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December 2000 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 218 Rejected: 196 Approved: 22 Selected: 2
DAY AND NIGHT
How far apart can two wines be? Well, the analogy "like day and night" sure works. For the day, we have one of our favorite wines in the world. The Soprani Moscato is one of the lightest and most delicate wines made anywhere. Weighing in at a mere 5.5% alcohol, it contains less than 70% of the alcohol that our Port offers. One glass has less than half the alcohol that a table wine offers. Best of all, while many consider this a desert wine, it's lightness and good acidity allow it to be enjoyed with a variety of foods, especially Asian and spicy Indian cuisine.
And for the night, a great port to cap off a fine meal. At one time, there were a lot of California port producers. As the enthusiasm faded for this wine, so did the producers. Thankfully, El Encanto hung in there and now with a huge Port renaissance in front of us, they're leading the pack. These are great wines for your holiday entertaining and great bargains as well. Either would make terrific gifts for beginners and connoisseurs alike.

Domestic Selection

The Capetta Family has been producing wines in the town of Santo Stefano Belbo in Piedmont's heralded Asti district for generations. The winery is a state-of-the-art facility with the most modern temperature controlled fermenting tanks, presses and bottling equipment available. While most of us think of Barolo and Barbaresco when Piedmont is discussed, the fact is that Moscato di Asti makes up more than half of all the wine produced here. It was just given the prestigious DOCG classification by the Italian government, the highest available in Italy. Moscato di Asti is one of the most unique and pleasurable wines made in the world. It is made from the Muscat Canelli grape. The grapes are usually harvested in September, which is nothing unusual. They are then fermented at extremely low temperatures (under 50 degrees) in pressurized, sealed tanks. The wine ferments very slowing and the carbon dioxide, which would normally dissipate into the air, goes into the wine, giving it a slight sparkle, which the Italians call "frizzante." At approximately 5.5% alcohol, the wine is chilled to 30 degrees and put into a centrifuge to purge the yeast cells. This retains about 5% of the sugar at a very low alcohol creating a refreshing, light and all together an extremely pleasing and unique wine. As far as we know, this style of wine is not duplicated anywhere else. The result is a fresh, clean and crisp wine with lively acidity. It sports an aroma of fresh peaches and tastes like the spray from a freshly cut green apple. In Piedmont it is served with fresh fruit and light cakes. It's the perfect desert wine after those heavy holiday meals.
Moscato di Asti, 1999 Soprani
Mos-Kato dee Ahsti So-pranee
Light and delicate nose of green apple with hints of slate and apricot. The flavor instantly appealing with a plethora of fresh fruit and tingling finish.
CELLARING SUGGESTIONS:
Great now. Should be consumed soon. Serve slightly chilled.

Imported Selection

Port became so famous that it was named after the country in which it was first made, Portugal. Other than Madeira (oddly enough a Portuguese colony) I cannot think of a wine that is as closely associated with its country of origin than this one. Port is one of the richest, darkest and most imposing wines made in the world. It is also one of the most beloved. This is quite a distinction for a wine that was technically made by accident! You see, Port wasn't always a desert wine. Back in the early 1700s, the wines made from these grapes were very harsh and coarse. So harsh, in fact, that they had to have a little sugar in them so that they could be consumed. This was fine for a while, but the yeast in the wine would begin to ferment the leftover sugar. Since the wines were now being kept in glass containers, the bottles would break from the pressure generated by the carbon dioxide gas that had no place to go. Winemakers found that they could arrest fermentation before completion by adding a neutral spirit such as grape brandy. This solved the bottle problem and gave them more control over how much sugar was left in the wine. As the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol, the addition of spirits raises the alcohol level to 20%. Since yeast cannot live in an alcohol environment of more than 17%, this procedure will effectively kill off all the yeast cells. Because they have not finished converting all the sugar to alcohol and CO2, whatever residual sugar is left before the addition of the spirits will now be in the finished wine. In the case of Port the residual sugar could be as low as 8% or as high as 12% depending on the desire of the winemaker. These versions became sweeter and more popular than the dryer ones. El Encanto has been making Port-styled wine in California for over half a century. Using the centuries old techniques of Portugal, El Encanto picks the ripest grapes available and gently keeps the juice and skins in contact to gain maximum color and flavor. Drink it at the end of a fine meal.
Tawny Port, NV Vina Encanto Kendermanns
Veenya En-kanto
Lovely garnet color with magenta center. Nose of freshly-squeezed cherry juice, vanilla bean and hints of chocolate. A must with the Bittersweet Chocolate Indulgence recipe on page 6.
CELLARING SUGGESTIONS:
Perfect now. Will just keep getting better. Serve cool.

