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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine


Fonda del Sol: Smart Pairings, Terrific Food


I've been to Fonda del Sol a few times now—it's just down the street from our office, conveniently—and it seems to be on an ever-inclining curve towards extreme tastiness. That's not a surprise to me. When I first met the restaurant's chef, Josh DeChellis, at the culinary festival Madrid Fusión a few years back, he was wandering around gnawing on a black truffle the way one might an apple (the thing was about the size of an apple, too). To my mind, any chef who eats truffles as if they were apples is a man after my own heart. At FdS, DeChellis is channeling his inner Spaniard, perhaps aided by the fact that he was born in Colombia, with impressive success.

The other night I particularly liked a silky scallop tiradito—disks of sweet scallop with shards of hot chilies, dabs of briny sea urchin, and grace notes of cilantro—which wine director Nicholas Nahigian paired with a sympathetically citrus-minerally 2007 Do Ferreiro Albariño (one of the better Albariños around, in fact). Later on, I also enjoyed an incredibly tender Colorado lamb chop aromatized (as it were) over toasted hay and served with tangy sheep's milk yogurt and a lovage puree. In an earlier incarnation of this dish, the lamb was cooked in an earthenware vessel over the hay, the vessel sealed with a bread crust—in that case, the hay, lamb and yogurt were all from the same farm. With the newer version, a 2004 Fratelli Revello Vigna Conca Barolo, surprisingly generous given its intense concentration, and somehow elegant despite that, tasted great.

The pairing that may have worked the best, though, and that was certainly the most surprising, came when Nahigian brought out glasses of Victory Brewing Company's Prima Pils (which, oddly enough, I just used for my 4th of July segment on summer beers for the Early Show) to pair with DeChellis's Alaskan rock fish a la plancha with salsa moluscada de verano, a Catalan (I think) sauce involving surf clams, mussel jus, squid, octopus, tomato water, clam jus, basil and cherry tomatoes (whew). The fish was expertly cooked, the sauce something between a light seafood stew, a sauce, and a sublime essence of ocean, and the crisp, gently bitter Pilsner was perfect with it—and also extremely refreshing, sandwiched as it was, course-wise, between a fairly substantial white Rioja—a 2003 Marqués de Murrieta Capellania—and the even more substantial Revello Barolo.

And there was dessert. But by then, do you really expect I was taking notes?  


A Little Grenache Geekery & A Good Cheap Cabernet


Chris Ringland, the star Australian winemaker whose eponymous and much acclaimed Chris Ringland Shiraz sells for a modest (ahem) $600 or so a bottle, stopped by the office the other day to pour a few of his substantially less pricey wines. (In the interests of full disclosure: they're made in partnership with Dan Philips of Grateful Palate, who is an F&W Contributing Editor.)

Anyway, the wine that particularly struck me was from the amusingly named Chateau Chateau project, which will focus on single-vineyard Grenache from Australia. "Grenache really is a warm climate analogue to Pinot Noir," Ringland said, specifically referring to this grape's ability to express tremendous flavor without necessarily being color-saturated; but I think also in regard to Grenache's gift for expressing vineyard site character as well (I warned you there might be some wine geekery in this entry...).

He also noted that, in Australia at least, Grenache grown on lighter and sandier soil tends to be more perfumed and spicy, whereas on red-brown, more clay-dominated soil "it's more red berry getting into chocolate."

The latter was certainly true in the 2006 Chateau Chateau Magic Window Marananga Grenache (about $65, find this wine), which comes from a more clay-heavy vineyard in the Marananga area of the Barossa. Translucently ruby-hued, it had fragrant cherry, coffee and sassafras notes, and smoky, dark cherry fruit that ended on mocha. 

On the other hand, and though it doesn't have a darn thing to do with Grenache, if you're interested in experiencing Ringland's winemaking at a much more modest price point, you could do worse than to pick up a bottle of the 2008 Darby & Joan Cabernet Sauvignon ($9, find this wine). It had appealing black currant and tea leaf notes, soft tannins, and no intrusive oak. Of course, no oak was used to make it, so that would account for the lack thereof. Said Ringland regarding 2008 in Australia, by the way, "It was an extremely good vintage, even though there's word around that it was a climatic disaster. I think we'll see that it wasn't what people were expecting..."

