Monday, December 31, 2007

Portal Roble, 2005

Portal Roble, 2005

This wine from the Terra Alta region of Spain is 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Garnacha, 20% Merlot, 20% Tempranillo and 20% Syrah. It is aged for 6 months in French and American and Hungarian Oak. It is purple-colored, with an impressive array of aromas including vanilla, spice box, pepper, cassis, black cherry, and blackberry. This wine is medium to full bodied on the palate. This is a rich wine with lots of flavors of ripe berries and black plums. There are nicely integrated tannins and acidity with a lengthy finish. Drink it over the next several years. This is a very nice "Spanish blend" that is a good value for about $13. The wine makers Ludovicus is also one to try.

Jumilla Spain and Monastrell Grape

Monastrell, cultivated in the Mediterranean region up to the southern portion of France (where it is also known as Mourvèdre) has a Spanish origin. It needs a Mediterranean climate to mature properly, with long, luminous summers. It has small spherical berries that are very dark enclosed within an abundant bloom. It makes intense wines with good tannic energy that soften when aged. It is often used in blends with velvety varieties such as Garnacha.

(Here is an aticle from the Rare Wine Co. newsletter relating to Bodegas Olivares and the Jumilla region of Spain.)

As Spain’s winemaking revolution continues to flourish, one of the next hot spots promises to be Jumilla, 150 miles southeast of Madrid. Along with Quinta do Noval’s Nacional vineyard and Bollinger’s Vignes Françaises, Jumilla was one of the few places in Europe spared during the Phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800’s. Virtually everywhere else on the continent, vineyards were devastated and, to this day, can only be planted when grafted onto American rootstock.
For Jumilla, the key to its vineyards’ survival was their sandy soil—which is resistant to the Phylloxera insect. As a glorious consequence, Jumilla not only has some of the oldest vines in the world, but also the largest number of ungrafted vines. Most of these vines are Mourvèdre—or Monastrell as it is locally known—one of the most prized varieties of Mediterranean Europe.
Jumilla’s summers boast hot days and cool nights, perfect for ripening grapes, while maintaining acidity.
Today, Jumilla is awakening to its vast potential, and a winemaking revolution has followed—led by growers like Olivares’ Paco Selva. He owns 65+ hectares of ungrafted old vineyards in the northern part of the appellation, in La Hoya de Santa Ana. It is the coolest sub-zone of Jumilla, with sandy, lime-rich soils that yield intensely aromatic wines, while protecting the ungrafted vines from Phylloxera.

Bodegas Olivaris Altos De La Hoya, 2006

Bodegas Olivaris Altos De La Hoya Monastrell, 2006

This red wine is a blend of "ungrafted old vine" Monastrell (92%) and Garanacha (8%) that is ages in new and old oak for a 6 month period. The color is deep purple and borders on being opaque. The nose here is quite exotic with blackberries, blueberries and spice. In the mouth this is a very smooth and rich wine with explosive fruit and spice and almost a sweet taste of berries and cotton candy. The tannins and acidity are low, but there is an overall level of complexity that makes this wine a fun "sipper". I recommend this with some dried meats and cheese. This wine is sold at Esquin Wine Merchants for about $11. I very nice value from Jumilla.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Las Rocas Vinas Viejas Garnacha, 2005

Las Rocas Vinas Viejas, 2005

In Spain, the region of Calatayud is located about 150 miles northeast of Madrid, and is centered near the rivers of Jiloca and Jalon. One of the youngest viticultural regions to attain D.O. status in Spain (1989), Calatayud is comprised of some 8,000 hectares of vines, most of which are planted to red varietals. Although there are only a few wineries in the zone, these are beginning to show why their wines are so special. About fifteen percent of the vineyard land’s production has been bottled at one of Spain’s best and most progressive cooperatives, San Alejandro. With an abundance of amazing raw material, Eric Solomon was able to commission several bottlings of very old vine fruit into what has become one of the most sought-after estates in the portfolio. Unlike the regular Los Rocas (see previous write-up December 3, 2007) that is un-oaked, the Vinas Viejas is aged for 10-12 months in new and one year old oak barrels. This wine is 100% Garnacha from 100 year old vines planted on high altitudes in pure slate soil. The color is a deep purple with black highlights. On the nose there is sweet strawberries, cherries and vanilla. This is a medium to full bodied wine with a rich, velvety mouth feel with nice smoothness and no harsh edges. The rich dark berry flavors are offset with mushroom and cedar box. The tannins and acids are well controlled, but sufficient to allow this to be a great sipper or a compliment to a hardy meal. I recommend seeking out the great value for an excellent Garnacha from Spain. It is available at the Seattle Wine Company for about $15. Outstanding.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Map of Spain with Wine Regions

Click on map to enlarge.

Holiday Cookies

Holiday Cookies
Just in time for the holidays… Some great cookie recipes that you are sure to enjoy !

