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1996-09 September Classic Newsletter


September 1996 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 236 Rejected: 206 Approved: 3 Selected: 2

Making the Right Connection

Once again, I'd love to take credit for the incredible way in which our two selections are connected. We could discuss how we looked harder than usual to find two wines that had strains of similarity in terms of their history and origins so that we could bring you not just two more outstanding selections, but two more interesting stories as well. I'd love to do that, but only the part about the outstanding selections and interest¬ing story is true. Then again, that's enough isn't it?

I enjoy the story of how Gewurztraminer got its name about as much as any. It's particularly interesting to note that so revered was this grape, that the Italians named a town after it, Termino, also pronounced Trento which is also the name of the en¬tire grape-growing region. Obviously, they thought pretty highly of this spicy traminer. Our selection comes from Santa Cruz, which is pretty far from Termino, but no less exciting and as food-friendly a wine as you'll find.

The Kinderwood Merlot is made near the town of Termino in the Trentino district of Italy. This is not just an inter¬esting set of circumstances, the wine is delicious! Finding a Merlot selection, the hottest grape in America today, from California, or any other state, is an im¬possible task. Fortunately, we can still go to the town the spicy Traminer was named after for a great value.

Domestic Selection

GEWURZTRAMINER, 1995. COASTAL CELLARS
Geh-VERTZ-tra-meener

It's not often we come across a winery we haven't come across before, but it happens. When we come across a win¬ery from one of the tiniest areas in Cali¬fornia making a wine from a grape we almost never see from this region and it tastes this good, we take notice.

Coastal Cellars is a small winery operation in Santa Cruz with an un¬canny ability to source out fine grapes that, surprisingly, some of the big boys haven't yet discovered. After all, we had only seen one other gewurztraminer from a winery in Santa Cruz. And the grapes came from Sonoma!

The Santa Cruz Mountains where so many great wineries are located, turned out to be the perfect source for this wine. In this case, they picked a variety which is not specifically known to the area, yet grows to optimum maturity in certain small microclimates. When we think of Santa Cruz, which we do often, we think of classic Pinot Noirs and Chardormays and occasionally some great Zinfandels. This Gewurztraminer changed our thinking.

Gewurztraminer is one of the most exotic and exciting grapes grown in the world. Its flavors can range from a melon with hints of kiwi to tart apple, steely granite and peaches. Each flavor is held together with a solid core of spice and a floral, often musky aroma. Its his¬tory is about as unique and fascinating as it gets.

Gewurztraminer is a descendent of the Traminer grape, which is a descen¬dent of the Muscat, probably the oldest grape known to man. Muscat was first harvested over 7,000 years ago in Egypt. As the world "grew," it was carried to Italy, where it was so popular that they named a town after it, Termino. As the powers of the world changed, the grape made its journey westward to what was then Germany, now Alsace.

Several enlightened producers no¬ticed that some vines produced a slightly different-colored grape than the others. When they vinified these grapes sepa¬rately, the wine had a pronounced spicy aroma and flavor. The grape was re¬named Gewurztraminer since gewurz means "spicy" in German. Almost all of the vineyards were converted to this spicy clone of Traminer, which is the wine we have today. Another term used broadly when discussing Gewurztraminer is musky. That's be¬cause when the grape is fully ripe, it has a strong scent of musk oil. This scent is exactly the same as the aroma exuded by the female doe when attracting the male deer. It also accounts for the high fences around the Gewurztraminer vines because many of the finest vineyards have been known to be picked clean in a matter of hours by aroused deer.

Ours is a classic rendition. The nose has a pronounced floral and perfume aroma with the typical musk oil scent. The flavor is soft and generous with just a tinge of sweetness. Try with jumbo shrimp marinated in ginger, garlic and a touch of five-spice.

Cellaring Suggestions: Beautifully now. Should hold for another year.

Imported Selection

MERLOT, 1994. KINDERWOOD
MARE-Low

In almost 25 years of selecting wines for the Wine of the Month Club, we probably haven't seen a frenzy created by one wine as much as we've seen with Merlot in the last several years. In the 60's it was Zinfandel. The 70's saw the rise of Cab¬ernet. The 80's belong to White Zinfandel and Chardonnay and the 90's are definitely the age of Merlot. The craze has seen the price of Merlot grapes more than double in the last eight years. The grape cost for a bottle of Merlot was about $1.00 in the late 80's. Today it's almost $2.50!

Fortunately, we've been able to keep the secret from the Italians. Merlot has been growing comfortably in the beautifully picturesque region of Trentino for almost a hundred years. The area runs north and south from Lake Garda to the Dolomite Mountain range. It borders Austria to the East and Swit-zerland to the West. There is more of a connection with Germany and even France in terms of the grape production than Italy. Many of the names, like Kinderwood, are of German descent. The most popular grapes are Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay, all coming from France. The wines, however, have an un-mistakable Italian imprint on them.

In an area dominated by large co¬ops, it was a fortunate break to come across a small, hand-crafted winery making wines at a reasonable price. The fact that the best of the lot was their Merlot, was even more appealing. Wine-maker George Flessati was born in Trentino. The vineyards have been in the family for over 280 years. For most of those years, Kinderwood produced the in¬digenous grapes of the area which were fairly unremarkable. At the beginning of this Century, while Europe was beginning to re-plant because of the plant louse phyloxera, which destroyed all its vineyards, the emphasis shifted from the local variet¬ies to the classic French ones. In the be-ginning, the reason was economic. These grapes were fashionable and sal¬able and the wineries had to make up for the preceding decades of declining production and lost income. To everyone's surprise, these grapes did exceedingly well, although producing different styles than their French coun¬terparts. The softer, easier-drinking Merlots of Trentino were a welcome change from the big, oak-induced wines of Bordeaux. It's been a Cinderella story ever since.

