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Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Live blogging from our DGS sparkling wine tasting [hehe, the couple in the background is our first Singapore DGS couple. Woot woot!]. First up: Dog Leg from South Australia. Small bubbles, nice fizz on tongue, but a little too sweet for my liking. Yujuan is giving us the lowdown of the four different methods to make sparklig wines.

We move to Spain next, and our bottle of the night is the popular Freixenet Brut Cava. Cava, by the way, is Spanish for caves. The wine is made the French method, though the bubbles are bigger than the Aussie. Very different nose. More rounded and nutty? I prefer this I think.

Third bottle: Adriano Adami dei Casel Prosecco. Fav so far!!! Nice and citrusy, bright green apples. Mmmm.

The fourth bottle is also from the same Adriano Adami vineyard, another prosecco but this is a 2007 vintage. Notes of sour apples, but it’s more restrained.

We move on to champagne: Le Drappier. People ate commenting that it is a much more complex wine. Not as fruit forward; very yeasty!!!! Interesting weight.

Last white wine of the evening: Pol Roger Champagne. Some of that yeasty nose, but much lighter and more floral on the finish. I think I would prefer the Drappier as it seems more exciting.

Last unique wine of the evening (we had a few repeat bottles) was a sparkling shiraz.

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DGS went wild last night, with a tasting of wines from all over the world, in what we’d dubbed Dead Grapes Society Adventurous Wines. We had ~25 people and 16 bottles of wines (some doubled up).

1. Taberno Brut Champagne Style Charmat Method (Peru) $10

We kicked the tasting off with two bottles of Taberno, a Peruvian sparkling. It was a hit, everyone expressed surprise at how well done it was, nice and dry on the palate, with tight concentrated bubbles.

2. Lambrusco Cantine Ceci La Luna 2006 (Italy) $14

Most people haven’t had Lambrusco before, but since Wendy discovered the wine (Lambrusco Reggiano, slightly different from the one we had last night, this being a sweeter version) at Trader Joe’s a few years ago, this has been my favorite pairing with spicy food, especially curry. With a sandalwood perfume and big cherries mouthfeel, there was just the slightest fizz at the finish, as if the wine didn’t want to go without a fight. Really fun and delicious wine.

3. Chateau Bela Riesling Sturovo Region, Muzca 2003 (Slovakia) $14

This was a dry riesling from Slovakia, which doesn’t really produce much wine, especially not since it split from the Czech Rebpulic in the early 1990s. To be honest, I don’t remember much of this wine, except for the fact that it was drinkable, though not memorable. We started to play some wine trivia at this point. Did you know, for instance, that Prohibition lasted from 1920 through 1933? And that it only ended because of the Great Depression? The government, after thirteen long years, finally realized that the mobs were getting out of control running the speakeasies and smuggling operations, and that the population condoned the mobs because they needed their drink. Of course, they might have chosen to stubbornly – and pig-headedly – stick their stand if not for the fact that they were losing millions and millions of dollars from alcohol tax. Anyway.

4. Dragon’s Hallow Unoaked Chardonnay 2005 (China) $10

Did you know that China has actually the world’s fifth largest vineyard area and is the seventh largest wine producer??? Even so, I think the Chinese should stick to making rice wine. The chardonnay we had could be likened to a thick-headed fellow, stout and completely insipid and stupid. I gulped it straight down; some others (notably the Chinese people in the room) tossed it out. However, some people professed to liking the unoaked style, so perhaps there’s hope for the Chinese wine makers after all. Oh, in case you were wondering, Jesuit missionaries are believed to have been the first to encourage the planting of vines in China in the mid 19th century.

5. Kerner Slifskeleni Neustift Abbazia di Novacella 2006 (Italy) $17

This was one of the favorites of the night. Sihao said it had all the characteristics of a Gewurztraminer, and I have to agree – a little spicy, with strong notes of lychee and roses. Interestingly, the two bottles I picked up were from Italy (at the enthusiastic recommendation of the Sam’s wine expert), although this is a grape most commonly found in Germany. It’s a cross breed from a red grape Trollinger and Riesling. Speaking of cross breeds, another trivia question: what is Cabernet Sauvignon crossed from? Answer: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

6. Tinta da Anfora Vinho Regional Alentejano 2005 (Portugal) $12

Mm, quite a few people said they really liked this wine, which was quite tannic, but otherwise full bodied with lots of fruit and spices. It’s a blend of Portuguese grapes, including Trincadeira, Aragonez, and a little Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh, and did you know that Portugal is the largest producer of corks in the world?

7. Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato 2006 (Italy) $16

Another favorite of the night – those Italian wines really are something! Given the huge popularity of the wines Barolo, Barbera, and Moscato in Piedmont, it’s little wonder that Ruche does not get in the spotlight too much. I really enjoyed this smooth, and light-bodied wine.

8. Bull’s Blood Egi Bikarer 2003 (Hungary) $8

There’s a story behind the label, “Bull’s Blood” (don’t you love stories??). Anyway, as the story goes, in 1552, when the Eger fortress was under attack and looked to be giving way, the defenders, in a last desperate bid, downed copious amounts of red wine for liquid courage. Their hands must have been shaking from terror, for they spilled the red wine all over their chests. When the attackers saw these men running towards them with red chests, they thought the defenders had been drinking bull’s blood, and their courage faltered and they fled. And so the Eger fortress stood for another day. I think I’d have to bring this bottle to parties – it makes for a great conversation opener (I think anyway), and is really fun to drink.

Wine Spectator writes:

“Bull’s Blood must be made from at least three approved red varieties. Most producers use a fair amount of Kékfrankos, because its sturdy character and acidity provide backbone. Also used are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

The wine’s hallmark, though, is the indigenous, spicy Kadarka grape. During the Communist era, Kadarka nearly disappeared from Hungary because its sensitivity to rot and its tendency to grow close to the ground made it very labor-intensive.

But today, Kadarka — which can produce balanced tannins and complex flavors, such as black pepper, cherry jam and cloves — is viewed as essential for a quality Bikavér, and producers are scrambling to return Kadarka to the vineyards.”

9. Skouras Red Saint George 2004 (Greece) $7

I’ve had this light bodied wine on a few occasions already, and really enjoyed it – it is a great pairing with meatballs and pasta, and I might even stock up on more as my house wine. After all, at $7, it’s really a bargain, especially when you consider that Yellow Tail costs the same amount.

10. Garnacha Marco Real Navarra 2005 (Spain) $10

I think our palates were tiring by this point for I still have half a bottle of this sitting at my desk right this moment. Anyway, Garnacha is the Spanish name for the grape Grenache. Flavors of dark berries, it is juicy and great to drink on its own and with food.

11. Chateau Henye Tokaji Dry 2006 (Hungary) $13

I first came across Tokay in Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and had been lusting after it. Tokay is normally a dessert wine, but this version we got was off dry, and so wasn’t cloyingly sweet.

12. Four Seasons Collection, Muscat Red Dessert Wine, Dionysos Mereni (Moldova) $6

I had to look Moldova up on the internet to see where it was… – somewhere in Eastern Europe. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, “Moldova may be one of the geographically smallest states of the former Soviet Union but it has more vineyard, 108,000 ha/267,000 acres in 2002 according to the OIV, than any other apart from Ukraine and the table grape producer Uzbekistan. It has the greatest potential for wine quality and range, thanks to its extnesive vineywards, temperate continental climeate, and gently undulating landscape sandwiched between eastern Romania and Ukraine.” We rounded off the evening with a bottle of Muscat, which was surprisingly palatable. Sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.

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From the WSJ:

The Top Wine Bargains of 2007
December 21, 2007; Page W1

Just because something is inexpensive doesn’t make it a good deal. In our real lives, we all know that. That beef on sale might be fatty, that cheap golf ball might not fly well and that bargain-priced toy might be full of lead. It’s the same thing with wine. Many of the low-priced wines on shelves these days aren’t good values at any price because they aren’t pleasing. They’re made in industrial quantities from watery grapes and taste more like some sugar-alcohol concoction than wine. This is especially true of the most-popular varietals, the hot sellers such as Merlot and Chardonnay. In a tasting early this year of American Chardonnay under $20, for instance, only six of almost 70 wines rated Good or better. That’s nuts.

