March 1983 Newsletter
I have been shopping with wine glass in hand, for a red burgundy wine since early last year. As you visit the distributors who handle French Burgundies, you soon discover that the wine glass in your hand has turned to a tin cup, and the coins you rattle do not impress these agents of the Dukes of Burgundy. The limited production of these world famous wines, and their continued popularity, makes some of us think that they are overpriced. But then, you run into one that is so good for the price, that you change your mind. (Particularly when you see some of the California wine prices nudging up).
So you say... are French Burgundies overpriced? Yes_ is still the answer, for all the mediocre ones that just coast on the name and source. No.. for all the superb ones at any point in the quality spectrum. You will not find a French Burgundy like this Jaffelin regional for the regular price we found it at, and definitely not for the member reorder discount price.
The California wine this month is an example in vintner achievement. The few semillon wines made in California have been very ho hum. And, because the grape is not well known, nobody seemed to put their hand to a bottle off the shelf. The name often generates a fear that it is going to be sweet, which adds to the lack of interest shown in the wine. Put aside all these impressions, you are in for an education. This Ventana Reserve is worth your serious attention. It is not sweet. To your health!
Wines evaluated last month: 196
Rejected: 156, Approved: 38, Selected:2
SEMILLON RESERVE. 1980. VENTANA
It seems the folks at Ventana are primarily research oriented. Starting as grape growers, they supplied fine grapes to small prestigious wineries whose individual winemakers demanded specific requirements. Recognizing the maxim that to make a great wine, you start with a great grape; it followed that you cannot grow a great grape unless you understand how to make a great wine.
The winemaking arm of the vineyard was thus born. They have learnt well. Consistently, every year since 1979, they have won gold, silver, and bronze medals at various county fairs and other competitions. This 1980 Semillon Reserve earned a silver at the 1982 Los Angeles County Fair.
The Ventana Vineyard is located on the West side of the Salinas Valley in Monterey County. Rock and gravel of the Santa Lucia Mountains forms a base for the soil. Cool evening breezes from Monterey Bay drops the temperature, causing one of the coldest growing areas of the world. The quality of the grapes they produce is attributed partly to these two factors.
Their label is unique. It depicts the eternally haunting landscapes of Monterey County. (New scene every year. Baron Philippe... we do it too!)
Semillon as a solo grape in wine is a rarity. Traditionally it is used blended. The famous Graves and Sauternes wines from Bordeaux are the classic examples at both ends of the sweetness spectrum. Thanks to our experimenting spirit in California, a few have attempted and succeeded to make an excellent wine with the 100% grape varietal. In its dry form, the wine tends to be soft, round, and with good body. I consider the Ventana Semillon a classic. It is the best example of what can be done with the grape as a dry wine in the hands of a skilled vintner. (eg. this wine is barrel fermented).
The wine is deep gold in color. It has a ripe, penetrating aroma of the variety. The bouquet shows a hint of the grassiness that identifies the grape. The taste is soft, round, and mellow. It has some oak overtones that blend well with the varietal character of the grape. The body is full, with high glycerol apparent. It has a sweetish hint, but is actually a dry wine. Serve chilled, with pate, fresh fruit, or a light fish course.
Cellaring Notes: Ready to drink.
FOOD WITH WINE ….
I have fallen victim to the personal computer age! After a modest contribution to this giant industry, I now can process these words on my word processor. In fact, it is really slick! I do not know how I did without it all this time. What one writes, appears on the screen in such a tidy and orderly manner, that it helps keep the thought-flow on course.
Now..what does that have to do with Food with Wine? Hold on, I'm getting to that!
"After you learn word processing" said the saleslady, "you can get into Supercalc, and learn how to solve WHAT-IF problems."
I am into Supercalc, but it won't solve my WHAT-IF problem!
My WHAT-IF problem for this new series is: "WHAT-IF someone gave me a special bottle of wine; what would I serve with it?" And to be specific: "What-if someone gave me a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, what should I serve with it?"
First let's see what is Beaujolais Nouveau? It is a wine made in southern Burgundy from the Gamay grape, and named after the region Beaujolais. But, it is not regular Beaujolais. It is made by a modified process of fermen¬tation that preserves the fruitiness of the grape even more than regular Beaujolais, and makes a delightful red quaffing wine. It is not aged in wood barrels, and is bottled immediately after fermentation for immediate consumption. Do not confuse it with Beau¬jolais, Beaujolais Superiore, Beaujolais vil¬lages, or other individual town designations from the same region, which do not have the word Nouveau in the names. These are made from the same grape, in the same region, but by the traditional process, and have some longevity to their life. (Even regular Beaujolais is one of the few red wines that drinks best when young, and it is on a downhill trend after a couple of years.)
December through February are the fun months in Paris bistros. It is the time when Beaujolais Nouveau has been delivered, and the establishments display signs of its availability. For some years now, the same wine has been flown to important cities in the USA at time of release. Being a unique red wine, which loses its best qualities within six to eight months, the Beaujolis Nouveau fever has also hit the pilgrims here.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a very refreshing, young tasting, red wine, that is inclined to be light and extremely fruity. It has a charac-teristic, easy to identify, flavor of the grape it is made from. It is a beginner's red wine. It is usually crisp and fresh. It is best served chilled (but not iced).
A few California wineries have recently introduced their version of Gamay Beau¬jolais Nouveau (notably Mirassou and Sebas¬tiani) and they are not bad... in fact rather good. But, it is this writers opinion that the French and California should be classified in different categories arid not compared. There is something about good French Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau that should be judged on its own merits and with its own peers. Try them both, it is a learning exper¬ience.
