Friday, April 30, 2010

1999 E. Guigal Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Here we go again. Just when I had practically given up on Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Enoch pulls out this basic ’99 CdP from E. Guigal. Oh, from the first whiff I was sold – the rusty metal meets juicy blood, slight gaminess inviting of meat, a touch of “bloody mary” spice, tart medley of berries with a silky and by no means thick texture. Gone the jamminess of a young CdP, this 11 year old revealed layer after layer of complexity for the entire 3 hours of the meal making me zone out the happenings of a bustling restaurant. Secondary flavors coming together like an orchestra, the fruit was still fresh and juicy but not fruity, the wine at its peak. Perfect with lamb shank, I had to order seconds just to continue reveling in the wine. The much respected ’99 Joseph Phelps Insignia came next in all of its soft and super-juicy California glory, but my hand reached for more Guigal again and again, until the last drop oozed from the bottle, sediment and all, and longingly I continued sniffing phantom vapors from the bottom of my glass. I’d eschewed critically-acclaimed Chateauneufs from legendary 1998 and 2007 vintages, prestigious cuvees costing hundreds of dollars, and yet this $40 entry-level CdP from Guigal with osso bucco was easily the most inspiring Southern Rhone I’d ever had. Not because it was a grand or fancy or sexy wine, but because it was a good good good honest wine - the kind of wine you are "going to marry" rather than have a one-night stand with (if that makes any sense to you). Holy smokes – what an evening on a cruise ship – afterwards I even sang karaoke and danced the night away, emboldened by the spell of the brilliant ’99 Guigal.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Announcing top Italian food & wine tasting - Enoteca 100 Primavera at Donato Enoteca

For those who missed the inaugural monster tasting at Donato Enoteca in Redwood City last November - shame on you! - it was an incredible and innovative event which I had the pleasure of attending and documenting here. Not only did folks get to taste amazing wines and foods for an incredible price, but also anything they liked, they could order on the spot at a good retail price, not restaurant price. People were walking away with cases! For those who attended that extravaganza, you are in for another treat, since Enoteca 100 is coming again on May 1.

Buy tickets here:
And here is the kicker. For readers of the Iron Chevsky blog, Donato Enoteca created a special promotion -- enter ironchevsky into the "discount code" field to receive a whopping 20% discount! (Note: I don't get any kickback from the restaurant - I promote them because I love what they do and because this is truly a marvelous event!)

ENOTECA 100 Primavera - Taste 100+ fine Italian Wines & Donato's Creations

The wine:
Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Franciacorta, Amarone, Valle d'Aosta, Piemonte, Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli, Toscana, Sicilia and Sardegna.

The food:
Prosciutto, Speck, Grana Padano, Asiago cheeses, Wild Boar Bruschetta, House-made Sausage, Risotto Nero, Porchetta (whole roasted pig), Grilled Wild Prawns, Agnolotti del plin, Milk Braised Baccala.

Saturday, May 1, 1-4 p.m.
VIP Preview: 12-1 p.m.

Donato Enoteca
1041 Middlefield Road
Redwood City, CA 94063
Note: Caltrain Redwood City stop is across the street from the restaurant.

VIP Preview - $70
General Admission - $55
Early Bird General Admission - $50 (limited)
See my earlier note about a discount to bring the price down by 20%!

Do me a favor and leave a comment after this post if you are going to take advantage of the promo.
Have a great time!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spanish Wine Cellar & Pantry 2010

It was a trade tasting, not a real cellar, but that's what they decided to call themselves.

Quote from the organizers:
Spanish Wine Cellar: An exclusive showcase of up-and-coming wines from Spain. All participating companies are seeking distribution and look forward to sharing their products with you! This year’s events offer the opportunity to meet over 40 wine companies; and for buyers and sellers, to connect directly with the goal of importing new Spanish brands to the U.S. market. The Spanish Wine Cellar features companies representing over 100 wines from regions such as Jumilla, Rías Baixas, Ribera del Duero, Rioja and Toro.

Spanish wines are hardly for wine geeks or wine snobs. Not that there aren't any geek-worthy wines from Spain, but frankly greatness is not a term I would use to describe them. But I love Spanish food! And this trade tasting served the most incredible array of tapas, cheeses, fish, olive oils, vinegars, and assorted preserves. Were they trying to overcompensate for the wines?

Then I realized - Spanish food is unpretentious, but it's flavorful and fun. And that is exactly how I think of Spanish wines! These are wines for common people to enjoy. With ridiculously low price-tags for most wines (under $7-15), you can party all day and all night without breaking the wallet. I tasted about 40 wines out of perhaps 100. While the food was great, I found myself challenged with finding wines that matched it. A good number of over-extracted thick chocolaty reds and banal whites would surely please many a palate, but only a few at the tasting rose beyond alcoholic juice and into the realm of gastronomy or contemplation.

