June 1998 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 221
Rejected: 200 Approved: 21 Selected: 2
A Grand Opening
We are pleased to announce the grand opening of our new store, The Wine Shoppe, located at 116 West Lime Ave. in Monrovia, California. We moved into this beautiful old building a year ago and have spent all that time renovating it to the point where we can finally show it off. Those of you within striking distance are invited to share our excitement at our Grand Opening on Wednesday, June 17, 1998. As members, you'll be able to pick up your favorite selections from previous months as well as select from an array of new bargains we've recently uncovered. Our store is located in a beautiful section of old downtown Monrovia, a quaint and dignified area which reminds me of my roots in Palos Verdes.
The Wine Shoppe will feature many of the unique and hard-to-find wines that made the Wine of the Month Club the most popular wine club in America. Please let me know if you can stop by and we'll roll out the red carpet, as we've done for our valued members for over 25 years.
With all the excitement going on over our store opening, I don't want to ignore our two exciting offerings this month. Our first Gavi and an incredible Cabernet Franc are perfect intros to the uniqueness and tantalizing prospects of our new store. They're first rate.
San Domenico is the name that vineyard owner Sylvester Feichtinger assigned to his winery for one simple reason; it's the name of his grandfather, son and a few other members of the family. Sylvester owns 500 acres in central California near Paso Robles, which is midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This area has been revered for over a century as being a superb region for growing the heartier red wine varietals. Few vineyard owners, however, have been able to use this hot climate area to grow grapes of style and finesse like Feichtinger. He employs high tech canopy management, which uses the vine's own leaf cover to protect it from the summer heat, and shield it against the hot temperatures. This procedure helps keep a consistent reign on each vintage.
Sylvester's winemaker is the talented and well-respected Tom Meyer. Tom has spent over a decade working with the wines of this area, most notably at Castoro, one of our favorite wineries in these parts. We think he's going to do exemplary things at San Domenico as he does for Castoro.
All of this is not just costly, but requires a great degree of expertise that money can't always buy. Fortunately, Sylvester has both. His commitment to quality is a refreshing, old world trait which we enthusiastically applaud. The best part is that this commitment is reflected in the wines.
In this particular case, the wine is one that is becoming very fashionable these days. Cabernet Franc has been thought of as being third in line in the Bordeaux mix behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. While it may be in pretty imposing company, Cabernet Franc has recently come into its own, and most notably, when grown in this area. It was almost always part of a blend, but recently has been making great strides as a solo performer. As more producers find the right combination of vineyards, sun exposure and handling, we think you'll be seeing a lot of spectacular Francs on the market. This one is certainly a great intro.
Bold and ripe flavors of rich cranberry, boysenbery and a touch of anise.
Lively spice component and a lingering finish make this a terrific match with the green pepper steak recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will
hold another year
or two. Serve cool.
This month's import selection comes from what is considered one of the greatest wine growing regions in the world, Piedmont's Serralunga d'Alba in Northwest Italy. The wines of Maria de Ross are made at the sprawling and ultra modern facility of the Cappallotto Estate. For three generations, Cappallotto has crafted world class wines from the Nebbiolo grape in the two areas where this grape excels over all others, Barolo and Barbaresco.
What is not as well known to most wine lovers, but certainly worth knowing, is that there is another ancient and revered grape which is grown here as well. It will never have the same exalted position of Barolo (known as the king of wines in Italy) or Barbaresco (the queen), but in its own way, Gavi has an incredible following. We're certainly one of them, having been a fan of this wine for over a decade.
Cappallotto bottles its reds under the Cappallotto label and its whites under the Maria de Ross label. They do this to avoid any confusion between the two. Some producers feel that if you're in a particular area, you should only make wines from that area, not ones from even 3 miles away! That's not of much concern in California.
Gavi is a small town in the Langhe hills at the center of Piedmont. The wine is made from the light and shy Cortese grape. It was almost plowed under in the 1980s to re-plant the more traditional and sought-after reds like Nebbiolo and Barbera. Fortunately, many producers are committed to this affable grape, though admittedly they could make much more money selling the reds instead.
