Christmas Eve 2019

I still find the Christmas Season wonderful and I am the type of person to wish people “Merry Christmas,” unless I know that they celebrate a different holiday; and I don’t do it for spite, but because I so enjoy the time of year.  From the time that I was a child and my parents would take to the downtown Hudson’s store to visit the Toyland and to talk to Santa Claus, it was always special.  Even my Favorite Daughter was remembering those days when she was a child, and she could not remember where I had taken her.  For years we used to go to a friend of the family who celebrated with the traditional Italian way of seafood in all sorts of creations.  Nowadays, one of my Bride’s sisters like to through the party, especially since both of her sons would be home from school.

It was an elaborate dinner, but the timing of the dishes was off, so you had to go back for different entrées as they were finished.  Instead of deep-frying a turkey, this year my Brother-in-Law did the turkey out on the porch in a “hot air” roaster, as that is the best of what I understood.  There was also a spiral cut ham that was in the oven, and I guess that the temperature control, kept getting jostled from all the crowd and the cooks in the oven, so the timing was also off on this dish.  There was also a large tenderloin that was suffering the same maladies as the ham, and thankfully a meat thermometer saved the day for the roast, though some Medium Rare was raw for that cut of meat, of course one could always put the meat back in the oven to burn it, if necessary.  As for the appetizers, salads, sides and desserts, there was not a problem and an abundance to choose from.   Though at my age, I have finally taught my eye, that it is not as big as my stomach.

My Bride besides making some side dishes for the evening, our main duty was to bring some beverages for the event.  I try to make it a mix lot, to try to make as many people potentially happy as possible.  One of the bottles of wine was one that I was looking forward to try, because I am really enjoying Rosé wines more and more.  The official name of this wine is Les Maîtres Vignerons de la Vidaubanaise, Le Provencal Rosé, Cotes de Provence 2018.  Les Maîtres Vignerons de la Vidaubanaise translates in English to The Master Winemakers of the Vidaubanaise.  This a wine cooperative that was formed in 1922 and today is now in control of six-hundred hectares in the heart of the Appellation Cotes de Provence.  The vineyards are located on the limestone foothills of the Maures massif, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps.  Le Provencal is from the highest quality cuvees produced by the Maîtres Vignerons.  The Cotes de Provence is the largest appellation in Provence and it has a few sub-regions as well.  The entire region is famed for their Rosé wines, as well as a Red wine made from the Tibouren.  The Rosé Wines are made from a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvedre.  The Cotes de Provence originally was first established as a VDQS in 1951 and in 1977 it attained AOC status.  After the harvest, a portion of the grapes undergo a cold maceration at various temperatures and lengths of time according to the grape variety, which produce an array of aromas.  The remaining grapes are processed in the traditional method of direct pressing.  Then all the wines are blended and aged in Stainless Steel until early February, and then bottled for maximum freshness.  This wine was very balance with a crisp acidity and a nose that promised some strawberry and a refreshing finish, a good wine with the appetizers and cheese.  I was very happy with the wine.  The last bottle that I will discuss is a bit of a bittersweet moment, as the owners have retired and sold the winery. Marilyn Remark Winery had been producing Rhone style wines since 2003, after they returned from a trip to the Rhone Valley and decided that was their goal. The Marilyn Remark Los Ositos Vineyard Grenache 2012 will probably be the last wine we receive from A Taste of Monterey, but they did buy the entire inventory from the winery, so there is a potential that I may see another offering, though I know that I still have some other wines from the winery in my cellar. Los Ositos Vineyard is the Salinas Valley, just south of Arroyo Seco, so this wine carries the AVA of Monterey. Most of the Grenache wines that I have had from Monterey have been full bodied and jammy, and this wine was true to form, it was big, which no age showing and I have developed quite a fondness for Grenache with turkey and a nice change of pace.

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Cades Cove Cellars of Tennessee

The Wine Raconteur Jr. gave me a bottle of Tennessee wine in a contraption that Rube Goldberg would have been proud of.  So soon enough, I will be able to add that state to my completed group of wines, but there are still plenty of more states to go.  When I think of the brass “chicken wire” wrapping on Rioja wines that were designed as a deterrent from the help opening up bottles for quick consumption, it worked, but this contraption of wood and rope could make a Saint question humanity.  I am glad that the instructions were given on the side, but both my Bride and I could not figure it out, in fact we had problems even with the instructions.  The Wine Raconteur Jr. is an engineer by trade, so he must have enjoyed such a devious gift, and it was fun and maybe I should put my First Growths in that contraption, but I think not for my sake.

