Friday, July 31, 2009

My Vine Yard

Brad Post:

More than an appreciation for their oxygen-producing abilities, there is something about plants I love! There was a time when I was a young man, providing forced-labor in my parents garden, that if you would have asked me I am sure I wouldn't have mentioned the word "love".

Maybe it is in my genetic material, this love of the earth, that drives me to get all "Green Acre-ish" - so my mother would suggest. My grandfather, on my dad's side, a frustrated factory-worker, part-time farmer who worked the brier infested sandy earth around the 1920's-era West Michigan homestead town of Greenville. He never was able to make a go of it and eventually sold off most of his holdings around Woodbeck Lake, less the parcels he gifted his children.

Throughout my life, as location allowed, I would plant a radish here or a cucumber there and if I were really fortunate -- a tomato! When we moved to Iowa from Idaho people shook their heads thinking we were making a mistake, no doubt, but I was hopeful to be moving to a truly unique place on earth. You see, from my days in a geography/geology classroom I remembered the soils and climate of Iowa were absolutely unique to the world - only a tiny fraction of the entire planet has this perfect combination of soil and climate.

Our first year in Iowa was busy landscaping our barren yard with perennial flowers, raspberries, a garden chocked full of goodies, and finally a few grape plants. My precious grapes! In my little yard, a vineyard sprung, containing the tender Niagara and Catawba grape (a little too far north, maybe), later a Concord, St. Croix, Marechal Foch, La Crosse, Louise Swenson, Sabreviox (my favorite), and Edelweiss.

For the past few years, as my gardening and viticulture skills increased, I have been busily taking enology classes from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) and have learned a lot. In attempt to learn more I have volunteered to help a friend restore his vineyard and have worked the wine cellar and vineyards of Fireside Winery.

Sometimes I hear people tell me, "oh, I'd love to have a vineyard" usually followed by they are so pretty. They are pretty! I forget who said this about growing grapes, anyway, this person's comment to people who say such things was this: "Do you think you'd love to grow 3 acres of tomatoes?" to which usually brought a, "duh, noooo" response. The grower would suggest it isn't much different, growing grapes or tomatoes - it's a lot of work.

I guess it all comes down to a love of the earth and growing things. I love getting up in the morning to visit with my plants, give them a little pep-talk, and when I leave (maybe after squishing a few Japanese Beetles between my fingers) I feel better.

Maybe one day I'll have opportunity to work a bigger vineyard, to take care of the burgeoning grape plants and help them achieve the highest honor for a grape - to become great wine!

Yeah, I love growing things and I kind of think Grandpa would be proud too!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oriel Courant 2003/2004

Terry post:

This is another in a series of posts regarding good or great wines to be found in restaurants for $30 or less.

Oriel is an interesting brand in that there is not one winery or one wine maker.

The brand is based on the concept of employing European rock-star winemakers (primarily) in the creation of a stand-alone brand allowing them to be more expressive in their product.

Oriel Courant is a prime example. It is a Syrah and Grenache blend sourced in 2003 and 2004 from grapes exclusively from old (40 year old plus) vines in Cotes du Rhone, France.

My impression: Intensely flavorful with ripe plum, tar and chocolate notes. The plum is very noticeable on the nose and the sip ends with a moderate finish (that is perhaps why the price is so reasonable, as great Cotes du Rhone have huge, long finishes that go on forever). At the restaurant we recommended this wine alongside our Fillet of Bison - it takes a powerful wine to stand up to Bison. At $28 per bottle (restaurant price) it is a very reasonable Cotes du Rhone. If you find it, give it 30 minutes or more in the glass before you drink it. It really benefits from some time outside the bottle before drinking. In fact, if you have any left over it is better on the second day than it is on the first.

~ Terry

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Estrella Chardonnay 2006

Terry post:

Lest you think that I like all the wines which I taste, let me assure you that I have tasted some downright awful wine over the past few years and a few (for one reason or another) still find their way onto the winelist.

In an earlier postining I'd noted that there is alot of crap on the average winelist. A classic example would be that of a down year for a usually superior wine. For instance, the 2002 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards, Perrin & Fils. This year was awful: bitter, fruitless, herbal with no depth whatsoever (a blessing acutally). This Châteauneuf-du-Pape is 9 times out of 10 a superb wine reflecting all that is great about this winegrowing region. But like a lot of other restaurants we purchased several cases in advance of bottling and advance of reviewing and were stuck with a dog. Of course we put it on the wine list, but we did discount its price somewhat. So even restaurants such as "213" will carry a less than great wine for one reason or another.

