- Q & A
February 1998 NewsletterWines evaluated last month: 212 Rejected: 199 Approved: 13 Selected: 2
Getting the Right Blend
I'd like to think that we planned these two selections in the same month because of their similarities. Each is a combination of different grapes blended together to make a spectacular wine. The fact is, they just happened to come to us at the same time and, boy are we glad they did.
Blending different grapes to achieve balance and complexity, which normally wouldn't be attained by a single varietal, has been done for thousands of years. Most of the greatest wines in the world are blends; Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, Chianti, Rioja, just to name a few. The Cepages a Deux takes the best of both worlds and marries them to produce this terrific offering that is as delicious as it is distinctive.
Every time I think we've covered it all, along comes a Ribolla. Not only has the Wine of the Month Club never featured this wine, in 26 years we've never even tasted one! Although it is blended with Malvasia and Chardonnay, the unique floral scent comes through, just as it should with all great blends. This is one of the best combinations of grape varietals we've tasted.
Domestic SelectionTen years ago, a friend in the wine business told me that he couldn't understand why California kept trying to make Chardonnay and Cabernet when the places where it grows best are so different than what we have to offer. He said we should be growing wines from the Rhone, Provence and Central Italy where the climate and soil is more similar to California. I thought he was crazy. Well, my friend may well be crazy, but he wasn't wrong! Here we are, 10 years later and wines made from the Rhone grapes and the Italian varietals are more popular than their original counterparts in Europe. Syrah and Grenache are as highly thought of in some circles as Pinot Noir and Cabernet. One taste of this little beauty from Sunrise Ridge Vineyards and you'll be a believer too. Sunrise Ridge learned years ago that our warmer, maritime climate is best suited to those luscious grapes grown primarily in the Southern Rhone and Southwest France. They like warmer, drier weather, much like what we have here in California. A few trial runs produced some impressive results. Now they are in full swing, grabbing not just the awards and headlines, but the fancy of full-bodied wine lovers (the wines are full-bodied, not the wine lovers). While the blend fluctuates depending on the vintage, Sunrise Ridge's Cepages a Deux (roughly translates to "two lots of grapes") is normally comprised of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignane and Cinsault. Each has its own attributes that it contributes to the final blend. The Syrah offers power, earthiness and a brooding, blueberry fruit component. The Grenache gives warm fruit and a spicy richness. Mourvedre adds a juicy, grapy component and the traces of Carignane and Cinsault provide color and a little kick to the finish. The blend of these diverse grapes allows the final amalgam to push different flavor impressions forward depending on the food with which it is matched. From light to bold to anything in between, our Cepages a Deux is one of them most versatile wines we've ever featured.
Cepages a Deux, 1996. Sunrise Ridge
Say-pahg ah doo
Wild currant and spice overtones overtake your senses and leave you speechless. The brambleberry and cinnamon, nutmeg components intertwine with the luscious grapy flavors to form a perfect amalgam for our stuffed hens on page. 6.
Great now. Will hold for a year or two. Serve cool.
Imported SelectionIt is interesting to note that while the Friuli region in Italy's Northeast corner (bordering Austria and Slovania), did not begin making wines of note until the kmid-20th Century, one of the principle grapes in our pselection, La Rosada, was first written about in 1289! Ribolla Gialla was one of the treasures of Friuli. The city of Udine demonstrated its respect for this variety by legislating against its adulteration in 1402. By the end of the 18th Century, it was considered the finest white wine of Friuli. The grape lost popularity due to Phyloxera in the mid-19th Century coupled with a new-found fancy for the French grapes, most notably Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. While it accounts for less than 1% of the white grapes planted here, it is gathering support from those who are charmed by its lightness of body combined with a an exotic floral scent and piquant flavors. The other grapes in our La Rosada are Malvasia, for a spicy, perfume component and Chardonnay for body and depth. All in all, it makes for an exciting blend. Much of the land of Friuli-Venezia Giulia is no more than gently undulating hills; it is only at its eastern boundary that a major ridge appears. Wines from the hill ridge are named precisely for where they come from: Collio Goriziano, Colli Orientali del Friuli and Grave del Friuli and Carso. Apart from the more internationally known varieties, grapes that typify the region are the red Refosco and the white Ribolla. La Rosada is made by Feruccio Sgubin and hails from one of the top growing areas in Friuli, Dologna del Collio in the heart of the region. The grapes for our blend are crushed separately since each responds best to slightly different techniques than the other two. While this is an expensive process, the final outcome proves that it is worth it. The crushed musts are then blended and fermented together. In this manner, they retain their individual personality while contributing to the greater whole. That's how the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
La Rosada, 1996. Feruccio Sgubin
Lah Roe-sadda Fare-uchio Skoo bin
Charming floral and herbal scents are just the beginning. The wine starts out simple and grows into a complex, but refined, offering with layers of flavor that envelope and tickle the sense without being obtrusive. Try with seared sea scallops in a saffron and tomato broth.
