Sniffing out the good juice.

Archive for the tag “wine”

Piqued by Pinot Grigio, go figure!

To be blunt, I’ve never been a big Pinto Grigio fan.  I know, it’s Italy’s most popular white and the U.S. drinks an ocean of it, but… to me, it seems like something you’d put in an Italian baby’s sippy cup.  I generally find it watery and lackluster, without enough chutzpah to stand up to anything more than a quick, after-work Happy Hour.

So I was thrilled to taste Swanson’s 2010 Pinot Grigio – and ask for more.  Poured by Mr. Swanson himself (I’m sure that helped), it’s lemony and citrusy with a weight and mouthful surprising (to me) for a Pinot Grigio.  The debonair Mr. Swanson is proud to say this lushness comes not from oak (the wine only sees stainless steel), but from the quality of his Oakville grapes. (I’d say the addition of 10% chardonnay is also part of the success, but let’s not split hairs.)  There’s enough acid to pair with lighter food, and the balance is good.  If Pinot Grigio has let you down before, I’d give this California translation a swirl. Swanson Vineyards

While we’re talking about Swanson, I was also intrigued by their flagship Merlot.  As Chef Nancy said, “You don’t have to drink it, the gorgeous smell is enough!”

Don’t listen to Miles from the movie Sideways; there are tons of luscious California Merlots.  The best of them can get pretty pricey.  This one packs a juicy, black cherry punch at a fairly reasonable price.

Clark Swanson

Clark Swanson stopped by our neighborhood wine shop and charmed us all.

Bring on the Beaujolais!

No surprise, the most common question I field after tasting 100-ish wines at something like the Society of Wine Educator’s conference: What were your faves? Believe or not, a few stunners really do shine in my memory. Over the next couple of days, I’ll quickly highlight them here…

Stunner #2: Georges Duboeuf Julienas Chateau des Capitans, Beaujolais, France ($17-$20)

We were lucky, lucky indeed to breakfast with the godfather of Beaujolais, Georges Duboeuf himself, at the Society of Wine Educators conference.  Well, breakfast in the sense that 6 glasses of Beaujolais constitute breakfast, but anyway…

Breakfast Beaujolais with Duboeuf!

Breakfast Beaujolais with Duboeuf!

Mr. Dubeouf’s wines are practically synonymous with Beaujolais; check out the “France” section in your wine shop, almost guaranteed you’ll see ’em.

Chateau des Capitans, Julienas

Juicy Julienas

The stand out Breakfast Beaujolais he poured was the Julienas Chateau des Capitans. It is rich and perfumed with roasted coffee on the nose and a lush blackberry and pepper palate.  The texture is chewy and full.  This would be great wine with grilled poultry or maybe even pizza and pasta.  At under $20, it’s a steal.

Time to Geek Out – Bit o’ Background on Beaujolais:  This French wine region is located just below Burgundy, kinda the east side of France.  99% of the wines are red, made from the Gamay grape, and are typically light bodied and fruity.  If you’ve had a Beaujolais and been disappointed, try again and look for the word “Cru” on the label.  In short, this means the wine came from one of 10 specific areas inside Beaujolais, and are held to higher production standards. They rock.   And they are often a great value.

Just to make you crazy, you typically won’t see “Beaujolais” on the label, but rather the name of the Cru: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly or Côte de Brouilly.  Don’t ask me why, it’s a French thing.  But do ask your wine shop to point you in the right direction; wine geeks can get pretty nerdy about Cru Beaujolais, for good reason.Beaujolais_SMALL-MAP

Ummm, remind me why we’re here?

“And we’ll serve French wine!”

The twinkling lights of the Eiffel tower still in our eyes, and my new engagement ring sparkling on my finger, we were fresh off the plane from Paris and already planning our French-themed engagement party in Atlanta.  The food was easy but the beverage…hmmm.   Our nascent wine knowledge leaned heavily towards the usual Californian suspects, supplemented by the occasional cheap-but-a-nice-change-of-pace Rioja, and most easily found at Kroger.

Armed only with a French wine class four years past, we trouped to the local wine shop known for its French imports.  Our demands were minimal: French, red, affordable, party wine. Help?

Though the words on the label meant nothing to us then, we left with several cases of a 2000 Cote de Bourg.  Fast-forward 10 years, and I now know that’s a none-too-sexy but fine, Right Bank Bordeaux AOC producing Merlot-based wine.  Not that the wines are bad, mind you, but these are fruity bottles meant to be enjoyed young – as compared to a bad-assed, multi-Benjamin Paulliac (Left Bank Bordeaux) that needs 10-12 years before you even consider yanking that cork.

But our little wine came recommended by the patient manager, had the requisite amount of French on the label to complement our party aesthetic, and boasted a friendly name, Chateau Robert  – promptly renamed Bob.

We loved Bob.  He had a tad of that yummy Bordeaux stink (excuse me, “earthiness on the nose”) and indeed, lots of fruit.  Bob was a smoothie.  And, since our engagement party attendees leaned more towards Bud than Bordeaux, left-over Bob made lots of friends at subsequent parties and dinners.  You could take Bob anywhere.

Amateur appreciators that we were then, we didn’t realize Bordeaux already played a role in our love story. The fateful April night in Paris that culminated in all that sparkling, we dined at a quietly posh yet warmly welcoming restaurant in the shadow of the Eiffel.  The prix fix menu was priced, well, Parisian, with a wine list to match.  My fiancé-soon -to-be chose a value-priced Chateau Pitray, and when it arrived, paused.  Shit.  Surely he’d missed a zero on the price – it was delicious. Screw it, he thought, you only propose once or so.

But no, the low price was right. When we gushed about the wine, the proprietor explained that chateau was no more, the restaurant had bought the last of their production, so no, we wouldn’t find it at home.  Pity about that Pitray.

Fast-forward with me again about 10 years. Last month I attended a 2009 Bordeaux tasting with my wine school buddies.  Rationalizing tasting 37 reds in the middle of the day as perfect preparation for our upcoming Bordeaux Master Exam, we got to swirling and spitting.

There were the silky Margaux’s, the approachable Saint Julien’s, the chocolate-covered punch of the Pauillacs and – I swear – a Second Growth from Cos d’Estournel that tasted like money. Big and roasted and toasted, it was the wine equivalent of a Russian oligarch, holding court on his mega-yacht in Monaco.  Damn.

But I didn’t go home with the Russian, soave as he may be.  No, tucked on the “starter table” of wines under $20, was Chateau Pitray!  Peppery and fruity and easy to quaff – Pitray didn’t take me to the yacht in Monaco, or even Lake Lanier, but it did take me back to that sparkly April night, and that’s more than enough for me.

And that’s why I want to write about wine, that’s why we’re here: it’s not the big-breasted, collagen-lipped, rich-and-famous wines that make most of us – ok, me –  happy.  It’s the tasty juice at a comfortable price that becomes a priceless part of our sensory memories. And in the end, making memories is where it’s at.

Oh, and Bob?  In March, we dusted Bob off and carted him to dinner to celebrate the 9th anniversary of that engagement party.  The waiter raised an eyebrow; this little guy will surely be dead, he offered?  But Bob is a party animal, and with a little air and patience, Bob woke up and celebrated with us.  Even at only $10 a bottle, you can’t keep a good man down.

Anniversary Dinner at Rathbuns with Chateau Robert

The author bubbling, while Bob (in the foreground) gets his groove on.

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