Russian Snowballs

These cookies are buttery, nutty, crumbly and covered with powdered sugar. You can substitute hazelnuts for a great twist !

2 sticks or 1 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups flour
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine butter and ½ cup of the powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl, beat until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and beat well. Stir in flour, salt, and nuts and blend completely. Roll bits of dough between palms into 1 inch balls and place 1 inch apart on cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until pale yellow on top and light brown on the bottom. Remove from oven and toss and roll cookies in a bowl of the remaining powdered sugar (about 6 at a time). Allow to cool on rack, then roll again in powdered sugar. Makes 3 to 4 dozen.

Great Sugar Cookies
Mae Styrlund (Dr. Styrlund’s mom) made these great sugar cookies every year. Use red and green colored granulated sugar on top to give them pizzazz !

1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup oil
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
4 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
colored sugar
Cream the sugars, butter and oil until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, mix well. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes till well chilled. Roll in palms of hands into 1 inch balls and place un-greased cookie sheets about 1 ½ inches apart. Flatten balls with bottom of a glass that you dipped in colored sugar. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes 8 dozen.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello, 1997

Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello, 1997

We have cellared this super Tuscan for the past 6 years. This wine made the wine Spectator "Top 100" list back in 2000. Wine Spectator rated this wine 95 points. This red has great aromas of ripe berries, meat and spices. The color is a deep dark ruby that is nearly opaque. The wine has a great mouth-feel with deep black cherry, strawberries and cream. The wine is full-bodied, with polished, well-integrated tannins and a long, long finish. Although this is a 1997 vintage (a great vintage in Tuscany), it still has abundant fresh fruit characteristic and a vitality that shows it could handle 5 or 10 more years of cellaring. We enjoyed this wine with a great meal at Cafe Juanita and we thought it was an outstanding wine to match a fantastic meal.

Cafe Juanita

Cafe Juanita
9702 NE 120th Place
Kirkland, WA 98034
Phone: (425) 823-1505

When Holly Smith took over the Cafe Juanita in 2000, Eastsiders gained one of the best restaurants in the United States, in our own back yard. Chef/Owner Holly had fine-tuned her culinary skills at Dahlia Lounge and Brasa (in Seattle) before opening this upscale restaurant that is a delightful working tribute to the great Osterias of Northern Italy. In a converted house tucked away in a corner of Juanita, the restaurant is warm and inviting. There is a amber glow of candles and a flaming fireplace, crisp white linens and a casual elegance that is very comfortable and relaxing. We have always found the service very professional and friendly as diners are clearly enjoying a gourmet experience.

I decided a nice Christmas gift, for Kate, was to take her for dinner to Cafe Juanita. As we eagerly studied the menu, we were happy to overhear a couple at a neighboring table ask their server for "two spoons" so they good lovingly "scoop-up" every last drop of the Rabbit Sauce which they proclaimed was "addictive"!

The menu is styled from the various regions of Northern Italy with an emphasis on fresh and organic ingredients. This is not a restaurant serving Spaghetti and Meatballs of Veal Parmigiano. Instead, you can dine on a large variety of upscale ingredients that are expertly crafted into delicious creations.

Kate started with an appetizer of Cipollini stuffed with Wagyu beef with Fonduta. She then moved on to a salad of Roasted Baby Beets with Almond Butter and a Gorgonzola Dulce Bambolino. For her entrée she enjoyed the Saddle of Oregon Lamb with Vivian's Jerusalem Artichokes in Bagna Cauda, Peperoncini Farciti.

My approach was slightly different. I started with Grilled Octopus with Fennel, Green Sauce and Chickpea Puré. After that I had pasta, the Goat Cheese Gnocchi with Lamb Sugo. For my entrée I enjoyed the Milk Braised Wild Boar with Black Kale. We shared some refreshing Lemon/Mint Sorbetto for dessert.

Their custom is to serve you some fine chocolate studded with sea salt, as a complimentary finale. If you are drinking a fine red wine, I recommend you save a few sips for this delightful "chocolate surprise". All the dishes we ordered were truly fantastic. The flavor combinations, outstanding ingredients and skilled preparations completely exceeded our expectations. Although we brought our own bottle of "special" wine, from our wine cellar, I should mention that they have a truly delightful wine list of great Italian wines (and other regions). It had been about a year since we had last dined at the Cafe Juanita, but we promised ourselves that we will return for another grand feast within the next few months!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Enotria Nebbiola, 1998

