Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Australian Shiraz: Too Good to Pass Up

You can’t always predict which wine will be the showstopper at a tasting. Might tasters be enthralled by the honeysuckle nose of a heady Viognier? Fall under the exotic spell of an earth-driven Carmènere? Be seduced by an inky, blueberry-scented Petite Sirah? Or would they stay true to their first love and peg the Cabernet as their favorite?

On Oscar night, a fun-loving group of family and friends chose an Australian Shiraz as their favorite,
 the 2010 Yangarra McLaren Vale.

Except for one lady who preferred the Carmènere, the Yangarra Shiraz had the rest of them at first swirl. With its pretty nose of blackberries and violets, this Shiraz had grace and complexity on the palate with fine tannins. A solid acid backbone and a mineral streak added freshness and vigor, making this Shiraz a great pairing for a variety of dishes beyond the usual lamb, game, cheeses and hearty meat dishes. 

While many Shiraz producers from the McLaren Vale region near Adelaide make warm-weather wines in the southern Rhône style, the Yangarra Shiraz leans more to the cooler-climate style in its balance and elegance. Rich, but not overextracted, this Shiraz commanded each taster’s interest and didn’t let go.

For reasons that escape this Syrah-maven, Syrah, called Shiraz in Australia and other parts of the New World, is struggling. American consumers have found a new love in Moscato. Hearts still beat wildly for Pinot Noir and a sizeable number of wine drinkers remain forever in love with Cabernet and Chardonnay. Through it all, Syrah has somehow been left at the station, notwithstanding the amazing stateside wines made from that grape in Washington, Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast.

Over in its native Northern Rhône homeland, Syrah makes world-class, full-throttle reds as in Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. Prices are steep, but are generally more accessible than higher-tier and far-better-known Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Syrah/Shiraz has a long history in Australia with Penfolds Grange and Henschke setting the bar. Other outstanding and consistent Shiraz producers include Heathcote, Mollydooker, Elderton and Schild, all of which you can find locally from time to time. Don’t miss them.

The 2010 vintage was an excellent one for McLaren Vale and Barossa red wines, and a welcome change after years of drought. Better yet, the 2012 vintage looks even more promising for reds with concentration and finesse. Wines from this later vintage are turning up at wine shops, and are well worth your wine spend.

Yet, perhaps in part due to confusion regarding its different name, Aussie Syrah/Shiraz has fallen off the radar of many wine enthusiasts. That’s a lot of terrific wine that isn’t being drunk, shared and savored.

Case in point: Although the wine-savvy tasters who enjoyed the Yangarra best of all belong to wine clubs and know good food, no one recalled ever having ordered Shiraz or Syrah when they dined out. My hope and bet is that they’ll be looking at the wine list in a different way now. And maybe next time, they’ll choose a bottle of Shiraz – or two. In wine, life is more than a Cabernet.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Tempranillo is Tops

According to a massive body of research just released by Australia’s University of Adelaide, Tempranillo tops the list of wine grapes whose worldwide plantings have risen the most in the past decade.

The groundbreaking report, 670 pages in all, gives a first-ever account of the world’s wine grapes and regions using statistics compiled from the 44 countries that account for 99% of global wine production.

This news may not come as a surprise to the many winemakers across the United States who have taken a shine to Tempranillo. Since Clos du Bois first bottled Tempranillo as a varietal wine in California in 1990, plantings have spread to states with radically different soil types and climate, from Napa, Arizona, Washington, Texas, Oregon, and Paso Robles to Virginia, Santa Barbara, Idaho and the Sierra Foothills. And that’s not to mention a rising tide of Tempranillo coming from Mendoza, South Africa and Australia's Barossa, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills and Hunter Valley.  

Since 2006, Tempranillo has also had its own non-profit trade organization, the Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society known as TAPAS. The society now represents more than 100 wineries, growers and, as the name winsomely implies, amigos. Together, they aim to promote not only Tempranillo but also other native Iberian grape varieties and the wines produced from them in North America.

And just last month, Wine Spectator magazine gave a grand toast to Tempranillo, awarding the 2004 Cune Imperial Gran Reserva as its 2013 top wine of the year.

