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March 2013

General Wine Geekery 10, Easter Wines that won't break the bank

What's that in the air? Snow? Spring? Both?  The weather can't make up it's mind but it's officially spring now and Easter is coming up this weekend. 

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No matter whether or not you're religious; Easter has great food traditions and presents an excuse to celebrate the arrival of spring.  Last night I decided to cook my own little Easter feast and taste test a whole series of wines.  Lamb and Ham are classic Easter foods so I seared some little lamb riblets and got a locally farmed ham steak from Rosemont.  To round out the meal I also roasted some potatoes with sweet onions and sauteed some fresh spinach.
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I started the meal with a nice clean unoaked French Chardonnay called Chardonnay de Chardonnay.  It was smooth, subtle, and a little creamy.  There was soft ripe apple fruit; it was a perfect way to begin the meal as well as complementing the freshness of the onions and potatoes.  It's a great reminder of how nice Chardonnay can be for $13.  This is available at Aurora Provisions.

As I served the ham I switched to the Pylon, a biodynamic Rhone Grenache blend that had bright juicy fruit backed up with a spicy finish.  The Pylon's juiciness and spice was a perfect counterpart to the ham's smokey saltiness!  The Pylon is an absurd value at $10 and can be found at Royal River Naturall Foods, Treats, Rosemonts, Maine Beer and Bev at the Public Market, and the Wine Seller in Rockland

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With the lamb I turned to a great little organic Bordeaux called le Bergey.  The lamb was meaty and  gamey which suited the Bergey's darker more serious style.  The Bergey's dark fruit and black pepper qualities were perfect for the fat and gaminess of the lamb.  You can find the Bergey at the Rosemonts, Maine Beer and Bev at the Public Market, Whole Foods, Cheese Iron, Tess's, and Downeast Bev for about $11

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Then to round the meal out I opened the Laguille Gros Manseng from southwestern France.  It's a white that I've meant to write about here for some time and will later in more depth.  It's a semi dry white that has rich tropical fruit, some sweetness, and a dry spicy finish;  It's a totally unique delicious wine that is fantastic with pork, ham, or burgers.  I went back to the ham with it and it was killer.  The sweet and salty combo of wine and ham was a knock out and better than any dessert.  It's surprising food pairings like this that keep wine fun.  The Laguille sells for about $13 and is available at Rosemont Munjoy Hill, Rosemont Yarmouth, Aurora Provisions, Local in Brunswick, and Bier Cellar.

Happy Spring!


Bodegas Ostatu Rioja Blanco

Vintage 2012

Varietal: 90%Viura, 10% Malvasia

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Ostatu is a winery in the Alavesa region of Rioja and owned by the Saenz de Samaniego family.  The vines that produce this white Rioja are between 60-70 years old. The soil is a mix of chalk and clay.

Maybe it's just the spring season and unsettled weather, but I've been so tired of all the clean, fresh, almost antiseptic light white wines that the wine market is flooded with.  If you're feeling the same way this white Rioja is a perfect antidote.  I've been looking for something like this for quite some time.

Aroma: This wine's got plenty of fruit: kiwi and lime zest, but there's also a whiff of pine pitch, toasted marshmallow, and a hint of roasted fennel.  The Ostatu has some really cool pithy aromas lurking behind the fruit and furthermore the fruit that it has isn't super citrusy; it's a bit more tropical.

Palate: zippy right on entry but then it opens up and fills your mouth.  The Ostatu Blanco has some serious heft and viscosity.  It's kind of deliberate seeming in the way it's not dominated by the fruit up front.  The Ostatu is very balanced, integrated, and relaxed tasting.  There's good acidity, but there's also a slightly chalky quality, that pineyness, and then a touch of a really lush almost toasty finish.  I Love This!  There's an bright apricot dimension on the mid palate as well!  The Ostatu is a great wine for more substantial seafood (scallops, oysters, cod loin in a cream sauce, mediterranean fish stews, calamari) which is a bit of a surprise to me because Rioja isn't really a maritime place at all.  Who cares!? It works and this is delicious.  It just came into the state, but you can get it at Browne Trading, Rosemont Munjoy Hill, and Bresca is serving it.  $14 is ball park for the Ostatu.


General Wine Geekery #9 Corked!

Last week's article made the point that wine is an agricultural product and as such it varies depending on where it comes from.  Another issue with agricultural products and most food (not Twinkies though) is that it can spoil.  This week's article attempts to explain the most common way that wine can spoil: a condition called "corked".

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The vast majority of wine bottles are closed with a plug called a cork.  Cork is made out of the bark of a cork oak tree which primarily grows in Portugal and North Africa. Corks were first used to close glass bottles in the 1600's and amazingly we're still sealing our bottles by jamming pieces of bark into them today! We're still doing it because cork actually works fantastically well for this purpose; it's spongy, compresses, and never rots. The problem though is that it's bark from a tree and it has to be cleaned before it can be used to seal a wine bottle. Cork spoilage happens when the cleaning process isn't done correctly. The left over chemical compound (TCA) that gets into the wine from the cork isn't harmful to people, but it does make the wine smell and taste like a moldy basement.  About 5-10% of all wine is afflicted with this tainted cork problem, no one knows precisely how much.  Once in a while a winery will get a whole batch of bad corks, but most of the time it happens kind of randomly and you can't tell whether a bottle of wine has this problem until you actually open it.  

