29 September 2014

Five Wines from Coppola

Over the years I've tried a lot of wines from Francis Coppola Winery. The names and brands have changed over time, but these five labels appear to be sticking around.

I visited the Sonoma winery back in 2009 and have often recommended these bottles as reliable choices that are widely distributed throughout the United States.

2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Chardonnay
Monterey County
100% Chardonnay
$16, 13.5% abv.

Buttered popcorn, touch of vanilla and caramel. Bright acidity but a fairly round body with a woody aftertaste.

2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Malbec
89% Malbec, 7% Syrah, 4% Petite Sirah
$18, 13.1% abv.

Bright plum aroma with touches of leather and coffee. Round mouthfeel, low tannins, and a tart finish. Inky black color, but lighter than expected on the palate.

2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Claret
79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
$21, 13.5% abv.

Blackberries, blueberries, cassis, chocolate, coffee, medium tannins, long dark fruit finish.

2012 Sofia Rosé
Monterey County, California
55% Syrah, 35% Pinot Noir, 10% Grenache
$19, 12.5% abv.

A favorite of mine, and one that I love to give as a gift. Light strawberry flavors with bright acidity and a generally fun wine. Adaptable to a wide range of foods.

2012 Francis Coppola Director's Pinot Noir
Sonoma Coast, California
100% Pinot Noir
$21, 13.5% abv.

Very light garnet color, delicate wild strawberry aromas, mild acidity, low tannins, long finish.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

26 September 2014

Spell Winery Pinot Noir

At Spell Estate, German-born winemaker Andrew Berge produces a portfolio that is almost entirely Pinot Noir sourced from Sonoma and Mendocino. (The exception is a Chardonnay.) Spell is a small operation, producing 1500 cases a year. The wine can be purchased from their website, and tasting is only available by appointment at their custom crush facility.

I was contacted by Spell after tasting the Pinot Noir from La Pitchoune, where Berge also works as a winemaker. These four bottles show an impressive range of styles that are distinctly California yet demonstrate the versatility of this grape.

2012 Spell Nichole's Blend Pinot Noir
Sonoma County
100% Pinot Noir
902 Cases Produced
$39, 14.3% abv.

Profile of black cherry and a hint of leather. Medium tannins and a long finish. Excellent quality-price ratio.

2012 Spell Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir
Yorkville Highlands
100% Pinot Noir
194 Cases Produced
$50, 14.3% abv.

Deep and meaty with savory notes, a dark strawberry with just a dash of reduced balsamic vinegar on it.

2012 Spell Alder Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir
Mendocino County
100% Pinot Noir
149 Cases Produced
$50, 14.2% abv.

Really bold dark fruit with a firm body, one that benefits from an hour of decanting. Touches of tobacco and coffee are quite enchanting.

2012 Spell Terra de Promissio Vineyard
Sonoma Coast
100% Pinot Noir
148 Cases Produced
$72, 14.3% abv.

Rich and deep with a profile of berries backed up by hints of spice. Incredibly smooth and perfectly balanced. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

24 September 2014

Bickering Brothers Blended Whiskey

I recently had the pleasure of having an early dinner with Dave Rickert. I hadn't seen him in years and it was good to catch up over beer and sandwiches at a local bar. His brother Mike now lives in South Dakota, and from an earlier visit Dave brought me the last few ounces of a bottle of the most famous South Dakota whiskey.

Well, the only legal South Dakota whiskey.

Dakota Spirits Distillery has been in operation since 2006 but only in the past few years have they been able to sell their products in South Dakota (previously they trucked it across the border to Iowa). Their product line includes Ringneck Vodka, Coyote Light 100 Whiskey (a moonshine), Bickering Brothers Brandy, and this whiskey...

Bickering Brothers Blended Whiskey
Pierre, South Dakota
40% abv.

Half Bourbon, half grain spirits. Golden in color with a nose of oak and vanilla. Bracing like a young Scotch with a thin body but a long finish. On the palate I pick up a little spice and smoke. Definitely one that begs for a cigar on the back porch.

The whiskey is available mostly in South Dakota and due to state restrictions on how much they're allowed to produce, you're probably not going to see nationwide distribution anytime soon. But if you find yourself in the state to visit Mt. Rushmore or to ride at Sturgis, definitely check it out.

22 September 2014

Cider Brothers "William Tell" Hard Cider of Lodi

The Cider Brothers are Michael and Paul Scotto, 5th generation members of a Lodi wine family. They've recently branched out into hard cider production.