Red Wine

Secret of Aussie Grenache


At the recent F&W Classic in Aspen I had a chance to sit in on a seminar with bacon-obsessed Australian wine fanatic Dan Philips, an F&W contributing editor and the owner of the Grateful Palate. While telling the crowd about what’s new in Australian wine (Philips predicts Grenache will become the next Shiraz), he also provided some fascinating insight into the thinking behind wine labels. Philips, who has his own line of Australian wines, told us that when he marketed his Barossa Valley Grenache as “Barossa Grenache Red Wine,” he couldn't get it to move off the shelves. But when he renamed it “Bitch” Grenache and gave it a pink label, he sold 8,000 cases in two months.

Wines $20 to $40

Aspen Recap 2: Burger Bonanza Wines


The 2009 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen wrapped up this past Sunday, but I figured I'd blog about one or two highlights from it anyway. One of them, not to blow my own horn, was the slightly crazy blind-burger-pairing-old-world-vs.-new-world-wine-smackdown that I ran as one of my seminars on Friday. 

What I did was pick three pairs of wines, one from Europe and one from the U.S. in each case, and pair them with a series of mini-burgers prepared by Ryan Hardy, the immensely talented young chef at Montagna at the Little Nell. The audience—more than 120 people; the room was jammed—tasted each pair of wines with the appropriate burger, then voted on which wine worked best. It was a hoot, unsurprisingly, helped along substantially by the insanely good burgers.

The winners? With a crabcake slider served with a tarragon aioli, the fave wine was from Italy: the 2007 Nino Negri Ca'Brione ($35), a lightly honeyed, spicy, richly citrusy blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Incrocia Manzoni (a hybrid of Pinot Blanc and Riesling), and, even weirder, a small proportion of Nebbiolo fermented without its skins so the juice remains white. White Nebbiolo, you bet. Regardless, it was a lovely wine, and if you happen to be serving crabcakes with a tarragon aioli, go for it.


Wines $20 to $40

A Great Old Wine


As I seem now to do every year, I stopped last week in Boulder before heading up to the F&W Classic in Aspen for the annual pre-Aspen wine dinner that Travel & Leisure's contributing wine editor Bruce Schoenfeld throws. As usual, it was a crazy grab-bag of wines (and people), many of them extraordinary (both the wines and the people).

Among the standouts? First, a 1982 Associated Vintners Dionysus Vineyard Riesling, notable partly because it was the first single-vinyard Riesling bottled in Washington State—or so I was told—and partly because it was actually still quite alive, with appealing lemon and stone notes. Later, a 2000 Contino Graciano had aromas of earth, leather and ripe black raspberries and was lush and inviting; an interesting development from a wine that's always quite tart, tannic and palate-zapping on release. I loved the 1982 Giacosa Barolo Falletto that came my way—hazy red in color, smelling of licorice, roses and caramel, with flavors that recalled dried spices like cardamom and cinnamon—though for some reason not everybody did. (Go figure. Lunatics, the lot of 'em.) And a 1999 Yarra Yering Dry Red #1—from a winery that made news lately by getting sold—had aromas of tea leaves and kirsch, then luscious berry fruit poised on the edge of age but not quite there. A very pretty wine.

The wine of the night, though, by general acclaim, was a 1991 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, which was just fantastic. Aromas of forest floor, spiced currants and graphite led into layers of soft cherry-currant fruit, silky tannins, and more lingering graphite notes. It had aged gorgeously and was in perfect condition, and isn't even Ridge's top Cabernet (Monte Bello is). The current vintage will set you back $40. Not bad. And I like the fact that Paul Draper, on the back label of the wine, suggested that it would age only five to ten years. As it turns out, a very modest prediction.


2009 Auction Napa Valley


I had the opportunity to attend the 29th annual Auction Napa Valley this past weekend, which is definitely one of the more hifalutin' wine events I've ever run into. Held at Meadowood in St. Helena, it featured the requisite huge tent, some mighty nifty chandeliers made out of grape vines (designed by Erin Martin), a multi-course dinner prepared by big name chefs such as Joachim Splichal, Dean Fearing & Meadowood home talent Christopher Kostow (an F&W Best New Chef 2009, and an incredibly nice guy, too), and a whole bunch of bidding on extravagant auction lots.

Was the money down from last year? Sure. But, as someone mentioned to me in passing, $5,700,000 is still a lot of cash, especially when it goes to folks who really need it (the auction earning go to local youth and health charities, primarily).

