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Archive for March, 2011

Tuesdays with Marky

It all started with a peaceful Tuesday evening.  Yes, you read that right…TUESDAY!  By some twist of fate, there were no evening activities for the kids, their homework was done and they were sufficiently occupied.  Oh yea, we fed them too.  Anyway, it had been a while since I last had more than 20 minutes to whip up an incredible meal.

Carpe diem…into the kitchen I bolted!

Luckily, my wife reminded me that we had two lamb chumps (or lamb chops) sitting snug as a bug in the freezer that didn’t get put to good use at a recent swanky dinner party.  SCORE!

I marinated those two lamb chumps with lots of TLC.  I dowsed them with fresh-squeezed orange juice, pepper, sea salt, and minced garlic; allowing them to rest for an hour before cooking.  Note to self: some fresh lavender sure would have been swell for this marinade, too!

After we put the kids to bed (on time!), I ran back downstairs like a madman and started pulling things out of the refrigerator and pantry:  carrots, zucchini, red onions and roasted red peppers.  I also discovered some capers, chicken stock, minced garlic and a single box of Near East Whole Grain Blends “Roasted Garlic.”  Yes!  My plan was developing, and I could actually take the 30+ minutes needed to bring it all together – there was plenty of time to spare.

Taking a stainless steel cooking pan, coated with some olive oil, I seared the pieces on the stovetop then moved it into the oven to cook on a low fire [325°F] for about 30 minutes.  While the lamb chumps were cooking, I fired up another pan with some olive oil and sautéed the minced garlic, carrots, zucchini, red onions and roasted red peppers (all diced).  I then added the capers and chicken stock to keep the medley moist, and added a dashed of kosher salt with some Victoria Gourmet’s Herbes de Provence dry seasoning.

I was really hoping to find the “perfect” bottle to go with this meal, so I decided to give it a go with the 2008 Foppiano Vineyards Russian River Valley Estate Bottled Petite Sirah (MSRP: $20, Sample).

How do I adequately describe how this wine tasted?


And I will drink it in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
It is so good, so good, you see!

This wine was remarkable all by itself:  it was silky-smooth, bursting with massive blackberry, blueberry, chocolate – all beautifully complimented with a beautiful aroma of anise, eucalyptus and white pepper spice.  With the meal:  it was off the charts!  The 2008 Foppiano Vineyards Russian River Valley Estate Bottled Petite Sirah had my wife and me at Hello!  And so ends my story of a most superb Tuesday night.

4 Stars out of 4 for the 2008 Foppiano Vineyards Russian River Valley Estate Bottled Petite Sirah.  For under $20, it’s easily one of the most beautifully crafted red wines that we’ve tried so far in 2011.

It’s Alive!!!

Chardonnay.  No other wine has experienced the sweet smell of success and the bitter taste of disdain from wine consumers over the years.  Things got really hot and heavy for this varietal in the 80s, and the love affair continued well into the 90s.  Everywhere you turned, you could hear the echoing sound of, “I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay, please.”  Consumers and restaurateurs cheered this super wine from coast to coast.  Then suddenly the party came to a screeching halt as a revolt ensued against this once noble grape from a group known as the ABC Crowd (Anything But Chardonnay).  This alliance was fed up with the Dr. Frankensteins who were churning out over-oaked, butter monsters that destroyed the most important component:  the fruit.

“Did I request thee, Maker from my clay
to mould me man?
Did I solicit thee,
from darkness to promote me?” John Milton’s Paradise Lost

 Fast forward to current times.

Over the past few years, more and more Chardonnays have been getting “Naked” or “Unoaked,” as they say on the label.  Increasingly, more producers are leaving the timber in the forest and embracing a more au naturale approach to allow the fruit to shine through.  This technique is creating more balanced and interesting expressions than ever before, and has begun drawing wine lovers back to this storied grape.  

Apaltagua Winery, located in the Apalta region in Chile’s Colchagua Valley is known for making outstanding Carménère, but after a recent experience with the winery’s 2010 “Unoaked” Chardonnay, I’d say that winemaker, Alvaro Espinoza, also knows a thing or two about producing delicious Chardonnay as well.

