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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Wines Under $20

Wines for Dads

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There are people out there—and they know who they are—who missed Father's Day. You forgot to call, you were traveling, the gift got eaten by the dog; whatever the case, now's a good time to make it up to dear old dad. In fact, speaking as a father myself, it's always a good time to give gifts to fathers. Nothing warms the cold cockles of the heart more than a thoughtful present from a dutiful child, except maybe an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean island plus a speedboat-driving butler, but hey, that's hard to come by. In any case, should dad be a wine-lover, here are some handy gift ideas, good for any occasion whatsoever.
 
Grilling Dad
Affordable: 2010 Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Joven Campo de Borja ($8)
This robust Spanish red is a great partner for burgers off the grill.
Sky’s the Limit: 2007 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)
A benchmark Napa Cabernet. Velvety, rich and deceptively powerful, it’s drinking great right now—especially with some sort of troglodyte-size T-bone.
 
Eco-Conscious Dad  
Affordable: 2009 Fetzer Valley Oaks Zinfandel ($9)
A juicy red from one of the world’s largest farmers of organic grapes.  
Sky’s the Limit: 2008 SokolBlosser Estate Cuvee Pinot Noir ($50)
Sokol Blosser farms organically, participates in salmon-safe run-off programs, uses biodiesel fuels and has solar panels in its vineyards. Plus, its Pinot Noir is terrific.
 
Beach Dad (no glass bottles)
Affordable: 2008 Bandit Cabernet Sauvignon ($8)
Dark fruit and lots of flavor in a one-liter cardboard Tetra Pak.
Sky’s the Limit: 2009 Wineberry Chateau du Chatelard Bourgogne Blanc ($45/3 liter box)
New York–based Wineberry packages small-production French wines in cool wooden three-liter boxes.
 
Sports Dad
Affordable: 2009 Arnold Palmer Cabernet Sauvignon ($11)
A straightforward and appealing red from a golf great.
Sky’s the Limit: 2008 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon ($85)
Former NFL star Drew Bledsoe grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, with Chris Figgins, whose family owns one of the state’s top wineries, Leonetti. They reunited to create this structured, intensely flavorful Cabernet.
 
Never-Met-a-Party-I-Didn’t-Like Dad
Affordable: Mionetto Il Prosecco ($9)
A lively Italian sparkler from one of the best-known Prosecco producers.
Sky’s the Limit: 2002 Dom Pérignon ($140)
Dom Pérignon lives up to its reputation, especially in the terrific ’02 vintage. Plus, dad will definitely impress his friends with his bottomless wallet (well, your bottomless wallet, but who’s counting?).
 
Related Links:
 
Bargain Wines
 
35 Fantastic Father's Day Gift Ideas

The Best Barbecued Ribs Recipes
 
Chef-Dad Mario Batali’s Best Grilling Recipes

20 Great Brunch Recipes

Wines Above $40

Shipwrecked Champagne

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A bottle the divers didn't chug.
Last summer, divers discovered a cache of incredibly old Champagne in a shipwreck off Finland's Åland islands. Today, someone snatched up part of it. Two 1840s-vintage bottles (one from the long-gone Juglar house, the other from the ubiquitous Veuve Clicquot) sold at auction for 54,000 euros (about $39,000 a bottle). That's plenty, but only half of what Champagne expert Richard Juhlin speculated they might sell for, and much less than the $130,000 that someone recently paid for a huge bottle of the so-so (but Jay-Z-approved) Armand de Brignac. So maybe today's winning bidder scored a deal.

What happened to the other 145 bottles? At least one was consumed, immediately, by the divers who discovered it. One told the press: "It had a very sweet taste. You could taste oak and it had a very strong tobacco smell." Sound enticing? You can hope that the Finnish government releases more.

If you missed the chance to bid, console yourself with 10 much more affordable Champagnes (and other excellent sparkling wines), plus pairings like crunchy hush puppies with Tabasco-spiked remoulade.

Wines Under $20

The Queen Wants Wine!

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Or at least wine from a French Château owned by an Irishman. A few weeks back on the Today show I semi-predicted that one of the wines served at the royal wedding events would be Château de Fieuzal, a white Bordeaux from a property owned by wealthy Irish fellow named Lochlan Quinn. Well, I was wrong.

But, because evidently I'm more in tune with the doings of royalty than I thought, Fieuzal was poured at a recent dinner for the Queen in Dublin castle. It's a lovely white wine, and the current 2009 vintage can be found here, for about $45.