Cider was for a long time America's most popular alcoholic beverage, but lost favor with Prohibition and changing tastes after WWII. I was first exposed to it when it re-emerged as a curiosity in the 90s with brands like Woodchuck and a few British imports. Since then, the market has grown alongside the enthusiasm of the craft beer industry and there's more interest in traditional small production ciders made from fresh apples rather than concentrated juice. The Cider Brothers use a combination of five apples.

From the press release:
  • Golden Russets enhance the bouquet and aromatics, and contribute complexity and fruit flavor
  • Granny Smiths add tannic structure and tartness, adding to the mouthfeel
  • Galas help deliver a clean, refreshing finish
  • Fujis lend just the right amount of sweetness
  • Red Delicious brings rich mouth feel and distinct appley, aromatic qualities

Right now the bottles are available in the 22 oz. format, a little smaller than a 750mL wine bottle. But hard cider is usually a low alcohol beverage, so this is perfect for splitting between two people at dinner. (UPDATE: 12 oz. bottles are also available.)

William Tell Hard Apple Cider
Lodi, California
$9/22 oz. 6% abv.

Bright and slightly yeasty nose, with a clean, crisp, tart mouth feel. The dominant flavor is akin to a Golden Delicious. Completely lacking the sour note found in many mass-produced ciders.

William Tell Pinot Grigio Hard Apple Cider
Lodi, California
$9/22 oz., 6.5% abv.

This one is made with 85% Hard Apple Cider, 15% Pinot Grigio. Very similar to the first one, but the wine is definitely present with a rounder, smoother mouthfeel. I was skeptical of this kind of blend at first but after tasting found that I preferred it over the pure apple version. This would be phenomenal to serve at a BBQ.

Note: These ciders were provided as samples for review.

20 September 2014

Tannoor Grill in Cordova, Tennessee

A new restaurant popped up in the neighborhood recently, and because I only saw the sign while maneuvering rush hour traffic, I thought there was a new Indian place with a Tandoori grill. But upon further inspection the place is called Tannoor Grill, and is a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern version of the Brazilian churrascaria restaurant. Large skewers full of grilled meats are brought around to your table over and over until you say "stop!"

Tannoor Grill
830 N. Germantown Parkway
Cordova, TN 38018
(901) 443-5222

I stopped in for lunch by myself. Although the restaurant is all-you-can-eat, the place is classy and all food is brought to you. For dinner, they have an expanded menu and it's a little more expensive, but I must stress to all of my readers that the following feast was brought to my table for the bargain price of $13 (plus tax and beverages), and at any time I could request more of any of the courses.

First up was a freshly prepared fatoush salad full of tomatoes and cucumbers:

Followed by a slice of grilled eggplant topped with ground beef and yogurt:

Mezze! Pita, baba ghanoush, hummus:

Then chicken legs, served off the skewer:

Nicely seasoned ground beef kebabs:

Moist and succulent chicken breast:

Slices of rare sirloin. I could have kept going for a long while with this:

Chunks of well-done beef (chuck roast?):

After modest portions of everything I signaled defeat and Chef Shadi Alrammal came by with a whole pineapple, peeled, coated in brown sugar and grilled. I had two slices:

While this is an amazing bargain for lunch (and you can try everything without hurting yourself), I can't wait to try it for dinner to sample the lamb and all of the other extra options. That's the kind of dinner that requires fasting for a few days ahead of time and a lot of time on the exercise bike for the following week. Check it out, and tell 'em I sent you.

Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout

Part of me always thought that oyster stout might be an urban legend, one of those footnotes in a book that happens to get repeated and accepted as fact over time like the phantom island of Frisland. Beer brewing depends on cleanliness, so why would you throw a bunch of live oysters in there?

Years ago someone figured out that leftover oyster shells could be used as a clarifying agent, just like how fish bladders, milk, and bull's blood have been used to keep wines from being cloudy. And then someone started dumping in whole oysters, and a very odd drink was created. When making oyster stout, you open the bivalves and put them in during the wort boiling stage, and all solids are removed before fermentation.

While the concept seems a little repulsive (and I love oysters), I have always wanted to try one. I hadn't been to The Flying Saucer recently, but while meeting up with a friend I noticed an oyster stout on the menu. I knew I'd have to come back later and try it.

Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout
Frederick, Maryland
35 IBUs
$10/6-pack, 5.5% abv.

Made with local Rappahannock River oysters. Proceeds from the sale of this stout go to the Oyster Recovery Partnership that's working to regrow oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay. As with all Flying Dog beers, the label contains the wonderfully twisted artwork of Ralph Steadman. And yes, go ahead and giggle at the name of the beer, but there's an added reference: the stout is made with Perle hops.