Enotria Nebbiola, 1998

The Graziano Family of Wines, from Mendicino, California, produce some Italian varietals with very nice success. In Italy, Nebbiolo is called the “misty one” because of the whitish blush on its dark purple skin. This is the king of red wines producing the exalted wines of Barolo. Located in the eastern foothills overlooking the Ukiah Valley, their Nebbiolo grapes are grown in the Fox Mountain Vineyard owned by Lowell Stone. Thirteen percent of this blend is Dolcetto which also was grown by Lowell Stone.
The grapes were hand-harvested at an average of 25 degrees brix, crushed into open top fermentors and kept cold for 3 days before inoculation and fermentation. The must was pumped over and punched down for sixteen days before being pressed and racked into 25% new French oak Vosge heavily toasted burgundy barrels. The wine then received extended barrel aging for 30 months, racked off its lees and egg white fined. The wine was rough filtered and bottled on August 30, 2001. This magnificent wine has medium dark garnet hues with enticing aromatic aromas and flavors of cherries, lavender and smoky vanilla that are supported by just the right balance of acidity and smooth tannins. Much like Pinot Noir (which Winemaker Greg Graziano calls Nebbio­lo’s twin brother from a different mother); this wine has been described as a thinking person’s wine because its character is very seductive and elusive all at the same time. We had first enjoyed this wine about 3 years ago after purchasing it at Larry's Market in Bellevue. We were happy to fine this wine was being sold at Whole Foods in Bellevue this Autumn. For the $14 price you get a well made mini-Americo-Barolo!

Italian Classifications... What do they mean?


If you look on any Italian label you will find the winery name, sometimes the vineyard name, the year, and an abbreviation (DOC, DOCG) or a phrase (Vino Da Tavola) which can be confusing and of-putting. What does this mean? Why is it there? What is the difference? Do not fret! The classifications for Italian wine are easy to understand with simply a base education which is outlined below.

There are four major categories of Italian wines:

- Vino Da Tavola

- Vino a Indicazione Geografica (IGT)

- Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)

- Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

Vino Da Tavola (VdT) (table wine) was once only required by law to not kill the drinker. There were few rules or regulations and most were thin, weak wines and sold in jugs which eventually became candlesticks. But now—the world has changed. There are some winemakers dedicated to changing the image of the VdT and the consistency, and these wines can be excellent and great bargains.

Vino a Indicazione Geografica (IGT) is a classification for a wine produced in a specific area. “Toscana” is a common IGT where Tuscans blend Sangiovese with varying amounts of other grapes like Cabernet or Merlot. These can be amazing wines with good acidity. The ‘Super Tuscan” blends are IGT status and can be some of the best wines coming out of Italy, as well as some of the most unique.

Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is the Italian version of the French AOC. DOC wines are produced in specific well-defined and tenured regions. There are very specific rules designed to preserve the traditions of Italian winemaking—each unique to the individual regions. Thus, the rules for making Barolo differ markedly from those for making Chianti Rufina. Region of production, grape varietals, minimum alcohol content, and aging length are all DOC regulations. In addition, to be eligible for a DOC designation, wines must pass a taste test and a chemical analysis.

Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) is the mother of all classifications. Only the strong survive this set of rules and regulations. To meet the standard, average yields are generally lower, and all DOCG wines must pass an evaluation of a tasting committee before they can be bottled. The DOCG testing has resulted in an overall improvement in quality for Italian wines. For many historic wines of extremely high quality, which meet all the requirements, the DOCG system functions splendidly and provides the wine drinker and consumer with an accounting of every bottle produced. This information was provided by Marchesi De' Fescobaldi (great wine makes for centuries).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera, 2005

Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera, 2005

This Barbera from Piedmont in Italy is a wine that shows the lighter side of Barbera. The color is ruby with a blackish hue. On the nose there is plum and spice. The taste was red and black fruits. This wine has high acidity and relatively low tannins. Barbera is known as the "King of Food" as it can compliment a wide variety of cusines. The hallmark acidity will pair well with dishes like pizza and tomato sause, yet will also take on the riches of a steak. It is available at Top Foods, in Bellevue, for about $11.

Here is an article from the Seattle PI newspaper about this wine.

Wine Pick Of The Week: 2005 Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera ($12)
No wine country appears to have more indigenous grape varieties than Italy. I'm not sure exactly how many grapes can call Italy home, but some estimates put the number at more than 2,000.
Fortunately, only a few dozen have made it into the mainstream. Each region (Italy has 20 regions) owes the distinctiveness of its local wines to its unique grape culture. In Tuscany, for example, sangiovese puts its mark on the famous Chianti wines as well as the highly regarded and very expensive Brunello di Montalcino (Brunello is a synonym for sangiovese). And in northwest Italy, in the region of Piedmont, where the last winter Olympics were held, the nebbiolo grape is responsible for Italy's most revered wines from the areas around the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco.
But there's another high quality grape grown here that has always lived in the shadow of its famous Piemontese paesano, and that is barbera.
Barbera has been used as a workhorse grape but, given the opportunity, it can achieve great heights. Alas, the best vineyard sites have always been reserved for nebbiolo, so great barbera continues to be rare. The good news is that barbera wines remain really good values and most of the best producers offer a version, including Fontanafredda.
The estate of Fontanafredda, which was founded as a hunting lodge in the late 19th century by King Victor Emmanuel II, has become not only one of the largest producers in the region but the standard bearer for most Piemontese wines. The 2005 barbera from Fontanafredda, which goes by the proprietary name Briccotondo, is fresh and approachable with plenty of red fruit flavors, which is fairly typical of these wines. But while other examples can sometimes be marked by shocking acidity, this one has a softness that gives it a distinctively plush texture on the palate. Try it with lighter meat dishes, pastas and even salmon.
To find the wine contact Unique Wine Co. at 425-255-8646.
-- Richard Kinssies