Imported by Global Vineyard Importers, the 2010 Apaltagua Reserva Unoaked Chardonnay (MSRP: $12, Sample) is packed with crisp, juicy and refreshing grapefruit, lemon, lime and other tropical fruit flavors.  The fruit flavors were bursting with so much crisp acidity that it reminded me more of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc than a Chardonnay.  This Chard is pretty darn tasty and perfect for light dishes, salads and sunny days.  And yes, you gotta love that all of this lovely goodness was not soaked in a vat of oak chips and mixed with a tub of butter before bottling.  :)

3 Stars out of 4 for 2010 Apaltagua Reserva Unoaked Chardonnay.  Lots of creativity without the mad science.

You Want to be Where Everybody Knows Your Name…

Our troubles are all the same, right?!  It all starts around 6:00 AM with a sore back from sleeping on a WWE action figure all night; then as you make your way to the coffee maker while stepping over a pile of the kids’ clothes (that somehow couldn’t find its way to the hamper), you find your pet hovering over the kitchen sink trying to get some leftovers from some dishes you left from the night before.  You wrap up the morning with a 20 minute Q&A session with one of your kids while in your closet, half dressed, trying to make yourself look moderately presentable.  You’d love to stick around for more of this blissful morning glory, but it’s off to the workplace for even more fun and excitement.  The fun and laughs seem to never end, as this episode replays itself for 5 (long) straight days…  On day 5 you wake up in your typical haze, but then you stop and say to yourself, holy shit…it’s FRIDAY!!!!  You get so excited by the thought of it that you break out into a happy dance, a River Dance, and even the Cabbage Patch Dance!  You stir that pot of chocolate pudding like there’s no tomorrow, because it’s FRIDAY baby!!

Now that the weekend is here, what are you gonna do for fun?  Are you going to just stay home and watch SuperNanny, Kitchen Nightmares, or My Big Redneck Wedding??  For Pete’s sake – haven’t you been on your couch enough for one week??  :) Why not do something fun with a group of pals – like a wine tasting party?!  That’ll certainly kick start your weekend!

That’s what my friend, Holly, recently did – and so can YOU with just a little help!

There are lots of great ideas and themes to choose from when putting together a fun tasting. I thought that it might be a blast to do a unique, in-store wine tasting for my friend and her wine gang.  Now when I say “in-store wine tasting,” you’re probably envisioning a mini-bar or table set up off to the side of your favorite local wine shop.  You know…the free tastings that take place on most Friday evenings and/or Saturday afternoons at many wine shops across the US; but I’m not talking about that sort of “unique” in-store tasting in the least.  What I’m talking about is a truly private tasting for just you and your gang in the store’s wine cellar! 

I’m lucky to live near several outstanding independently owned wine shops where the owners are truly passionate about their business and provide customers with superb selections and individualized customer service.  One of those great little gems is Peco’s Liquors.

I’ve recently gotten to know Edward Mulvihill of Peco’s.  Ed grew up in the family business and he’s now the store’s Director of Sales & Marketing.  When I first met Ed, I had no clue that Peco’s even had a wine cellar – even though I’d shopped at this establishment for the past 12 years.  Since seeing the old cellar for the very first time a few months ago, Ed and the Peco’s staff have done an amazing job renovating it. They’ve created an intimate atmosphere that is perfect for entertaining and sharing good cheer with 12-20 fellow wine lovers.  I was quite eager to share the cellar with some of the locals, so I asked Ed if he’d be willing to host a private soiree and he graciously agreed to my request.  So now that I scored a swanky venue for Holly’s wine tasting party, I needed some great wines to serve up.  I worked with both Edward Mulvihill and Alex Calla, who is the store’s wine specialist, to come up with a tasting flight that we hoped would receive high praise from our party host Holly and her 20 thirsty guests.

Here’s the line-up that we decided on:

When Alex, Ed and I were trying to come up with the tasting flight, we wanted the line-up to be a little bit off the beaten path, yet not totally out in left field.  We were also aiming to introduce the group to several new wines that would be perfect for everyday drinking (under $20) and that would also pair well with a variety of recipe ideas. 

So what did our thirsty guests think about these wines?

Well, based on the responses and written feedback that I received from our evening’s host and her guests – there were a few that hit the bull’s-eye and a few that missed the target.

Here were the ones that hit the mark and received the most accolades from the group:

Cantine Riondo Prosecco Spago NV (Veneto, Italy) - This crisp Italian Sparkler was such a big hit that folks were lining up for more even after the tasting had ended.