So why Tempranillo?

An early ripener – “temprano” means “early” in Spanish – Tempranillo doesn’t require long, warm and sunny growing conditions that Cabernet and other warm-climate grapes prefer. In its native Spain, Tempranillo grows in diverse terroir where it not only gives rise to many stellar wines – from Cune, Vega-Sicilia, Marques de Murrieta, Muga and Pesquera, among others – but also delivers some of the top red wine values.

Tempranillo is no stranger to Spain’s neighbor, Portugal, where Tempranillo goes by the names of Aragonês and Tinta Roriz (in the Dão and Douro regions) and adds backbone to a variety of Portuguese table reds, as well as to Port.

Tempranillo grows well in sandy or clay loam soils, where vines can produce large crops up to 12 tons per acre, although such yields generally produce low-acid wines that lack concentration, flavor and color. Whereas a chilly springtime can put other red grape crops at risk, particularly during the critical bud-break period, Tempranillo is more tolerant of colder temperatures. As the grapes mature, Tempranillo also proves its mettle with its tough skin and tenacity on the vine. And while Tempranillo is susceptible to both major forms of mildew that can affect grapes, it resists rot. To vintners, Tempranillo is like the well-behaved child who doesn’t require a lot of parenting.

In the glass, Tempranillo often shows aromas and flavor that are more savory and earth-driven than fruit-dominant. Although flavors such as ripe plum, blackberry and, in some cases, bright red fruit shine through, much of Tempranillo’s appeal rests with its tobacco, leather and even cocoa notes. When these flavors are complexed by a beam of savory herbs, this umami-rich profile is known as balsamico. Combined with an underpinning of minerality and food-friendly acidity, Tempranillo delivers mouthwatering, satisfying pleasure.

Trend-spotters have attributed Tempranillo’s rising star to the growing popularity of tapas and Spanish-style cuisine. While Tempranillo pairs beautifully with tapas that feature ham, sausage, pork and savory elements, the wine is also versatile enough to enjoy with a variety of cheeses, stews, braised meats, pasta, pizza and vegetable dishes. Lighter-bodied versions can also accompany fish.
  Chef Dave Schy's chicken mole was a perfect pairing for this Tempranillo at last night's food-and-wine fundraising event for the Palm Springs Art Museum at Cooking with Class.

Among U.S. producers, look for Tempranillo wines from Oregon’s pioneering Abacela, California’s Kenneth Volk and Truchard (Napa), and Washington’s Gramercy Cellars and K Vintners. Oregon’s Stoller Family Estate makes a luscious Tempranillo rose from Dundee Hills fruit. Altocedro (Argentina) and Running with Bulls (Barossa) are also solid Tempranillo producers.

Cabernet Sauvignon may have claimed the #1 spot as the world’s most widely planted grape in the Aussie study, but Tempranillo has outrun many other up-and-coming wine grapes in vineyard volume over the past decade, including bigs such as Syrah and Chardonnay.

Let us know about Tempranillo you’ve found and enjoyed (or not) in the comments. We’ll be serving it at another Cooking with Class food and wine dinner soon, and you’re sure to find it next door at our small-plates restaurant, Cork & Fork, too.   

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Wines

With Thanksgiving long gone, save for the poundage left behind, it’s time to begin planning for rib roast, lamb loin, pork shoulder braises and bone-in steaks – now there’s some real holiday food.

The December celebrations provide great opportunities to open those special wine bottles you’ve been saving, whether it’s the big red you picked up on your last trip to Napa or that wine in your cabinet that just seems too massive for everyday fare. Now is the time to give those bottles a pop.

Rich, wintry dishes can stand up to the weight of bigger whites and reds, and vice versa. For whites, look to a Chardonnay that’s seen some oak or has undergone malolactic fermentation. With any luck, the bottle notes will give you a clue to both. If there’s no mention of barrel aging or what’s known as “malo” for short, the watch words in reviews and back labels include buttery, vanilla, toasty, rich and mouth-filling.

That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a leaner style of Chardonnay with your holiday meal. Unoaked or crisper styles are usually more food friendly, and might pair better with the lighter dishes on your table than a burly Chardonnay.