A second reason you'll end up with a sub-par wine is profitability. Take for
instance a bottle of Estrella Chardonnay 2006. This less-than-stellar wine will cost a restaurant about $3.50 to buy and sell four pours at $6 to $8 per pour. The first pour pays for the bottle and the remaining pours all contribute to the nightly gross. At "213" Estrella was the low priced leader
and we sold it only by the glass for those individuals who wanted wine but would not pay the $30 or more per bottle to buy a carefully selected wine which, in most cases, was a vastly superior wine.

My impressions: Pale yellow color. Some fruit but more earthiness than I have come to expect from my white wines. A little apple. Crisp, perhaps too crisp. Refreshing. A great value, but a chardonnay engineered more for sipping in the shade than pairing with food.

Oh. An another downside of Estrella: it is widely available and the customers know how much a bottle costs at their local grocery store.

~ Terry

New Field of Dreams: A vineyard!

Brad Post:

What does Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and the Upper Mississippi River Valley have in common? They all represent wine-growing regions (American Viticultural Areas, AVA) distinguishable by geographic features and designated by the Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

On July 22, 2009 the United States government designated the worlds largest wine-growing region - the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA with 29,914 square miles covering four Midwestern states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa). The new AVA follows the Mississippi River and is bounded on each side by approximately 60 miles in what is known as the "Driftless Area", an area unaltered by the last ice age.

So what does this mean to an aspiring wine producing region to receive an AVA designation? I have been asked this question several times in recent days and have given some thought to it. Although the majority of wineries and growers, in Iowa, produce outside the new AVA, it seems to me to be a good thing.

Here is why: An established wine-growing region allows an area to receive attention, a spot-light whose beam will help illuminate the entire Iowa wine industry. An AVA designation says to the world, "hey, something special and unique is happening here" bringing with it wine tourists eager to try something new and interesting. And finally, I believe this AVA will ultimately mean better wine! Under the close watch and scrutiny of a discerning wine-drinking public, winemakers will ultimately become better at making locally grown grapes into exquisite and regionally recognizable wines.

In closing, stealing and altering a line from Field of Dreams, where Terrance Manning strongly urged Ray to build the field (vineyard and winery):

"People will come WINEMAKERS. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your VINEYARD not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your WINERY as innocent as children, longing for SOMETHING INTERESTING. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per BOTTLE. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and GOOD WINE they lack.

Forgive my enthusiasm and apologies to "Field of Dreams"!

Sources: Wines and Vines online
Field of Dreams - quotes:
Image: (Limestone Bluffs: Resource Conservation and Development) in Maquoketa, Iowa

Friday, July 24, 2009

2007 Les Frères Couillaud, Chardonnay, Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Domaine de Bernier

Terry post:

First in a series of posts regarding good or great wines to be found in restaurants for $30 or less.

I have mentioned several times in this blog the challenge of finding good wines which can be sold at less than $30 per bottle in a restaurant. This requires that the restaurant owner be able to find a good bottle of wine, which suits the menu and is available at less than $12 per bottle from the wine rep. It is harder than it sounds.

This is the first of several posts which I am planning which discuss these sort of high-value, economy wines which I selected and placed on the wine list for Restaurant 213. The first is my all time favorite.

Everyone likes the idea of French wines but almost no one likes the idea of paying $120 for a bottle of 2007 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, Les Macharelles, Bernard Morey. So, I went looking for a low-priced French chardonnay which came from a wine-growing region far less glamorous than Chassagne-Montrachet and at a significantly lower price. Enter 2007 Les Frères Couillaud, Chardonnay, Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Domaine de Bernier.

Make no mistake: Vin de Pays du Jardin is no where as glamorous a grape-growing region as is Cassagne-Montrachet. Think California Central Valley versus California Napa Valley. It is that sort of difference. Think industrial versus boutique.

None the less, Domaine de Bernier has been on our wine list since 2004 providing an attractive low-priced alternative to those who desire a French pedigree with their wine and who don't want to break the bank in the process.