Grove Street Chradonnay

Grove Street Winery is located, oddly enough, on Grove Street in Healdsburg, California. Besides making terrific wine, Grove Street has one of the more interesting label concepts. Healdsburg is one of the oldest and most respected wine towns in the northern part of Sonoma County. Many of the pioneering wineries were located right here on Grove Street. The winery features these historic homes on their labels with a brief description of the house and the people who lived there. We think this a great idea. It helps preserve some of California's wine history and we like the pictures much better than the beavers, dogs and horses we've seen on other labels. If there's one thing Sonoma is well known for, it is Chardonnay. This king of white grapes was planted here way before it was popular in other areas and does as well here as any area in the state. It loves the warm days and cool nights, the alluvial soils that make up most of the vineyard land and it has benefited from the improving skills of the winemakers. Those skills have been honed over the last 20 years here and some of the best is yet to come. Sonoma is more than double the size of Napa. It runs directly to the west of Napa, closer to the coast, which accounts for the cooler climate and longer growing season. The growing season keeps the grapes on the vine for a longer period of time without allowing them to ripen too quickly. This increases the natural grape acids in the wine and makes for a better match with food. You can taste all these factors in the finished wine. The 1998 vintage was particularly long, thus accounting for the more forward fruit flavors and the luscious, imposing fin¬ish. The extended barrel aging is what gives it the vanilla tones and a spicy character enjoyed in many of the highly prized, and highly priced, offerings. While we still think the label idea is terrific, we like the wine even more. We're quite confident that you'll find it an excellent example of a fine California Chardonnay.
1998 Chardonnay Grove Street
Rich, golden color. Clean and lush fla¬vors of tropical fruit, ripe pear and nec¬tarine. Herbal scents are complemented by tropical flavors to soar with sea bass, captivate crab or mesmerize monkfish.
CELLARING SUGGESTIONS:
Will complex for another 2-3 years Serve slightly chilled.

Bonverre Cabernet Sauvignon

There is probably no one grape and area in the United States that are as intertwined as Cabernet Sauvignon and the Napa Valley. Cabernet was planted here in the late 1800s and it hasn't looked back since. For good reason. Napa is hot, not just in the figurative sense, but climat¬ically as well. It is also incredibly consistent. So, Cabernet Sauvignon planted on the hillsides or mountains and even the valleys will ripen every year. The temperature and stony soils combine to give us rich and extracted wine com¬parable to nowhere else. We often associate Cabernet Sauvignon with Bordeaux, even to the extent of comparing those wines with those of California. This is not a particularly good comparison because the prominent red grape in Bordeaux is not Cabernet Sauvignon but Merlot. Only in the wines from Pauillac and an occasional St. Julien, Margaux and St. Estephe do we see Cabernet Sauvignon as the largest com¬ponent in the blend. Of course, this fact will never stop those from making the comparison, but at least we have statistics on our side. The folks at Bonverre, however, know the difference. That's because Bonverre is a secondary label of the superb St. Supéry in the heart of the Napa Valley and St. Supéry is owned by a French wine firm named Skalli. Robert Skalli is a third generation French winemaker who was inspired by the similarities between the Napa Valley and the wine growing regions of his home. Robert's wine roots and natural tendency toward innovation have contributed greatly to the style and spirit of St. Supéry and Bonverre wines. This is a must see destination spot for those of you who visit the Napa Valley. It's like a wine Disneyland. Hands-on activities, behind-the-scenes glimpses into winemaking and an array of surprisingly interesting exhibits are just part of a fascinating journey that covers every aspect of winemaking. It can only be described as a wine wonder¬land. Both Sunset and Via magazines called St. Supéry a "must see" for visitors. We hope you'll have an opportunity to visit them in person and experience for yourself.
1996 Cabernet Sauvignon Bonverre
Bone-vare Kab-air-nay Soo-ving-yahn
Lovely blue/black color with just the barest hint of magenta at the edges. Classic, earthy, truffle scents mixed with cocoa, vanilla, chocolate and a host of black fruit. Perfect with chateaubriand and beurre blanc.
CELLARING SUGGESTIONS:
Perfect now. Will continue to complex for several years. Serve cool.

Adventures in Food

BITTERSWEET INDULGENCE
This recipe is not overly sweet. The dense, moist, fudge like cake with thick fudge-like frosting qualifies as a chocoholic's dream and its richness can stand up to our spectacular El Encanto Port. The coffee is not discernible, but it smoothes out the chocolate flavor. You could substitute the El Encanto Port for the coffee if you wish. That would add a little berry flavor to the cake.
CAKE INGREDIENTS
7/8 cup (1 3/4 sticks) butter, plus extra for preparing pan
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons cocoa
6 eggs, separated
1 scant cup sugar
1/4 cup strong coffee
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup cake flour, measured AFTER sifting, plus extra for preparing pan
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
FROSTING INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup strong coffee
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
CAKE PREPARATION
Melt butter and chocolate with cocoa in top of double boiler over simmering water. Pour into bowl, and cool slightly.
Beat egg yolks and sugar with electric mixer in another bowl until very thick and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add chocolate mixture, coffee and vanilla and beat on low speed until well mixed. Add flour and mix well.
Beat egg whites with electric mixer until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar, and beat until whites hold soft, moist peaks. Stir 1/4 egg whites into batter. Fold in remaining whites.
Pour batter into 10-inch springform pan, the sides and bottom of which have been greased and the bottom fitted with circle of parchment paper or foil that has been greased and lightly dusted with flour. Place pan on baking sheet.
Bake at 300 degrees until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Do not over bake. Place entire springform pan on wire rack to cool. It's OK if surface is crackly. (Cake can be baked 1 day ahead and kept overnight at room temperature tightly covered or frozen up to one month.)
FROSTING PREPARATION
Melt butter and chocolate with coffee in top of double boiler over simmering water. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth. Let stand or refrigerate briefly until slightly thickened and of spreadable consistency.
Invert cake on platter and remove circle of parchment paper. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. (Cake may be served immediately or held overnight at room temperature.)
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