- Q & A
February 2000 NewsletterWines evaluated last month: 231 Rejected: 206 Approved: 25 Selected: 2
WELCOME TO THE RENAISSANCE
This month we feature both a wine and a wine area that each fell on hard times, but used ingenuity, technology and some good fortune to get back on top. We've always been great fans of Viognier and were unaware of its potential demise just 30 years ago. We're glad it survived. We're even (is my proofreader watching?) gladder that we could finally offer one at a great price. The French versions are out of sight price-wise and a few of the California guys are trying to compete. Our Monthaven blows the corks out of their socks!
The Don Lorenzo is red wine the way it should be made, full of flavor and perfect with today's lighter, more elegant cuisine. We tend to think of Merlots, especially when blended with Cabernet, as being bigger and more imposing than most reds. This is an anomaly and a delicious one at that. Not bad for an area that just 10 years ago was mostly known for light white wines.
All in all a true Renaissance for both, not to mention pretty darned flavorful.
Domestic SelectionThere are few grapes in the world, especially white ones, with the manic following and head-over-heels excitement generated by wine aficionados that there is with Viognier. It is one of the most exotic, aromatic and tantalizing grapes in the world. It commands prices far above most Chardonnays which is why when this wine came along, we jumped on it. The most finest area for growing Viognier is Condrieu in the Northern Rhone of France. Typically these wines fetch $30 to $100 and up. This is all pretty amazing for a grape that less than 30 years ago was on the verge of extinction. Viognier is such a finicky and difficult grape to grow that most growers just gave up, even in Condrieu. The few that were left decided to either make it or break it and set out to find solutions to the problems of growing this grape, not to mention finding a market, so that they could put it on the pedestal they felt it deserved. California technology and French tradition combined to find better-suited rootstocks and trellising, clonal selection and vineyard management techniques to show the power and majesty of this truly superb grape. They picked a good cause in the sense that today, Viognier is thriving, not just in France (where it went from 35 acres to 250) but California (where it went from 25 acres to 650 in eight years), Australia and even South America. Monthaven specializes in aggressively priced Rhone-styled varietals like our Viognier, as well as Syrah and others. Though born in France, Viognier has taken to California's warmer climate and longer growing season. It is actually easier to make here than in the Rhone, yet without losing the warm apple pie nose and peachy/floral components that make this one of the favorite wines in any crowd.
Viognier, 1997 Monthaven
Rich, ripe musk and floral nose with hints of Bosc pear and lychee. Engaging, multi-layered mouthful with lots of spice and a long finish. Great with rich shellfish dishes like crab enchiladas or lobster bisque.
Perfect now. Serve slightly chilled.
Imported SelectionThis exciting Merlot/Cabernet blend is produced by Al Rusignul Vini, a small winery located in the far northeastern reaches of Italy, named Fruili. The full title of the area is Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. It borders Austria which is why there is heavy Austrian/German influence in the wines and wine styles. Though Friuli is rich in Italian history with several kings, popes and other prominent leaders coming from here over the last couple of millenniums, it has only been in the last 40 years that the wines have received high praise and international recognition. This was primarily due to the perfect weather conditions for growing light, aromatic whites like Pinot Grigio, Tocai, Ribolla and the like. The 70s and 80s saw their heyday as demand and prices soared. This continued into the 90s when competition from other Northern Italian areas like Trentino, limped the demand for these whites. Being innovative sorts, the Friulians tried their hand at reds (they've been made here for centuries, though none were particularly outstanding until recently) and low and behold, it was just at the time that red wines were taking over the dominant wine position around the globe and so Fruili jumped to the lead again. Don Lorenzo is a carefully and consciously made blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are hand-harvested to assure optimum condition upon arrival at the winery where they are de-stemmed and placed in small containers to ferment slowly. This treatment accounts for the blossoming fruit that hits the air as soon as the cork is pulled. Aging is done in both stainless steel and large oak barrels to soften the edges, but still retain the fruit and extracts. This wine is typical of the area; clean, forward fruit without too much oak or tannins to assure immediate pleasure, yet sturdy enough to accompany hearty dishes and it will age appropriately.
Don Lorenzo 1996
Lush, ripe plum and spice notes with a soft dollop of earth and vanilla. A tricky wine that starts out easy and finishes with a flourish. Ripe concentration of fruit combined with an authoritative finish make this a perfect match for the imposing oxtail ragout recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Can age another year or two. Serve cool.
Adventures in FoodOXTAIL RAGOUT
6 lbs. of oxtails, cut in approximately two inch sections
2 large onions, chopped
1 lg. carrot, finely chopped
3 cloves minced garlic
2 tbsp. flour
2 cup beef broth
1 cup Don Lorenzo
1 (2 lb. 3 oz.) can Italian plum tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup Madeira
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. coriander
2 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
6 to 8 carrots
3 tbsp. minced parsley
Two spacious pans are needed for this recipe, both able to accommodate the oxtail pieces in one layer: a shallow roasting pan for browning and metal casserole pan with a cover, measuring on the bottom approximately 9 x 12 inches. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Let oxtails come to room temperature and blot very well with paper towels. Put them in one layer in shallow roasting pan and brown in oven for about 25 minutes, turning once, until fat is good and crisp and meat is brown.
Remove from oven and 6 reduce heat to 325 degrees.
Pour off all fat from roasting pan into a glass measuring cup. There should be a quarter cup. If not, make up the difference with olive oil and place it in the casserole pan on the stove over medium heat. Add onions, chopped carrot and garlic and cook slowly until golden.
Sprinkle on flour and turn it with vegetables for a minute or two. Mix together broth, wine, tomatoes, Madeira and all seasonings. Pour into casserole, then add oxtails side by side in one layer. Liquid should just cover meat. Cover and cook on lower oven shelf for about three hours. Liquid should just quietly simmer. If it starts to boil, reduce heat. Halfway through cooking time, turn oxtails and add carrots, scraped and sliced in thin pieces on the diagonal.
Ragout is done when oxtails are very tender and glazed a dark brown. With slotted spoon, remove meat and large carrots to a platter. Skim as much fat as possible even if you have to remove some meat juices in the process or use a fat separator. If the sauce is somewhat soupy, boil it down just briefly, it will thicken as it cools. Taste for salt and return oxtails and carrots to pan. The ragout can be served now but it is even better the next day. Let it cool in the casserole, cover and refrigerate, heating it gently on top of the stove before serving. Transfer pieces to a serving platter, spoon on sauce and sprinkle with parsley.