June 1999 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 216
Rejected: 199 Approved: 17 Selected: 2
NEWS FLASH AND AN OLD
Just as we were putting the finishing touches on our domestic wine this month, the winery was sold! Dennis Patton of Hidden Cellars entered into an agreement with Parducci for them to take over the majority interest in Hidden Cellars while he stays on as general manager of the estate. This is great news for wine lovers. Parducci's clout and deep pockets will revamp Dennis's building and equipment, allowing him to make even better wine than he already does. Parducci's aggressive marketing may even see prices lowered. Wouldn't that be a novel approach?
We were quite pleased to bring an old Australian favorite back for a repeat performance. Arunda has been knocking people out with their beautifully crafted wines and exceptional values. This Cabernet/ Merlot blend is a stellar example that could easily be compared to heavy hitters from France or California costing three times the price! Try this one quickly, it won't last long.
We've been big fans Dennis Patton and his Hidden Cellars brand ever since we tried his new releases from the 1981 vintage. That was over 15 years ago and he's been making spectacular wines ever since. Oddly enough, he started with very extracted and illuminating late harvest Rieslings that were off the charts. Since then, he has carved a niche for his opulent Zinfandels and various levels of Sauvignon Blanc.
This is now the grape that is making Hidden Cellars one of the most revered wineries in California. Dennis is also one of the biggest promoters of Mendocino wines as you can plainly see on his label and all of his marketing material. This area is showing the world that there is much to be excited about here, especially when comparing Mendocino to its more famous neighbors to the south, Napa and Sonoma.
Sauvignon Blanc seems to be making as much of a splash here as any other wine. When grown in the cooler areas near the coast, the resultant grape offers sharp acidity and a racy, herbal edge. It reaches its pinnacle however when blended with grapes grown in the warmer sites more inland that add exotic gooseberry, slate and lime components thus producing an engaging and positively delicious offering.
Patton uses a judicious amount of oak to round out the flavors, but it does not take command of the entire picture. Only half the wine was fermented in the barrel. The other half was fermented in stainless steel which accounts for the hint of vanilla and spice while retaining the crispness it needs to match with food.
Mendocino is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The coastal view from the town of Mendocino is just about as breathtaking a site as any you could encounter along any seaboard. The inland valleys are majestic and imposing, offering huge vistas of steep, craggy mountainscapes interspersed with beautiful fields as green as anything this side of the Emerald Isle. A beautiful wine from a beautiful place. What more is there?
Heady mango and spiced apple nose with vanilla and herbal undertones. The flavor is full and rich, offering similar spice and oaky components, yet exiting with a clean, lemony finish. A perfect foil for seafood dishes like the seabass recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will
continue to delight
for another year or
Several years ago we featured a Chardonnay from Arunda and it was one of the fastest selling wines we've ever offered. After tasting through the rest of the line, we were very impressed with the quality and value. The only problem was that there just wasn't enough to go around. Until now!
When we bought the Chardonnay, we really wanted the heavenly Cabernet/Merlot blend. We had to "settle" for the Chardonnay until enough of the blend was available. This one is a whopper! South Australia is internationally known for making the best Cabernet and Merlot based wines in the country. Many of the top names fetch prices in the $30 and up category. Fortunately, Arunda has their feet planted firmly on the ground and offer top-flight wines at everyday prices.
Lumping all the wines produced here under one banner simply labeled "Australian Wine" is like saying "American Wine" with no difference paid to whether it comes from Napa Valley or Georgia. Australia is about the same size as the United States. Its vineyard areas follow the craggy, southeastern coast for almost 2,000 miles, yet, it is 11th on the worldwide wine production list, far below the US.
The Australian wine industry began in much the same manner as California. Both started aggressive plantings in the mid 1800s. Both took advantage of their respective warm, dry climates to produce voluminous amounts of everything from ordinary jug wines to big, imposing ones as well as dessert wines. Both realized in the 1960s that they could do much better. Both obviously have since the position of Australian wines has improved a hundred fold in the last 10 years.
One thing to remember here (as with South Africa and South America) is that Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere which means its seasons are reversed from the US. Their summer peak is February and harvest begins in March. Their wines are six months older than those from the Northern Hemisphere because they were picked six months earlier. This one will sell fast, so stock up before it's too late.