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gascon Malbec, 2006

Gascon Malbec, 2006

Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon, of Argentina, has been making very nice Malbec wines during the past 5 years and the 2006 Malbec is no exception. The new label is more subdued compared to the one from the past. The wine has a deep red/purple color. On the nose there is an aroma of dark blackberries and cherries with a hint of vanilla and toast . The wine is full bodied with flavors of black cherry, tar and some plum. The tannins and acidity are well developed on the long smooth finish. This wine will pair well with grilled meats, aged cheese or a dark chocolate dessert. We purchased this for $10 at QFC in Bellevue, but the full retail is about $14. A very nice Malbec for the price.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Penfolds Shiraz Coonawarra Bin 128, 1998

Penfolds Shiraz Coonawarra Bin 128, 1998

Back in 2001, this wine was scored Wine Spectator Magazine. We bought a few bottles at the time and tucked them away in our wine cellar. Back in 2001 we enjoyed one of the bottles and found it to be a luscious, fruit forward Shiraz with big backbone. Last night we open another bottle of this wine and we were floored by the delicious, well rounded flavors of this vintage. The wine still has a deep dark purple color. On the nose it is sweet blueberries, cherries and spice. Rich flavors of dark berry and cherry are offset with black pepper, fine tannins and acidity. This outstanding Shiraz gains momentum on the long finish. It is no longer a fruit bomb, but still very "New-World". It is very impressive for its intensity and elegance. Outstanding

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wrongo Dongo, 2006

Wrongo Dongo, 2006

We continue our journey into value priced Spanish wines with the latest vintage of this 100% Monastrell wine from the Jumilla region. This wine is bright purple with a filtered appearance. Primary dark berry aromas are accented by baking spices and hazelnut aroma. This red is juicy with straightforward blackberry and cherry flavors along with ample silky tannins to keep it interesting. The finish, which is bittersweet and deep, completes the whole package. This is a great value, for about $8, in the Seattle area.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Luzon Verde, 2006

Luzon Verde, 2006

This red is 100% Monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain. Bodegas Luzon has been making some great wines over the past few years and this "organic" entry is also very pleasing. Verde means green in Spanish, but there's nothing green about the taste of this wine. The color is a translucent ruby with purple highlights. This is a medium bodied with a smooth mouth feel and no harsh edges. Berries, plums, and some floral notes on the nose. Crisp and clean with a full dark fruit flavor. It has a soft spice and sweet tannins on the finish. This wine is very drinkable and satisfying. We enjoyed this with some wine braised beef short ribs with sautéed zucchini with red onions. We bought this wine at Esquin Wine store, in Seattle, for about 9 dollars. Very nice.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha, 2005

Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha, 2005

This Garnacha is a special project of importer Eric Solomon, who discovered these ancient high altitude Grenache vineyards (70-100 years old), and brand named the wine Las Rocas. The 2005 Las Rocas Garnacha is sourced from low yielding vineyards ranging in age from 70-100 years. This is an "un-oaked" wine that allows the true expression of the Grenache grape to shine through. It has attractive aromas of cherry, raspberries, pepper, and earth. .The color is a pleasant clear ruby. In the mouth this is a full-flavored wine with a supple texture and no hard edges. It is medium bodied with smooth tannins and sweet cherry and raspberry flavors. It has just enough acidity to keep it interesting while eating some spiced Marcona almonds and some fine Serrano ham. This is an excellent value from Spain that is available for about $9 in the Seattle area. Very nice.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Baked Brie in Puff Pastry with Honey-Walnut Sauce

Baked Brie in Puff Pastry with Honey-Walnut Sauce

This is a special warm appetizer that is very rich and delicious. You can buy the puff pastry Delaurenti's Market in Seattle (or make your own). Great for a small cocktail party for 4-6 people. Goes with any big red wine.

1 sheet frozen puffed pastry, thawed
1 8-ounce wedge or round Brie cheese
1 egg, beaten (for glaze)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out puff pastry to about a 12 inch square. Place cheese on pastry and fold over to seal completely. Pinch all edges together, remove excess dough and use as decoration on top. Be artistic, it will work. Use fork to press all seams completely together. Transfer pastry-wrapped Brie to baking sheet and brush pastry with egg wash. Bake Brie about 18 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.
Meanwhile, combine butter, honey and garlic in small sauce pan over low heat. Stir until butter melts (about 2-5 minutes) and set aside off the heat. When cheese is done, spread sauce on nice serving plate, sprinkle all the nuts and parsley over the entire plate, place cheese in the center of the plate. Serve with cheese knife and individual small plates and forks.