In the case of Cappallotto, bigger really is better. Their size and scope allows them to afford state-of-the art equipment: oak barrels from France's finest forests and the ability to purchase land and grapes in the best areas. Fortunately for us, they have not forsaken their Piedmontese roots by continuing to offer this engaging and flavorful wine. One sip and we think you'll agree.
Maria de Ross
Piquant melon and kiwi with a light touch of gravel enter the nose and surround the senses with lively acidity. The shy flavors begin to show with a challenging dish like the steamed fish recipe on page 6.
A classic wine.
Will hold for
"Paul, I've been reading about something called chaptalization where they actually add sugar to wine. Do wineries still do that and, if so, why?"
Chaptalization is indeed the term used for adding sugar to wine and, yes, it is still practiced widely in Northern Europe. The term was named after the French chemist and statesman, Jean-Antoine Chaptal, who rose to the position of Minister of the Interior under Napoleon and continued in that position even after the revolution in 1789.
He discovered that when sugar is added to fermenting grape juice it raises the alcohol of the finished wine, making it stronger and more stable. From a chemistry standpoint, his discovery was only marginally understood since Pasteur hadn't come along yet to explain how fermentation works in the first place! This became a common practice in northern France, where grape ripening (and thus the amount of alcohol possible in the wine) was a continuing problem, as it is today.
In the cooler climates of France and Germany, there is often not enough sun to ripen the grape acids into sugar. During fermentation it is the sugar which is transformed by the yeast in the grape to alcohol and carbon dioxide. If the grapes don't ripen, there isn't enough sugar to transform into a minimum alcohol strength of 11% to 14%. Chaptal's discovery was a boon for the producers in marginal areas.
At first Chaptal recommended cane and beet sugar. As a matter of fact, this remarkable man actually invented the system used today for extracting sugar from beets along with introducing the metric system to France. He later retracted this recommendation saying that cane and beet sugar were not as natural an additive for this purpose as grape concentrate which is more expensive.
It is illegal, as well as unnecessary, to add sugar in the warmer climates of Italy, Spain and the U.S. France's Burgundy region and most of Germany still practice it. However, German law only allows it in the lower categories up through Qualitatswein. After that, it is not permitted. In 1993, the European Union announced its disapproval of chaptalization. Producers in warmer climates were increasing yields to such an extent that the grapes didn't ripen as a result. They then would chaptalize in order to get an acceptable alcohol level from pretty awful, unripe grapes. This situation was bringing down the overall quality of wines in general which is when the EU made its recommendation.
Adventures in Food
Here are two seemingly different recipes. However, they share one ingredient, tomatoes. In both cases they are uncooked. This helps preserve the sweetness of the tomato and balance it against the acid. If the tomatoes aren't very ripe, you may want to add a touch of sugar to achieve that balance.
STEAMED FISH WITH THYME
AND TOMATO VINAIGRETTE
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. finely chopped scallions
2 Tbsp. freshly chopped cilantro (or parsley)
Pinch red hot pepper flakes (optional)
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. Maria de Ross Gavi
1/2 cup diced and peeled tomatoes
2 Tbsp. grated ginger
1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
4 boneless, skinless fish fillets, about 6 oz. each (red snapper, sea bass or salmon)
1 tsp. dried thyme
Combine the mustard and vinegar in a mixing bowl. Add the oil, whisking vigorously. Blend in remaining ingredients except the thyme and fish and set aside at room temperature. Pour
water into steamer. Place the fillets on the steamer rack. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place 1 sprig of fresh thyme on each fillet, and cover the steamer. When the water begins to boil, add fish and steam for about 4 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove the thyme sprigs. Spoon sauce over fillets and serve immediately. Yields 4 servings.
GREEN PEPPER STEAK
1 lb. beef chuck or round, trimmed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large green pepper
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup Cabernet Franc
2 tomatoes, chopped (go in last uncooked)
Cut steak in 1/4 inch thick strips. Combine soy sauce and garlic. Add beef; toss and set aside. Heat oil in frying pan; add beef. Brown on high heat for a few minutes. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer 30-40 minutes. Add vegetables and stir-fry until they are tender, but still crisp, about 10 minutes. Mix cornstarch with water and wine. Add to mixture. Cook until thickened. Add tomatoes and serve immediately over rice.
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