- Q & A
March 2000 NewsletterWines evaluated last month: 212 Rejected: 187 Approved: 25 Selected: 2
BIG AIN'T ALWAYS BAD
This month we feature two wines from big wineries. Who said you had to be small to make great wine? As a matter of fact, many are finding out that being big has its advantages in terms of affording the best equipment and the best people to make the best wine. It is not easy making a lot of one great wine, but it is possible to make small lots of many great wines.
That is what Arciero has built their reputation on. They own 700 acres of grapes but make over 10 different wines. Zinfandel holds the lead at 110 acres, but by today's standard, that is not a lot of vineyards. The wine they make from those acres, though, is otherworldly.
Our import comes from a South African leader. Glen Eden is one of a bevy of brands owned by Ashwood, which concentrates on small lots of great wine with value added in for good measure. It takes a lot more work and money to make a lot of different wines than throw them all in the same vat and make one. But, that is why we chose them and not one of the other 200+ entries we tasted last month.
Domestic SelectionFrank and Phil Arciero came to this country from Italy in 1939. Frank was fourteen; Phil was ten; neither of them spoke a word of English. They first settled in Detroit, Michigan; Frank working as a manual laborer digging ditches while Phil attended school. By 1948, Frank and Phil had moved to California and began a small cement contracting business. It was the success of this business that was to be the catalyst for all of the future Arciero business activities. The Arciero family has, for generations, always had close ties to the land...pressing olives for oil and grapes for wine in their native Italy. The completion of the family winery and Estate Vineyards in Paso Robles, California is a family dream and tradition come true. The Arciero Estate Vineyards are located in the heart of the Paso Robles viticultural area within the Central Coast region. Frank, Sr. fell in love with the Paso Robles area, as the rolling hills reminded him of his hometown in Italy, and in 1983, he began planting grapes here. The Estate Vineyards are planted with ten varieties in three large blocks totaling over 700 acres. The vineyards are situated about six miles east of Paso Robles, with one ranch stretching two miles along Highway 46 East. The Arciero Estate Vineyards are planted on well-drained calcareous soil of a clay loam composition. Zinfandel is easily the first varietal wine that people think of when Paso Robles comes up in conversation. This grape has been most successful here producing big, buxom and authoritative offerings for over 20 years. Many of these wines have come out of fashion because their overpowering flavors and alcohol went counter to today's lighter eating trends. The Arciero's Zinfandel is one of the most elegant offerings this area has produced. Aged in both French and American oak, 20% new, this beauty reminds us more of great Bordeaux than the monster zins of the past.
Zinfandel. 1995 Arciero
Classic ripe strawberry and currant nose enveloped by a vanilla robe and a soft, generous dollop of cinnamon. Mature fruit flavors are just what the man ordered with our Shish Kebab recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Aged to perfection. Serve cool.
Imported SelectionOver the past decade Ashwood Wines, parent company of Glen Eden, has become a major force in the South African wine industry. What began as a small bottling operation is now one of the leading exporters of premium South African wine. Instead of investing in expensive land holdings and having to wait for vineyards to produce, Ashwood invested in building relations with quality growers to assure that their wines would exemplify the grapes and regions from which they came. Hiring Clive Hartwell, an international winemaking star based in New Zealand, completed their quest for quality while still accentuating value. Clive also makes wine in Hungary and for one of New Zealand's best wineries, Chapel Hill. Because South Africa was stuck in a very provincial system and isolated from the rest of the world because of apartheid policies, it had a big jump to make in the '90s when those policies changed. That jump was made, however, and quite successfully at that. South Africa's principle grape growing districts are all huddled at the very tip on the country around the Cape of Good Hope. Dutch traders planted grapes in Constantia in the 1650s for the purpose of making wine. It was the first stop for ships sailing from Australia to Europe and wine was believed to cure scurvy, a common problem for sailors at the time. From Constantia the vine spread to South Africa's best known area, Stellenbosch, just 10 miles to the east, Paarl and Swartland, all within 20 miles of each other. South Africa's moderate climate produces a medium to full-bodied Chardonnay that benefits from barrel fermentation The finest Chardonnays are really a result of this cellar "cuisine", the delicate blending of barrels of various types and ages, with the subtlety and power of the varietal. Chardonnay likes gravelly soil, with not too much heat, too much cold, too much rain or too much dryness. In other words, the exact conditions under which our Glen Eden vinifies its Chardonnay.
Chardonnay, 1999 Glen Eden
Clean, crisp and exciting citrus notes coupled with lovely Asian pear and hints of green apple. A bit of spice on the palate and a lip-smacking finish, makes this a great foil for the Fennel Salmon recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will continue to complex for several years. Serve slightly chilled.
Member Inquiry"Paul, what are the secrets of matching food and wine?
P. F., Fremont, CA.
Matching food and wine is an art, but it is an art that should always be fun. It should never, therefore, be made too complicated; it should be treated as one of those games that it is almost impossible to lose.
A large part of the secret is to look at the meal as a whole, rather than tackling each dish as a separate entity. Just as each course should balance the one before and the one after (so that one doesn't end up with chicken in everything) the wines should complement each other as well as the food. Food and wine should suit one's stomach and mood, as well: a combination that works well at dinner may not be welcome at lunch, and the sort of wine that appeals when it is snowing outside. These guidelines can be summarized as follows:
• Light wines before heavy wines
• Young wines before old wines
• Simple wines before complex wines
• Dry wines before sweet wines
• White wines before red wines
• Light wine with light food; heavy wine with heavy food
• Let the sauce decide the wine
However, there are times when the food demands that these guidelines be broken. Cheese and foie gras are two such occasions. Many cheeses go best with young wines that have plenty of acidity, yet cheese is usually served towards the end of a meal, necessitating a move back from old wine to young. Foie gras is superb with a sweet, generally botrytized white wine, yet is offered at the beginning of a meal.
Very old wines, too, can pose a problem, as they may well have lost body as they have gained in age; setting them against rich food may overpower them. How old is old? That depends on the taster. Usually, red wines older than 10 years and whites older than 5, are softer and mellower than when they were released.
So the guidelines are not infallible, nor are they intended to cause anyone to lose sleep. Matching good wine with good food should be enjoyable. The only unbreakable rule of matching food and wine is to relax about it.