- Q & A
October 2000 NewsletterWines evaluated last month: 220 Rejected: 200 Approved: 20 Selected: 2
NOT WHAT YOU'D EXPECT
This month we feature a few surprises for you. Our domestic wine comes from Washington's Columbia Valley. However, like most of the wines from there, it's NOT Cabernet Sauvignon, nor is it Merlot. This Chardonnay exhibits many of the things we truly love in the grape; forward green apple and tropical fruit flavors matched with just enough oak to expand those flavors instead of mask them. This selection will be a hot seller for the holidays so try it soon and order extra for parties and gifts.
Our import comes from the majestically beautiful Veneto region in Northeast Italy. Unlike most reds from this area however, it is NOT Amarone or Valpolicella, but Merlot. We've reveled in the Merlots from here for years, enjoying their freshness and vibrancy with a myriad of dishes. As "merlot mania" continues to circle the globe, we are thrilled to offer this blockbuster at a terrific value.
Domestic SelectionClaar Cellars is a family-owned winery founded by Audrienne and Russell Claar in 1950. They planted their first grapes in 1980. At that time their daughter, Crista, was in the Navy where she met her future husband, Bob Whitelatch. He retired in 1983, she went into the Naval Reserve and together developed over 300 acres into premium wine grapes, apples and asparagus. Their vineyards are on south and southwest facing hillsides above the Columbia River in Washington's Yakima Valley. This region receives more heat than growing areas to the west and avoids the more frequent frosts and killer freezes to the east. The sandy, rocky soil is especially conducive to growing quality grapes and researchers have frequently stated that this region is the best in the state of Washington. After 13 years of selling grapes to wineries throughout Washington, they decided to take the steps necessary to become an Estate Winery. They crushed their first grapes in 1996 and currently produce a scant 6,000 cases of wine with plans to expand to 25,000 cases. Winemaker, Bela Varga, is a native of Hungary. He graduated from the University of Horticulture and Food Sciences of Budapest, one of the oldest universities offering enology and fermentation sciences curricula in Europe, with a Master in Enology in 1988. Upon graduation he married his university sweetheart Judit then together they climbed over the Iron Curtain. As Bela has said, "We love our home, but we could not live in that system." They moved to Healdsburg, CA where he worked for Chateau Souverain for three years. There he learned the winemaking ins and outs of California giving him great insight and ample opportunities to see both worlds, the old and the new. From there he went to New York and Canada and finally, in 1999, to Claar Cellars. Chardonnay from this region is a relative newcomer, but from what we've tasted, it looks to be a winner. Because of the very cool nights, the natural acids are quite high giving the wine crispness. Varga subdues a portion of this acidity with malolactic fermentation so that the resultant wine comes out with focused fruit and length. These guys are worth watching.
Chardonnay, 1998 Claar Cellars
Tropical fruit and pineapple aromas are just beginning to integrate with the soft oak. Great mouth feel and presence to match the Angle Hair Crab recipe on page 6.
Great now. Will complex for another year or two. Serve slightly chilled.
Imported SelectionIn the Veneto, there is no shortage of viticultural areas, but those of any importance are in the west of the region, starting at Lake Garda, and well within striking distance of Verona. The wines, Soave, Valpolicella and (to a lesser extent) Bardolino are household names and sell in vast quantities but, even here, there are more to them than their simple image conveys. Soave and Valpolicella were first produced just on hill sites. As they became more popular, cultivation spread to the surrounding plains, to the detriment of quality. Wines now coming from the hilly heartland are labeled Classico. Their quality is several notches up from basic, so it is a distinction well worth noting. While most of the world has been jumping on the popularity of the Merlot bandwagon, the Veronese have been growing it for centuries. Here you'll find a kinder, gentler Merlot; much more user-friendly than some of the tannic behemoths from California and more flavorful than many of their Chilean rivals. There is very little oak added to the wine. This produces a wine with the purest expression of the grape and one that will marry with a host of foods from the region and beyond. Il Casato is a small, family-owned winery founded in 1938 and is now run by its third generation. The winery is located in Chiari, in the province of Bresica, next to the DOC region of Franciacorta, internationally known for producing sparkling wines which rival some of the finest Champagnes made in France. Until recently, the Merlot produced from here was hardly ever exported. The Italians drank it all themselves. That's because it was, as it is today, a great value. The rest of the world wanted more expensive Valpolicella and Amarone, beyond the reach for the locals to consume everyday, so Merlot was the wine for the locals. Unfortunately for the locals, the rest of the world has found out and they're working overtime to keep up with the demand.
Merlot, 1998 Il Casato
Deep, imposing color with scents of roses and cherry. Soft, mouth-filling flavors of spice and cranberry. A great foil for the Cajun Chicken recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will only continue to get better for 2-3 years. Serve cool.
Adventures in FoodAngel Hair with Crab and Cracked-Pepper Beurre Blanc
1 1/2 lbs. Crab meat
1 tsp green peppercorns, ground
1/2 tsp black peppercorns, ground
8 Tbsp butter
2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup Clarr Chardonnay
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 lb angel hair pasta
In a small saucepan, melt one tablespoon of the butter over moderately low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced to 2 tbsp. Cut the remaining 7 tablespoons butter into pieces. Over the lowest possible heat whisk butter in 3 batches, adding each batch when the previous one is incorporated. The butter should soften to form a creamy sauce but should not melt completely. Add the ground peppers and salt and remove from heat. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just cooked about 3 minutes. Drain. Return the pasta to the hot pot and toss with the crab meat and any liquid it's given off with the butter sauce. Serve at once. Serves four.
Grilled Chicken with Cajun Sauce
1 whole chicken, cut in half.
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp granulated onion
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, minced
2 tsp fresh oregano leaves, minced
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp bitters (Angistora or equivalent)
Few shakes of Louisiana hot sauce or a pinch of cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp bourbon mixed with 2 Tbsp Il Casato Merlot
Mix all spices in a medium-sized bowl. Add bitters and hot sauce and mix well. Add bourbon, a tablespoon at a time, until a thick texture is achieved. You want it wet enough to be a marinade, yet thick enough to adhere to the chicken's skin. Add the chicken to the bowl and let it marinade for about an hour. Pre-heat oven to 450°. Place the chicken pieces breast-side-up and roast for 10 minutes. Turn heat down to 350° and roast for about 25 minutes, basting once. Turn halves and roast for another 15 minutes or until it's done. Serves four (or 2 very hungry people!).