April 1998 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 204
Rejected: 187 Approved: 17 Selected: 2
Beauty and the Beast
We didn't realize it until these selections landed in the same month, but you probably couldn't get more contrast between two wines if you tried. The Kinderwood Zinfandel is a throwback to those exciting days of yesteryear when red wine was really red, not to mention big and bold to boot. You may have to fasten your seat belt before trying this one. With BBQ season on the horizon, this is a sure bet for the top of the wine list at our house this summer.
We have always loved the wines of Alsace. Twenty years ago they were the best kept secrets in the world of wine. Unfortunately, the word got out. Today the wines are better than ever, but the prices have skyrocketed. Because of the size and vineyard holdings of Dopff & Irion, we were able to secure this beauty for the regular series. I believe you'll find the versatility of this wine to be remarkable.
The area that this selection comes from is one of the most obscure, yet significant in the history of California wine. The South Coast is comprised of wine regions in such diverse areas as San Bernadino, Riverside, Antelope Valley and Temecula. Unlike Napa and Sonoma, which were pioneered by Italian and German immigrants , this area was first planted by the clergy as they were founding missions along the coast of California.
The grapes for this zinfandel were first planted by Captain Paul Garret, one of the first grape growers in the Cucamonga Valley, in 1832, almost 20 years before the wine boom hit the North Coast! He later went on to found the Virginia Dare Winery, the largest and most prestigious winery in California before Prohibition. His success lured many of the Italian winemakers who hoped to copy his success. The Italians planted their native Barbera, Grignolino, etc. Virginia Dare brought the French varietals Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan to the state.
Zinfandel, of course, is the oddity in this mix. No one is quite certain where it came from, though the best guesses are Eastern Europe or Southern Italy. It may even be a California original, although that seems unlikely. Suffice to say, however, that this grape has taken to California's climate and soil like a fish to water. It is still the state's most prolific red grape and has been so for as long as anyone's been counting.
Kinderwood is one of a new breed of wineries that is becoming more prominent in the wine trade. They own no vineyards, but scour the world looking for small sites with a track record of quality. They have been incredibly successful as one taste of this powerful wine will attest. Kinderwood knows no limits. Whether they're searching out a small, family-run vineyard in Trentino, a sun-drenched hillside in Ardeche or this profound old Zinfandel property in the South Coast, the results are the same i.e., wines of personality and character that won't break the bank.
Very bold, ripe and extracted aromas of black cherry, plum and earth matched with spice. Full and flavorful in the mouth offering generous currant and cherry flavors with ample density. Serve with flavorful and highly seasoned dishes.
Plenty of fruit to
last. Serve cool.
By comparison to most of the world's great wine areas, Alsace is relatively small, a mere 30,000 acres. It is roughly the size of the Napa Valley and much smaller than Sonoma. The Vosges Mountains protect it from the harsh winters of Germany just a few miles away.
Alsace was ruled by Germany from the 10th Century until the end of the Thirty Year War in 1648 when it was claimed by France. In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, Alsace was once again part of Germany. The French regained control after WWI. Germany took it back during WWII, but gave it up when the war ended when it became, as it remains today, part of France. No wonder the wines, the architecture and many of the names are more German than French.
Vines arrived here with the Romans around the eighth century. Strict regulations regarding grape types were in effect in the 16th Century as they are today. It is the only quality area in France that names its wines by the variety as opposed to its place of origin. This is not to say that the places of origin are any less thought of than Burgundy or Bordeaux, only that the types of grapes grown here, 97% of which are white, all thrive in this incredibly unique area.
Dopff & Irion is the single largest winery in Alsace and accounts for a large percentage of the famous, and very expensive, single-vineyard wines. They have become some of the most sought-after wines in the world. The company is still run by the Dopff and Irion families and probably always will be.
While most of us think of Gewurztraminer and Riesling as the stars of Alsace, recently it has been the nervy Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris which have been turning heads. Pinot Blanc from here is distinctively different from one grown elsewhere. Alsatian wine prices have gone out of sight making this one a true bargain. You'll be hard pressed to find any Alsatian wine of this stature approaching this price.