In fact, white Bordeaux tends to be a bit of a forgotten category. But the combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (typical of these wines) has a subtle fragrance and taste that's easy to become addicted to. A few good ones to try out include those from Château Graville-Lacoste, Clos Floridène, Château Carbonneau, Château Bonnet, Château Ducasse, and Château Rahoul. In the I've-got-money-to-burn-and-I-don't-care category, also look for Domaine de Chevalier blanc and Chateau Smith Haut-Lafite blanc. The 2009s are on shelves, but these wines age well and 2008 was a great vintage for white Bordeaux, so don't shy away from those either.  

Wines Under $20

Last Minute Bubbly: CBS Early Show

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If you haven't stocked up on sparkling wine or Champagne for New Year's yet, here's a clip from the CBS Early Show this morning, where I went through a number of great, affordable possibilities with host Harry Smith. I was also on the CNBC WSJ Report with Maria Bartiromo over the weekend, talking a bit more about the business side of sparkling wine, along with some recommendations. The video on their site isn't working at the moment for some reason, but here's the text of the story.

Wines Above $40

Great Unknown Pinot Noir

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Well, I shouldn't really say "unknown," because Woodenhead's wines are known to some people at least—but they ought to be known to more. I've thought this for some time, and the thought came at me again a while back when I was at the annual Pigs & Pinot event in Healdsburg, CA, that Charlie Palmer puts on. I was there as a judge for the Pinot Cup—a blind tasting of fifty Pinot Noirs from all over the world—and when our top choice was revealed to us, I was both pleasantly surprised and not that surprised at all.

© Charlie Gesell
Woodenhead's Winning Wine

The winning wine—against some extremely tough competition—was the 2007 Woodenhead Buena Terra Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60), a silky, seamless combination of sweet cherry and tangy raspberry notes, with a hint of cola and a light gaminess. It's sourced from a vineyard on Eastside Road across from Rochioli (which in Pinot-land is pretty much Park Avenue), and was made, as all the Woodenhead wines are, by Nikolai Stez.

Nick started off as cellarmaster at Williams Selyem during the early days of that winery, and has kept contact with original owner Burt Williams—in fact, buys fruit from Williams' Morning Dew Ranch vineyard for another terrific Pinot. The 2007 Woodenhead Morning Dew Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir lures you in with a fragrant spice note, resolving into graceful spiced berry flavors and a tangy fresh-orange acidity.

Finally, also worth looking into is the 2007 Woodenhead Humboldt County Pinot Noir ($42), about which I seem to have written "like a twisted wire of smoky herbal notes running through sweet raspberry, then crisp at the end." Evidently I was getting alarmingly poetic at that point in my tasting. Regardless, the vines this wine came from were apparently pulled out after this vintage, so this is the last of it to be had.

Woodenhead's wines are not easy to find in stores, since production is small, but they can be ordered directly from the winery (or bought from their tasting room, an extremely pleasant place where you can also chat with Nick and Zina Bower, his partner in both the winery and life). And that Pinot Cup-winning wine is still available, I believe.

 

Winemakers

Tasting with Dom Pérignon's Richard Geoffroy

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Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 2000
Contrary to popular belief, it's not every day that I get to taste brand new vintages of Dom Pérignon with its Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy. In fact, I'd never done this until last week when I, of course, jumped at the chance. For being the winemaker of what's arguably the most highly esteemed Champagne in the world, Geoffroy is remarkably well-grounded and funny and easy to chat with. He even has a blog.

The matters at hand were Dom Pérignon's newest rosés, of which there are two. The first, the 2000 Dom Pérignon Rosé, is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but Geoffroy thinks the wine "makes a statement on Pinot Noir. The point is to go for the Pinot Noir-the holy grail of winemakers and consumers."  The 2000 vintage is a delicate golden salmon color and has the power, tannic structure and strawberry and sweet cherry fruit of Pinot Noir, balanced by a roundness on the palate and minerality, thanks to the Chardonnay. It's a duality that Geoffroy calls "very Dom Pérignon." The price, a cool $350, is also very Dom Pérignon.

The second wine we tasted was extraordinarily exciting, but, unfortunately, you won't ever be able to get it. Let me repeat: you won't ever find this wine. There will only be 350 bottles of it in the U.S. That said, the 1990 Dom Pérignon Œnothèque Rosé (the very first Œnothèque Rosé ever released in this country) is just dazzling.  Œnothèque bottlings are late releases of particularly great vintages, and 1990 is especially important to Geoffroy because it was his first vintage at Dom Pérignon. The copper-toned wine is at once mellow but intense; creamy with spectacular acidity; and has remarkable longevity on the palate. "What I'm after is the lasting sensation of something," says Geoffroy. "I want the finish to be a seamless, gliding, holding note." I'd say he hit his mark.