Cades Cove Cellars is in Townsend, Tennessee and was founded by two generations of the Birkholz and Reed families.  Jerry Reed has been a vintner and winemaker since 1984 and his daughter Cameran who has a law degree also attended UC Davis and received her winemaking certification in 2010.  Cades Coves Cellars was established in 2012.  Cameran’s brother-in-law is John Birkholz has been working as the cellar master for twelve years and is now the assistant winemaker, while his father is president of the company.  Cades Cove is a quiet, beautiful valley in the mountains with rustic buildings dating back to the 1800’s and are preserved by the National Park System.

The winery offers currently eighteen different wines, some are vinifera, some cold-hardy and assorted fruit wines and mead.  The bottle of wine that I received is Cades Cove Cellars Smoky Mountain Sunrise (2018) and while the winery gives a vintage year on their site, the wine label does not, in fact there is not an appellation listed, which also negates the need for a vintage year.  The fruit is listed as being from Tennessee and elsewhere and it is a blend of Vidal Blanc and Red Muscadine. Muscadine is a name give to a group of nine varieties found in Central and North America, the most famous is known as Scuppernong, a native grape of North Carolina. The grapes are thick skinned and highly resistant to fungal and bacterial diseases as well as to phylloxera.  While similar sounding in name, the wine is not related to Muscat or Muscardine grapes.  Vidal Blanc is a hardy hybrid that is popular in Canada and the northern United States.   The variety is a crossing of Trebbiano (Ugni Blanc) and Seibel 4986 (Rayon d’Or) and was originally conceived for Brandy production in Canada, but the grape became one of the perfect grapes for Canada’s flourishing Icewine production.  Cades Cove Cellars describes their Smoky Mountain Sunrise as a sweet dessert wine, similar in taste to an Icewine, either by itself or pairs with fruit dishes.  I am sure that it will find a following here at one of our parties.   

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An Amarone and an Eiswein

A dinner with The Wine Raconteur (Sr.) and Jr. and the two lovely brides, and some cameo appearances by the children.  It was the perfect setting for a Christmas season dinner and we were happy to be squeezed in to his busy schedule.  There is just something special about a quiet dinner to catch up on what is going on and to relax.  As for me, I can think of times, both with my Bride and without having fun and some great food at their house.  We met years back when I basically hired him to work retail, while he was a student at a university and let us say that was a few years ago. 

Most people have a dinner party and they make it as easy as possible on themselves, but not our hosts.  For starters, they even roast their own cashews with a mixture of spices for a truly unique flavor.  They even individually wrapped Brussel Sprouts in bacon, which I could not stop eating.  The dinner that most people would serve would be a roast or steaks, they created a Beef Wellington that was cooked to perfection, and yes, I was proud and envious at the same time; it was just a stellar dinner.  We had cookies for dessert that looked like they had raided several different bakeries, because of all the different types and the intricate decorations on them.  I mean she must have baked for a couple of weeks straight to get the variety that was being offered, and who doesn’t like cookies?

After having that 1992 Gallo North Sonoma Chardonnay, I am glad that I had grabbed another winner for dinner.  I had no idea what the entrée was going to be, but since I am such a pain in the rear, I figured that they would go with red meat, I just didn’t expect it to be such a special dinner.  I had brought a bottle of Pasqua Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC 2007 and I was informed that it was our hostess’ favorite type of wine.  Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine is an Italian estate that specialized in the wines of the Veneto.  It is known for its Valpolicella, Amarone, Soave and Prosecco wines.  The estate was founded in Verona in 1925 by the Pasqua brothers.  It is still a family owned winery and the family has expanded the vineyards, a bottling facility and finally the construction of a new winery in Veneto.  The classic vineyards for Amarone Della Valpolicella are known for the clay and gravel of the soil.  The grapes are hand harvested and laid to rest on drying racks for about three months, where the grapes lose almost a third of their weight and the grapes are fully concentrated.  The alcoholic fermentation takes place in Stainless Steel vats for almost a month under temperature-controlled settings and continuous punching down to extract as much color and tannin as possible.  The juice is then transferred to French Oak where the malolactic fermentation occurs which brings out the softness and the richness of the wine.  The wine is then aged for eighteen to twenty months, and then also is aged in bottles for an additional four months before being released.  The wine is a blend of sixty-five percent Corvina, twenty-five percent Rondinella, five percent Corvinone and five percent Negrara.  The wine had a nice rich deep red color with a nose promising dark red currants and cherry, spices and vanilla.  The wine requires some good chewing to appreciate the velvety feel and how the tannins had become silky in texture with a nice long lingering finish of black cherry.  It paired perfectly with the rich taste of the Beef Wellington.  Our host brought out a special dessert wine, as he has been doing some business travelling to Germany.  We opened a bottle of Kessler-Zink Eiswein Silvaner Rheinhessen 2018.  Kessler-Zink was founded in 1953 as a private wine cellar and was acquired by the present company in 1989.  The Rheinhessen is the largest wine producing area in Germany and goes back to the Roman Empire.  The Silvaner is a grape that is a crossing of the Traminer and an Austrian local grape, the Osterreichisch Weiss and found its way to Germany in the 17th Century and later into Alsace as well.  The Eiswein or Ice Wine as it is known in North America is a very famous wine that requires some gambling on the part of the winery.  The grapes are harvested several different times, and each time the sugar is more concentrated in the surviving grapes than from the last harvest selection, until the grapes of at least Spatlese quality have actually frozen on the vine and the quantity of grapes has diminished of these over-ripe grapes.  This wine was very lush and silky, and is known to be viscous in nature, because of the residual sugar.  There was a soft flowery nose, as Silvaner is a more low-key grape compared to the Riesling, but there was a nice marmalade feel to the wine with a nice lingering finish.  The perfect way to finish an evening, until we can meet again for more good times.