IGT delle Venezie

We cellared this wine for the past 3 years and enjoyed it with a rich potroast we cooked yesterday. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Refosco exhibits aromas of plum, black cherry, coconut, chocolate and oak tones. Being aged for a few years, the color was medium red with a slight orange tint on the rim. The wine was very leggy in the glass. It is dry and fruity with a very generous style. Flavors of plum, sour cherry, cinnamon and toast kept it lively and interesting. The wine had a long, smooth finish. We bought this at Pete's in Bellevue for about $20 back in 2004.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hogue Genesis Merlot, 2002

Hogue Genesis Merlot, 2002

Hogue has become one of the great value wine companies from Washington State Columbia Valley. The Genesis merlot offers very expressive aromatics, great depth, and a long balanced finish. The aromas are reminiscent of dark berries and dried cherries with a hint smoky oak and vanilla. This is a big merlot with a deep black fruit flavor that is inky and mouth filling. The color is dark ruby with deep black hues. This wine will stand up well to hearty pasta dishes and red meats. It is a rich wine on the palate with firm tannins and complex earthy tones. We had this cellared for the past 2 years and enjoyed it, last night, with Linguini and meatballs with marinara sauce. I originally purchased at a Washington State Liquor Store for about $10. I recommend the Genesis line of merlots as a great value in "big" Washington State merlots.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Argiolas Perdera, 2005

Argiolas Perdera, 2005

The 2005 Perdera is a blend of 90% Monica and equal parts Carignano and Bovale Sardo. This wine is from a longtime producer in Sardinia. It is aged in French oak for six months prior to bottling, it exhibits dense pepper, cassis, and cherry characteristics intermixed with a loamy soil undertones. The color is deep ruby with purple highlights. On the nose there is abundant dark fruit and a noticable tartness. It is medium to full bodied with fleshy mouth filling acidity and smooth abundant tannins. This wine is both sophisticated and rustic at the same time. This will match well with any hearty fare and exotic spices. It is available for about $12 at Pete's in Bellevue. A very good value from Sardinia!

Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne, 2005

Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne, 2005

We are big fans of the red wines from Piedmont region of northern Italy. The Barbera (bar-BEH-rah) grape is widely planted in the rolling hills and has been a staple of the area for many years. Nebbiolo and Dolcetto are two other red varieties that contribute to the great red wines of the region. Barbera is known as the "King of Food" grape, it complements a wide variety of cuisine. It has a hallmark acidity that can cut through tomato sauce with ease; yet, it can also take on the richness of a well marbled steak. The Vietti Barbera D'Asti offers loads of blackberry and black cherry flavors with a rich mouth feel and an underlying acidity of sour cherry. It is full bodied and has a dark ruby color with blackish hue. There are light tannins here and a slight note of chocolate. This new release is ready to drink now or can be cellared for a few years. If you like Barbera, you well really enjoy this one from Vietti. This wine is available a Pete's Wine Shop, in Bellevue, for about $15. Excellent.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Barbera Grapes in Piemonte, Italy

Here are some pictures I took in Piemonte. It is a great part of Italy to explore.

1) Vinyards of Barbera, Nebbiolo and Dlocetto
2) I was about to pick some Barbera

3) Our visit to Pecchenini Winery in Dogliani, Italy

Los Cucos de la Alberquilla Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006

Los Cucos de la Alberquilla Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006

Wow, this Cabernet from the Jumilla region of Spain strengthens my belief that the wines of Spain are some of the best wine values available. This wine sells for about $10 at Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle. On the nose is a delicious mix of black raspberry, cherries and brown sugar. The color is a lovely dark ruby that is nearly opaque. This is a medium to full bodied wine that with a smooth mouth feel with well integrated tannins. The flavors are typical cabernet with dark berry and cherry with a hint of cacao, mineral and marshmallow. There is enough acidity to pair well with a wide range of food. This is a smooth, luscious red that is a great quality at this price point. If you want to try a "New World" wine from Spain, seek out Los Cucos. Great.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Castano Monastrell, 2006

Castano Monastrell, 2006

This Yecla red wine from Castaño is made from 100% Monastrell (Mourvèdre). Sixty percent of this wine is fermented traditionally, while the other forty percent goes through carbonic maceration. It is released young and is meant to be an easy drinking, everyday wine. The resulting wine has a bright, fresh raspberry bouquet with dense, textured, cherry flavors on the palate. It is well structured with supple, integrated tannins. This wine is a great match for a simple dinner, but has enough body to hold up to hearty dishes including beef, game, and strong cheeses. A very tasty wine for about $8 at Esquin Wine Shop in Seattle.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pelissero Rosso, 2005

