May 1983 Newsletter
It is rare that I will show a winery twice in the span of a year. After all, this program of mine is a combination of "a search for the best value" and "an exposure to the spectrum of the wine world". Heaven knows, there are over 470 California wineries alone, so any return engagement must have redeeming value.
Both wineries this month are return engagements! Each for a different reason.
For the white wine, I have selected a "white of a red". Making white wines from red grapes has been a preoccupation of our California vintners of recent. And… they have been good at it. Some fine light wines have appeared with interesting new flavors to them. After all, what do you do with a vineyard full of red grapes, when the nation has steered to white wine? (This bent is because of the growth of wine consumption, and most new wine enthusiasts favor white wines to start. Pretty soon though, their feet start showing signs of red grape pigment, and they have arrived!). HMR Pinot Noir Blanc is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Since most of us were overwhelmed by the HMR Pinot Noir 1975 (Nov. 1982), I thought a white wine from the same red grapes by the same winemaker would offer a contrast.
For the red, the only Australian Shiraz I could find that was excellent to our palate was Taltarni. (June 1981 selection was their Cabernet Sauvignon). They make a lot of wine in Australia, but most of it suits the Australian palate best. (That rough and tough pioneer style!). This one is superb. Enjoy.
Wines evaluated last month: 198
Rejected: 159, Approved: 37, Selected:2
PINOT NOIR BLANC. 1982. HMR LTD.
Our California wine this month is sporting a new label. An ownership shuffle has occurred at Hoffman Mountain Ranch Vineyards of Paso Robles, and the new partners have chosen to call the vineyard and winery HMR Limited. The new label is a definite improvement over the old one. (Easier to read).
To my chagrin, the Hoffman family is no longer actively involved in the operations. It was a financial problem, and limited partners were added to solve the crisis. They are seasoned business people, and committed to making good wine.
Evidence of the new philosophy is the hiring of my good friend Ed Masciana as Marketing Director. They will go places with him. A new winemaker has come on board also; he is U.C. Davis trained Chris Johnson. His last assignment was with Wagner Vineyards in New York, and prior to that he was assistant winemaker at David Bruce Winery near Santa Cruz. I am sure good things will be forthcoming.
This is one of the last wines Michael Hoffman made at the ranch. It was made from grapes grown on the estate. The microclimates and soil in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range contribute to the quality. The hand of Andre Tchelistcheff as consultant adds to the final product. (He will continue consulting). For more information on HMR see Nov.1982 newsletter.
Pinot Noir, the classical red grape of Burgundy in France, is rarely made as a white wine there. Except for its use in champagne, the making of white wine from red grapes has become an American winemakers experiment. Isolated examples do exist elsewhere, but of recent, a deluge of light, white or pinkish white wines have been cropping up all across the American wine spectrum. They are made by removing the skins right after crushing to prevent the natural pigment of the red grape from dissolving in the must.(the pulp of red grapes is white, not red). The result is usually a fresh, fruity, young light wine, with the varietal character showing.
Our wine has a golden pink hue. It has a fruity, "hard candy" aroma. The taste shows a crisp acidity that adds zest to the flavor. It has a light body, and the varietal character of the grape is discernible. (but what a difference to the red stuff!). Slight hint of sweetness exists, but the acid balance makes for a long crisp finish. Serve chilled with luncheons, salad and sandwich fare.
Cellaring Notes: Not for ageing. Good for 12 months.
FOOD WITH WINE …. What with Barsac?
You have held a special luncheon, all the 1 guests have left, and you are ready to take your shoes off, pour a glass of wine, relax on the couch and catch your breath. But, the wine you had at lunch is gone! So you remember that one of your guests had brought a wrapped bottle that looked like wine. You open it. . .Chateau Climens, a white wine. "Looks good" you tell yourself, while you are looking for the corkscrew.
Hold everything. Don't open it yet! (Un-less you are in the mood for a very sweet wine). This is no ordinary wine. If you know about it, and feel like a dessert wine to soothe the fatigue, by all means open it, there is nobody better than you to enjoy it! After all it was meant for you. (Chill it a little, it won't taste so sweet when cold). But if you are not sure what this wine is like, then tarry awhile, and plan a special accompaniment to do it justice.
Chateau Climens is a Barsac. It is a famous one at that! A First Growth, by the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines. Except for year to year variations in the vintage, it will always be a sweet wine that is made from the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grape. In the same region and similar to the famous Sauternes, this group of wines also have the characteristic "botrytis" flavor. The better wines from this region are fermented from grapes whose juice has been concentrated by the natural growth of Botrytis cinerea on the skins. This healthy mold, commonly known as the "Noble Rot", imparts a unique flavor to the wines of the region. The final product is a marvelous dessert wine of dis¬tinction.
Barsac is a village after which this style of wine is named. Wines made in the areas around the village have the right to name their wine as such, as long as they comply with the standards set by the controlling authorities. The better wines will be Chateau named, and the lesser ones labelled region¬ally as "Barsac". All of them will carry the byline on the label Appellation Barsac Con¬trolee indicating compliance with the basic local standards.
Good Barsac is a rich, thick, sweet, wine that has a definite botrytis flavor. It can be spicy and show some tartness to its aftertas¬te. The basic flavor has great depth and shows nuances that wine enthusiasts debate over. The aroma is another great attribute. It usually is flowery and sweet, and becomes caramelly when aged.
