April 1983 Newsletter
Our white wine this month suffers a mistaken identity in the United States. It is a shame. It is such a fun wine, at a relatively inexpensive price. The problem is with its name. First, it is a foreign name, and therefore automatically suspect. Second, the name is to close to Muscat, and the quick glance at a label or wine list tends to cause a passing up of the wine as a sweet wine. (Even though we have a few dry Muscat wines being made in California now). With sweet wines not being as popular, this poor fellow gets left out. In fact, so much so, that it is not uncommon to see old vintages on wine shop shelves, undoubtedly there because of lack of interest. The truth of the matter is that it is a charming, dry, crisp, fresh style, white wine, unique to the western Loire Valley of France. A wine worth experiencing and learning about.
For our red wine this month, I selected an excellent example of a Zinfandel with a Napa appella¬tion. The last three Zinfandels I featured were of Paso Robles, Sonoma, and Amador origins. Even though the differentiation is academic, and the exercise of identification does not improve the quality of the wine; if you are inclined to dissect your wine by that classification, then please be wary of all the other variables! Otherwise, just enjoy the good stuff, and let the U.C.Davis worry about the viticul¬tural areas.
Wines evaluated last month: 212
Rejected: 167, Approved: 43, Selected:2
ZINFANDEL. 1980. BURGESS
From Hopewell Junction, New York, to St. Helena, California, is a long hop; but for jet pilots like Tom Burgess, it is just next door. That's where Tom and Linda Burgess hail from. They purchased the original Souverain Cellars in 1972, renamed it, and started a new career in the heart of Napa Valley.
The winery site is at about 1000 feet elevation on the west slope of Howell Mountain, just north¬east of St. Helena. It occupies a stone and redwood building constructed in 1875. (In the 1800's, and before prohibition, the wine produced in the cellar was sold in bulk and transported by horse drawn tank wagons to larger wineries in the Valley.) Under the diligent direction of Tom, and the winemaking talents of Bill Sorenson, this estate has become a prestigious Napa label.
"To make great wines, you need great grapes" is the Burgess philosophy. They grow their own, and supplement by purchasing from growers who are anxious to have their grapes achieve their full potenial. This is a family operation; production is small, and the wines are limited in availability.
Zinfandel, most unique to California with that name, is an emerging varietal that has attracted the attention of serious wine enthusiasts. It is capable of many faces, and is being experimented with by winemakers all the time. Basically, it makes a robust, fruity, dry red wine that can have ageing potential. Regional variations exist, and our wine is a good example of Napa Valley Zinfandel made as a dry red wine. (Other variations are white style zinfandel, late harvest dry style, late harvest dessert port style, and nouveau style.)
This Burgess zinfandel is deep purple red in color. The aroma is closed at this stage of its ageing, but some varietal berry character shows through, followed by a hint of fragrance. The second you sip it, you have a mouthful of bursting fruity flavor. This follows with a soft middle taste of berry character. The finish is long and complex. Serve at room temperature with hearty marinara pasta dishes, roasts, beef stroganoff.
Cellaring Notes: Will open and mellow for 5 to 8 years. Tracking this wine can be an education in zinfandel ageing.
FOOD WITH WINE ….
Let's assume that you were given a fine bottle of California champagne as a gift and you had set aside for the right occasion. Then one day, that special celebration pre¬sented itself. An anniversary, a promotion a raise, good news; all these deserve popping that cork, and clinking the glasses.
What food would you serve with it? This question is best answered by determining the time of day the celebration is scheduled for.
Start with the morning. If you were going to celebrate at breakfast, for one reason or another, a fresh fruit salad would be a per¬fect accompaniment. If you want to do some¬thing special...how about baked applies as your fruit course, and the champagne for the toast! That's about where you stop with the champagne. The other standard break¬fast courses will overpower the bubbles.
If the occasion presents itself at other than mealtime, like mid-morning, mid-afternoon, or late evening, a small something to nibble will always add to the enjoyment. Starting with the simplest, a champagne wafer is available that seems to harmonize well, and add elegance to the service. It is crisp, flaky, light, and not too sweet. Some bakeries fea¬ture it. My favorite is made by Bahlsen of Switzerland. It can be found in the gourmet section of markets that feature their pro-ducts.
For something more substantial, a light pate, the baked variety preferably, with thin sliced French bread (baguette) toast, seems to be invented for champagne. Rosemarie, my food experimenter, recently prepared a marvelous pate from a recipe found in an Irish cookbook. It has a custard type base, and is baked in a water bath. It was so light and fluffy, and was outstanding with cham¬pagne. (see The Art of Irish Cooking by Monica Sheridan. Gramercy Publishing Company. 1965. pg. 2 Liver Pate 1)
For the ultimate treat with champagne you can serve caviar. ..And if you want to do it right, serve it the traditional way with blinis (small silver dollar sized buckwheat pan¬cakes), shredded boiled egg, sour cream, and chopped onion embellishments. No better match exists for dry champagne.
