidity is bright and mouthwatering; while the tannins are medium strength with some grip: all this adds up to an excellent food wine. Overall this pinot was balanced (although the alcohol was more than I expected) with a medium finish of spiciness.

For food pairings one might consider sautéed poultry and game birds where some red berries or beets are involved in the preparation or on the side. There are enough tannins and acidity in this wine to handle lighter meats, veal for instance, that are moderately grilled or roasted. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wine Into Vinegar: Top Labels Turn Sour--Caymus, Nickel & Nickel, Chappellet

Why would anyone want to deliberately transform top label California and Italian wine into vinegar? Who is this twisted alchemist and insane asylum escapee?  May I introduce Thee Professor Fheel Tripod.  I’m not using his real name so as to circumvent any difficulties with his employment and professional standing, as well as preventing any shame and embarrassment to his family. Now speaking of his family: he has a pretty wife and a handsome young son; so what happened to him? It’s just one of those circumstances where the universe plays that cruel joke. OK..I hear you, stop dwelling on his physical liabilities and deformities,  and get on with the vinegar riff.
One more thing in order to better understand why he does this wine to vinegar process. Not so long ago he was relating how he managed to work for the Grateful Dead and do 349 straight gigs. Of course I had to inquire, “Yo Prof ,why stop at 349 and not hit 350?
“Well, ahh, Jerry kicked it. [Silence, staring at the floor.] You know man, Garcia dying was the best thing that ever happened to me…f**k…”
So now that we understand the mental engine behind the process, let’s take a look at the vinegars. He makes what he calls his “industrial level.” This stuff is made from lower tier labels such as Double Dog Dare Syrah from CA.,  and considered for every day use. The premium rank vinegars originate mostly from well known expensive labels such as Caymus. The mother he started out with is well beyond 5 years old. (The last link to the original batch is in a bottle of Chateau Palmer).  Currently many of the bottles are inoculated with acetobacter strains he’s been developing for little over a year. Before we head into the tasting notes be aware that these vinegars are at full strength, somewhere around 24% acetic acid. The usual range for Thee Prof's vinegars is between 14% and 26%, with a ph falling into the spread between 4.6 to 5.2. The following notes are mostly for those bottles with the premium labels and in order of tasting.

Moscato Spumante IL Cortegiano NV Dolce
This was one of the first ones he introduced to some professional chefs in the DC/MD area. I believe it was used in a reduction for a scallop dish that brought rave reviews from Robert Parker. (You all know who he is, right?) Prof Fheel uses a Barbera starter/mother (stay in the Piedmont I guess) to inoculate the Moscato. It exhibits a light rose´ color, from the Barbera. The acidity was actually somewhat soft considering it was undiluted strength. Aromatically in the nose and on the palate those typical aspects of orange blossom, honey and grapeiness revealed themselves in nicely defined layers. Very unique stuff and worth having to play around with.

Caymus, Napa 2006
            Color dark red plum. Palate very smooth with flavors of dark red raspberries.

Nickel & Nickel Merlot Oakville 2005
            Flavor of dark red plums with a note of sweetness as it finishes.

The Blend: Chappellet Napa Cab 2006, Catena Malbec 2007, Clos Apalta Merlot 2005.
            Darker than either of the Caymus or the Nickel & Nickel. Very bright brick red. Intensity of this one is medium, yet there’s some kind of indescribable subtly to it. The Cabernet dominates the blend with currants and violets. The body is medium plus. This one is extremely smooth and the most complex so far.

Casisano-Colombaio Brunello Reserva 1999 (Insane huh?)
            My favorite of all! Russet color. Gorgeous layering of tart cherries, earth and wood. Without a doubt the absolute smoothest and balanced of all. Incredible vinegar. Beg for it.

            The last time we spoke he had a quantity of the industrial vinegar working and should be ready quite soon. However his stores of the premium labeled juice sold out quickly to restaurant chefs, but he does have more evolving and should be ready in the near future. If you want to get a hold of him to see what will be released shortly, you can find Thee Prof at, or at Twitter: P3Vins.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Palena, DC A Restaurant Review

In my endeavor to try out most of the restaurants in the neighborhood, I elected to finally give Palena a go of it. Friends and professional acquaintances have all recommended the place to me, as one that provides well prepared, technically correct dishes. And it is consistently ranked highly in all of the local DC rags.

It was a Tuesday evening. I went unaccompanied and sat at the bar around 6:30 pm. The bartender greeted me warmly and offered the wine list and menu, and went on to explain how the menu works in the café area of the restaurant. A skinny kid with a slight attitude: the usual young cha-chy type whom DC restaurants seem to prefer over experience and knowledge.

