July 1999 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 221
Rejected: 196 Approved: 25 Selected: 2
We tasted the Barbera for this month as a barrel sample almost a year ago. We were so excited about it that we kept hounding the winery to bottle it so we could get it to you. But, when you have three winemakers who are all real fussy, things just don't get done in a hurry. I guess we can't be to hard on them considering how good the wine came out. This is the first of what we hope will be a string of hits from La Botta.
Our import selection is another interesting story. The McGuigans were so successful with their Wyndham label that they went public, only to be involved in a hostile takeover and leave. But, what couldn't be taken over is their drive, zeal and savvy with respect to turning out a class product. Wyndham isn't want it used to be and McGuigan is knocking them out with great wines at terrific prices. Things seem to turn out for the best after all.
Barbera is just about the hottest grape in Italy today. For years it was an under-achiever, primarily because its ferocious acidity more often than not obscured its luscious fruit qualities and no one could tame it. No one, that is until an obscure winemaker in Piedmont named Giacomo Bologna began experimenting with low yields and oak aging in the early 1980s. The results were so spectacular that in the next 10 years, the wine world was almost flooded with similar styled wines with varying degrees of success. Even though some results were better than others, the overall effect was to raise the quality level of Barbera to a higher plain than it had ever enjoyed in the 500 years since it was first made here.
It was just a matter of time before a few adventurous winemakers in California began taking a different approach with this grape. After all, Barbera was planted all over California. Unfortunately, it was used inmediocre jug wines in the 70s and 80s and had a less than renowned stature. As in Italy, Barbera has changed so dramatically in the past few years that there is almost no resemblance to what was with what it is today.
La Botte (which means a large wood container in Italian) is a partnership between three winemakers dedicated to making Italian varietals in California's Central Coast. Oddly enough, none are Italian. But, you don't need to be Italian to realize that the Central Coast most approximates the climate and soil of Barbera's native Piedmont thus making it the perfect place in California to grow this grape.
Our selection is the product of low yield vines grown in Paso Robles, just 100 miles north of Santa Barbara. The wine is blended with a little Cabernet Sauvignon to tone down the acids and add structure and length and is then aged in oak barrels. The result is a smooth, delicious wine that has imposing character and flavor and will enhance a variety of spicy and full flavored dishes.
Dark, ruby color signals the imposing wine to follow. Luscious, ripe spice and black cherry
nose with touches of green olive and
mint. A plethora of flavors hit the palate and keep going. Beautiful finish
leaves you beggin for more. Great with
big dishes like the
Red Beans and Rice recipe on pg. 6.
Perfect now. Will
continue to delight
for another year or
two. Serve cool.
Perc McGuigan established a small, family winery in Australia's famous Hunter Valley in 1962 with his four sons and a dream to make world class wine. It was called the Wyndham Estate Winery and over the next 25 years grew to over a million cases, one of the most successful in the country. That success, however is what drove them out of the business in 1989, for it was in that year that a large, multinational corporation successfully completed a hostile takeover of Wyndham and sent the McGuigans packing.
Of course, you can't feel too sorry for them since they also packed a few million dollars in their suitcases as well, but such is life in the commodities business. Undeterred, the McGuigans started all over again in 1992, this time using their own name, and in less than a decade are producing over 700,000 cases annually. They started exporting to the US in 1994 and are now selling over 75,000 cases a year here.
Their success stems from the fact that they view the wine business from a very different perspective than most "newbies" who think it's all fun and games. They understand what good tasting wines taste like and price them below the competition. That's how they've become the 15th largest winery in Australia in only seven ears!
Chardonnay is no stranger to Australia. It was one of the first grapes planted here 150 years ago, when Dr. James Busby, the father of Australian wine, brought cuttings from all over Europe to jumpstart the industry. The overall temperate climate here has been just what the doctor ordered to make Chardonnay one of the most successful wines in the country. One taste of our McGuigan is all you'll need to understand why.
Pale straw color hints of green at the edge. Ripe tropical fruit and vanilla tones in the nose and mouth with fat, oily presence of green apple and lychee. A large and imposing wine which will easily stand up to
the shrimp recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will
hold for a year or
two. Serve chilled.