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A 1992 Gallo Chardonnay

One never knows what to expect when you start to rearrange the wine cellar, especially me, because I can be rather forgetful about what is there.  I saw this bottle and realized that it could possibly be an interesting article one way or the other and all I needed was the proper venue.  I could think of a few individuals that could appreciate the potential, and one of them appeared.  The Wine Raconteur Jr., who gave himself that moniker when he authored a couple of articles here; and he can probably outdo me, doing me.  He is a very busy individual and we contacted him very early about getting a dinner arranged for the Christmas season.  He opted to have dinner at his house, as he and his charming Bride are very accomplished in the kitchen, as well as anything else they decide to tackle.  We figured that it would be better at their house, because they could arrange dinners for their children and also the children would play while we were there.  I offered to supply the beverages, and that is a good trade off. 

We arrived at the designated time, and of course we had to catch up on all the latest news.  I being retired probably had the least number of new stories to relate, I don’t believe that either.  While we were chatting, we also exchanged our Christmas presents, and it is always fun to try to select the right gifts for the children, but my Bride did a great job, though she needed some parental assistance for the son, the daughter she nailed.  When we got down to the first bottle of wine, I had to give an introduction, and I also had a back up bottle, just in case.  I have tried to keep up with my readings, but I have been doing a rather poor job about that, until I can come up with a new rhythm for getting everything done, as I thought I would have so much more time as a retiree, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.  Though I mention the readings, because I have discovered several articles about older white wines and some have opined that maybe five years might be the end of the road for most whites, especially from the New World, and discounting fortified wines, famed dessert wines, old wines from the Jura and aged German wines with Pradikat.  I mean we have had some older white wines that have seen better days and had oxidized and gotten “foxy.”  The color had darkened, and the nose and flavor demanded that we try another bottle.  Lo and behold, I discovered that some writers had suggested that perhaps older wines should be kept a little longer and then tried, as some of the wines have a second life in the bottle after ages of being undisturbed.  I thought that twenty-seven years was long enough of a rest to see if there was any merit to this new bit of information that I had curried from scribes that have more knowledge and experience than I. 

I was opening up a bottle of Gallo Estate Bottled Chardonnay Northern Sonoma 1992, and I remember that when I got it, I was told that it was Gina Gallo who had started to make some “serious” wines as compared to the popular price Ernest & Julio Gallo.  The original Gallo Winery was founded in 1933, and the granddaughter Gina Gallo started creating the Gallo Signature Collection around the 1990’s from what I can gather and they began about forty years ago in Sonoma, so this wine could be the forerunner of the Estate Wine Series.  I can only go by the recent bottlings, but the fruit is hand picked from select blocks at each estate vineyard.  The grapes are pressed and transferred to French Oak barrels, of which eighty percent is new.  All fermentation occurs in barrel, followed by malolactic fermentation.  The wine spends from twelve to sixteen months aging in barrel, racked off of the lees and blended with the aging juice from all the different estates.  The time came to try it, and after opening the bottle and pouring, I could hear my Bride getting concerned that the wine must have oxidized, because the was a deep amber leaning to the brownish tones.  There was a slight musty nose at first, but it dissipated quite quickly and I took a taste.  I figured, only one person would have to suffer, and I did have Plan B in place.  The wine was very mellow and rather singular in that it did not have layers, but all the layers had blended into an easy drinking wine, that I was comparing to some of the old white Burgundy wines that I had the pleasure of having in my youth, say fifty years ago.  There were four fine glassfuls of this wine that was enjoyed by all, and if I had to try to respond with some descriptors, I would have to say that the smooth caramel rather wrapped up the stone fruit that was left, the oakiness had gone from buttery to a silky caramel without the sweetness.  I think we were all impressed.