Wines Above $40

Tasting 2007 Bordeaux

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Anyone in the NY area and inclined to buy Bordeaux might want to check out the Union des Grands Crus tasting tomorrow, held at The Four Seasons restaurant, a few blocks away from Sherry-Lehmann, which is presenting the event (tickets $75/$125). I stopped by today at the trade version of the same tasting to get a read on the 2007 Bordeaux vintage, which seems to be neither as dire as some reports would have nor as wonderful as the chateau owners might prefer we all thought. 

Basically, the sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac are lovely in '07, with layers of nectar-like flavors and distinct botrytis character (that distinctive honeysuckle-to-bitter-honey note). Standouts at the tasting included Chateau Coutet, Rayne-Vigneau, and Doise-Daëne.

The white wines of Pessac-Leognan also show well in '07, at least more consistently than the reds. Standouts at the tasting included Domaine de Chevalier, Château de Fieuzal, Château Larrivet Haut-Brion, and Château Smith Haut-Lafitte.

The '07 Bordeaux reds that I tasted were a mixed bag. The best—Domaine de Chevalier and de Fieuzal again, Pape Clément, Pontet-Canet, Léoville Poyferré, Lynch-Bages—weren't flashy, but were balanced, appealing wines supported by ripe tannins, with a kind of sneaky depth to their flavors; the not-so-good were marred by green notes and an hollowness in the midpalate that isn't particularly pleasant now and seems unlikely to improve with age, too. Of course, I tasted only a percentage of a percentage of the '07 Bordeauxs as a whole, so take any broad generalizations cautiously. Or, even better, go to the tasting and see what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

On Jan. 23 in New York City, Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, presents the Union Des Grands Crus Bordeaux Tasting. This is a rare opportunity to sample the 2006 and 2007 Vintages from more than 80 of Bordeaux's greatest châteaux. Winemakers and châteaux proprietors themselves will be pouring the wines.  VIP ticket holders will be entered into a Special Raffle in which 6 Signed Magnums from a selection of featured Châteaux will be awarded to 6 lucky winners (Raffle Commences at 2:30pm).  For VIP tickets ($125pp before Jan. 20; $150 after) and Grand Tasting tickets ($75pp before Jan. 20; $95 after); sold online at: http://www.sherry-lehmann.com/events; 212-838-7500. Event takes place at 583 Park Avenue in NYC.

Wines Under $20

10 Great Wine (& Spirit) Gift Ideas

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I was thinking through what I'd tasted, and read, and heard about, and so on through the course of 2009, and it seemed like a good idea to recap a few highlights as possible gift ideas. After all, there's still time left—and even if the holiday season passes, why not give a few more gifts to people? The wine business—in fact, the entire U.S. economy—will thank you!

10. Evan Williams Three-Ounce Flask ($13.50) Long flight? The cagey folks at Evan Williams are there to keep you from having to drink rotgut from a cart; this stainless steel flask holds only three ounces, which makes it OK for airport security. You could fill it with, just on a whim, the latest release of Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon ($26), the lightly spicy, supple 2000 vintage. As usual, it's a great deal in a single-barrel Bourbon. 

9. Wine from Italy's Lazio region  I had the interesting pleasure of running a tasting recently of wines from Lazio, the region that surrounds Rome and is bordered by Umbria and Tuscany to the north. Lazio tends to get overlooked, because the vast majority of the wine it produces is utterly forgettable white Frascati that flows in a vast river into the glasses of Rome's countless trattorias. But there's a hidden realm of ambitious small producers in the region, making some fantastic wine. I'm particularly fond of the in-your-face fragrant 2008 Cantina Sant'Andrea Oppidum ($24, try contacting the importer), a dry Muscat that smells like a fistful of flowers and tastes of citrus fruit with a nut-skin edge, as well as the dark cherry-and-silk 2005 Damiano Ciolli Cirsium ($40, ditto), made from the local Cesanese grape variety. Cool wines. Unfortunately, both a bit hard to find.

8. Easier to find: The 2007 Twenty Bench Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($19, find this wine). This is a stupidly good deal in Napa Cab, so much so that when I used it in a blind tasting on the CBS Early Show the other morning, it bested a 2006 Bordeaux from a second-growth property (admittedly a bit unfair, as '06 Bordeaux aren't exactly user-friendly at the moment). 

7. Even easier to find: The 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($16, find this wine) I don't know what sort of deal Jim & Bob Varner cut with the infernal forces to be able to keep producing such a good Chardonnay for such a modest price, but whatever it was, wine drinkers owe them some thanks. 

6. The One wine glasses ($50 for four)  Andrea Immer, Master Sommelier & general wine-authority-about-town, designed these glasses with the specific thought in mind that (a) you would only need one red and one white glass, and (b) you could dishwash the darn things without breaking them. I've tested them out; they work. Nice glassware is a good thing. Alternatively, you could buy someone the Riedel stems that I've always used as my go-to all-purpose glasses, the Riedel Vinum Chianti/Zinfandel glass (model 6416/15, about $40 for two). I know, doing this defeats the whole point of Riedel glasses, but hey, I'm a journalist, not a millionaire.