My impressions: Crisp apple and pear on the nose with moderate acidity. A direct and easy drinking wine characteristically dry as you'd expect from a Chardonnay with a moderate finish. We are able to buy this wine from our rep in single case lots of $6.33 per bottle (spring 2009) making it a great value for us as well as our customers.

This wine has been imported in not huge amounts: 2007 - 2000 cases, 2006 - 1000 cases, 2005 - 3000 cases and 2004 - 3000 cases. So, are you going to be able to fine this wine? I doubt it. But, the lesson is that France produces some wonderful, low-priced wines from decidedly minor-league grape growing appellations and are worth a try.

~ Terry

Thursday, July 23, 2009

2005 Castelo do Papa Godello

Terry post:

I have only drank one Godello in my entire life and am currently on my third case of this low-cost, high-value gem from Spain.

I was introduced to this wine by accident a couple of summers ago when one of our
wine reps noted that he was down to his last several cases of Castelo Papa Godello and wanted to move them (e.g. sell at a discount). We bought three cases for the Restaurant and I took a couple bottles home to give them a try.

By background, Godello's are characteristically clean, light and crisp wines engineered to be served alongside of seafood. We Americans sometimes ignore how long our European cousins have been making wines and how their wine evolution differed from ours. Over the European centuries the wines have evolved alongside the local food each reinforcing the other until you reach a point where the local wine is finely tuned to complement the local cuisine. Such is the case of Godello.

My impressions: Lively golden color darker, I am told, than the majority of Godellos. Refreshing with a perfumed floral nose with citrus and pears at the finish. It is an acidic wine and that makes sense as it is intended to be served around hearty fish dishes, including those with heavy cream or butter bases. At retail this wine sells between $7.50 and $9.00 per 750 mL bottle making it a very good value. At the Restaurant this was a PERFECT match for a grilled Sea Bass which was served in a shallow saffron-infused shellfish consomme.

Godello's don't have much market penetration in America, and I expect that it will be nearly impossible to find this particular wine. That said, I'd recommend giving any Godello you come upon a try.

~ Terry

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

2007 Smoking Loon Pinot Noir California

Terry post:

I have enjoyed this mid-priced brand for several years and was somewhat taken aback last year when the logo for this brand changed. The formerly politically incorrect
logo featured a prominant loon with a big stoggie in it's mouth: as a cigar smoker, I found the logo irresistible. I note with some regret that the smoking loon seems to have been victimized by a new logo which renders the still present loon and its cigar to a very, very small image on a large yellow background. Enough marketing.

My impressions: Great color (deep, deep red), huge cherry nose with some bitter herbal notes on a long finish. It is pretty much what I expect to find in a low to mid-priced pinot - nothing special, but also no critical faults which would stop me from buying it again. At $9.99 for a 750 Ml bottle at my local grocery store is a good value, and not a great value.

I paired the wine this past Monday with a Salvadoran Cherizo and fresh cheese sandwich. I fried the cherizo and sliced it sidewise and topped it with fresh Mexican cheese on a small toasted baguette. The wine stood up very well to the spicy Salvadoran sausage.

Despite the move to an uber PC label (minus the stoggie), I still find Smoking Loon to be a solid mid-priced wine which is reliable and available across multiple varietals.

~ Terry

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Purple Silo Apple Wine 2008

Terry Post,

First, lets get this out of the way: I had no idea what to expect when I opened up this bottle of Purple Silo Apple Wine (2008). I expected the worst. I am not a fan of fruit wine and could only imagine some god-awful concoction I'd drank as a teenager thirty years ago. I was already making up excuses in my mind as to why I didn't like the wine before I drank it: too sweet, too much apple, one-dimensional - you get the idea.

I could not have been more wrong. It is a very pleasant and off-dry with a thin nose that opened up very nicely to fresh apples and pears as the glass warmed. There was excellent acidity which is, in my opinion, essential with a off-dry wine to provide structure and hold the wine together. The finish was crisp and clean with apples (a lot), pears (some) and almonds (a hint).

If I were going to pair this wine with food, I'd treat it like a light-to-medium bodied Reisling. It would be great with grilled shrimp, baked or broiled chicken (but not with butter-based sauces) or with soft fresh cheeses.

All in all it was a very pleasant surprise and may have changed my outlook on properly handled fruit wine. In fact, I have a bottle of Purple Silo "Just A.S.K." chilling and will give it a taste tomorrow. No pressure, Brad. No pressure at all.

