June 1983 Newletter
It is not often that I have the opportunity to find two wines at the same time, from opposite ends of the world, of the same varietal, and both good quality. It makes an excellent platform for comparison, and a fun thing to do. (Particularly, when their homes are SD far apart, and when the varietal is not a native of either country). It makes it even more interesting when the varietal is rare, and its reputation is legend in its indigenous country.
So what am I talking about?
My reference is to last months Shiraz by Taltarni from down under in Australia, and this months Syrah by Phelps from Napa Valley. Both in essence are emulating the wines of Cote Rotie and Hermitage in the Rhone Valley of France where the Syrah grape is native. So find your Taltarni Shiraz, have a couple of folks over, and compare. Or, did you drink it already!! If you did... then you must be content with the maxim" the best tool of a wine taster is his memory. (Many of you should have some. My reorders were heavy on the Taltarni. I still show some inventory for those of you who wish to try the comparison. Use the reorder form enclosed, and hold onto your Phelps bottle).
For the white this month, I selected one that I had in Rome last November. I was able to locate it at one of our American importers, and it had not suffered any travel sickness, which many white wines can. It is exceptional for the price, and tastes as good as I had it with lunch in Rome. Saluto!
Wines evaluated last month: 219
Rejected: 172, Approved: 45, Selected:2
SYRAH. 1978. JOSEPH PHELPS VINEYARDS
"I was born on a farm in Missouri and moved as a little boy to another farm in Colorado," says Joseph Phelps. "I have had a long and deep affection for wine, and by the late '60s, I found I could afford a second career in something I loved." and " I think of it (winemaking) as farming, as ranching." Those are the words of a successful construction firm owner from Colorado, who chucked that life for that of a vintner in California.
Joseph Phelps built his architecturally famous, modernistic, redwood winery in 1973. Ten years later, the reputation of his wines are among the most admired California premium wines. The two-pavilion structure is located on the old Connolly Ranch in Spring Valley, just east of St. Helena. (Napa Valley, California). The setting of oak-dotted meadowlands and knolls is charming.
Key people other than proprietor Phelps are: winemaker Walter Schug, marketing vice-president Bruce Neyers, and enologist Craig Williams. Together they are responsible for a broad list of varietal wines...but their specialty is "true French Syrah"!
What is true French Syrah? It is the grape from which the famous Hermitage and Cote Rotie wines are made in the Rhone Valley of France.. It is not the California Petite Syrah grape. Very little French Syrah is grown in California, and hardly anybody except the Joseph Phelps Vineyards make a wine from it. They two grapes are related somewhat in their clonal characteristics, but the Syrah can produce wines of more finesse and ageing complexities in the hands of the right winemaker. A Syrah wine can be big, bold, acidic, and tannicy when young. It can smooth out with age, keeping its intense fruit for long periods of time. It has characteristic spicy, berry, varietal flavors.
This Phelps 1978 Syrah is deep ruby red in color, and nearly opaque. It has a bold blackberry bouquet, with an aromatic spicy overtone. Together, they tend to overwhelm the nasal sensors. The taste bursts with the varietal character of the grape. Tannic is dominant, and adds to the dryness in the middle taste. Like our Australian counterpart last month, it begs for ageing. A meal wine. Serve at room temperature with beef dishes.
Cellaring Notes: Worth ageing and tracking. Good for 10 to 15 years.
UNCORKING A BOTTLE OF WINE
There are some finer points about uncorking a bottle of wine. The inspection of the bottle before opening, and the actual uncorking procedure deserve some review. Some people have referred to the latter exercise as "dressing the bottle", which I think carries it a bit far! But no matter, a few of the procedures are important, so lets look at them.
-Before uncorking, wipe a dusty bottle with a damp napkin to remove any loose shelf dust or loose cellar dust from the bottle. (There is nothing less appetizing than dust dropping from the bottle onto a tablecloth or into a wine glass! Encrusted cellar dust can remain! As long as it is not loose. It adds atmosphere!
-Look through the bottle to see if it has any sediment. Young wines should not have any. If they do, they might be defective. Aged wines,(mostly red) do develop a sediment and should be decanted. Do not open a bottle of wine which has a sediment and the bottle has been jostled. The sediment will not settle fast enough for you to use that bottle. It will need to be kept upright for at least 24 hours to allow the sediment to settle before decanting. (If you know a bottle has a sediment, and it has been kept in a horizontal position on a shelf, then it can be gingerly removed, without tilting, and then carefully placed in a wine basket, opened and decanted). I will cover the technique of decanting at another time. If you see clear crystals as a sediment in the bottle (maybe they look like coarse granules of sugar), they are usually tartrate crystals, and a natural by¬product of wine. They crystallize out due to temperature changes. Do not be concerned. Just pour over them. They will usually settle to the bottom of the bottle fast enough to pour over.
Notice the level of the wine in the neck. If it is more than an inch below the bottom of the cork, the bottle has suffered ullage. If it is an aged wine, you can suspect that it might be off. In a young wine, it might be a mechanical short fill, or a leaky cork, which will show other evidence in the capsule.( moisture, leak marks, and in some cases a corroded hole or edge to the capsule). If no ullage is evident, but some moistness, mold, or corrosion shoes on or under the capsule, you should not be concerned.(In shipping of wine, temperature changes cause miniscule amounts of wine to escape from around the cork, and cause this).