Pelissero Rosso, 2005

This Lange wine from Piedmont shows a deep ruby red color and is almost opaque. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing, refined and elegant aromas which start with hints of cherry, violet and plum followed by aromas of blackberry, licorice and cocoa,. The mouth shows full body, intense flavors of plum, blackberry and cherry and BIG tannins that grip your mouth.. The finish is long and complex. This wine is 80% Barbera, 10% Nebbiollo and 10% Dolcetto. This is a well made wine that was lovely now, but should evolve beautifully with some good cellaring. I would best describe this wine as a "Super Piedmontese". It is available at Esquin Wine Merchants, in Seattle, for about $13. We enjoyed this with our Autumn Pizza Party.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Autumn Pizza

Roasted Butternut Squash, Proscuitto, Mozzarella and Basil

Today was a stormy day here in the Northwest with heavy wind and rain. What could be better than to fire-up the wood burning pizza oven and make a few pies. I made three different pizzas; however, the best was the Autumn Pizza. I made a fresh Napoletana pizza dough with Caputo Tipo "00" flour (from Italy), water and fresh yeast. The topping was Prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, roasted butternut squash puree and basil. I will definitely add this to my "Fall" line-up. We enjoyed them with a lovely bottle of Rosso from Piedmont.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda, 1996

Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda, 1996

This is a Chianti Classico Reserva that we brought back from our trip to Tuscany in 2000. Last night we decided we should pop the cork and see how it was drinking after being cellared for 7 years. It showed a dark red color with crimson and purple hues. On the nose there were green herbs with sour cherry and strawberry. The fruit flavors were still fresh with blackberry and cherry. The wine was medium bodied with a long satisfying finish. Both the tannins and acidity were smooth and controlled. This wine really elevated or simple dinner of soup and sandwich!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Falesco Vitiano 2005

Falesco Vitiano 2005

An Italian blend of equal parts Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes grown in Umbria. Vitiano is made in stainless steel tanks and aged in barrels for 3 months before being bottled. This is a young red wine with explosive, luscious aromas. The wine has a wonderful deep, ruby red color with a nose of dark cherries, pepper and herbs. It is a rich medium to full bodied wine with balanced acidity. The flavors of cherry, plum and pepper with licorice are enveloped in a blanket of fine tannins. This versatile red is best in its youth, when the fresh fruit character is most evident, but I have cellared past vintages for 2-4 years with nice success. Vitiano is a perennial value and can be found in Seattle for under $10.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pizzeria Bianco

Pizzeria Bianco
623 E Adams St.Phoenix, AZ 85004

Chris Bianco has created what is often regarded as the best pizza restaurant in the United States. A New York native born into an Italian/American family, he came to appreciate pure and quality food preparation, during a family vacation to Italy. He grew up knowing the NY Pizza business, but the trip to Northern Italy, while a teenager, opened his eyes and launched him on his life's quest. Pizzeria Bianco is located in Heritage Square in Central Phoenix.. This small historic building only seats about 40 people. There is a large wood burning oven that is manned by Chris, himself. The menu is simple and perfect. Start with an Antipasto Plate or Spiedini, have a salad with one of 6 or 7 pizza choices. The Antipasto plate was perfect with roasted eggplant, mushrooms, peppers along with delicious Sopressata and sharp cheese. We had a perfectly simple salad of fresh local escarole with Parmesan cheese and a light olive oil and vinegar dressing. Kate had a pizza with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and homemade sausage. I had one with fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, ricotta and arugula. The crust was perfectly light, flavorful, crisp with inner moisture and chewiness. All the ingredients were delicious and expertly prepared. The service and atmosphere were great and we look forward to returning in the future. This place is so insanely popular, that normal "wait- times" can easily be two hours or more. While waiting, you can sit outside with a drink from Bar Bianco, next door.

Justin Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005

Justin Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005

I like California cabs, but they are not my favorite wines to drink with dinner. This cabernet from Paso Robles is my favorite California Cab of the moment. This is a fruit-forward, luscious red with just enough acidity to pair well with a hardy steak or some Chicken Parmesan. The nose is blackberry, caramel with a hint of vanilla. In the mouth it is full bodied with cherry, chocolate and well developed tannins. The finish is long and pleasing. If you like "big cabs" with new world style, pick up a few of these. It is sold for about $20 at Pete's Wine Store in Bellevue.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Altesino Rosso Di Altesino 2004

Altesino Rosso Di Altesino, 2004

This red table is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% cabernet/merlot. Altesino is best known as a Tuscan producer of great Brunellos. The color is dark red with a purple rim. The nose shows dark cherry, berry and some earthiness. In the mouth it is medium bodied with delicious dark cherry and spice. There are plenty of tannins here that will completely surround your tongue completing a long, dry finish. This is an elegant high quality wine that will go well with a grilled pork chop with porcini mushrooms. You can find this wine at Seattle Wine Co. for about $13. Excellent!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tapeña Tempranillo, 2006

Tapeña Tempranillo, 2006

This is an easy drinking tempranillo (temp-rah-NEE-yo) from Spain that will pair well with a burger and fries or perfect paella. Light cherry and caramel on the nose and in the mouth there is the taste of cherry mixed with mineral and cranberry. This is a light to medium bodied wine with moderate concentration and light tannins. If you want to enjoy an easy sipping bargain wine from Spain, give Tapeña a chance. You can find this wine for about $8 at QFC, in the Seattle area.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Curried Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

This was a staff favorite at our Oktoberfest party this weekend. Since I cook by "taste" verses actual recipes, I hope this comes out to your liking!