At the same time, though, there have never been as many genuinely good wines available at low prices. The trick, in most cases, is to look beyond the usual suspects. The world right now is awash in wine as country after country, from Austria to Uruguay, improves its winemaking and seeks to compete in the international marketplace.

We went back over our blind tastings for 2007 to see how many wines that cost $10.99 or less rated Very Good or better. There were nine. As we looked them over, we were reminded again how important it is to search for bargains in unexpected places in the wine store. Here are those nine wines.

It would not be a good idea to look for these specific labels at this point because we wrote about them some time ago, some really early in the year. What we’ve tried to do is use them as examples to point you to larger categories that might be useful to keep in mind as you look for bargains in the coming year. In one case, as you’ll see, the point is that, regardless of what we think, there are always exceptions. Also, because this list is based on our blind tastings during 2007, some of today’s great bargains — Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, which we wrote about in 2006, for instance — aren’t included. In addition, we found in a tasting that Malbec from Argentina continues to be a great deal overall; three of our eight favorites cost less than $10, though none rated Very Good or higher, so they don’t appear on this list. Having already concluded a couple of tastings for January columns, we can assure you this list will be different next year.

Powers Winery Muscat Canelli (Columbia Valley) 2006 ($10.33) and Maddalena Vineyards Muscat Canelli (Paso Robles) 2004 ($10.50). In general, sweet wines tend to be underpriced because they’re not very popular. Muscat Canelli is a lovely, fresh, light, sweet wine that’s perfect for guests after a big meal. In our tasting, we generally found the wines beautifully made and as charming as a smile. Especially considering the low prices, you really should think about taking a gamble on a Muscat Canelli even if you’re sure you don’t like sweet wines.

Torres de Anguix “Barrica” Ribera Del Duero 2003 ($9.99). If you are looking for bargains — well-made, interesting wines at good prices — you need to spend some time in the Spain aisle of your wine store, and this is just one example. This was one of the most outrageous bargains of the year. We wrote that it was “earthy and soulful, with fine structure and medium weight. Highly drinkable and interesting and just about bursting with blueberry-like fruit.” Ribera Del Duero is available at all price points, but we found that it was a good value up and down the ladder and is definitely a wine to look for.

Bodegas Muga Rosé (Rioja) 2006 ($10.99), Toad Hollow Cellars “Eye of the Toad” Dry Pinot Noir Rosé (Sonoma County) 2006 ($10.99), Château d’Oupia Rosé (Minervois) 2006 ($10.95). Rosé is suddenly very popular, which is both good news and bad news. The bad news, we found in a tasting, is that some wineries are trying to take advantage of its popularity by selling sweet, simple and cynical rosé — exactly the kind of stuff that turned people off to rosé in the first place and could kill this nascent trend. The good news is that there are still quite a few excellent, tasty, dry rosés on shelves from all over the world. These three are from Spain, France and the U.S. American vintners have come a very long way in rosé in a short time and Spain’s rosés have impressed us for some time, but our blind tasting showed that the French still have a very special touch with rosé and, in a hurry or a jam, that’s where we’d look for a lively, dry rosé.

Geyser Peak Winery Sauvignon Blanc (California) 2006 ($7.99). This is a golden age for Sauvignon Blanc, with excellent examples coming from just about everywhere, from New Zealand to Chile to South Africa. With all of the competition, it’s no surprise that there are some bargains to be had. We think American Sauvignon Blanc has found a great middle ground, with some of the weight of Sancerre and some of the mouth-popping liveliness of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. As we wrote about the Geyser Peak, one of our long-time favorites, it “tastes true” — and that is high praise for any wine.