Always start with sparkling. Made in a traditional method of Champagne, I don't think anything beats Cava in the $10-$30 price range - a Spanish answer to Champagne, which quality-wise puts similarly-priced Proseccos out of their misery. Cupatge d'Honor - the top bottling from Pere Ventura made of 70% Xarel-lo and 30% Chardonnary and aged for 24 months on the lees, was rich and refined (~$25), with the simpler Tresor and Brut Rosé showing nicely at a lower price point. Another Cava by Torre Oria - Brut Reserva NV - a blend of 90% Macabeo and 10% Perellada that spent 33 months on lees - was complex and refreshing, though nowhere as lush as the Cupatge d'Honor.

This was the first time ever I had a Spanish Syrah - the Durius Natural Reserve Ryrah 2005 from Marques de la Concordia made in the VT de Castilla y Leon region reminded me of Northern Rhone - cool, dark, fresh meat, plush texture, very good. 100% Syrah, aged for 24 months in French oak casks. Their Rioja Signa Crianza 2006 had quite respectable meat and pepper, neither wine exhibiting the big and heavy style evident in many other reds at the tasting.

I noticed a lot of Cab, Merlot, and Syrah blends with Tempranillo and other native varietals. Perhaps something of a trend spilled over from Italian Super Tuscans? Super-Spaniards? Not a huge fan of the trend, although one wine - Estola Gran Reserva 1999 from Bodegas Ayuso in La Mancha was quite good - a blend of 65% Tempranillo and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the fruit and oak receding with age.

A sweet wine caught my eye - Carpe Diem Anejo from Tierras de Mollina located in the Sierras de Malaga - caramel colored Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel blend, aged for 8 years in American oak casks, the wine had a nice balance between fruity caramel and acidity, that could benefit from long-term aging but was also enjoyable now. An excellent value dessert wine. (They mentioned having a 25 year old version as well, which I later evaluated here.)

This was not a show of the famous wines of Spain. Rather, it was a way for relatively unknown wineries to get an introduction on the American market. To my palate, in general the wines lacked acidity, nuance or finesse. That, combined with the arrival of Super-Spaniards suggested Parkerization and catering to New World palates, which is something I understand but personally do not appreciate. That said, at these price points, it's hard to complain.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Iron Chevsky turns paparazzi at Renee & Andy's wedding

Rona's best friend Renee got married to Andy yesterday. The reception luncheon was at the place where they first met 8 month ago in August 2009. Donato Enoteca. Vinity / Vineyard Gate Italian wine dinner which Iron Chevsky organized and MC'ed. The two birds had given up on looking for a soul mate. The two were hardly even wine drinkers. Yet, fate brought them together at a communal table of food and wine, with just a little nudging from Rona and Andy's brother Enoch! And now their souls are joined, their hearts have found happiness and fulfillment in the arms, gazes, and thoughts of each other.

In a private, family-only reception, Rona and I were honored to be included. On a perfect Sunday afternoon, gods favored the newlyweds by giving the best weather of the year - spotless blue skies, 75 degree air, picture-perfect cherry blossoms at the patio of the restaurant, and of course a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco and another masterful multi-course meal served at Donato Enoteca to put everyone in a dreamy mood. My mad skillz as a paparazzi and a wine steward came in handy.

This story warms my heart for so many reasons. But the one relevant to this blog is how wine brought the two people together, and if that is not reason enough to celebrate the power and magic of the grape, then what is?! (just ask Tracie and Jeremy over at DoBianchi).

Renee and Andy, you are a match made in heaven, over wine and a veal shank! Drink, eat, and be married (to each other!) for the rest of your lives! Mozzletoff!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2008 vintage in Chateauneuf-du-Pape - reporting first impressions

According to Wine Spectator, "The Southern Rhône's string of outstanding vintages since 1998 (save for 2002) may have come to an end in 2008, a difficult growing season marked by cool, rainy weather and a very small crop."

This week I had an opportunity to see for myself. At the top floor of the Knight Ridder building in downtown San Jose, a relatively small trade gathering sampled the latest vintage of soon-to-be released 2008 bottlings from Chateauneuf-du-Pape (aka CdP). These wines have been specifically bottled for the Angeles Wine Agency's annual tasting and will be officially released between April and August.

What a great opportunity to assess the CdP vintage relative to the much hyped 2007, which I reviewed last year. A fascinating study of the importance of a vintage, the differences are vast and obvious, and frankly, to my liking.

While the 2007 was a monster year in CdP - ripe, jammy, sweet fruit, high-alcohol, thick textures, astronomical Parker scores, I have none of them in my cellar. The 2008, on the other hand, is cooler, leaner, much more food friendly and enjoyable right now and in the short-to-medium future. None of the super-extracted alcoholic in-your-face syrup that seduced so many folks in 2007. Can you tell - I really do prefer the style of 2008? - still the fruit, the spice, the herbs, the tannins, the animal are all there, but on a leash. Relatively low-acid, which is a general "issue" with CdP in my opinion, not just this vintage. But for a lot of New World drinkers, the low acid is a blessing! Certainly these wines should work with peppery, herb-crusted meats, roasts and bbqs.

The prices for 2008's look to be about 15% lower than 2007, a welcome reprieve, though for selfish reasons I wish they'd gone down even more, given how unsexy this vintage will probably appear to many folks, as it did to critics.

