Are Wines from Washington age-worthy?

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When was the last time you had a succulent wine originating from the state of Washington? I recently tasted a couple of Washington wines during a visit to Seattle. As a matter of fact, I had an epiphany after visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle and tasting their Ethos Merlot 2005 early this year(2015). The 10-year old wine was astonishing, following the tried and true Napa Valley’s recipe for successful Cabernet: Ripe, decadent and complex. Except this was a Washington Merlot! Shortly after my trip, I went on a rampage looking for Washington wines, which brings me to the point of this post. How come I have never heard conversations about Washington wines age-ability?
First, I have to admit that I had been paying way too much attention to California and Oregon wines; Napa Cabs and Oregon Pinot Noir respectively. As I researched more about the Ethos wine, I realized that some of the best Washington wines had built a reputation on “Right Bank” Bordeaux blends, anchored with Merlot. Like Bordeaux, Washington has a cooler, shorter growing season. Accordingly, winemakers decide on the composition of their fabulous blends depending on each vintage, using varying amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Now onto these wines in the pictures. The one on the left is the 2007 Pirouette, from the Long Shadows Vintners, composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. It opened up with forward aromas of vanilla, black cherries and minerals. My preliminary impression was that the wine was a bit tight, which lead me to do an experiment. After the initial taste, I let it air. Every two hours, I would taste it again, make some notes for a later comparison in order to extrapolate and make assumptions about its age-ability. Yes, my experiment involved getting up at 2:00AM, 4:00AM, 6:00AM and so forth to properly take a sample. Of the twelve samples, right around the 6th sampling, the bouquet reached its pinnacle. The round, soft, and elegant mouthfeel was lingering and satisfying. However, afterward the bouquet lost grip but the flavors remain pleasant. For the price of $50.00 at Marty’s in Newtown, MA, I thought it was a borderline good value, considering my specialty is finding values in the $20.00-30.00 range.

The second wine, Waterbrook Reserve 2007 Columbia Valley Merlot, was a bit easier to analyze but I must admit that knowing the price prior tasting impacts expectations. The wine was balanced with intense aromas and flavors of black cherries with hints of cedar. On the palate, the wine was full body offering the richness and texture found in more expensive wines. Finishes with earthy notes, mellowed tannins and concentrated fruit flavors. Alas, no 24-hour aeration experiment! The tannins of the wine suggested meat and I assure you, complementing it with sirloin tips was an excellent option. For this, I paid $20.00 at One Stop Liquor in Pawtucket, RI.

Perfect Pairing: Textbook Malbec and Steak.

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Few things, among the simple meals I consider comfort food, provide pure pleasure such as a juicy slab of steak accompanied by a bold and tannic red wine. Particularly if the red wine is a fine textbook Malbec from Argentina. Malbec hails from Bordeaux, where is one of the six grapes permitted to be part of a Red Bordeaux blend. However, after the phylloxera epidemic of 1850 hit the region, Malbec almost disappear and became less popular in Bordeaux. These days Malbec has found a new home in Cahors and all the way to Mendoza, Argentina, where it is now the prominent grape in both regions. Unlike the tried and true Old World Vs New World wine comparison from Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah to Pinot Noir, Malbec provides one of the few examples where one could draw stark distinctions between wines of the same grape, made in different places. But these disctictions are not derived from terroir alone. While Cahors sticks to tradition producing wines with a more austere flavor profile, brooding fruit, tannins and minerals, Argentina produces more opulent wines, intense, fruit-forward and spicier. A key factor in these differences is the climate. Mendoza enjoys more days of sun and drier growing seasons, resulting in riper grapes than those in Cahors. Now, the proof is in the bottle. This Malbec comes from Bodegas Dominio de La Plata and this 2010 BenMarco is what I consider a textbook Malbec because it represents an unresolved tension between Old and New Word style. Opens up with lush aromas of vanilla and oak, highlithed by hints of earth, black currant and spice. Finishes long focusing on the tamed tannins. The wine is unfiltered and furnished with about 12% of Bonarda. Paired deliciously with a marbly Rib Eye and green beans sautéed with garlic. Bought at Pops Fine Wines in Easton, MA, for $22.00.