~ Terry

Battle Wine!

Brad Post:

It is county fair time and that can mean only one thing: competition!

In the Midwest, during fair season, you are sure to find deep fried foods whose odoriferous melodies tease us like the Sirens ancient mariners once wrote about. These vendors fight to rise to top of their greasy, pseudo-food world to claim high honors. Indeed, around every corner you'll find a competition: hog farmers strutting their little piggies in front of knowledgeable pig-judgers; while in the horticultural building you are likely to spy a local grower putting up his best green tomato silently wishing for a blue ribbon; and if you are lucky enough you are sure to observe a neighbor kid squawking out an olde-timey song confident of her skills and nervously holding her breath as the results come in.

Yes, we are competitive by nature and during this time of year everyone can get into the game, including amateur winemakers!

Unlike more organized competitions, such as baseball, with incremental contests to weed-out the lesser skilled teams, those of us who compete in amateur wine competitions can start off by entering a local, regional, state or international wine competition right from scratch. That means there are some very, very good wines and some very, very poor wines. Unlike more organized competitions, with highly skilled referees, many wine competitions judging process is...shall we say, less than rigorous.

Some of us compete in hopes of a little ego-boost, while others compete to support the local competition, some pray to win a ribbon or trophy, and others to improve their winemaking skills. The fact is, as with many competitions, its not the award that really matters, because you're as likely to win this competition and not even place in the other (with the same wine). What matters is we engage, have fun, and hopefully learn something new from the experience.

Of course at our Eastern Iowa Amateur Wine Competition, like my wine making friends, I hope to win a ribbon or two and maybe...just maybe win the battle for a Double Gold medal!

If you want to see a wine competition in action, visit us on Thursday, July 23 (1-5 pm) at the Benton County Fairgrounds in beautiful Vinton, Iowa. Better yet, stop by the same night at 6:30pm to taste and judge the wines for yourself!

Happy Tastings!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gallo Family Merlot (NV)

Terry Post:

Okay you may ask. What about that Gallo Family Merlot (NV) you wrote about a week ago to accompany the Beef Burgundy?

My thoughts: Medium-weight wine and not at all like the agressive heavy-weight Bordeaux's. Soft and supple with obvious cherry and chocolate notes typical of Merlot. If it was blended with Cabernet Sauvignon it is a very subtle low-percentage blending because the tannic nature of the Cab is not evident. If it is there, it is very subtle indeed. Great color.

Gallo suffers when it tries to make something other than jug wine because, well, it made jug wine for so many years.

If I were in charge of Gallo I would acknowledge the branding issue that haunts the company and stand up a series of artisan small-scale brands to complement the mother ship. Were the label on this wine bottle anything other than Gallo, they’d be able to double the price without any push-back from the wine drinking population.

Do I like it? Yes.

Would I buy it again? Yes.

~ Terry

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wine Etiquette?

Brad Post:

Here is something I've thought about occasionally over the years: what is the etiquette when you are the recipient of a dinner-party wine gift?

For example, what do you, as the "giftee," do when someone is invited for dinner and gives you a bottle of wine? Do you: Option 1: Say, "thank-you" and open it at dinner? Option 2: Say "thank-you" and take it to your cellar and Not Open it?

In my experience it seems to depend on geography and perhaps cultural influences. You see, where I was raised and maybe that's a give-away there, (lots of boozers, you see) when someone shows up with some hooch - it gets opened and drunk right there. When I was living in the west (read: Seattle and Moscow, ID) when I'd bring a bottle to a party (poof) it went directly to the hosts stash, never to be seen again. could be that my wine gift was so wonderful they wanted to incorporate it into their cellar...or they deemed it so unpalatable they scoffed and hid it. Perhaps.

I do recall bringing a gift of Gewürztraminer (a wonderfully aromatic and spicy white) to a get together in Idaho and heard rumblings of how low-brow it was. Really?! I still love that fragrant wine (I even make its cousin, Traminette).

Anyway, I am still not sure about the proper etiquette when receiving a gift of wine at a party. To me, wine is meant to be shared and not hidden away as was so frequently the case in the west. Here in the Midwest, people have been quick to open their hearts and homes to us - and maybe even quicker to open the bottle of wine we bring to their party too! :)

I like that!