It's not particularly bitter, with more focus on dark malts leading to flavors of coffee and chocolate and toast. But I immediately detected the scent of oysters. It's not strong, it's more like eating oysters, taking a sip of beer, and realizing that the scent from your hands is on the glass and interfering with the aroma of the beer. As it warms up and you get to the bottom of the glass, the oyster flavor intensifies but is never the dominant note.

The biggest problem is the salt. I love salt when properly used. Here it imparts a briny note to the beer which is interesting but problematic, particularly when drinking the beer alongside pub grub. I'm certain that about 5 minutes after the discovery of beer the inventor figured out that serving salty food would encourage more beer consumption. My choice of two brats (Usinger's and a beer brat), sauerkraut, and hot German potato salad was perhaps not the best pairing, though still delicious with copious amounts of ice water.

I'm glad I tried the oyster stout, but I don't see myself returning to it in the future. I would encourage any curious beer lover to try at least one if you get the opportunity. Now, Wynkoop Brewing's Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout is a whole other ball of fun...

19 September 2014

Hourglass Tasting

For the second year in a row, I've gotten the chance to taste a quartet of half bottles from Hourglass Vineyard in Napa Valley. My first tasting was in January 2013 and these were sampled a few months ago.

Napa is still recovering from the recent earthquake, so if you want to support those winemakers, growers, and everyone involved in the local industry, consider drinking a Napa wine this weekend. There has been a lot of damage to barrel rooms and cellars throughout the region, and your wine dollars do make a difference.

2013 Hourglass Estate Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley/Calistoga
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$40/750ml bottle

This is one of those bottles that I'd love to pour for a blind tasting. Unlike a lot of California Sauvignon Blanc, it is light, gentle, and restrained. There are slight elements of citrus and herbs but the presentation is so delicate. I would serve it with grilled quail and a simple salad.

2012 Blueline Estate Merlot
Napa Valley/Calistoga
91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot
$75/750ml bottle

The Merlot opens up with aromas of stewed fruits and pencil shavings. The tannins are extremely mild, leading to a soft but long finish. Outstanding with a veal chop seasoned with Herbes de Provence.

2012 Blueline Estate Malbec
Napa Valley/Calistoga
75% Malbec, 25% Petit Verdot
$75/750ml bottle

This is a great Bordeaux blend of two grapes that you don't often see in the forefront in that region. Dominant profile of black cherry, with touches of dried cranberry on the back. On the nose there is a pleasant earthiness, while the strong tannins show a wine that should develop beautifully over the next few years. For now, this is a great Saturday night steak wine.

2012 Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc
Napa Valley/Calistoga
83% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot
$135/750ml bottle

The price might seem high for a Cabernet Franc but it will show you just how expressive this tiny grape can be. It is rich and dark with a pronounced cassis flavor. A sniff yields touches of black pepper, chocolate, and leather. The tannins are firm but not overbearing and again, it is one that will only improve with proper aging. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

17 September 2014

Kaiken Wines of Argentina

Kaiken Wines was founded in Argentina in 2002 by a Chilean winemaker, Aurelio Montes. The two countries produce very different styles of wine but there's no reason not to celebrate both.

The name of the winery comes from the upland goose or caiquén that migrates back and forth over the Andes between the two countries. Both of these bottles celebrate Argentina's most famous grape and do so in an impressive manner.

I would strongly recommend both of these wines with a wide assortment of grilled meats. You can't recreate a full churrascaria in your home but now that the weather is getting nice, don't be afraid to toss a little lamb or goat on the grill along with the beef, chicken, and sausages. Although summer is the traditional time for outdoor cooking, I get so much more pleasure from it when it's cool or cold. Nothing better than sitting on the back porch with the smoker for a few hours without sweating or having to deal with bugs. And if you happen to get cold, just move a little closer to the fire box.

2011 Kaiken Terroir Series Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina
80% Malbec, 12% Bonarda, 8% Petit Verdot
$12, 14.5% abv.

Chocolate, leather, a touch of tobacco on the edge. Firm tannins, big dark berry flavors. I love a blend like this, and it's a good bargain. Definitely chewy, but perfect for those sizzling slices of beef or lamb.

2011 Kaiken Ultra Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina
96% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon
$22, 14.8% abv.