So what do you serve with Barsac, and when do you serve it?
First and foremost, with a dessert or for dessert. It is superb with ripe pears, par-ticularly the Bartlett variety. It would be per-fect with light pastry type desserts. Fruit tarts that are not too sweet go well. A souffle dessert is the ultimate in my opinion.
Second, it would be fine alone, as a dessert. Much more pleasurable than the liqueurs which have a higher alcohol con¬tent and are harsher in flavors.
Third, and rather interesting, is to serve it with liver pate, particularly French foie gras, as an appetizer before the meal. Unusual and different, but a very delightful combi¬nation.
Aged, fine Chateau bottled, Barsacs should really be enjoyed alone. They offer so much in their flavor spectrum that it would be a crime to dilute or detract from these.
At all servings, the wine should be well chilled, and preferably served in the tradi-tional tulip shaped, white-wine glass (8 oz. capacity), to allow maximum enjoyment of the aroma.
Twenty-five years ago, a bottle of regional Barsac was the cause of my becoming a stu-dent of wine. With a group of friends, we had traveled to San Diego for our annual three days of Shakespeare at the Old Globe in Balboa Park. At lunch one day, I suggested wine to a friend, and we decided to share a bottle from the wine list, rather than the house wine. We looked the list over, (which in itself was not very extensive), and wanting to try something we did not know, we order¬ed the Barsac on the menu. To say the least, it did not go very well with the roast beef sandwich I had, nor with the ham sandwich my friend had. That was the day I deter¬mined to study and taste before making wild selections.
SHIRAZ. 1979. TALTARNI
Dominique Portet travels to Bordeaux at least once a year, and to Napa about that frequently too. It is a long way to go from Australia! But, he has many reasons to do so. His parents live in France, and his brother lives in Northern California. They are both winemakers, his father a fifth generation, and the two brothers are sixth generation. Both are graduates of Montpellier University wine courses.
"I go to a great deal of trouble to maintain and refresh my palate. I go to Bordeaux at least once a year, sometimes twice. I have to taste Bordeaux wine all the time, otherwise I forget what style I'm aiming at." says Dominique. Then in another breath he continues: "Every wine is different. It's hard enough making a wine that's similar in one winery from one vintage to the next, let alone trying to imitate Chateau Lafite. (his father was winemaker at this premier French vineyard). There's no point in trying. What's important is the style of wine, and its quality. I make wines that I like."
Dominique settled in this Avoca wine growing region of Australia, started the Taltarni Vineyards with the help of a French-American millionaire investor (and wine enthusiast), and married a Sidney girl. He has made Australian wine history! (see June 1981 newsletter). The wines coming out of Moonambel in the Australian Pyrenees are giving older brother Bernard at Clos Du Val in Napa some marketing challenges. (They market each others wines in their respective countries, along with making their own).
Shiraz is the historical name for Petite Sirah, and used in Australia to label wine from that grape. It is thought that it is the original European Syrah, and somewhat different in clonal selection to the California Petite Syrah. Both produce mouthfilling, massive, burly wines, bursting at the seams with tannin and fruit acids in their youth."At maturity, they are smooth and rich as silk tapestries." says Bern Ramey in his ampelography. What a corollary!
Our wine is deep magenta in color. It has a fruity, penetrating bold nose of the variety. A hint of vanilla and berry bouquet is apparent. The taste is bursting with flavor. The full body and glycerinny texture has a definite tannin bitterness. It begs for ageing. A meal wine. Serve at room temperature with game, stews, roasts and casseroles.
Cellaring Notes: Has 3 to 8 years of ageing life.
Adventures in Eating
A wonderful dessert, for me, is a good meringue shell filled with ice cream and fresh fruit, preferably strawberries. That season is here already, and I couldn't resist presenting the meringue mystique to those of you who have had some problems with it. Heaven knows, I did, for such a long time! There are so many "old cooks" tales regarding how to make a good meringue.
I like this method best. Some of the tips have been picked up here and there by wanting to uncover a good formula.
As you all know, meringue consists of egg white and sugar beaten with an acid stabilizer, and slowly baked.
1. Humidity is an enemy of meringue. Dry days are best.
2. Separate the eggs when cold (much easier), then let the egg whites sit at room temperature before beating. The volume will be better.
3. Hard meringue uses 2 times more sugar than soft. For hard meringue, allow ¼ cup sugar for each egg white. Use SUPER FINE SUGAR (a secret). This dissolves faster and easier and is very Important. If needed, sprinkle one tablespoon of water per egg white to dissolve sugar. Taste for grittiness (that means sugar has not dissolved). After beating in ½ the sugar, add your acid stabilizer and continue with the rest of the sugar.
4. Acid stabilizes the foam and prevents overbeating before all the sugar is added. Lemon juice, vinegar or cream of tartar can be added. I use a quarter teaspoon of lemon juice to 2 egg whites.
5. Line greased pan with parchment, freezer or brown paper and form meringues to desired shape. Experiment to see how many egg whites you need for the size meringue you wish to make.
6. Bake at a low temperature 250-275 degrees for 1 to 1½ hours, or until meringue is dry. Color should be the palest shade of beige throughout. By following these instructions you will not get a chewy, gummy meringue. Good luck!
P.S. Can be baked ahead and kept in airtight containers.
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