Dopff & Irion
Dahpff and Earie
Delicately scented, finely-tuned nose of kiwi and roasted pecans. Generous flavors envelope the senses and continue to an elongated finish. Here is succinct, ripe fruit matched with perfect acidity to balance challenging dishes like the Mango Chicken on page 6.
A pleasure right
now. Will hold for
a year or two.
"Paul, What do professional tasters look for in a great wine?"
J.D. ,Englewood, CC
Talk about a loaded question! That is probably one of the most difficult, it not impossible things to quantify. If for no other reason than each person has different likes and dislikes, it is very difficult for most tasters, even professional ones, to separate their personal tastes from an accepted norm.
One of the main problems is to establish an accepted norm! Part of it has to do with what each country feels is important in wine evaluation. For instance, since most old world wines are labeled by where they come from, as opposed to what the grapes are, "typicity" is a very important point. A professional taster in Bordeaux may downgrade a wine from Pomerol that you and I think are great because it doesn't taste like Pomerol. It tastes more like Pauillac! In California, if we like a certain Cabernet Sauvignon, we don't care where it comes from. Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Temecula or wherever, is not as important as the taste of the wine.
Great wines, in the broadest sense, have a few general assets which can be discussed. They should look and smell like what they are. A wine that looks and smells like a terrific Chardonnay, but is really a Riesling, in many tasters opinion, is flawed. It doesn't taste like what it is, regardless of what it tastes like. That's a flaw.
If, on the other hand, it tastes like a great Napa Cabernet, but really comes from Mendocino, who cares? At least it tastes like Cabernet and not Pinot Noir. Great wines should promise something in the smell that can be delivered, in at least a minuscule amount, in the mouth. The flavors should hang in there until the wine is consumed and linger on the palate for at least a few seconds afterward. The best professional tasters can separate themselves from their personal likes and dislikes and determine if a wine smells and tastes like what it is, even if the taster doesn't like it, and evaluate it as such. This is normally quite difficult in that almost I everyone that evaluates wine is personally involved in wine and has some strong biases that are much more difficult to ignore than if they were evaluating something they could care less about. In other words, the intense interest these people have in wine is the same thing that causes them to have a great difficulty evaluating it. And it will probably always be so.
Adventures in Food
Here's a great recipe that breaks a whole bunch of culinary rules. The first rule is using high acid ingredients like lemon or lime when matching a dish with wine. The second rule is losing the character of the wine when you use hot peppers, especially something like habanero! Well, if this isn't the classic recipe meant to break the "rules," I don't know what is.
First of all, many combinations can be used if you follow one, basic tenet. Use the wine you're going to serve with the food in the dish. It's amazing how easy this concept is and how it works. Next, use a challenging wine with persistent flavor to match with spicy ingredients. Voila! Our Pinot Blanc scores again. Don't take my word for it, just try it for yourself.
3 ripe Mangos (yellow skin) peeled and chopped
1 habanero pepper (or two jalapeños), stemmed (use gloves!!!!)
1 shot of dark rum
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. coriander ground seeds
juice of 3 limes
bunch of cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup Dopff & Irion Pinot Blanc
2 chickens, cut into serving pieces
Puree mango, pepper, cilantro, and rum in a blender or processor. In a heavy non reactive pot, combine the puree with the garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, coconut milk, lime juice, wine and cilantro and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until reduced by about half. Let cool and set aside. Marinate chicken in sauce 2-3 hours, but not longer as the lime will begin to cook the meat and make it tough.
Remove chicken from marinade and reserve sauce. Grill chicken on BBQ until still slightly pink inside. If bones are removed, chicken will cook faster. While chicken is grilling, heat sauce to a simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove chicken, place in simmering sauce until cooked through. Serve with Basmati rice, steamed broccoli and Dopff & Irion Pinot Blanc. Serves 6.
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