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Happy New Year 2020

As we leave the last time that I will ever be able to say I was in the teens, I wish everyone a Happy New Year, filled with continued prosperity and happiness.  Also remember that the attire for the Roaring Twenties was classy and chic.

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My Newest Wine Gadget

I think my Bride gets more excited about gadgets than I do, and while I had thought that I had talked her out of a purchase, I guess I was wrong.  Over the years, she has or others have bought me exotic versions of the traditional corkscrew, and somehow to this day, my two favorites are still a perfect screw embedded in a petrified wine root that requires a lot of manual labor to pull the cork straight out of the bottle, and my favorite “waiter’s corkscrew” that is the easiest and the most compact.  There are a couple of the “Rabbit” style units here, as well as an electric/electronic corkscrew, and you would think that I am a caveman or a Neanderthal hiding in plain sight in today’s society.

I mean ever since my Bride saw a Coravin system being used, she was excited and rightfully so.  The concept is ingenious and it looks relatively easy to use.  I have been to restaurants that use the system to pour glasses of wine from their unicorn collections and then charge for a glass, what the bottle would be at retail, and truth be told, I have refrained from such expenditures, but I appreciate the concept.  It is the perfect tool for a wine shop that does wine tastings for customers on an individual basis, rather than at proscribed timed events.  I always thought it was overkill for the home, because if you open a wine and it is over the hill, you still have backups for a dinner. 

For the uninitiated, you are probably wondering what a Coravin system is.  The system allows you to enjoy a glass of wine without opening the bottle, a multiple of times (up to thirty times per their technology and gas capsule).  One can have white and then a red without ruining the cork, in fact the cork reseals after the pin is inserted to keep the wine fresh.  The system inserts a hollow pin through the cork allowing you to pour wine, and then when you remove the hollow pin, the cork can reseal the pinhole almost effortlessly.  I have read where bottles of wine have been tested over a year later, from the initial try with no noticeable change to the wine.  So even though I guess I lost, I also won, I wonder if I used the same argument for DRC or Le Pin.

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Two from Up North

It was almost like getting a gift from Saint Nick, as we received four bottles of wine from up North, except that it wasn’t a gift, it was part of our wine club shipment from Black Star Farms and not from the North Pole.  During this past year when we were staying at the Inn at Bay Harbor, we were reintroduced to the wines of Black Star Farms and we were so impressed that we made it a point to visit the winery again and pick up some of the wines that we had enjoyed with dinner.  We were not that far away from Traverse City while at Bay Harbor, and it doesn’t take much arm twisting to go to a winery and do some tastings.  I would say that the combination of some excellent wines and some superb customer service that we were shown when we got to the winery, my Bride wanted to join their wine club, and since the wines in Michigan are improving year to year, I don’t mind touting the local industry, as I only like to write about wines that we enjoy. 

In 1998 Black Star Farms purchased Sport Valley Farm which was a one-hundred-twenty-acre equestrian facility, and the stylized black star was part of the architectural décor in the main house.  In their Twentieth year, they were honored to receive the 19’th Annual Canberra International Riesling Challenge (CIRC) -Best Wine of the 2018 Challenge and only the second time an American wine came out on top.  There were 567 Rieslings from six countries (Australian, New Zealand, USA, Germany, France and the Czech Republic).  The Black Star Farms Arcturos Dry Riesling 2017 scored 98 points, in addition to taking home Best Dry Riesling and Best American Riesling.  In fact, all six of the Riesling wines that Black Star Farms submitted took home medals, showing a consistency across vintages and styles.  The fruit is sourced from both of the proprietor’s vineyards and from local grower partners in both the Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula.  The winery has three series; the premium Arcturos, A Capella and the Leorie Vineyard labels for sparkling and fruit wines.

We received a shipment of four wines, two of each; Black Star Farms Isidor’s Choice Chardonnay Leelanau Peninsula 2017 and Black Star Farms Isidor’s Choice Pinot Noir Leelanau Peninsula 2017.  Isidor’s Choice wines are from fruit harvested from a grower-partner on a higher plateau of land.  There was a prior time that they marketed an Isidor’s Pinot Noir as well as a Red Blend and they have brought it back, initially only for the club members, or at least they get first dibs.  The winery is attempting to create two wines that are more Burgundian in style.  There is no mention of aging time or the quantity produced. The Chardonnay is listed as having extended aging in French Oak, in a combination of new and second use barrels.  The wine is described as having apple and pear aromas, with hints of vanilla, spices and a smooth oak finish.  The Pinot Noir has been aged in French Oak, with half of the barrels being new.  The notes say “if you are looking to try a Michigan version of what the French call Burgundy, this is your wine!”

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