Happy New Year 2019

My Bride and I wish everyone a bountiful and fruitful coming year with plenty of love, luck, health and happiness.

“Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?” Noel Coward


“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Mark Twain

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Christmas Eve 2018

It really felt odd this Christmas season, as we were not doing our normal hosting duties.  One of my Bride’s sisters wanted to hold the dinner at their house.  Which was a nice change of pace, though my Bride did seem just as hectic with all of her preparations.  My Bride was also like a military general plotting out the events for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, so she was always having her brain go in a million directions.   I just kind of stay out of the way and let her do her thing.

There was plenty of food being prepared when we got there early, so that my Bride could assist.  One of the dishes that they were preparing that was new was a turkey done in a hot-air non-grease fryer which actually greeted us on the front porch, when we arrived, as I thought it was one of the deep-fryers that you see on Social Media that ignite and causes major fires.  It gave the turkey a different flavor, which was fine, but I guess I am just used to the classic stuffed and roasted bird.  There was also Prime Rib being prepared, so the house was very fragrant with great aromas.  There were all sorts of appetizers and side dishes and desserts that were brought in by some of the other attendees.  My Bride brought a big pot of Armenian Pilaf and a big pot of her Brussel Sprouts done with Bacon and drizzled with Aged Balsamic.  There was plenty to eat, in fact there was an over abundance and most left with doggie bags of food.

While there was plenty to eat, there was also plenty to drink.  We brought several bottles of wine that are my Bride’s favorites, but I can’t keep writing about the same wines, even as good as they are.  I brought a special bottle that I wanted to see how it was doing and it has been one of our favorite wineries since our first trip to California to taste wines.  The wine was St. Supery Merlot Napa Valley 2001 and this wine was still one of their main offering, before they really got into the single vineyard wines.  St. Supery was one of the first wineries that we visited and they are located in Rutherford where they have an estate and they also own another much larger estate in Napa Valley as well.  The original proprietor Robert Skalli came to Napa Valley from Corsica, where his grandparents founded the winery Terra Vecchi. In 1982, he purchased the Dollarhide estate, a 1500-acre cattle ranch in the northeast corner of Napa Valley. He also purchased 56 acres in Rutherford, where the winery was built and still stands today. The first vintage of wine was produced in 1989 and the wines began to gain acclaim.  The Skalli family sold the winery to the large fashion corporation Chanel in 2015, which makes me wonder if my “Lifetime Pass” will still be honored.  I am glad to report to all the Merlot fans, that this wine was far from being over the hill, it was very mellow and drank like a Grand Cru, so no complaints from my Bride or myself or anyone else that tried the wine.

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An Older and a Younger

There we were, The Wine Raconteur Senior and Junior getting ready to sit down for dinner.  We had just finished having appetizers and now on to the main event.  It was even better because we had our Brides with us, as well as the family of the Junior.  The two of us go back quite a few years and always with great memories.  Let us just say that there is some twenty plus years that divide us apart.

For our Christmas dinner, my Bride had made her Bourbon Marinade Salmon, the dish that she is making quite often these days and to be quite honest, people have even started requesting it.  She also made Armenian Pilaf and Green Beans.  She finished off the meal with a Tiramisu cake.  It was not a real elaborate meal, but a good satisfying meal, that she had decided on, that would even keep the children happy and it did, as we were told that the daughter of The Wine Raconteur Junior has become quite the maven on Salmon, and my Bride passed the test.

The varietal of choice with Salmon for us is Pinot Noir, and I am sure that some may shake their head and think that I have totally lost it, putting a red wine with fish, but I really like the combination.  I find that the oily texture of Salmon especially depending on the marinade really harmonizes with a Pinot Noir.  All I had to do was go and pick out a wine from the cellar.   I found a nice older bottle of Talbott Pinot Noir 2007 from Monterey County.  I have a certain fondness for Talbott wines, just like I have a certain fondness for his parent’s neckwear line Robert Talbott.  This is the beauty of having a cellar, because the odds are that this wine would have been gone with a smaller collection of wines, but it was allowed to age and it really mellowed out.  I let it breathe for about an hour before dinner, and when I poured it, the color was still quite dark with no signs of softening or browning.  The nose, while not the strongest Pinot I have had, let me know that it was a Pinot.  The taste was so mellow and silky that I am not sure if I could have deduced that it was from Monterey County and I have had plenty from there over the years.  Of course, the dinner was still going strong, but the Talbott had evaporated, so I went and found a younger Pinot Noir for a comparison, and it was stellar in its contrast.  The Fort Ross Symposium Pinot Noir 2013 took over the balance of the dinner.  Fort Ross Winery used the fruit from the Fort Ross Vineyard and the wine is from the Fort Ross-Seaview the only sub-region from the Sonoma Coast AVA.  This youngster came out like gang-busters, but it sounds odd, but it was elegant and sophisticated even for its youth.  The fruit was very much evident, but not in a brassy-showy way.  I think both wines were equal in their star appeal, but definitely not clones of each other.  There was plenty of conversation about how each of the wines showed their style.  So once again, we can see that older and younger can be harmonious side by side and at the same table, in more ways than one.