Georges Duboeuf Juliénas 2005 ($10.99). Whenever we talk about bargain wines, we always note that there are some classics, and our best examples are always Beaujolais and Muscadet from France. We didn’t conduct a tasting of Muscadet this year, but we did try a large sampling of 2005 Beaujolais from the 10 villages. We found the wines delightful and excellent bargains, but none more so than this Juliénas from Duboeuf, which we described as a “big, earthy wine that could stand up to a steak. Chewy and complete. Dignified and serious, yet with lively fruit at the core.” Not bad for $10.99. In the coming year, we would urge you to look for 2006 Beaujolais from the 10 villages: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Regnié and Saint-Amour. These are consistently some of the most effortlessly charming wines on shelves.

Penfolds Wines “Koonunga Hill” Shiraz (South Eastern Australia) 2004 ($9.99). This is the exception. Over the past several years, we have been disappointed with Australian Shiraz under $20. In our tasting this year, we found that the vast majority of the wines continued to be simple, sweet and lacking charm. But, on the plus side, the best of the under-$20 wines were better than in past years, and this was the most notable example, a wine that we described as “dark and rich, with real depth. Serious wine, with good spices.” We certainly hope we find more Shiraz like this in the future.

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Ever since I bought a pasta maker as an impulse buy it has gathered its fair share of dust like most impulse buys do. But this summer, I dusted that puppy off and made, count ‘em, not one but TWO batches of fresh pasta. To go with my lovely fresh strands, I make somewhat of a formulaic hodge podge sauce. I do more or less the same thing every time, but each time I make this dish it comes out different. This time I used a cheap Spanish red I bought from Trader Joe’s and the results were lip smacking. We even lamented not having any bread to sop up the residual sauce from the plate. Here’s the recipe. As you read it will become very obvious why it turns out different every time, but I’ve used this a lot and it never comes out bad. Ahhh the simplicity of Italian food. :) Cheers!

Whatever You Got Pasta Sauce
Ground beef or pork or any old beef/pork based sausage cut up (half a pound, a pound, whatever you got, combine if you don’t have enough of one)
2 medium or 1 large onion chopped ( can be yellow, red, white, green…you get the idea)3 tomatoes chopped
1 jar of any pasta sauce (I go with what is on sale or just combine the opened jars I have in the fridge)
Sliced Mushrooms (optional- whatever floats your boat!)
Lots of minced garlic
Fresh chopped Basil or Pesto (I keep frozen pesto in the freezer. If you aren’t a food nerd like me, don’t sweat it if you don’t have it.)
1 cup of red wine
a dash of cumin (enhances the flavor of the meat)
a dash of cinnamon (Cinnamon adds a unique sweetness, if you find all the tomato and wine is making the sauce tart and acidic, this will mellow it out. So add more or less as you need)
salt to taste (Or if you have any on hand you can add salt by using beef bullion cubes or any salty clear soup..onion, beef, chicken, vegetable)

1. Over medium heat saute garlic in some olive oil or any fat (butter, oil, bacon grease, lard… I could go on, but I won’t because its getting old) until mildly translucent
2. Add onions and mushrooms. Add a generous pinch of salt to get the veggies to sweat and release their juices. Saute until mushrooms are floppy and onions are mildly translucent
3. Add meat. Cook till lightly brown.
4. Add tomatoes. Cook until a little squishy
5. Add jar of pasta sauce. Let everything simmer until it thickens a bit.
6. Add wine, a cup or more to taste
7. Add basil or pesto
8. add salt to taste
9. Add cinnamon and cumin to taste (lick the spoon, add some spice, lick the spoon, add some spice….I like the lick the spoon part of cooking)

Abrazo Del Toro Tempranillo (Spain, $5/bottle)- Not Bad :)

Hot Damn! Trader Joe’s has done it again and introduced me to another good cheapo wine. At $5 a bottle, Abrazo del Toro Tempranillo may be a damn good, but I refuse to be swayed by my thriftiness. It’s got a fruity, bold berry nose with a taste to match. There is a good amount of complexity, with a lingering subtle spiciness to it. There is a little bit of dryness as well. Like any easy comfort food, this bottle is good, cheap, and accessible. ;)
Sniff- fruit, berries, spice, mineral
Sip-fruit, cherries, spicy, mildly dry
Eat- red pasta dishes, anything with red meat, bbq, steak, roasts, dark chocolate

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