This month we continue our "Appellation Series" discussing different growing regions around the world. The following explains three Italian regions along the Adriatic coast
The central east's regions of Marches, Abruzzo and Molise follow the Adriatic coast from just past Rimini to the spur that marks the beginning of Italy's "heel." Although the climate throughout is Mediterranean, conditions get steadily more torrid towards the South. It would be too hot for wine production there were it not for the hills, with their cool temperatures and occasional rain.
Although the Marche produces a number of good red wines, most notably Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno, both from different blends of Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes, the region's flagship is one white wine, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. The wine is made from the Verdicchio grape, which gives plenty of crisp, lemony acidity, and a minerally tang. Its fame might have remained little more than local, had not the company Fazi-Battaglia come up with the marketing masterstroke of putting the wine in a distinctive, curvaceous, amphora-shaped bottle, which was rapidly dubbed "la Lollobrigida." At one time it seemed that the bottle was all the wine had to offer, but then Verdicchio started bouncing back, thanks to estates such as Fratelli Bucci and Zaccagnini in particular, Garofoli, Monte Schiavo and Umani Ronchi. Verdicchio, picked fully ripe, often from special vineyards or crus, can be a wine of an almost buttery richness.
Abruzzo is dominated by the red Montepulciano grape (unconnected with the Tuscan town of the same name). Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a blackberry-like, fruit-packed, gutsy wine. The top selections of cooperatives such as Tollo's Colle Secco and Casal Thaulero's Orsetto Oro, or estates such as Barone Cornacchia, Illuminati, Camillo Montori and the remarkable Edoardo Valentini show this wine to full advantage. Surprisingly, there is also another version, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Cerasuolo, that appears as a fresh, bouncy rosé . Cataldi Madonna has high repute in the area for Cerasuolo (which means cherry-colored), although most good Montepulciano producers make a good Cerasuolo too. White wine in the region comes from the Trebbiano grape, but with a few exceptions (notably Valentini, Montori) it is uninspiring.
Molise has less to offer. The region would be best ignored were it not for one estate, Di Majo Norante, making a striking range of wines, sold under the zonal name, Biferno, the estate's brand name, Ramitello, or as part of the series of Nuovi Vini d'Antichi Vitigni (New Wines from Ancient Varieties).
Adventures in Food
3-4 strips bacon
2 Cans RED
beans, one undrained, one pulsed in food processor to a chunky paste, but not pureed)
1/2 finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely diced ham
1/4 tsp. Cayenne pepper
1/2 stick butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. black pepper
5-6 squirts Louisiana Hot Sauce
1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Cook bacon about 3/4 done and set aside (do not drain or dry). Let cool. Dice it fine place in 5 qt. soup pot over medium heat. Add butter and allow to melt, add diced ham, onion, and garlic. Sauté all for a minute or two. Add Worcestershire, cayenne, and Louisiana Hot Sauce, simmering about a minute or two longer. Stir in both cans of beans along with remaining ingredients and heat through until warm enough to serve. Stir frequently to prevent burning/sticking of the beans. Taste frequently while stirring, add a little more salt and/or pepper to desired taste.
Serve over rice. I serve in a bowl with a scoop of rice on top and a sprinkle of dried Parsley on the rice however, tradition has it that you serve everything OVER rice!
3 lbs. Fresh medium Shrimp
1 qt. water
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1 onion, diced
2 ribs celery, minced
1 small bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 bunch green onions, diced
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. paprika
3 Bay leaves
1/4 tsp. cayenne
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
4 Tbsp. Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 1/2 tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 C. rice, cooked
Peel and devein shrimp. Mash heads and shells in a heavy saucepan. Add 1 quart water to and bring to a boil. Boil for about 20 minutes. Strain. Melt butter in another saucepan and blend in the flour, stirring constantly. Add onion, celery, pepper and onions. Cook until lightly browned. Add all ingredients and bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer until sauce becomes thick and rich textured, then add hot sauce. Add the raw shrimp which was set aside earlier and cook just long enough for the shrimp to be cooked through, to a pinkish-white color. Caution! Do not over cook the shrimp! Place over rice, serves 6.
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