Shy nose but opens with a little airing to reveal a lovely ripe plum and cassis aroma. It is full and rich in the mouth offering dense cassis and cranberry flavors with hints of vanilla, cocoa and chocolate. A spectacular finish to compliment easy fare like the turkey recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will
hold for a year or
two. Serve cool.
This month we continue our "Appellation Series" discussing different growing regions around the world. Our first discussion is on Champagne.
Champagne has a glamour that makes it the supreme wine of celebration. Christenings, marriages, birthdays and election night victories all call for the world's most famous sparkling wine. There is always a sense of excitement as the cork pops out of the bottle and the pale gold thread of tiny bubbles rises in the tall flute glasses.
The vineyards of Champagne are the most northerly in France, spreading across five départements. Of a possible 83,980 acres approved as suitable land for the production of Champagne grapes, just under 61,750 acres are actually planted. The department of the Marne has 80 percent of the area under vines and the Aube 15 percent, with the remainder scattered in much smaller pockets across the Aisne, the Haute-Marne and Seine-et-Marne. The central area of production is around the cities of Rheims and Epernay
Three grape varieties only may be planted in Champagne. The Pinot Noir accounts for 28 percent of the vineyard. It is mainly planted in Reims, ripening well on the chalky-sandy slopes, and gives wines of balanced richness and finesse. The sturdier Pinot Meunier is more resistant to bad weather and is well-adapted to the richer soil of the Vallee de la Marne and the Aube. Representing 48 percent of the vineyard area, Pinot Meunier is a dependable and prolific grape, so it is an important source of wines for non-vintage Champagne blends, to which it contributes a supple, soft flavor. The Chardonnay shows its best attributes on the pronounced chalky soil of the Côte des Blancs, where it is the sole authorized grape. Less vulnerable to spring frosts than the early-flowering Pinot Noir, Chardonnay has a higher yield. It is above all appreciated for its delicacy and refinement. Most champagnes are blends with the Chardonnay balancing the richness and fullness of Pinot Noir and Meunier. A blanc de blancs is made from pure Chardonnay.
Champagne is unique among the appellation contrôlée wines of France in that it omits any mention of A.O.C. on its labels. Nevertheless, the wine is subject to rigorous controls. The maximum permitted yield is 5 tons per acre. In an average year the total production of Champagne will be about 250 million bottles.
Adventures in Food
You'll need a dish to marinate fish, knife, garlic press, fork and parchment paper.
PREP TIME: 15 min. Cooking
Time: 12 min. Serves: 4
1 lb. fillet of Chilean Seabass
at least 1 1/4" thick.
2 bunches fresh spinach
4 cloves garlic, minced
Black olive paste
Salt & pepper to taste
Juice from 1 lemon
1 cup Hidden Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
Pierce entire fish with fork. Marinate in lemon juice, wine, salt and pepper for 2-3 hours, turning every 30 minutes. While fish is marinating, clean and stem spinach. Spin dry in salad spinner or pat dry carefully. Do not wring out. Sauté in olive oil with half the garlic until just barely wilted. Drain excess water. Tear off two pieces of parchment paper approximately 18" long each. Fold and cut in the shape of a heart. Cut the fish in half. Put half the spinach and half the remaining garlic on one half of one piece of parchment. Place the fish on top and spread the olive paste over the top. Fold the paper over and
crimp all the edges to seal. Repeat for other piece of parchment. Bake in preheated 425° oven for 12 minutes and serve immediately. Each parchment serves two.
BREADED AND BAKED TURKEY
You'll need a rack, cookie sheet and knife.
PREP TIME: 12 min. Cooking
Time: 20 min. Serves: 4
2 turkey thighs
1 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs or egg substitute equivalent
2 Tbs. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried Italian herbs
Remove skin and thigh bone. You will have a piece that has a little valley down the center and two mounds of meat on each side. Slit each side diagonally toward the end about 2". This will make the piece thinner and longer. Beat eggs until frothy. Add milk and beat a few seconds more. Mix bread crumbs with salt, pepper and herbs. Submerge thighs in egg mixture then dredge in breadcrumbs until completely covered. Let rest for 30 minutes on a rack. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake thighs for 20 minutes. Cut diagonal pieces and serve.
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