5. For Pinot Noir fanatics, winemaker Ross Cobb is making some of the best Sonoma Coast Pinot I came across all year. I didn't get a chance to write about them in the magazine, because they're small production and fairly expensive, but they're truly impressive wines. My favorite was his 2007 Cobb Coastlands Vineyard ($68), which had lovely floral and balsam aromas, gorgeous wild berry fruit with a hint of white pepper, an orange peel note to the acidity, and a taut, streamlined structure. Just terrific stuff. You have to sign up on the website to receive an allocation, but from what I can tell it's not sold out yet.

4.The Food & Wine Wine Guide 2010. Great stocking stuffer. Almost as good as a subscription to Food & Wine.

3. What the heck. While I'm at it, why not give someone a gift from the Food & Wine Wine Club.

2. The Macallan 57 Year Old ($15,000) OK, it's a little pricey. But I did get a chance to taste this stuff, and, whether it's worth fifteen grand or not, I can definitely say that it's truly gorgeous whisky. It isn't remotely dried out (a common problem with extremely old whiskies), gives off whiffs of caramel, sweet spice, tobacco and peat, and tastes of orange rind, spice drop, rancio, and dried fruits; it's tremendously complex and also lovely, with a rich viscosity. Plus, it's bottled in a fancy-pants Lalique decanter, of which there are exactly 400 total for the world. But, if you don't feel like trading your child's college fund for a bottle of hooch, you could instead pick up the nifty new half-bottle size Macallan 18 ($80), which is exactly the same Macallan 18 as in the traditional 750ml bottle (extremely good, in other words) but smaller. Really great stocking stuffer.

1. Champagne  The Champenoise are having a tough time this season, people are holding onto their shekels & not shelling out for the pricey tête-de-cuvées they once did, but hey—as far as I know, no one is ever unhappy to be given Champagne. Why would they be? It's festive, it tastes great, it's fun, and even if you're one of the weird anti-fizz minority and don't like the stuff, it's eminently regiftable. There's plenty of good Champagne out there, but I'm particularly partial at the moment to the chalky, aromatic NV Henriot Blanc Souverain (about $50, find this wine), a graceful—and findable—blanc de blancs bottling not to be confused with the similarly named (and also quite good) Henriot Brut Souverain.

Wines Above $40

NYC Wine & Food Festival: Beaucastel Tasting

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Over the weekend I had the good fortune to introduce (and then sit on a panel with) Marc Perrin of Château Beaucastel, as eighty or so equally fortunate people got to taste through a vertical of Château Beaucastel going back to 1988. The wines showed gorgeously and reaffirmed—not that there's much doubt about it—Beaucastel's place in the top ranks of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape heirarchy.

Perrin was adamant about the benefits of organic viticulture, though in an effortlessly charming way: "When my grandfather decided to use organic viticulture in 1950, people thought he was crazy. But we think it is absolutely the only way to go to make wines that express a sense of place," he stated, adding later, "Industrial yeasts are good for industrial wine. But when you are talking about the identity of a terroir, natural yeast is the only option." 

Beaucastel bottles

Of the vintages we tasted through ('07, '06, '98, '94, '90, '89, & '88), these were my highlights:

2007 Chateau de Beaucastel, a powerful wine with creamy black raspberry and licorice notes, hints of toast and berry skin, and lots of fine-grained but substantial tannins—though still extremely young, it promises to be fantastic over time. This hasn't been released yet, but will be soon; it would be an outstanding cellar purchase.

2000 Château de Beaucastel, which had shifted toward more secondary characteristics of earth and loam under its dark cherry fruit, with a touch of tobacco on the end and a velvety texture. Perrin said it reminded him of "when you go into a forest after it rains," which struck me as just right.

1990 Château de Beaucastel, an extraordinary CdP with lots of life left in it; the aroma was all exotic spice, a hint of bandaid box (i.e. brett, which Beaucastel was known for in the past, & which did not come up during discussion) and dried herbs; the fruit suggested kirsch and raspberry liqueur. Stunning wine. Wish I had a case of it, rather than just a memory.

There was plenty of debate—as there has been over time—about the '89 vs. the '90. Both were terrific—or somewhere beyond terrific, actually. Perrin preferred the '89 this time, which was rounder and more generous, with more dark chocolate than spice notes. I went for the '90.

He also said this about Grenache in general: "For me a great Grenache wine, a big part of the experience, is the texture. It's like eating a cherry—that juicy, fleshy character of a ripe cherry."

Thirsty now?

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