Have you tasted Vino Nobile Di Motepulciano lately? You should!

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Although the wine has been made for centuries before it was declared the king of wines in Francesco Redi’s poem in 1685, the name Vino Nobile de Montepulciano was coined in the 20th century. Surprised? Even more surprising is the fact that this delicious wine was once labeled as Chianti in the late 19th century. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano means Noble Wine from Montepulciano, a small Tuscan town about 70 miles south of Florence. Please, do not be confused with another Italian wine named Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. As you may surmise, in the latter, the grape is Montepulciano and it is produced in the Abruzzo region. Vino Nobile on the other hand, like many of its Tuscan counterparts, is a blend consisting mainly of Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese) with smaller percentages of Canaiolo and Mammolo grapes. Similarly to a Spanish Crianza, what earns this wine the Nobile characterization is its aging. This wine has twenty four months of aging of which twelve are spent in oak and the remaining twelve in the bottle. Furthermore, the Riserva wines spent twenty four months of aging in oak and twelve in the bottle. This iteration of Vino Nobile from Corte Alla Flora is mellow and balanced with flavors of black cherry, vanilla, hints of sage and loaded with minerals. The finish is persistent and elegant and if you combine this wine with Castelvetrano Olives and Manchego cheese, watch out, it could be addictive! It was fortunate having enjoyed this wine during an amazing evening with my friend AJB. Long live the holy Quaternity: Conversation, Wine, Olives and Cheese. No bread was necessary! The wine was purchased at Krogers in Smyrna, GA for $28.00.

Wines for the soul .. and Soul Food

Fino, Sherry Wine

A few days ago I had the opportunity to chat with Market Research extraordinaire Andrea Burns in Atlanta, GA. We exchanged observations about a seemingly highly regarded IT corporation. Quickly, the evening was waning away and such a fantastic conversation succumbed to the delirium of trying a bowl of homemade gumbo. Obviously, these food lovers immediately debated the merits of using okra as an ingredient in Gumbo. I calmly explained that the most important part of gumbo (now I know, besides the okra!) was pairing it well with a fine wine. Finding a suitable partner for the gumbo was extra challenging because my most gracious hostess has an inclination for really dry wine. What to drink? Well, the complex flavors of dry and nutty Amontillado ‘Sherry’ could not have been better accompaniment for her tasty gumbo. BTW, if you care to know, the word Sherry is simply an anglicization of Xeres, the name of the area (D.O.) in the southwest corner of Andalucia, Spain, where this wine is made. Xeres, was founded by the ancient Phoenicians more then 3000 years ago and at some point or another Greeks, Romans and Moors ruled it. The key to this subtle, elegant and remarkable wine is the combination of Palomino grapes, white chalk and Flor. The chalky white ground in the Xeres vineyards almost bakes the vine by reflecting the strong sunlight up to the ripening Palomino grapes. At harvest time, the clusters of grapes are set down on a mat grass to dry under the sun. Once the the clusters loose water to evaporation, the Palomino grapes are squeezed and the resulting mosto is stored in huge bungs to begin fermentation. The magic happens during this period. These bungs must have a hole for aeration, as Sherry is one of few wines in which oxigenation is actually beneficial for its production. With air flowing into the bungs, a yeastlike fungus starts coating the surface of the mosto. At this point, not even the winemaker knows if the resulting wine will be Fino or Oloroso Sherry. Why? This would depend on the yeastlike Mycoderma vini fungus also known as Flor, the mysterious agent that determines the fate of the wine. The Flor is thickest on wines which will become Fino and thinest on those destined to become Oloroso. Once the Flor finishes imparting flavor to the wine beneath, dies and sinks to the bottom. After the Flor has done its work the wine is racked, graded and fortified with Brandy. Finos are lightly seasoned with Brandy, while Olorosos would take a little more of the spirit. You see, it is not that simple to eat gumbo. You need great conversation, a great cook and a magic moment. The sherry, well, you may get it at the store. I bought this bottle at Whole Foods in The Exchange At Hammond in Atlanta for $22.00.