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What a Difference

Sometimes you don’t think about the difference between a craft wine and a commercial wine until they are side by side.  We were all excited to have another dinner with an old friend of mine, and now ours, The Wine Raconteur Jr. and his family.  His was one of the first dates that we had to hammer down, because his schedule is the most precarious, because of his work.  Since last year they hosted, it was time for us to host again, and the major concern was how were we to keep their children occupied after dinner, as we were pretty confident that we could keep the parents busy.

We started off the evening in the living room, and yes, we are one of those old timers that actually use our living room, and it is not a museum piece that you walk by to get to another room.  We had munchies and appetizers arranged to nosh on, prior to the dinner.  Appetizers can always be a hit or a miss, especially when you factor in children, but their children are perfect miniature adults with an attention span and that is so refreshing.    The fresh shrimp with a cocktail sauce is always a safe bet.  The other safe bet, or so I thought was baked Brie with almond slivers, and that was kind of OK, the almonds weren’t the hit we thought they would be.

It was the wines during this course that really surprised me, as we have had the wines before, but not side by side and they were both wonderful.  We started off with Podere Ciona “Ciona Rosé” Toscana IGT 2016.  Franca and Franco Gatteschi were looking for a place in the countryside to retire to and found this one-hundred-acre estate with a house from the 18’th Century that had been abandoned for about forty years.  They purchased the property in 1990 and spent three years working on the main house.  They also started planning a winery and in 1997 they had their first official vintage.  They are located in the commune of Gaiole in Chianti Classico country.  They had been making a Rosé for a couple of years using Sangiovese, the grape of Chianti and Cabernet Franc, unfortunately one year the local wild boars decimated the Cabernet Franc vines, so this particular vintage is made from pure Sangiovese, and was aged for three months in Stainless Steel.  The entire production of this wine was a hundred cases of wine, and my local wine shop got the monopoly on the allotment of the United States quota.  The wine had a nice dark salmon pink color, with a nose of fruit and herbs, with tastes of strawberry, and watermelon.  It was a very easy drinking wine which just flowed along with the conversation.  We ran out of this wine, but there was another rosé wine in the refrigerator that has become kind of a go-to for us from the Wagner Family of Wines.  We opened up a bottle of Meiomi Rosé 2017 that was predominately Pinot Noir.  The wine carries a California designation as the fruit came from Monterey, Sonoma and Santa Barbara Counties.  It was cold fermented and aged in Stainless Steel.  It had a pretty color and was very easy to drink.  Now getting past the fact that the two wines were made from different grapes all together, the Podere Ciona was night and day superior on all counts and there was really no price differential between the two wines, but the craftmanship and texture was just amazing.  As a side note, afterwards we had to go back and get some more of the Podere Ciona for the house.

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Our Christmas Wish to You

We just want to make sure that we get a chance to wish everyone a Happy and Merry Christmas full of love, luck, health and happiness.  I will let you in on a little secret, a Raconteur is never out of stories to relate.

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It is Time to Hide

“A man’s home is his castle” is an idiom that is bandied about and some claim that it derives from Cicero and others from Blackstone.  I found an evening where valor was the knowledge of not trying to demand that concept and hiding in an eyrie.  All I know is that it was the annual Ladies Christmas Party that my Bride has been hosting since before I ever appeared on the horizon.  While some may question why I avoid this scene, instead of trying to be a co-host, I will say that it is better to be invisible.  For years, I never had a problem, as I would be working and by the time I got home from retail, the party would already be coming to an end.  The party is always the following Friday after the Thanksgiving weekend, and Thanksgiving is our demarcation day to have all of the presents wrapped, bundled by family, the Christmas/Hanukah cards with newsletters mailed and all parcels going out of state.  In the old days when I would arrive home, it was basically a hello and goodnight greeting rolled into one, but now I am there prior to the madness, and I am there afterwards.

How my Bride coordinates it all, is beyond all imagination.  The evening begins with basically is a Ladies pot-luck, and for some odd reason women prefer noshes to meals, so think of a barrage of small plates of appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts that seems to make no sense, but in the end, there is a complete meal.  Some of the dishes are plates are to die for (can a man say that?), while others are pre-packaged from the “catering” section of a local grocery store.  My job after carrying most of the winter coats upstairs, is to hide.  Of course, as I am writing on my computer upstairs in the office, I can hear when the “dinner” has commenced and I wait as the crowds go through and then reseat themselves back in the living room, the dining room or in the breakfast nook.  Then I become a Ninja and hastily make a couple of plates of goodies to take back up to the office, before they begin the next phases of the evenings.  My Bride besides maintaining photo albums of each event, keeps logs of the gift exchange and the part that I really wish to hide from, the moment when each participant gets up and announces what they hope to accomplish in the following year, and of course someone (I wonder who that is?) can remind them what their aspirations were the year before.  One lady that had moved away for business and had just returned, thought she was safe, but her aspirations from the last time she had been here was duly noted from that year’s log.  Did I mention that the Ninja actually makes a couple of sweeping attacks to the kitchen, I mean who wants to see Shrimp Cocktail, spectacular Deviled Eggs and fried chicken go to waste, and I mean this is about the only time for a year that I get to eat fried chicken?