If it's the mid-day meal you wish to serve the champagne with, then plan it to precede the meal with the previously mentioned items as appetizers, or serve it with a luncheon course of a seafood salad or chicken salad.
(Mayonnaise based dressing). You can also celebrate with dessert, and serve the cham-pagne at that time. A good dessert compa¬nion would be a flake pastry with fresh fruit and glaze filling, that is not too sweet.
At the evening meal, the opportunity to serve champagne as the appetizer beverage should be encouraged. It is festive, it is appropriate, and it is fun. The stage can be set well for a celebration and a relaxing din¬ner by starting with the champagne. Pick your choice of hors d'oeuvres from the above and do it. It's the best time. But do not carry it into the other courses. It is not suit¬able for dinner fare. If there is a surprise ele¬ment. and you wish to do it after the meal, then use it with the same approach to dessert as described earlier.
Now here is a touching story that I was privileged to be part of (and a lesson about champagne): About a year ago, a fellow Rotarian called me aside after lunch and asked me if I would like to taste a fine old bottle of champagne. With yes for an answer, he said that he would bring it to the next meeting. The following Friday, there was an ice bucket, with a bottle of 1930 Korbel Brut nestled in the ice, and a towel draped over it. "Paul", he said, "please tell the members a little about this wine and open it for us. My wife and I have kept it in the refrigerator all these years for our anniversary. It was given to us when we were married. This month is our 50th but she is not well, so I decided to share it with the club." I proceeded to announce this to the club, and related a little about the old line house of Korbel. I caution¬ed about the possibility of the wine being over the hill, and did my duty as sommelier for the day. The bottle showed some ullage, and I expected it to be flat, and surely turned. The wires holding the cork were rusty from the refrigerator. The cork was soft and came apart, and as I expected, there was no pop. I poured the first glass. It was golden with a hint of browning. The aroma was that of Madeira, and the taste not too far off. Not a bubble was to be seen. It was palatable, but not champagne any more. So we all clapped, passed the bottle around for education, and went back to the jug wine our club serves us at the birthday and anniversary table each month.
Lesson: Drink up your champagne in good time. (But if you insist on keeping it that long, have some recent vintage close at hand!)
MUSCADET. 1981. B.& G.
We cross the French mainland, to Brittany, for our white wine this month. For a stretch of 72 miles from the mouth of the River Loire at the Atlantic, vineyards cover three appellations: "Muscadet", "Muscadet des Coteaux de la Loire", and "Muscadet de Sevres et Maine" The latter region produces the best of the Muscadet wines.
Very uncommon to French wine tradition, Muscadet wine is named after the grape it is made from. It is unique to this area, and is fermented, aged, and stored in concrete vats exclusively. It sees no wood ageing. The resulting wine is a young, fresh, dry wine that has been growing in popularity in France and overseas. When newly bottled, it can have traces of the natural carbon dioxide from the fermentation, giving a refreshing liveliness to the palate.
Our Muscadet is a sleeper, among the wines offered by Barton & Guestier currently. B & G is one of the giants of the French wine business. They too are "negociants-eleveurs" like the suppliers of our red wine last month. The firm of Barton & Guestier was founded by an Irishman, Thomas Barton, in 1725. Leaving a family of merchants in Northern Ireland, he settled in Bordeaux, and applied himself to wine trade. In 1802, Hugh Barton, a descendant, made Daniel Guestier, a long-time French associate, a partner in the business. At the time of the American Revolution, Frahfois Guestier ran the blockade with his boat "Le Grande Nancy" to supply George Wash¬ington's troops with wines. Ever since, the United States has been a major market for B & G wines.
The wine is faint yellow in color. It has a light fruity nose with the characteristic aroma of the grape. It has a medium body, with a slight sensation of sweetness that is not really there.
It is a result of the fruitiness. The taste quickly changes into a crispness of acid. It has a refreshing, pleasant finish that is lemony. Serve well chilled with oysters, seafood prepared with white sauces, or as a mid-afternoon summer cooler.
Cellaring Notes: Drink now. Muscadet loses its charm after two years.
Adventures in Eating
When our children were just little tykes, one of their favorites for breakfast was a baked apple, swimming in cold milk or cream. Since I made it so often, I started modifying the original recipe I had, and ended up with a light and easy version which I made ahead and kept in the refrigerator.
This is such a simple and make ahead item, that I have used it many times as dessert for my dinner guests, and receive raves each time. It can be served with ice cream, and is a welcome change from a pastry.
ROSEMARIE'S BAKED APPLE
Syrup 1 1/2 c. sugar
2 3/4 c. water
3 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
4 medium Roman Beauty apples
Combine sugar, water, cloves, and cinnamon, and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 8 minutes. Mean¬while core apples, making sure you do not puncture the blossom end. Place in oven proof dish and stuff cavity with raisins. Pour syrup over apples and bake 1 hour at 400°. Apples will puff-up and look beauti¬ful. No food coloring or cinnamon candies in this one. Cool, cover, and place in refrigerator.
Serve in a small bowl: at breakfast, with cream or milk poured over it, or as a dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
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