Black cherry, leather, coffee, medium tannins, long finish. The more serious of the two, I'd save this for the more tender rare cuts of beef. It is still strong enough that flavorful seasonings and smoke will not cancel out the great elements of the wine.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

14 September 2014

Birthday Weekend

This weekend, I turned 38. I was in Nashville to attend the wedding of a cousin a decade my junior, but I also got the opportunity to take a road trip with Bella and hang out with my buddy Paul for the first time in quite a while. I received a lot of kind Facebook birthday wishes over the past couple of days, with many questions about which wines I consumed. And the answer is zero.

Instead, I enjoyed great cocktails prepared by people other than me. Between the wedding and a dinner at my grandparents' house, Paul invited me to my first visit to The Patterson House, a small speakeasy with an eclectic range of spirits and recipes as well as a list of rules that must be followed. I had a lot of fun with the Summer Negroni and would share pictures, but alas, they discourage the use of cell phones at the very dark bar and it makes for a more pleasant experience.

Back at Paul & Anna's place, I was treated to martinis. I overhead a conversation about what size to fix, and discovered that they had developed an internal standard of sizes depending on mood and occasion. As I am currently working on a lot of process standard documentation in the day job, I was happy to lay out the proportions for them in proper retro style. Enjoy!

Slightly better version with adjusted recipe... I can never quit tinkering with these things.

12 September 2014

Josh Cellars Wines & Contest for First Responders

Josh Cellars and the Gary Sinise Foundation are teaming up with a contest to award five first responder organizations $10,000 each. To nominate your local volunteer fire department, for instance, go to Facebook and complete the entry form. First responders are not only police officers and firemen but also trained civilians that are either part of an official support program (like my father) or merely happen to be in the right place at a bad time. Growing up in Scouts, I received first aid, CPR, and lifeguard training, but Dad also had my brother and me attend courses for weather emergencies, airport crash drills, and taught us on the actual scene how to assist as first responders for a horrific car accident.

The entry window for the contest is open until September 17, so be sure to suggest your local organization soon! (Rules here.)

2012 Josh Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
Sonoma County
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$13, 13.5% abv.

Very mild and gentle, light acidity. Trace scents of flowers with a restrained profile of grapefruit and lime peel. Perfect with a smoked turkey and avocado sandwich.

2012 Josh Cellars Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir
$17, 13.5% abv.

This Pinot Noir shows notes of plum and leather. On the palate there are medium tannins and a long finish. As it is still relatively young, I'd suggest decanting for an hour before serving with grilled steaks or roast lamb.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

07 September 2014

2013 Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre & 3 Guys Pizza Pies

Irish mythology has a concept called geis. It's a sort of rule/curse that if the hero violates the geis, something bad will happen. It's how Cú Chulainn bit the dust, because he had two conflicting geasa: he couldn't refuse the gift of a meal, but he couldn't eat dog meat. One day he was offered some roast hound, and he was trapped in an impossible position. He didn't die right away, but by breaking the taboo he was weakened and it's all wrapped up in some love triangle drama with Emer and Lugaid and was soon killed in battle.

Editor's Note: BWR does not condone the eating of dog but the author is making a point that will become clear soon, and ancient Ireland was a weird place.

I'm not an absolutist on wine and food pairing, and I often like to mix things up to see how they work. But I do have a personal geis that I don't break. When presented with a bottle of Sancerre, I'm going to eat seafood, and preferably oysters. There's just something about that Loire valley Sauvignon Blanc that is so distinct from how the grape is expressed everywhere else on the globe, and I just love it with any seafood that actually tastes fishy or salty. No bland cod, give me marinated mackerel.

2013 Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre
Sancerre AOC
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$25, 12% abv.

This bottle is light and lemony with a gentle body and a mild finish. Faint floral notes on the nose as it warms up, but overall a subtle and well-balanced wine that delivered the reliable and enjoyable experience that I've always experienced from this little part of France. So what did I pair with it?

A local pizza place called 3 Guys Pizza Pies offers something called the Vampire Killer: red onions, feta cheese, minced garlic, kalamata olives, and anchovies. I get it without the onions, but they're one of the few places that I trust with anchovies (the fishies are always large, taste freshly opened, and are not treated as the punchline to a joke).

The photo from a month ago shows the pizza at the bar with a pint of Ghost River beer (I toured the brewery in 2009), but this weekend I picked up another and had it with the Sancerre. And the pairing was amazing. Granted, it's on the salty side, and afterwards nobody is going to want to kiss you, but the fish, olives, and cheese all work together well with a wine that has just the right amount of acidity and a hint of minerality.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

06 September 2014

Summer with French Rosé

I've always associated rosé with spring and summer, but I certainly enjoy this style of wine throughout the entire year. When it's hot outside, it's a cool and refreshing beverage. When it's cold, it's a reminder of sunshine and flowers and blue skies.

