June 2000 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 217
Rejected: 184 Approved: 33 Selected: 2
HIGH AND LOW TECH
This month we turn the tables on the fact that California leads the world in the science and technology of winemaking. Our Monterey Peninsula is about as low tech as it gets. Every step is done by hand. We were even surprised to find electricity up there! Obviously, this doesn't have a negative affect on the quality of the wines. The right hands (not to mention the left ones as well) are in charge of making this outstanding, cool climate Chardonnay with plenty of zip and flavor to match any cuisine. Sure makes those lesser $20 high tech guys look pretty silly.
Our Santiago Graffigna comes from one of the most modern facilities in South America. Here is where art and science combine to offer outstanding wines that not only have flavor but soul and personality as well. We were knocked out by this rare blend of Syrah and Cabernet. Not that we haven't had stellar offerings from Australia, but this is the first such blend we've tasted from South America. Didn't take us long to order more. Probably won't take you long either.
Monterey Peninsula Winery has to be one of the oddest wineries in the state. It was founded over 20 years ago by three dentists whose interest in wine obviously went further than ours. In essence, they wanted to make wine for themselves and their friends. The idea of making wines for the general public probably didn't come to them until the bills mounted higher than the barrels.
They were known for big, hearty Zinfandels and Cabernets that earned awards and accolades from the press. Unfortunately, they were as difficult to find as the winery itself. Stuck in one of Monterey's scenic wonderlands, there are no signs to guide you and you had to call ahead to make sure that someone was even there! No matter, though. When they finally decided to release this to us commoners, we were able to jump in and grab it.
This complex wine is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes grown in premium vineyards located in the cooler Central Coast appellation of California. The 1998 vintage was produced utilizing 32% Monterey County Chardonnay from Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and 68% Paso Robles Chardonnay from the Kelevi Vineyard. A third of the wine is barrel fermented and to introduce some oak and about the same amount goes through malolactic which gives it the creaminess.
Fully mature grapes, with good acidity are hand harvested and delivered to the winery, where they gently crush the fruit and then macerate the juice and skins for several hours. Following pressing, a portion of the juice is pumped directly into small French oak barrels and fermented. In the spring a portion of the wine undergoes a natural malolactic fermentation. During barrel aging they gently stir the yeast lees, adding additional complexity to the wine.
At the suggested price of $12.99, this is a rare bargain considering there were only 2,000 cases made and we bought almost all of it. I suggest you try it quickly and order extra. It won't hang around long.
Full-bodied with lush apple and tropical fruit character, lively acidity, and undertones of French oak. Complex mouthfeel and elegantly crisp tropical fruit flavors make it a winner with the crab recipe on page. 6.
Will complex for
another 2-3 years
Don Juan Carlos Graffigna emigrated to Argentina from his native Italy and began his winemaking activity in 1869 in the province of San Juan, Argentina's prime grape growing region located in the upper Mendoza Valley. His wine making experience in Italy coupled with the rich wine history of his family, prompted and drove him to create Bodegas y Viñedos Santiago Graffigna S.A., one of the most prominent and successful wineries in the area.
The company owns two modem wineries and vineyards located very close to the Andes Mountains, one in San Juan and the other in Mendoza (San Rafael). Both are totally devoted to the production of fine quality wines.
The vineyards are planted with noble varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec, Barbera Bonarda, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Ugni Blanc and Pedro Jiménez. Climate and soil characteristics of each region are the factors that determine which variety is grown in each region.
The climates in both regions are characterized by excellent sunshine, scarce rainfall and very low humidity. Although the vineyard in this set of conditions requires complementary controlled irrigation, this environment virtually eliminates the use of pesticides and other chemicals. Bodegas Graffigna, produces wines from grapes from estate owned vineyards and from selected vineyards in the neighborhood, under strict control of the company's wine team.
Cabernet Sauvignon has been a staple in Mendoza since grapes were first planted here nearly 200 years ago. Like many of the Italians who followed Juan Carlos, many of Italy's finest varieties are also planted. It is the Syrah that separates Santiago Graffinga from many of its neighbors. This blend of Cabernet and Syrah is, until recently, almost entirely the domaine of Australia, where they have been crafting exciting wines from this blend for decades. This is the first one we've encountered from Argentina at it packs a similar wallop in terms of power and grace. It certainly compares to those costing four times the price.