Happy Tastings
Ready for a dinner invite...bottle in one hand and opener in the other!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Quest for Good Un-Uppity Wine: Bliss @ $9.99 for 1.5 Liter Bottle

Terry Post:

After a really long drive over the 4th of July weekend I got back home Sunday afternoon DESPERATE for a decent meal. Other than Friday night when Brad grilled up burgers served with some of his wine, I'd existed on highway food. Ugh.

I stopped at the local market and picked up the makings for a simplified Beef Burgundy: Economy cut of beef, celery, onions, carrots, canned tomatoes, beef consomme and a 1.5 liter bottle of Gallo Family Merlot (NV).

I have made Beef Burgundy so many times I can practically do it in my sleep.

1.5 lbs of economy cut beef in 2" x 2" chunks
Two medium sized carrots sliced to irregular thickness
Two stalks of celery (peeled) and sliced to irregular thickness.
One large Spanish onion chopped coarsely
Two cloves of garlic - crushed
28 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes
Can of beef consomme
One cup of medium grade red wine
1/4th cup of flour
3 tbs vegetable oil
3 tbs instant tapioca
1/2 tbs of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

* Pat dry the beef and then coat with flour. Set aside.

* Heat the oil in a large frypan. Do not use a non-stick pan! When the oil begins to shimmer in the pan add 3 or 4 pieces of the flour-coated beef. Cook them deliberately and brown them on all four sides. As the pieces are browned, replace them with the next 3 or 4 pieces. Limiting the amount of meat in the pan allows the pan to stay hot and for you to be able to get a lovely browning on the meat. Keeping the pan really hot is the most important part! Transfer all of the browned meat into a Dutch Oven.

* Place the onions, celery and carrots into the pan in which you cooked the beef. Cover. Brown the vegetables for about 5 minutes or until they begin to get some color from the beef drippings and begin to get tender. Add 1/2 cup of wine to the vegetables and cover again. Cook covered for another 5 minutes.

* While the vegetables cook, pour the contents of the fire roasted tomato's, garlic and beef consomme on top of the beef in the Dutch Oven. Stir the Tapioca into beef, tomato and consomme mixture. Note: Tapioca is a splendid thickener and is not heat dependent as are flour and corn starch to do its magic.

* Pour the browned vegetables, including the wine and any leftover beef juices into the Dutch Oven.

* Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Cover the Dutch Oven.

* Place the Dutch Oven into a preheated oven of 350 degrees for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 200 degrees and allow to simmer for 5-6 hours of beef-tenderizing, flavor-enhancing slow-cooking wonderfulness - checking hourly. Note: If the meat is not covered by the thick tomato-consomme-wine mixture, add the reserved wine and a little water until the beef is covered.

* Serve with crusty bread and the remainder of the Gallo Family Merlot.


~ Terry

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wine Critics, Movie Critics, Surgeons and Airline Pilots

Terry Post:

There are different types of experts.

There are those experts to whom the failure of their expertise results in a serious problems. A surgeon or airline pilot are examples of experts whose body of knowledge is accumulated over time and for whom misapplication results in dire consequences. Think about surgery gone wrong or an airplane crash.

There are also those experts to whom failure of their expertise is irrelevant or not visible for a period of years. A college admissions officer, a wine critic or a movie critic are examples of experts for whom misapplications are nearly impossible to measure. How, for instance, does one measure the impact of someone not admitted to college, a wine poorly selected or a panned movie. No one has died, to my knowledge, from drinking white wine with a rare steak despite warning from wine critics.

This came to mind today as the Washington Post’s “Style” section is covered with six stories about the chasm between the critic’s opinion of the movie, “Transformers 2” and the opinions of the ticket buying public. In case you slept through last weekend, the movie grossed over $215 million dollars in it’s five day opening AND the movie was widely and deeply panned by the movie critics of the Post and the Times.

Movie critics are a lot like wine critics are in that they are fundamentally un-serious activities. I mean, magazines like the Wine Spectator work really, really hard to make wine complicated so as to make their insights valuable to the wine buying public. They are as self-reinforcing as are lawyers.

Wine critic’s insights are often broad and easily replicated: like recommending that dry red wine with that rare steak. But even that is like saying that a couple on their first date would prefer a romantic comedy over an ax-wielding thriller: for that you don’t need much expertise.

Is Transformers 2 a good movie? Well, it is if you liked it.

So too with wine. If you like it, it is a good wine.

~ Terry