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onions (one large onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 1/2 pound butternut squash (med/large size)
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups half and half
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream, garnish (optional)

Cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise, and discard the seeds. Place squash on baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 75-90 minutes, until fork tender. Allow to cool. (Can be done a day or two ahead and refrigerated until ready.) When cooled or ready, remove squash from skin and set aside.
In a large soup pot over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add onion and sauté until slightly brown. Add garlic, curry powder, cumin, ginger, brown sugar and cayenne pepper; cook, stirring constantly, about 2–3 minutes. Add squash, chicken broth and the chopped apple. Bring liquid to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 15 to 20 minutes.
Puree mixture in a blender or food processor, in batches, and transfer back into soup pot. (I use an emersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot.) Return the pot of soup to the stove over low to medium heat, stir in the half and half and the milk and bring up to "near" simmer temperature (about 190 degrees). Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve now or keep warm until ready.

NOTE: At this point, soup may be refrigerated until ready to serve. To serve, warm over low heat, stirring until hot. Remove from heat and serve in soup bowls, top with a small splash of sour cream.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Querciabella , Mongrana 2005

Querciabella , Mongrana 2005

Made by the revered estate of Querciabella, this is delicious Tuscan blend of 50% Sangiovese and equal parts Cab and Merlot that impress anyone who loves Italian wines. When I first opened the bottle, I noticed it was quite low on aroma and showed a lot of acidity on the tongue. I hoped it would settle down and, after it had a chance to open up for a half-hour, it was really giving off some beautiful aromas of black fruits, spice, earth, and subtle vanilla, and was full, rich, and explosive in the mouth with a lingering, spicy finish. This is a great "food wine" from Tuscany from the acclaimed southern region called Maremma. The Maremma region is the same area that such Iconic Italian wines as Ornellaia and Sassicaia are produced. You can find this wine at Pete's in Bellevue for $14.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sebastiani, Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Sebastiani, Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

One of the fun things about having a wine cellar is buying some nice wines and laying them down to rest for some years. Back in February, 2001 Wine Spectator Magazine rated this wine 90 points with the following review:
Layers of coffee, currant, mineral, black cherry, sage and cedar unfold in this ripe, rich and complex Cabernet, finishing with a long, intricate aftertaste. The price represents a great deal on a wine that's both cellarable and drinkable now. Drink now through 2008. 3,850 cases made.
Last night we opened this 1997 Cab to enjoy with a grilled Flank Steak dinner. We were impressed that this wine still showed a youthful side with great depth and complexity.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Vinos Pinol, Ludovicus 2005

Vinos Pinol, Ludovicus 2005

The 2005 Ludovicus is a great value wine from Spain It is a tank-fermented and oak-aged (for three months) wine made from 35% Grenache, 30% Tempranillo, 25% Syrah, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Terra Alta region. It exhibits a deep ruby/purple color along with a lush nose of cherry liqueur, licorice, and pepper. On the tongue it is rich, velvety and quite opulent. This "new-world" blend is fruity, spicy, and pure. Drink now or consume it over the next several years. You can find this wine for about $10 in QFC in the Seattle area.

Planeta, La Segreta Rosso 2006

Planeta, La Segreta Rosso 2006

This is a everyday Sicilian red that is a blend of 50% Nero d'Avola, 25% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc. It has a ruby red color with purple highlights. The nose has fresh berries, cherries and plum. The taste is fruit forward with smooth tannins and enough acidity to pair well with any hardy meal. Food and Wine Magazine picks this as one of their top Italian wine for under $20. Make some lasagna and enjoy a bottle of La Segreta . It is sold for $10-$14 in the Seattle area.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Gorman Winery 2007 Release Party

Gorman Winery
19501 144th Ave NE #C500
Woodinville, WA 98072

This afternoon we visited Gorman Winery for their 2007 Release Party. Owner and winemaker Chris Gorman has been making premium Northwest wines since 2002. His small winery produces about 1000 cases per year of wines from fruit predominantly grown in Red Mountain. Chris tells us that much of his fruit is grown at the Kiona Vineyards which has a reputation for great fruit. The winery is located in an unassuming warehouse building in a Woodinville commercial zone. The winery is only open to the public about 4 days per year and this event had the feel of a swank, "opening night" club party. Rock music was playing as we were greeted at the door with a warm welcome and an oversized Reidel wine glass. Chris is releasing three red wines from the fantastic 2005 vintage and a white wine from the 2006. All of the wines are fantastic. Here is a breakdown of what we tasted:

The Big Sissy Chardonnay 2006
Conner Lee Vinyard
This is an excellent Chardonnay with nice weight and character. It was made in new French oak adding a buttery finish and smoothness.