Other whites you might consider include Roussanne (Andrew Rich makes a great one, as do many of the Central Coast’s Rhone Rangers) and the more floral Viognier. Some vintners allow some oak with Viognier, which can add to the headiness of these wines. With its floral and apricot notes, Viognier brings its own more festivity to your holiday celebration, as will a sparkling wine. If you prefer a still wine to wow your revelers, open a Viognier and listen for the silence of satisfaction.

Red wine choices for your holiday feast cover a lot of ground. Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural choice, and aged versions with softer tannins will make great pairings for braised or slow-cooked and roasted meats. Serve a younger, tannic or fruitier (yes, Napa, we’re looking at you) with that bone-in steak or filet.

If your holiday meal includes lamb, make your red a Syrah. Not only is Syrah gorgeous with its exciting, deep color, a captivating, berry-rich nose and both finesse and weight on the palate, there are also many styles to choose from. You can go huge with Châteauneuf-du-Pape or go huge at a gentler price by choosing a winner from Washington state (Reininger and Reynvann are two favorites) or the Central Coast (Alban, Stolpman and Tablas Creek, among many others). Don’t forget South Africa and Australia too, and remember that Syrah wines from these countries are usually labeled as Shiraz.

Big-fruited Malbec from Argentina delivers a lot of value no matter what your price range. While some can be colossal, Malbec is easier to pair with food than other big reds because they’re lighter in tannins and thus, won’t put up a fight with many dishes.

Other big reds to consider include Grenache, Rhône blends, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Italian reds, which some wine lovers equate with medium-body or a Chianti style, can also be immense. These bigs make great wine partners for holiday meats and heavier pasta dishes such as lasagna. The choices are immense too, from Barolo and Barbaresco in the north to the super-Tuscans and southward for the inky Aglianico and Montepulciano of Campania and Abruzzo. Italian Primitivo tends not to be as big as American Zinfandel, so if you enjoy Zin’s flavor profile but just wish it weren’t so aggressive, try a Primitivo for a change. Tannins can be an issue with some Italian wines, with Barolo being famously tight after aging a decade or more, so opt for older vintages.

Spain is better known for its medium-bodied Tempranillo than for its bruiser reds. While Tempranillo will work beautifully with your December feasts, find complex, elegant versions from Ribera del Duero or wines made from Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Garnacha too. You won’t go wrong with dark and luscious Clio, a Monastrell-based blend. Check the back label for Spanish imports from Jorge Ordoñez. While he’s now also partnering with others in winemaking, Ordoñez imports a variety of modern-styled head-bangers from all over Spain.

So what will we be serving for our December food and wine dinner at Cooking with Class on Sunday, December 22? Make your reservations, throw on something festive and come find out. Chef Dave and I start serving at 6 PM, so you can get home in time to wrap a few more presents.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More Thanksgiving Wines

Chef Dave Schy’s savory and delectable dishes rocked the crowd at our November food and wine dinner this past Sunday at Cooking with Class. The energy buzzed around the demonstration kitchen as guests kept Chef and I busy tossing around Thanksgiving tips, ideas and stories.

The wine picks for our holiday-themed dishes were Secateurs 2012 Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Commanderie de la Bargemone 2012 Rosé from Aix-en-Provence, California’s Block Nine 2012 Pinot Noir and Torbreck 2011 Cuvée Juveniles from Australia’s Barossa Valley, a Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro blend.

Even though the food pairings showcased the versatility of these four wines for turkey day, we’re betting some guests will still be tempted to open an oaky Chardonnay or big Cab tomorrow. Resist! Stash them away for next month’s big holiday dinner, where those wines will match up beautifully with rib roasts and sing with other wintry foods.

Since we’ll all be eating leftovers the rest of the week, consider a few more Thanksgiving wine tips as opportunities to try something a little different.

A slightly sweet and fizzy red from Emilia-Romagna, Italy that bubbles with holiday cheer. It’s easy on the wallet and sure to please. Look for “Grasparossa di Castelvetro” on the label for a sure bet.