In the library, just off the foyer opposite the living room, we set up a table near the Christmas tree with adult libations.  There is an assortment of different liquors and liqueurs that are the current trendy items for those that want a cocktail or two.  Then there is the collection of wines, which include my Bride’s assortment of go-to Chardonnay wines that I probably write about too often, because she is a creature of habit; I mean she still drinks the same Scotch since I have met her, even with me buying her an extravagant blended Scotch that she doesn’t like as much as her blend.   Then there are a couple of treacly sweet wines that are necessary in today’s society that I try to refrain from writing about, because I might become more of a social pariah than I already am with my writings.  I put out a bottle of red wine, even though most of the time, I hear that the wines are too dry.  I put out a bottle from the Columbia Valley in Washington state, and one of the largest AVA areas in the country, as it basically has all the smaller AVA districts within its huge district.  The MERF Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 is from the hands of David (MERF) Merfeld who grew up on a family owned farm in Greene, Iowa.  David ended up moving to Seattle and was employed by a construction inspection company and started brewing beer as a hobby.  In 1996 he quit his day job and went into brewing full time while attending beer school and in 1997 was hired at Bert Grant’s Ales as a brewer, which was owned at that time by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.  It didn’t take long before he was working for Ste. Michelle as a winemaker.  He now makes his own wines which are cellared and bottled at MERF Wines in Paterson, Washington.  This particular wine is eighty percent Cabernet Sauvignon, nineteen percent Merlot and a whopping one percent of Cabernet Franc.  Seventy-five percent of the juice was aged for twelve months in a combination of French and American Oak, with the remainder aged in Stainless Steel for more of the fruit and when blended back together the wine is said to have character and complexity.  I was hoping to tell you more about the wine, but by the time I went down to have some after my fix of Chardonnay, the wine had evaporated.  I think this was a first for a red wine at the party.  There were also a couple of wines that were given to the hostess, and lo and behold, your Raconteur even received a present.  The guest that makes the magnificent deviled eggs (did I mention that there were deviled eggs) likes to shop garage sales for fun, and has found some spectacular things for our home and kitchen (her brother is a Master Chef) found me some wine bottle tags for the cellar, which are becoming scarce to find, so it was greatly appreciated.

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Two from Kenwood Vineyards

When I am doing some impromptu wine tastings at The Fine Wine Source in Livonia, I always enjoy the chance to try wines from the same winery, if possible.  I had that chance, and a winery that I haven’t ran into for a while, but I really enjoyed it the last time.  The winery is Kenwood Vineyards and they began in 1970 when they bought the winery of the Pagani Brothers, a California producer that began in 1906 and been successful prior to Prohibition, that time when the government thought that they could dictate morals.  The winery has gone through some changes of ownership, in 1999 they were bought by F. Korbel and Bros.  In 2014 the international Pernod Ricard bought them and since then they have almost doubled production.  To put things in perspective, the last time that I had the wine, it was from the original owners from the 1970 creation of the former winery.

While Kenwood Vineyards is located in Sonoma County, Sonoma County actually has seventeen sub-appellations located there and some are famed for certain grape varietals.  The first wine we tried was the Kenwood Six Ridges Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.  The Six Ridges refer to the mountain ranges that create the Sonoma area and Kenwood has six different wines for this collection.  This particular wine is from the Alexander Valley and was fermented on the skins for twenty-two days, then settled and racked twice before the wine was aged for twenty-four months in small oak barrels.  The oak used was a mixture of French, Hungarian and American.  This was a big Cabernet Sauvignon wine with delivered a lot more terroir then I had expected and was really a tasty wine, and we all enjoyed this wine.

The other wine that we tasted was a wine that I had, when the winery was much smaller in scope and featured a single vineyard and they still continue this wine.  The Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet 2014 was the wine that I crooked an eyebrow at. The last time that I had this wine it just carried the Sonoma County AVA, and now the Jack London Vineyard carries the sub-appellation of Sonoma Mountain AVA.  The wine was almost all Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Merlot.  The wine spent twenty-four days on the skins fermenting, before being racked and aged for twenty-four months in a mixture of French, Hungarian and American Oak barrels.  This was a big wine, like I remember and thankfully the major corporation did not attempt to water this wine down for more production.  Once again, a wine that gave me my terroir, black cherries and some figs and a nice long finish.  Once again, we were all happy.


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