The Bully Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Red Mountain
This is a beautiful, full bodied Cabernet with a thick meaty mouth feel, oodles of dark berries and nice chewy tannins. This red is very youthful at this point but ready to drink now or later.

The Pixie Syrah 2005
Red Mountain
This red is 100% Syrah and we are told it is more "Old World" style. This wine is still slightly fruit forward with a luscious mouth feel and long finish. It had nice berry flavors with a hint of spice. This would be great with a rack of lamb with a mustard crust!

The Evil Twin 2005
Red Mountain
This is a lovely blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is big, bold and juicy with a nice structure and a good backbone. This full bodied wine delivers ample smooth tannins on a long finish. It is fruit forward without overstating its character. This will be great with any hardy food or well aged cheese.

Ps. They also served great Cubaña Pulled Pork Sandwiches, to enjoy with the wine, and these were fantastic too!

Serious Pie

Serious Pie
316 VirginiaSeattle, WA 98121
(206) 838-7388

Tom Douglas’ pizzeria, Serious Pie, is a warm friendly downtown restaurant serving a small menu of high quality appetizers, pizzas and desserts. The small cozy dinning room has high tables that seat up to eight people, communal style, with straight-back leather stools that are comfortable and fun to sit in. The pizzas are the main attraction here. The pizzas are fired in a wood burning oven fueled by Northwest apple wood. Pizzas are individual sized, measuring roughly 8 by 12 inches, and are served on slick black cutting boards. The emphasis is on high quality and perfected techniques. Unique ingredients include things like local manila clams, Italian truffle cheese, fresh shaved fennel, mozzarella di bufala and yukon gold potatoes. Pizzas have thin, flavorful crust with sufficient wood char to give the perfect crispy chew. Wines are available by the glass, carafe or bottle, with a good selection from Italy. Expect to pay a little more than your average stone oven pizza place for unique ingredients, a warm friendly atmosphere and that Seattle loved, "Tom Douglas" touch.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Feudo Arancio, Nero D'Avola, 2004

Feudo Arancio, Nero D'Avola, 2004
This red wine from Sicilia is made from 100% Nero D'Avola, the main red grape of the region. On the nose is floral and tropical scents that remind us of pineapple and flowers. The wine is medium bodied with a dark (black) color and a smooth, fruity mouth feel. The cherry and current taste is joined by light acidity and well intigrated tannins. If you want to try a "easy-drinking" Sicilian red wine, this is your baby. Available in the Seattle area for around $8.

Grilled Flat Bread Stuffed with Cheese and Fruit

This grilled, stuffed flat bread is delicious with a great glass of wine. Here is how you do it. I took one ball of fresh pizza dough and cut it in half. Roll out dough balls into two thin, oblong sheets. I placed about 2-3 ounces of truffle cheese and a diced Italian plum in the center of one and Fontina cheese with sliced fresh figs (2), in the other. Fold over dough to form sealed packets that resemble burritos. Rub with olive oil and grill for 3-5 minutes , per side, until browned and crisp. Serve with additional sliced figs or plums and drizzle Balsamic vinegar and honey over the food and whole plate.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Prosciutto Wrapped Peppers with Goat Cheese

Prosciutto Wrapped Peppers with Goat Cheese

Take about 10 jalapeños and slice them in half, lengthwise, and remove the stem and seeds. Fill each half with a mixture of goat cheese and cream cheese ( half of each blended together). Wrap each stuffed pepper with a slice of Prosciutto and skewer. Grill for about 3-5 minutes, per side, on a medium-hot grill. Let cool a few minutes, then devour them!

Kiona Sangiovese, Reserve, 2003

Kiona Sangiovese, Reserve, 2003

This is estate grown Sangiovese from Red Mountain, Washington. This red, a Tuscan favorite variety, is beautifully crafted. This is a medium bodied wine with a nose of sweet raspberry, strawberry and cotton candy. The color is red with good clarity. In the mouth this velvety wine has pleasant berry fruit flavors, well integrated light tannins and just enough acidity to pair well with any Italian dinner. The finish is long and smooth. We enjoyed this wine with a grilled stuffed flatbread and some goat cheese stuffed peppers!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Ghost of 413, 2005

The Ghost of 413, 2005
This Columbia Valley Red from "The Giant Wine Company", is crafted by Chris Gorman and Mark Ryan McNeilly. It is a blend of cabernet, merlot and cab franc, aged 20 months in French oak. This is a delightful wine that showcases Washington State's excellent 2005 vintage. This wine needs a little time to "open-up" and reveal its full tilt black cherry and plum flavors enveloped in a caressing layer of fine grained tannins. The nose is sweet berries and brown sugar. The oak is subtle and does not overwhelm the great fruit qualities. Only about 2000 cases were made and it sells for about $15, in the Seattle area. A real beauty, don't be afraid of this ghost!