Now that we have inspected the bottle, lets get on with the uncorking!
1) Cut the capsule with a sharp blade along the ridge just below the top of the bottle. This should make a neat cut, and the top of the capsule should come away. Traditional lead capsules respond well to this, and the new plastic ones seem to also. The remaining collar adds some color and decor to the opened bottle. (This is the dressing part!)
2) Use a damp napkin to wipe the exposed cork and rim of the bottle. Occasionally some mold has developed here, or evaporated wine has crusted. This is no reflection on the contents of the bottle. It is normal.
3) Insert the corkscrew into the center of the cork and work it in until it reaches the bottom of the cork or goes as far as it can. Draw out the cork as gently as possible. In this way, the wine is not shaken, and the cork is less likely to break. The traditional waiter corkscrew is the standard of the industry. Be sure and hold the leverage prong against the lip of the bottle with a grip of your index finger, while you extract the cork. The ridge will act as a good platform, and your index finger will prevent it from slipping (Not shown in diagram). Use similar care when using the winged corkscrews, and correct techniques when using the two pronged cork pullers.
4) Wipe the bottle neck, inside as well as outside with a damp napkin.
PINOT GRIGIO. 1981. PONTE
Our white wine this month hails from the lands behind Venice, Italy. Many important wines come from this official region called The Veneto. (situated between Lake Garda and the Po and Piave rivers). However, our wine is not one of these important wines! It does not even have a DOC* designation. It is only a lowly Vino Da Tavola. But it is good! Very good in fact!
You see... the authorities chose not to have a DOC designation for the Pinot Grigio grape in the Veneto region. So if you select wine by the DOC* label only, you would miss this one. ( And quite often, you do get a wine that is not as good).
This wine is made by a giant. By the largest cooperative in the Piave area I am told. Cantina Sociale Cooperativa Ponte di Piave is composed of 1100 grape grower members who pool their resources, and produce a line of wines sold all over Europe. Somewhat similar to our Sunkist concept in Caifornia.
Many of their wines are ordinary, and just table wine quality. Every so often there is a star in a particular production. I find this Pinot Grigio del Veneto, 1981, a shining star for the price. Their winemaker must have put some special effort into making this wine.
The Pinot Grigio grape is called Pinot Gris in France, and Rulander or Sonnengold in other parts of Northern Italy near the Swiss border. It typically will vary in style from a light, pale, wine with not much distinction in aroma and flavor, to deeper-hued, beautifully perfumed wine, with clean and fresh flavors. These variations reflect the differing intentions of the winemakers. I classify it as a nice summer wine in the middle range!
This Ponte Pinot Grigio is pale golden yellow in color. It has a light aroma, with slight almond nuance, a perfumy character and a hint of chalkiness. It has a medium body; it is dry and well balanced. The flavor of the grape variety is dominant, and it finishes with a softness. The flavor lingers on your palate for 60 seconds or more. Serve chilled with chicken or fish, or as an aperitif.
Cellaring Notes: Drink now. Not for ageing. It has reached its best balance and will be good for 6 months.
*Denominazione di Origine Controllata or classification of origin that is controlled.
Adventures in Eating
The ethnic migration throughout the country has contributed to our "growing-up" in matters relating to food. You can eat your way around the world in most metropolitan areas, and they can be a mecca for searching and joyously partaking of many varieties of cuisines. When you want a rest from the kitchen, you can look forward to experiencing exciting blends of flavors at small, family run restaurants. They are usually not an expensive adventure.
Here is an ethnic recipe of my mothers. Being of Armenian descent, I was trained in the family kitchen from childhood, and I remember this garbanzo dip that has caught on with today's vegetarians. It is rich in protein, and almost a meal in itself. It surprises me to see it crop up in recipes here and there. Let me tell you… there are no two recipes alike, and none are as good as mother's!
It can double as a sauce (for meats and especially lamb), or used as a dip. The amount of bean liquid and lemon juice (both increased in equal proportion), will determine which way you want to use it. Just keep checking your blender for the desired consistency. If used as a dip, use lahvash, pocket bread, or Ak-Mak crackers for dipping (no potato chips or corn chips here). It is a good, quick, satisfying appetizer.
HOMMUS DIP (a middle eastern delight)
1 can (15oz) garbanzos - 1 Lg clove garlic, cut up
save 4 beans for garni
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ cup tahine (sesame paste) Salt & dash Cayenne to taste
Intl. food dept. supermkt.
Parsley for garni
½ cup fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Drain garbanzos, reserving liquid. Put garbanzos into a blender or food processor. Add tahine, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and cup of garbanzo liquid. Whirl, adding more garbanzo liquid and/or lemon juice, if needed. Blend until mixture is smooth and the consistency of a heavy batter, or to your taste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with the four beans in the center of the dip surrounded with small sprigs of parsley. Some people dribble a little olive oil over the top. Cover and let the flavors blend for 6 hours in the refrigerator.
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