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.