Deep, rich color signals the concentrated flavors to follow. Ripe, plumy and extracted with fruit to lose. Can't miss with the beef recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will
complex for several
years. Serve cool.
"Paul, I've seen the word "terroir" used to describe wines. What does it mean?"
J. P. M., West Los Angeles
Loosely translated, it means "soil." But, the term takes into consideration the general suitability of the climate as well. The greatest soil in Alaska won't allow the production of good grapes.
The French also use the term: "Gout de Terroir" which means, more or less, "the taste of the soil." The most ardent advocates of this theory argue that the actual flavor of the soil in which the grapes are grown literally communicates itself to the wine. Chablis, by this line of thinking, gains a steely mineral character from the chalky soil of its vineyards; the wines of Graves in Bordeaux acquire a "stony" quality from the region's gravelly plain.
Most of us find this a bit extreme, but there's ground for a more serious argument when we expand the definition of "terroir" to incorporate the overall effect on wines of the soil and microclimate in which the grapes are grown. Chardonnay grapes grown in Burgundy (for instance) produce wines with a consistent, identifiable character that distinguishes them from the same grapes grown in California, or those in turn from Australian Chardonnay? Does the vineyard matter, whether the grapes in question are grown on the other side of the road or the other side of the world?
This is material from which serious wine fanciers can build extended and joyous debates, and there's little question that the wines of specific regions -especially historic wine regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont, the Mosel and the Loire - often show recognizable qualities that makes it possible (if not necessarily easy) to pick them out in a "blind" tasting, without the taster being aware of the specific wine being tasted.
But the wine maker's skills, and the decisions made between the grapevine and the bottle, are significant too. Should Chardonnay be aged in oak barrels, which impart strong and characteristic flavors, or in stainless steel, which is neutral? Should the wine maker put the wine through "malolactic fermentation," which reduces the wine's perceived acidity and typically adds rich and buttery flavors? These processes, common place in the New World, but relatively rare in France, make a significant difference in the nature of the finished wine, but it's not "terroir."
Adventures in Food
5 1/2 lbs. beef fillet (tie crosswise at 1-inch interval and pat dry)
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp. softened unsalted butter
Blue Cheese Sauce (recipe follows)
BLUE CHEESE SAUCE:
3/4 cup Madeira
1 shallot, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 c. canned beef broth
6 oz. blue cheese, crumbled and softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
Salt to taste
Cayenne to taste
Paprika to taste
Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper to taste and rub with butter. Let stand in refrigerator for 6 hours or at room temperature for 2 hours. Grill the fillet over a bed of glowing coals about 3 inches form heat, turning it, for 15-20 minutes for rare meat. Transfer the fillet to a cutting board. Let it stand for 15 minutes and remove the string. While meat is resting, make the sauce.
In a saucepan combine the Madeira with the shallot and reduce the mixture over moderately high heat to about 2 tablespoons. Add cream and broth and reduce the liquid over moderate heat to about 1 cup. In a bowl, whisk together the cheese and butter until smooth. Whisk the cheese mixture, a little at a time, into the
saucepan and simmer the sauce for 3 minutes. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve into a bowl and add salt and cayenne to taste. Sprinkle the sauce with paprika.
SUNSHINE CRAB SALAD
1 lb. back-fin crab meat
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup finely chopped green onion
2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. grated orange peel
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped 1 (2 oz.) jar pimento slices, drained
1 ripe avocado, peeled, seeded, and sliced, cut each slice in half
Remove any cartilage or shell from crab meat. Place crab meat in a large mixing bowl. Add salt, lemon pepper seasoning, celery, onion and chopped egg. In small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard and orange peel. Add this mixture to the crab mixture. Stir gently until blended. Place salad mixture over a bed of shredded lettuce. Scatter parsley over top of salad. Arrange avocado slices and pimento slices evenly spaced over salad. Garnish dish with orange slices placed attractively around salad. Makes 6 servings.
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