A no-brainer white that can tie together the sweetness and spice of holiday dishes. Find great choices at 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro or pick up Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Kung Fu Girl Riesling for just under $10 at Dan’s Wine Shop.

Low in tannin and big on fruit, this French red pairs beautifully with turkey and fixin’s. Find nice selections at Dan’s Wine Shop and LA Wine Company in Palm Desert.

For a taste of Americana, look to Norton, a native American red wine grape.
We found one we like at the Palm Desert Total Wine from Virginia’s Horton Vineyards.

California and Washington vintners make deliciously soft and smooth Merlots to suit any budget. An excellent value pick from Washington is the Barnard Griffin 2011 Washington Merlot you can find at Dan’s Wine Shop: 760.674.0305.

With thanks for all your support – best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thanksgiving Wines

We took four wines on a Thanksgiving test drive at the October food and wine pairing dinner last week at Cooking with Class – an Australian white, an Italian rosé and two southern hemisphere reds. In the end, it was a photo finish as each wine held its own as a pairing contender for Thanksgiving dishes.

As with so many other aspects of wine enjoyment, Thanksgiving wine choices reflect personal tastes and preferences. Do you relish a complementary or contrasting pairing? Would you rather stick with one wine to carry the meal or do you prefer a variety of wines to pair with Thanksgiving’s schizoid sides? What about lighter wines to balance the heft of holiday dishes? Or do you crave savage reds that will wage battle with gustatory gut-busters? 

We began the face-off with the Yalumba 2012 Y Series Viognier, served with Chef Dave Schy’s warm shrimp and mango salad. This medium-bodied charmer has aromas of ginger, lychee and pear with just the right amount of lightness for turkey. On the palate, the wine offers a refreshing burst of spice and pineapple to pair with exotic side dishes, too. Winemaker Louisa Rose knows how to coax goodness from unpredictable Viognier grapes at Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, where she makes Viognier in a variety of styles. The Y series is stainless steel fermented but aged for a few months on its lees. Such aging gives the wine a balanced richness that won’t fatigue your palate, as with Viognier styles that are weighted down by too much oak. Make a toast to Thanksgiving’s roots with a Viognier from Virginia or try another domestic winner from California’s Central Coast tangent winery.

To pair with our next course of butternut squash soup, we served a crisp and zesty rosé made from 100% Barbera grapes grown in the Asti province of Piedmont. As I’ve described before, rosé is a favorite choice to carry a Thanksgiving meal, and this rosé was no exception. Made by an Italian family with Coachella Valley roots, the aptly named Bella Blush is as dangerously delicious as winemaker Lorenzo Lombardelli promised. If you’re stymied by Thanksgiving wine suggestions that seem all over the map, take a short-cut to holiday magic with a dry, red-fruited rosé with crisp, mineral or citrus overtones.

Red wines don’t fare as well with many Thanksgiving dishes, especially tannic reds or those with blowtorch alcohol levels. Instead, we opted for the medium-bodied Neil Ellis 2010 Sincerely Shiraz from South Africa’s Stellenbosch and Darling regions. This is a balanced, lightly oaked wine with dark berry, spice and fruitcake aromas and flavors that do justice to many holiday dishes. And it’s red, for all the whiners at your table who won’t be satisfied with a white or rosé.

We closed the meal with a plummy, full-bodied Malbec from Argentina’s Altocedro winery. The 2012 Año Cero has a captivated nose of lavender and blackberries. Bright on the palate, the wine has weight that’s balanced by a mineral streak and enough acidity to keep the palate refreshed and ready for more. Malbecs have the fruitiness to pair with many Thanksgiving fruit-accented side dishes without the heft or tannins of Cabernet or the earthiness of many old-world standard-bearers.

So there you have it: four very different wines that will bring wine pairing pleasure to your Thanksgiving meal. Join us at Cork & Fork and see how well all four match up to a variety of dishes or try a glass at the bar.

If you want to explore more Thanksgiving wine pairing options, take a look at these earlier posts:

We’ll explore a new group of holiday wine pairings at our November food and wine dinner set for Sunday, November 24 at 6 PM. Make your reservations here or by calling 760.777.1161. See you then!