As I've said many times, pink wines get a bad rap for an association with cheap White Zinfandel or the idea that they are exclusively for women. But they're just a bridge between red and white, able to pair well with just about anything. These three are affordable selections from the South of France, where the style was perfected.

2013 Domaine les Hautes Cances Rosé
Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne
1st saignée: Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan
2nd saignée: Grenache
3rd saignée: Mourvèdre
$15, 13.5% abv.

This is the strongest of the three, showing bright raspberry flavors with a tart, big body and a firm finish. As you can see from the grape listing, this is due to the saignée method in which some juice is bled off (hence the name) early in the winemaking process. This gives you two things: a stronger red wine and a rosé as a byproduct. And on top of that, the rosé will be ready for consumption earlier. This one is interesting in that it involved so many different grapes in three different bleedings.

2012 Marrenon Petula Rosé
Luberon, France
95% Syrah, 5% Grenache
$12, 13% abv.

The most restrained of the three. Mild and gentle with faint notes of bing cherry. Light acidity, a delicate finish, and a wine that I would love to pair with grilled amberjack and fennel.

2013 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé
Côtes du Rhône, France
Grenache & Syrah
$8, 13% abv.

This one is a repeat from April, but it's still a delightful wine. Light aromas of tart raspberry with flavors that follow, including a burst of lemony acidity. Round mouthfeel with a beautiful salmon color and a long, tart finish.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

04 September 2014

August Alsatian Pinot Blanc

I've written surprisingly few articles about Pinot Blanc over the years, though I love it more and more as time goes on. It's often confused as a variant spelling of Pinot Grigio, and while both grapes are light-skinned mutations of Pinot Noir, Blanc/Bianco is golden and Gris/Grigio is pink.

Gris is everywhere in varying levels of quality, while Blanc is not as widely cultivated but if you find a bottle, it is likely to be of the middle to higher tiers. I've had great Pinot Blanc from Oregon's cool climate, but these three come from Alsace. A delightful grape from one of my favorite regions is a great combination.

As summer winds down, these wines are absolutely wonderful with picnic fare and quiet weekend lunches on the patio.

2012 Louis Sipp Pinot Blanc
Alsace AOC
100% Pinot Blanc
$14, 12.5% abv.

Gentle ripe apple aromas with a dry flavor and a gentle mouthfeel. Balanced acidity, just beautiful.

2012 Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc Tradition
Alsace AOC
100% Pinot Blanc
$17, 13% abv.

Bartlett pear, just a touch of sweetness. Low acidity and a round mouthfeel. Fruit forward. I enjoyed it with a ham sandwich and potato salad, which, going by ingredients, is fairly authentic for the region.

2011 Maison Keuntz-Bas Pinot Blanc Tradition
Alsace AOC
100% Pinot Blanc
$16, 12.5% abv.

Light and mineral with a tiny hint of citrus peel. Medium acidity and a delicate finish. Highly recommended if, like me, you're a fan of the restrained style.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

01 September 2014

One Smart Pet Food Company

As part of a bag of early birthday gifts, my parents gave me some dog treats from One Smart Pet Food Company based here in Memphis, Tennessee. The company makes all natural treats for dogs and cats, and my particular present was a packet of Memphis Style BBQ Bones ($10/8oz.), made from pork shoulder, brown rice flour, lentil flour, water, and natural smoke extract. No artificial ingredients or weird scrapings from the slaughterhouse floor.

As soon as I opened the bag, Bella expressed an interest in the contents.

The treats are shown here next to a wine cork for size comparison. Note that wine corks are not acceptable dog toys and should be kept out of reach.

Bella decided to look pitiful while I was taking photos and reading the ingredients.

"Guess what, Bella? It's not your birthday!" I ate two of the treats. After all, I like smoked pork shoulder, lentils, and brown rice. I've made homemade dog treats in the past and one particular batch made from a recipe in one of my bread cookbooks was so tasty that I ate more of them than Wolfie did. "Bella, did I mention how tasty these are?"

These are drier and harder than your average human snack, but you can definitely taste the meat. I wouldn't mind serving these with a little ramekin of BBQ sauce.

OK, she waited long enough. Bella was enthusiastic and enjoyed two of the small treats. I have a feeling that she'll be bugging me for another one later on today. But she deserves it, she's a good dog.