On Friday, before the big shindig, the annual barrel auction took place. Top lot honors there went to Shafer Vineyards; but for my money, the real payoff was getting to taste barrel samples of a huge array of 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons. Anyone interested in Napa Valley Cabs should start saving up now, because '07 is clearly a fantastic vintage: impeccably balanced, gracefully structured wines with great aromatics and flavor. Favorites for me included the Realm Cellars Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard, Cliff Lede's Poetry bottling, and Shafer's Hillside Select. These won't be on the market for quite some time, but they're worth noting down now. —Ray Isle

Wines Under $20

Amazingly Long-Lived Riojas


I had the good fortune yesterday to attend a substantial retrospective of gran reserva Riojas from some of the top producers in the region. I've long been a Rioja fan, and have for just about as long been convinced that traditionally styled Riojas are some of the best wines to cellar if you're interested in drinking older wines—they age wonderfully, especially from great years, and, relative to similarly long-lived reds, are distinctly underpriced. 

First, though, I should give a shout-out to my fave affordable Rioja from the big tasting that followed the retrospective, which was the 2004 Bodegas Luis Canas Crianza, a juicy, cherry-filled, appealingly streamlined red that sells for under $15. Good juice.

Of the older wines, the winner of the day for me was the 1982 Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, pale red in hue, utterly classic with its aromas of dried cherries, leather, black tea leaf, and resinous spices. On the palate it added a coffee note to that mix of characteristics, and a silky texture and presence that was just gorgeous—drinking it was like a psychic transportation to Rioja. Which is pretty impressive, for fermented grape juice in a bottle...

The two oldest wines in the lineup were fascinating as well. The 1964 Marqués de Riscal Gran Reserva (a blend of 75% Tempranillo with 25% Cabernet) was intensely luscious and deep to start with, full of sweet rich cherry and mocha notes, lush tannins, and a lightly resinous funky note—which, unfortunately, intensified as the wine opened and eventually left it pretty odd and stinky. Such are the risks of old bottles. On the other hand, the 1964 Faustino I Gran Reserva, which started out somewhat nondescript and a bit thin, opened up into a beautiful old Rioja, elegant in a noble way, with cool sweet berry notes, layers of herbal nuances, a hint of dark chocolate, and a really graceful structure. So, such are the benefits of old bottles...

None of those wines is really findable except, possibly, at auction (or in Spain). The 2001 Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial ($54), though, should be around and about, and was the star of the younger wines in the retrospective—cherry fruit with notes of licorice and forest floor, ripe and dense but not heavy, and a leathery-gamey hint on the end. All the richness of the '01 vintage in a classically styled wine, in a sense. I wish I had a case so I could see how it will be, forty years down the line. —R.I.

Wines Above $40

Masseto Wine Dinner at Bouley


Last week, I attended a dinner at Bouley, where winemaker Axel Heinz presented four vintages of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s Masseto (the highly acclaimed Merlot-based Super Tuscan), including the not-yet-released 2006 as well as the 2005, 2001 and 1997. Heinz invited everyone who attended to bring a bottle—one they felt was iconic in some way, from a producer who had “stood the test of time.” Unfortunately, I have no cellar to pull such a wine from, so instead I opted for the 1998 López de Heredia Viña Gravonia ($28, find this wine), a white Rioja from a traditional producer who holds wines at the estate for years—even decades, for its top wines—before releasing them. (1998 is the current vintage of this wine.)

As the sommelier poured me some 1988 Dom Pérignon, he set my bottle down next to a 1970 Château Margaux and a 1990 Ridge Geyersville, which made me feel more than a little sheepish. Thankfully, my humble bottle—one that at eleven years old tastes fresh and, in some ways, even too young to drink—provoked a great discussion about López de Heredia’s iconic status. I said I chose the wine because I admired the producer for sticking to its traditional-winemaking guns. In Rioja, many producers have embraced a more international style of wine: The whites are aged in stainless steel (instead of old oak barrels) and are often crisp but unmemorable. The reds are highly extracted and aged in new oak barrels for a richer, more polished style. Everyone agreed that López—with its elegant reds that age wonderfully and its extraordinary whites that often last even longer—has become an icon, but some people at the table wondered if it's simply because the López is the "last man standing" in a sea of producers who have modernized. Whatever the answer, I was happy it that it paired beautifully with Bouley’s porcini “flan,” an egg white–thickened dashi broth studded with meaty chunks of Dungeness crab. Better than the '06 Masseto, I must say.