When you open a bottle you should always pour a little of the wine into a glass to try it and make sure it's ok before drinking it.  That's why restaurants always pour a little wine for the person that ordered the bottle before anyone else, it's so that you can smell and taste the wine to verify that it's not corked.  If the wine smells like moldy cardboard, old socks, mildew, a damp greenhouse and then if you taste it and it has those same tastes and not too much fruit: it's corked.  Don't drink it.  If you're at a restaurant they'll take it back and bring you another bottle; if you're at home take the bottle back to the store you bought it from and they'll replace it.  Remember it's not the shop or restaurant's fault and neither is it the winery's; it was the cork that was faulty from the beginning.  Another bottle of the same wine should be totally different and enjoyable the way the wine maker intended so don't hold it against them.

It's not very glamorous or romantic, but it's something that all wine drinkers should be familiar with.  I love wines that taste like where they come from, not wines that taste like moldy basement!

General Wine Geekery 8 (Wines that taste like where they come from)

 

The local food movement is great for all kinds of reasons and I'm not going to even attempt to open that book in this tiny article.  I'm just going to take a tiny excerpt from one of the chapters.  A component of the local food movement is spreading awareness about where food comes from.  Thanks to this movement a lot of the Maine population is now aware that food comes from somewhere, and although three carrots may look alike, they may have been grown in three totally different ways.  Of course a Chantenay carrot grown in Knox county is going to taste radically different from a bag of processed baby carrots that were grown in CA.  It's just an unavoidable fact that any agricultural product is going to taste different depending on where and how it was produced; how good it is for you and it's nutrient value will also vary based on the chemicals involved in the farming, the yields, and how fresh it is.  I'm not making any sweeping judgments about globalization, after all lots of my wine comes from Europe, I'm just laying out the facts.  I think it's very important that we're aware of how these agricultural products are produced.  Here's how this is relevant to me: Wine is an agricultural product!

For some odd reason we seem to care much more about how our parsnips, apples, and kale is grown and where they come from than we do about wine.  Wine is made from grapes!  Grapes grow on vines!  Grapes also happen to be one of the top 5 highest pesticide load agricultural products.  All these wines may come in similarly shaped 750ml glass bottles but the only assumption you can make is that they're made from fermented grapes and don't have artificial flavorings added; natural flavorings and colorings are in fact allowed.  I'm not an anti-technology Luddite.  Modern wine making like sanitation, temperature control, and sulfates do a lot to keep our wines from tasting funky and moldy. 

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This is what a very large winery looks like.

All the unique flavors and variation among wines that comes from the climates and soil that produced them are a huge draw for me and keeps wine interesting.  When a wine is made in an industrial manner in a winery that looks more like an oil refinery you lose a lot of those unique characters and you're left with something that doesn't really taste like it came from anywhere; it just came from a recipe.  Wine making on such a huge industrial scale has made smooth easy drinking wine much more affordable, but in the name of that we risk losing the quirkiness and sense of place that makes wine fun.

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Benoit Blet standing in his 1 acre vineyard.

But wait!  It's not all doom and gloom.  Maine is bucking the national trend of consolidation in the wine industry and we have a whole crop of small distributors similar to me and Devenish wines that focus on smaller production wines.  If you want a bottle of wine that costs less than a gallon of gas, it's out there.  If you want a bottle of wine that's hand made by someone who lives on the land they farm and works naturally: that's available too, and you can find wines like that for under $15 if you look.  My blog http://devenishwinesgeek.typepad.com/ is a good place to start but there's all kinds of interesting wine out there if you just go ask at a wine shop.  Maybe that's the bottom line here: globalization has brought us all kinds of choices, knowing what they are is our individual responsibility.


General Wine Geekery #7 Petit Jo

A requirement of being a professional wine geek is that I have to taste A LOT of wines.  Not all the wines I taste are good; some are out right bad, others are technically well made but lack passion.  Plenty of other wines are boring or seem too expensive considering their price.  Very rarely do I taste a wine that's well made, unique, tastes like where it comes from, and is a great value.  Today's article is about the last wine that really impressed me in that way.

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A couple months ago we got a sample of a new wine called Petit Jo.  I didn't know too much about it and we were tasting it along with a bunch of other wines, but out of all the other reasonably good wines the Petit Jo shocked us with its intensity and grabbed us.  It turns out it's made by father and son Antoine and Laurence Joly in France's Rhone valley. The Jolys farm organically and use the most natural wine making I've ever seen.  They make a rigorous selection of their grapes at harvest so they're starting with really healthy perfect grapes, but then they just put the whole clusters in a big tank and let it ferment with the wild yeast from the grape's skins.  After moving the young wine into a new tank in to let it settle, they bottle it.  No commercial yeast added, no filtering, no flavoring, no sulfur; nothing added at all! 

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All of us at Devenish were blown away by how intensely vibrant the Petit Jo was: it had vivid black raspberry fruit, a wild foresty hint, and a peppery spice that reminded us of the wild rosemary and thyme that grow all over the Rhone.  The wine is so energetic and exuberant tasting that I describe it as being like your crazy friend who shows up unexpectedly when you're feeling down and drags you off to some amazing party!  We all need a friend like that sometime.

The Petit Jo tastes like where it comes from (the Rhone), it's delicious, it's hand made, and it's $15 retail.  For a wine that's such a labor of love I think it's a great value!  This is a great standard bearer for the natural wine movement and demonstrates that you can make a brilliant gorgeous wine without adding anything at all to it.  I strongly encourage people to try this both for the experience and because I personally love it! The Petit Jo is widely available at the Honey Exchange, the Rosemont Markets, the Bier Cellar, Now You're Cooking, RSVP, Oh No Cafe, Aurora Provisions, Whole Foods, and Tess's Market.