What to serve with Beaujolais Nouveau? It is a wonderful apperitif wine, and it should not be classified in the true red wine category for this purpose. Serve it with light canapes like cream cheese or ham blends. Plain crac-kers and mild cheese. For a luncheon wine, serve it with ham, both cold or hot. A favorite lunch salad it will be complemented by is cold beef salad, even with some of the no-no salad dressings. A Beaujolais Nouveau could stand up to them. Try it. For dinner, it is a great casserole wine, and stews go well with it. I do not think it is suitable as an after din¬ner wine, even with cheese.
But whatever you do, drink it now! Do not store this wine, age it, or even postpone enjoying it. It started going downhill the day it was bottled, and any wine older than one year from the vintage date (usually bottled late in November of the year designated on the bottle) should be approached with cau¬tion. If you consider serving it to guests after the November of the year following the vin¬tage date on the label, be sure you taste a bottle, and make sure it has not lost its zest and charm. I chuckle when I see some of this Nouveau that is a few years old, on wine shop shelves. They are invariably over the hill.
BOURGOGNE DE CHAPITRE, 1980. JAFFELIN
The well known firm of Jaffelin of Beaune, France, (capital of Burgundy), is a typical example of the phenomenon of négociant-éleveur. To my knowledge, we do not have the equivalent profession in our country. We might have a few negotiants, but no négociant-éleveurs. So what is this all about?
A négociant, is basically a wine distributor who selects wine from different vintners and markets them under his own label. Basically he negociates for wine. The négociant-éleveur goes one step further; in fact, maybe a few steps further. He elevates the wine he negociates for! He has ageing cellars, he has blending vats, and he has a palate. He really is the extension of the winemaker.
A skilled négociant-éleveur can put together a great wine because he "cherry-picks" the elements from various vintners, blends them to his taste, and ages them as he sees fit. Louis Trebuchet, director general of the house of Jaffelin is one such person. His firm, founded in 1816, continues to do this in the 13th Century buildings of the Chapter of Collegiale Notre-Dame Canons, at Beaune.
Jaffelin is a small firm, but it is well known in France for its fine wines. The label carries a reputation of consistent quality.
It is not customary for French Burgundy to carry the varietal designation of the grape on the label. This is being done now to accomodate the American market. Most all red wine from Burgundy is Pinot Noir anyway, but we are used to seeing it say so. The essence of Burgundy is this noble grape. At its best it has been described as "the unmitigated joys of the experienced taster...distinct and penetrating taste—silky texture—smoothness which by comparison makes some of the other great red wines of the world seem rough...great breed and distinction, great power." I encourage you to set off on a pilgrimage of discovery. This simple yet very good bourgogne is a beginning.
Our wine is bright red in color, with an assertive Pinot Noir aroma. The varietal character is text-book quality. It has a medium body, very fruity to start, then soft and velvety in the middle, which evolves into a taste that follows the aroma. Finishes with a slight hint of bitterness that is a plus. Serve with hearty casseroles, meat loaf, or make some Coq au Vin with it and serve it alongside. Room Temp.
Cellaring Notes: Will improve for 5 years.
Adventures in Eating
I absolutely love eggplant (aubergine) and hope some of you share the same feelings. Arabs brought us the eggplant from India about 1500 years ago and the purplish egg-shaped vegetable has found itself to be a versatile morsel.
Middle-eastern cooking is known to use the eggplant a variety of ways. My mother has sauteed, stuffed, barbecued, roasted, pickled, and even made soup from the eggplant.
I thought you might enjoy the following pasta sauce, made from eggplant. They are beautiful this year, and the shiny, deep purple color, are the ones to look for at your grocer.
EGGPLANT TOMATO SPAGHETTI SAUCE
1 med. (1¼1b) eggplant
1 T fresh basil, chopped,
or ½T dried
Vegetable oil for frying
Black pepper, fresh ground
2 T olive oil
1 lb spaghetti
½ Onion, chopped, sauteed
1/3 cup parmesan cheese,
1 t garlic, fine chopped
grated, prefer import.
1½ cups fresh or canned tomato sauce
1. Peel eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt and let stand in colander 30 minutes. Rinse, drain, and pat dry with paper towels. Heat about 3/4 inch of vegetable oil and fry the eggplant over high heat until golden brown all over. Drain on paper towels. Lightly season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat olive oil in saucepan and saute onion until transparent, add garlic and sautee 1 minute (do not let it get brown). Add the tomato sauce, basil, and taste for seasoning. Cook over low heat 5 minutes, stirring. Fold in chunks of eggplant and continue cooking slowly for 5 minutes longer. Set aside.
Cook spaghetti in boiling salted water (with a little oil) until just tender. Drain, and put on hot platter. Pour heated sauce over it and sprinkle par¬mesan cheese over all. You can vary this by adding bits of leftover chicken or adding a small peeled, freshly chopped tomato.(The Italians use a great deal of fresh tomatoes in their pomodoro sauces).Pass a bowl of extra parmesan cheese. A salad and garlic bread will finish this off. Bon Appetit.
Wine of the Month and Wine of the Month Club are registered trademarks of the Wine of the Month Club, Inc. Wine of the Month Club is the oldest mail order wine club
in America. Specializing in value oriented wines, the Wine of the Month Club is open to anyone who has an appreciation of fine wine and is interested in a monthly wine club service. Quality wine delivered to your door guaranteed. Join the Wine of the Month Club
, America's favorite wine club.