And what about the Massetos? I found it fascinating to taste how all of the vintages had a distinctive (and wonderful) combination of mouth-filling fruit, terrific structure and a luxuriously long finish. The 2006 was much more opulent than the 2005, which was a tougher year in Tuscany; the ’05 seemed a bit closed. The sexy 2001 and 1997 were both noticeably silkier, thanks to their softening tannins, but had little in terms of secondary notes; I imagine more will start to develop as they continue to age. These wines have a lot of extraction, yes, but their balance across the board was impressive. In summary, the wines were correct—impeccable, even. It was hard to find a flaw. But does being flawless make something inspiring? Does flawlessness make a wine an icon? Perhaps. But is it worth paying upwards of $250 for that?

I'm not so sure. But I'm grateful to have tried them, and if you ever get the chance to taste Masseto, I would say definitely do. —Kristin Donnelly

Wines Under $20

Pizza Wine Perfection


Every spring, I wait for that transcendent moment when everything comes together and the season hits its most refreshing, jubilant, birds a-chirping note and there's no looking back to the bleak days of winter. That moment finally arrived last night over a couple of pizzas on the patio of Franny's in Brooklyn. I was with my dear friend John, we could see the Big Dipper, the pies were expertly wood-fired and I discovered the absolutely most perfect pizza wine ever in a glass of Bonarda from Italy's Lombardia region. The 2007 Castello di Luzzano Oltrepò Pavese ($16, find this wine) is deep red and lightly frizzante with lively cherry fruit and a kick of juicy mandarin orange flavor that was incredible with the tangy tomato sauce on our buffalo mozzarella pizza. Served chilled, it's similar to a Lambrusco but not as dark and frothy, just bright and clean. And to think this is only the beginning of patio-Bonarda-star-gazing weather. —Megan Krigbaum

Wines Above $40

Sojourn Cellars: Impressive Pinots & Cabernets


Ziggy, the Wine Wonder Dog!

© Ray Isle
Ziggy, the Wine Wonder Dog!

If you've read through our just-released June issue you may know that I spent some time a little while back engaged in a cork-taint sniff-off with a Labrador named Ziggy. A fun story to write—but I didn't get to run a picture of Ziggy along with it, so I'm rectifying that now. Cute, isn't she? And don't ever try to get a TCA-tainted barrel stave past her.

The other thing I didn't have room to write about in the story were the wines of Sojourn Cellars, a partnership between Craig Haserot, Ziggy's owner, and winemaker Erich Bradley. That's a shame, because they're well worth writing about. Sojourn makes a number of Pinot Noirs and Cabernets from various Sonoma vineyards, and is open for salon-style tastings (by appointment) in the small white house off the main square in Sonoma where I had my showdown with Ziggy.

The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($36) is a blend from four different vineyards, pale ruby in hue, with appealing sweet strawberry and cherry cola notes and a hint of rhubarb. It has an impressively silky mouthfeel, which jibes with Haserot's comment as I was tasting: "From a philosophical standpoint, we are hyper-focused on mouthfeel. It has to feel good before it tastes good. So we focus a lot on tannin management."

The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Windsor Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) offered cooler fennel-herbal notes with dense, sweet berry fruit, a touch of candied raspberry, and smoky tannins on the end; lots of saturated flavor here.

My favorite of the Pinots, the 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) has impressively sustained flavors of ripe wild raspberries and spice, a note of grapefruit peel in its acidity, and, overall, just exceptional balance and poise. The section of Sangiacomo that Haserot sources grapes from is, he says, "a nice cool spot right at the base of Sonoma Mountain, with a lot of marine influence; essentially the northern end of the Petaluma Gap."

Of the Cabernets, I thought the 2006 Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($39) was a steal for the quality it offers. The vineyard's called Home Ranch because it's essentially Haserot's backyard; the wine itself is luscious and rich, with mocha and black currant flavors and a touch of minty eucalyptus—a big, robust, embraceable Cabernet. Thinking about it makes me want to go out and grill a bunch of steaks right now.

On a different note, the 2005 Sojourn Cellars Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) is powerful and dark—much more a classic mountain-fruit Cabernet—with blackberry and black-currant fruit that's wrapped up in gripping but ripe tannins. The wine comes from the best seven barrels off Sojourn's Mountain Terraces vineyard; it's drinking very well now, and it should be drinking even better after four or five years in the cellar.

Sojourn's wines are available in some shops and at restaurants, but the production is fairly small, so they're easiest to find by getting in touch with the winery directly.

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