2006 Trapiche Broquel Bonarda (Mendoza, Argentina) – Guests raved about this wine’s beautiful aroma, great body and impressive, big and full flavors.

2009 Bodega Septima Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina) – This was another winner from Argentina with the guests.  Lots of folks commented on the richness of this wine and many expressed that its flavors were very complex.

Unfortunately, one wine that totally struck out was the 2009 Alamos Torrontés (Salta, Argentina).  Many in the group had never tried an Argentine Torrontés before, so we had hoped that the Alamos would be a nice entry into this category to leave a positive, lasting impression on our guests.  Sadly, those lasting impressions were of “armpits,” “feet,” and “grandma’s basement.”  I’m not quite sure if the last comment was a term of endearment or not.  :)

The wine with the most mixed reviews was the 2008 Penley Estate Sparkling Pinot Noir (Coonawarra, Australia).  Many did enjoy the smell of this wine:  bursts of strawberries, raspberries, and light spice.  And there were a few people that embraced this less traditional rendition; describing it as “FUN,” “Surprising,” and “Awesome!”  However, the majority of the tasters thought the sparkling nature of this wine was a little odd and too different from what they’re accustomed to from a traditional Pinot Noir.

Finally, the 2006 Henry Estate Pinot Noir (Umpqua, Oregon) – which was the most expensive wine of the bunch – also received a few mixed reviews from the tasting group.  Some said, “it’s very earthy,” “reminds me of the woods,” “flat taste,” while others said, “amazing,” “very smooth,” and “very good.”

Oh well, you know the old saying, “You win some and you lose some…”  But at the end of the night, everyone goes home happy, feelin’ good, and ready for the rest of the weekend!  :)

Very special thanks to Peco ‘s Liquors, Ed, Alex and Josh for a great evening! (Peco’s FaceBook Page)

I’d also like to thank my good friend Holly for bringing the incredibly delicious cheese selection and a great group of wine lovers to party with!

I’m Going to Tell You Something Flaca, and I Want You to Listen Tight…

One of my favorite varietals in the whole world is Riesling.  Originating from the Rhine region of Germany, Rieslings cover a wide spectrum of styles from dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling; and it also blends quite well with other grapes.  It’s an aromatic grape varietal capable of showcasing a wonderful floral bouquet, while delivering just the right amount of an acidic charge – which is what makes this varietal so extra special in my mind.  It can be enjoyed equally as a sipping wine or as an accompaniment to a multi-course meal.  Finally, if you’re not one for oak in your white wine, in most cases, Rieslings are kept pure and oak-free.

If you’re already a fan of this versatile white wine, then you’re probably familiar with offerings from destinations like France, Germany, and from different parts of the US.  However, one place that you may not be aware of that is producing some truly spectacular, bright, lip-puckering and affordable Riesling is the Land of Oz.  As best-selling wine author Mark Oldman of Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine puts it:

 …their splendid Rieslings have been relegated to the shadows when they really deserve a throne of their own.

I’ll second that!!  If you haven’t had the opportunity to try one yet, two of the best Aussie regions to look for when shopping are the Clare and Eden Valleys in South Australia.  So now that I’ve beaten you down with my sermon and finished touting my penchant towards Riesling, I need to share an encounter that I had with an Australian Riesling.

Disclaimer: For some, you may not like this next part, but as Colonel Davy Crockett said, “…that don’t change the truth none.  There’s right and there’s wrong…”

Last night, I endured (not for long thankfully) one of the most devastating losses in quite some time; and sadly, I need to recommend a strong “Beware” on the 2006 Lindemans Bin 75 Riesling.

Lindemans is usually a very reliable Aussie producer, so how can that be?!

Let me start off by saying that Lindemans is one of the largest and premier names in Australian wine; and quite frankly, I’ve never had an awful experience with any of their selections over the years.  However, when I opened up the 2006 Lindemans Bin 75 Riesling, it felt as though I had been turned into a two-stroke engine getting filled with one part gasoline to one part oil.  Sadly, this Aussie Riesling had such an overwhelming and persistent petrol component to it that it was nearly impossible to consume.  To be fair, the rubber meets the road, or petrol factor, is something that can happen to Rieslings as they start to age and mature.  Interestingly enough, this unique profile is actually something that many Riesling collectors pay big bucks to experience.  I’ll pass…

1 star out of 4 for the 2006 Lindemans Bin 75 Riesling (Price:  $8 US).  Caveat emptor!



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