In the café/bar area one can choose ala carte from the café menu proper, or ala carte from the dining room menu or take advantage of the 3 available prix fix options. I selected the “Pipe Dreams Farm Shoat Belly: Lightly Smoked & Braised with Coddled Organic Hen Egg, Caramelized Cauliflower and a Black Trumpet Mushroom and Salsify Veloute,” from the dining room menu.

First an aperitif in a glass of Bellenda Prosecco di Conegliana—Valdobbiadene Brut 2008. It came to me fresh and lively, a real feat for By-the-Glass. It was simple and unpretentious, as one would expect from a good Prosecco. There was some nice pear fruit present with just the right amount of acidity to keep it all wound together. There was an interesting texture and mild heft to it which I didn’t expect. The mousse was medium and not particularly coarse. The finish was moderate yet clean. This little sparkler without a doubt reinforces my preference for first courses one doesn’t have to chew.

By now you’re probably gripping the edges of your laptop screen agonizing in anticipation and the same ignorance I felt—what the f**k is a shoat? “Why sir, it’s a baby pig,” the bartender informed me with that glaring chip on his shoulder and the look of knowing condescension smeared all over his smirking face. So I ordered it and sipped my Prosecco awaiting the entrée’s arrival.

Less than ten minutes later the shoat emerged from the kitchen in funeral procession carried by its former mother: the thirty something female with the obvious trappings of assistant manager. The dish was visually well composed and set within the now obligatory wide rimmed bowl so fashionable in many restaurants nowadays.  A simple plate would have satisfied the individual components and the gestalt they comprised. The lightly smoked shoat belly was very tasty in and of itself, except for the approximate teaspoon of cartilage I had to remove from my mouth. Have you ever noticed there’s no graceful way to expel unwanted particles of inedible nasty bits onto your fork and then transfer to some far off Siberian corner of the plate, in hopes they don’t re-mingle with the surviving good stuff? Tis especially soooo not dainty when one looks like a state prison guard such as I.

The coddled egg was cute and cooked perfectly. Hey bacon and eggs—my favorite meal! What I didn’t understand were the paper thin over cooked slices of cauliflower micro florets. I can envision how, in theory, they’d provide textual contrast, yet in practice they really served no purpose hiding under the braised belly. Now the black trumpet and salsify veloute; it was, well, black and bland. It didn’t stand up to the belly nor the egg. I anticipated what never was to be there: some mushroom earthiness and the oyster nuanced like flavor from the salsify.

Immediately after the presentation of the entrée I asked for a glass of red wine. My good buddy the bartender tried to steer me toward Barbera. Well…no. I felt the Ridge Zin, Three Valleys 2008 would be more to my sense of pairing, but they were out. So then he suggested a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot from the Piedmont. Well…no again. It was tired; must’ve been opened since Saturday. Finally I chose the regional level Bordeaux comprised primarily of Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon behind it. (Sorry folks, I didn’t write the name of it down.)  My favorite dude behind the bar poured the glass and hurried off to the other end of the bar. I looked at the meager glass and thought, “That little short pouring bastard.” I caught his attention immediately and he came over.

“That’s a pretty short pour isn’t it?,”
“Well sir, we pour five and a half ounces here.”
“That’s not five and a half ounces; more like four,” I countered.

And then he gave me the LOOK. Yup, that sneering gaze of distain bartenders and servers throw at you when they’ve been caught in the act or they’ve just had enough of you. Either way… At this point I was valiantly fending off the overwhelming desire to reach over the bar and thrash the cocky bugger. But true to my gentlemanly and good hearted nature, I refrained. But as some vindication, the lady dining next to me did mention that Palena is notorious for short pouring in general.

Are you bored yet? There’s dessert still to come. The dessert was very good, in fact it out paced the entrée. Sheep’s Milk Cheese Cake crusted with Coconut and Chocolate, with Stewed Figs and Prunes. The cheese cake had a coarse/creamy texture, mild flavor and not overly sweet. The lightly toasted coconut accented it very well. However I still don’t know where the chocolate was hiding. The stewed fruit in syrup acted as a pretty good foil to the cake, but any sweeter and it would’ve dominated and ruined the balance. Couldn’t find the figs; appears something like kumquats and apricots came in off the bench during the final innings. Hey, the prunes were there and thank the universe for that at my age. There was a Vietti Moscato di Asti involved with dessert. Typical and paired well.

OK. I’ll return to give Palena another shot, but I’ll go with someone else and try the dining room prix fix to get an idea of table service. All in all I’d give the joint a 2.5 out of 4 particularly in terms of value and staff attitude.