Here are the wines I tasted - all were quite good and representative of the region and the vintage. If you enjoy Chateauneuf-du-Pape, I would not turn away any of them, and there hopefully will be deals to be had.

Busquet Des Papes
Chateau Fortia
Clos Des Brusquieres
Cuvee du Vatican
Domaine de la Charbonniere
Domain de la Mordoree
De la Cite De L'Ange
Grand Veneur
Olivier Hillaire
Le Vieux Donjon
Mas De Boislauzon
Pierre Usseglio

Of those, the following stood out for me:

Chateau Fortia Tradition - chocolate, coffee, meat, metal pipe.
Chateau Fortia "Cuvee Baron" - more refined, spicy, nice texture.
Cuvee du Vatican Reserve Sixtine - good, sweet, low-acid, low-tannin, smooth & plush.
Le Vieux Donjon - always reliable, balanced, classic CdP with spice.
Pierre Usseglio & Fils - last year, I thought it was the producer of the vintage, and this year, again they made a sexy wine, unnoticeable tannins, incredibly soft, smooth and plush, sweet, spicy and low-acid.
Olivier Hillaire "Les Petits Pieds d'Armand" - the most expensive wine of the tasting was concentrated, sweet and bitter, reminding me of my tasting at Domaine du Pegau. Seems like this wine is built for aging and impact!

I can't help but conclude that a leaner lighter year in Chateauneuf, 2008 is just right for my unparkerized palate, thank goodness for that, says my palate and my wallet.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Surf-and-turf @Chris & Molly's

Glamorous trade tastings and quirky geek tastings are all fine and dandy, but here is a set-up that I really live for - cooking, eating, and drinking in a company of good friends - that is the essence of this blog and of my wine philosophy.

Last night, our good friends Chris & Molly invited us to their home in Palo Alto. Maybe the excuse was Easter, or the Passover, or the Spring, or the debut of the iPad, or just too many wines that need drinking and too long since the last time we let loose and just enjoyed.

The menu? "Surf & Turf" - expertly prepared high-quality ingredients that would pair perfectly and easily with some nice wines whose time had come. Chris had pre-announced the parameters: "wine $50-100/bottle... but don't want it too $$ as I want the night to be more casual and less wine geeky although I am sure there will be plenty of that." Since everyone in the crowd was a francophile, I decided "what the heck! I should bring a Cali cab!" I pulled out a 2003 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars "SLV" - the very wine (different vintage of course) that had won the epic Judgment of Paris.

In my fantasy, I am with but a couple of profound wines - I caress them with my eyes, then with my lips and tongue, get to know them throughout a meal, see how they reveal themselves layer by layer in the course of several hours, with different dishes, through different states of my consciousness... But when you get us winos in one place, how you can stop the rain from falling down?! Of course, everyone brought something really nice.

The wines (from right to left):
1. Raveneau Chablis 2007.
2. Gilbert Picq Chablis "Dessus La Carriere" 2007.
3. Joseph Drouhin Beaune "Clos des Mouches" Blanc 2002.
4. Andre Ferret Condrieu "Chery" 2007.
5. Thierry Allemand Cornas "Reynard" 2006.
6. Massolino Barolo "Vigna Rionda" Riserva 2001.
7. Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Bordeaux Grand Cru 2001.
8. Mount Mary Vineyard Yarra Valley "Quintet" Bordeaux Blend 2001 (very Chinon-like).
9. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars "S.L.V" Cabernet Sauvignon 2003.
10. Peter Michael "Les Pavots" Bordeaux Blend 2002.

Drouhin "Clos des Mouches" white burg was the best match with the Cyrus-inspired succulent lobster appetizer. The greenness and creaminess of avocado and pesto, and the sweetness of the lobster and mango were just right with the medium-ripe, but not thick-textured nor opulent Clos des Mouches, right at the peak of its drinkability.

When it came to reds, my wine of the night was Pichon Lalande - perfectly balanced between fruit, root, wood and vegetable, subtle, complex wine with hints of graphite, reminding once again that no one makes Bordeaux blends like they do in Bordeaux. It edged out the #2 (for me) Stag's Leap SLV (!!!) the wine of considerable charm, smoothness, and balance - quite a surprise for everyone.

Naturally, all other wines were excellent - the pure oyster-shell Raveneau, the seductive Condrieu, the intensely white-peppery Cornas, the bright and tart bursting with cherry laser-focused Vigna Rionda and so on, just not as ideal with the gorgeous rack of lamb and picture-perfect fillet mignon that Chris had expertly worked up on his grill.

The key to not getting drunk is to pace yourself, sip a little at a time, not be afraid to dump the unfinished wine (and not think how much it'd cost in a restaurant), and drink plenty of water. We were all an experienced bunch, and so by mid-night after clearing 10 bottles, all of us were in good shape, slightly buzzed, ready to play with the cool new iPad and even do a little "So you think you can dance" without anyone getting too embarrassed.

Then Rona jumped in with Molly, and the two ladies showed Chris how it's done!

Let the good times roll!

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