Quite good now but will easily improve. Serve chilled.
Member Inquiry"Paul, A lot has been written about matching food and wine. Really, just how difficult is it?"
G. M., Torrance, CA
Matching food and wine is (In art, but it is an art that should always be fun. It should never, therefore, be made too complicated. A large part of the secret is to look at the meal as a whole, rather than tackling each dish as a separate entity. Just as each course should balance the one before and the one after, so that one doesn't end up with chicken in everything, so should the wines complement each other as well.
Food and wine have an effect on each other, and that effect should be beneficial. Food will soften the tannin and lower the acidity of wine. Wine will enhance the flavor of food and help both the digestion and the appetite. But, as in all marriages, one partner will dominate. The dominant partner may stimulate the other, but it will still dominate. In wine growing regions this is so well accepted that the traditional food is often simple and intended to show off the wine.
Adhering to this custom is one of the easiest ways of producing a good wine and food marriage. Escargots de Bourgogne, for example, with an Aligote from the same region; gazpacho with a crisp Jerez fino; osso buco with Barolo. All these combinations are tried and tested, and based on irrefutable logic: local flavors lend themselves to local wines. Even the seemingly unlikely marriage of wild boar with white wine is entirely natural if looked at in a regional context. A splendid German Riesling Auslese with local wild boar is a complex and fascinating combination.
Thinking of Riesling with wild boar can help to elucidate the white wine with fish, red wine with red meat rule. The color of the dish overall is perhaps a better guide to the color of the wine: white wine, then, with pale food, red with dark. Light reds are generally a happier match than white with dark fish like shark. The reason could lie in the texture of the food: fish is generally less dense than meat so it needs a less "dense" wine. As it approaches meat in its denseness, the wine changes. However, this should not be overstated: letting the sauce decide the wine is just as important. What this means is simply allowing the flavors of the dish as a whole, not just its staple constituent, decide one's choice. The somewhat neutral flavor of chicken is an obvious example: with delicate, creamy flavors, it will demand a white wine; with assertive, spicy tastes, a red.
Adventures in FoodWho says you can only have white wine with chicken? Phooey! I love red wine and I love chicken so I make sure that the two work together. They marry perfectly because the dark meat of the chicken is dense and flavorful. If you stuff the whole bird with strong flavors, especially those tender little game hens, red wine works incredibly well, especially when you're using the same wine in the sauce. Try this one and see for yourself.
STUFFED CORNISH GAME HENS
3 cornish hens
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
3 slices bacon, fried crispy and crumbled. Reserve bacon fat.
3 slices white bread cut into cubes
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, or provelone
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp. sage
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup Cepages a Deux
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sage
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Wash and pat dry game hens. Saute onion, walnuts and green pepper in bacon drippings. Add crumpled bacon, bread cubes and rest of stuffing ingredients. Stir until blended, remove from heat and let cool enough to handle. Loosely stuff hens and place in roaster pan. Combine sauce ingredients and pour over hens. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes then turn heat down to 300° and bake for one hour; basting at least twice with sauce.
Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Cut in half lenghwise and serve. If you want, you can strain reserved liquid at the bottom of the pan into a fat separator and pour juice over hen. Serves 6. Goes great with the Sunrise Ridge Cepages a Deux.
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