Merlot took center stage in the wine consumer's palate primarily because it matched better with the 90's lighter cooking style. The big Cabernets, which took years to soften, were replaced by the softer Merlots which could be en¬joyed much sooner. Ours is a classic ren¬dition from this area. Soft and velvety, it exerts a generous helping of blueberry flavors on the palate and lingers long enough to notice. Sounds like a great match with a simply grilled T-Bone lightly adorned with shaved mush¬rooms and olive oil.

Cellaring Suggestions: Not built to last, these wines are best within the first three years.

Member Inquiry

"Paul, besides wine, what other products are made from grapes?"
G.M., Redlands

The first one that comes to mind, of course, is vinegar. That's a fascinating topic, which we will discuss in a later edition. One of the most common uses for grapes, and wine for that matter, is the making of brandy. It is very important to under¬stand the various terms in the process of making brandy.

The word "brandy" refers to any beverage that has been distilled from wine grapes. Brandy is basically a French word, but many countries use it as well since it has no official mean¬ing in France.

Cognac and Armagnac are specific areas in which brandy is made to ex¬acting laws. All Cognacs are brandies, but not all brandies are Cognacs. In Italy, the word "distillato" is used, which means just that, the wine was distilled. The important thing to re-member is that a brandy usually starts out as wine and is then distilled. Grappa is distilled from the leftover grape pulp, called "must," after fer¬mentation. It makes a very high alco-hol product that is pretty tough to take.

Other terms in France that refer to the brandy process are Eau de Vie (wa¬ter of life) and Marc. These terms are used when making grappa in Alsace or Burgundy. They refer to distilling the grape must in those French wine-making areas.

In Alsace, one of the most distinc¬tive Mares is made from the Gewurztraminer. The intense per¬fume of the grape (as you'll see in this month's domestic selection) actually comes through in the brandy. In most instances, the character of the grape is com¬pletely lost, except to the most knowledgeable tasters, in the distilling process.

The price of these brandies var¬ies considerably due to the care used in the distillation process, the quality of the material distilled and the num¬ber of times it is distilled. The finest process for distillation calls for using a pot still. This is very expensive be¬cause the still is made of solid copper and takes the longest to distill the grape must or wine. The slower the wine is distilled, the more flavors are extracted. Boiling the grape must is a quick and inexpensive way to make brandy.

In order to distill from a good wine, you would first have to make the wine before you can distill it. Ob¬viously, this takes more time and in¬curs more cost. And finally, each time the brandy is distilled, it becomes smoother. Double and triple distilla¬tion is common with the finer brandys. Just keep in mind that you lose up to 75% of the volume with each distillation. If it is aged in ex¬pensive oak barrels like Cognac, the costs go up even more.

To put it into perspective, if one were to take grape must that wasn't going anywhere anyway, distill it quickly and bottle it, you would have a very inexpensive brandy.

If, however, you took a good wine, distilled it slowly in a pot still three times and aged it in expensive oak barrels for 3-6 years, you would have a fairly expensive product and, hopefully, a good one as well.

Adventures in Eating

This is an extremely elegant company dish which is worth the effort. The recipe is for one. The sauces will serve 6-8 portions.

SALMON WELLINGTON & YELLOW BELL PEPPER SAUCE
INGREDIENTS:
4 oz salmon fillet
1 medium mushroom, sliced
1 Tbsp. grated carrot
1 Tbsp. chopped green onion
1 sprig fresh dill weed
2 Tbsp. Bechamel sauce (see below)
1-9x12 puff pastry sheet cut in half
1 egg, beaten
Salt and white pepper
PREPARATION:
Let pastry sheet thaw until pliable and lay on clean dry surface. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper and place in the center of the upper 1/3 of pastry sheet. Top with carrot, scallion, mush¬room and dill sprig.
Spoon bechamel on top.
Brush edges of sheet with egg and carefully fold bottom of dough around top, covering salmon to form a packet and leaving a smooth top surface. Tuck sides underneath. Trim any excess.
Bake packet at 350° for 20 to 25 min. Check to be sure salmon reaches 140°. Color should be a golden brown and rise slightly. Ladle a thin layer of pepper sauce on plate. Place Wellington on top of sauce. Garnish with parsley or edible flower and serve.
Bechamel sauce:
1 Tbsp. minced shallot
1 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. white pepper
Pinch of salt
Sauté shallot and butter until trans¬parent. Add flour and whisk well. When it bubbles add heavy cream and whisk until smooth and thick. Add nutmeg and pepper.
Simmer until flour it is completely dis¬solved and remove from heat.
Yellow bell pepper sauce:
4 fine quality yellow bell peppers
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. butter
Bake peppers at 450° for 15 minutes or un¬til blackened. Remove, place in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. When cooled, strain liquid and reserve. Run peppers un¬der cold water and scrape skin off with knife. Remove seeds, stem and ribs. Put through food mill to extract pulp, or pro¬cess in food processor until very smooth. Sauté garlic in oil and butter over low heat until slightly colored. Add pulp, cook until slightly simmering. Remove from heat, add vinegar. That's it.

Earlier Selections

Item: Description Qty. Member Reorder Prices Total #996A Gew., '95. Coastal Cellars "Spicy melon and peaches." Reg. Price $6.99 28.57% disc. $59.88/case $4.99/each
#996B Merlot, '94. Kinderwood "Soft blueberry flavors." Reg. Price $7.99 20.00% disc. $76.88/case $6.39/each
#896A Pinot Noir, '93. Mr. Chips. "Smokey, cotton candy and vanilla." Reg. Price $7.99 20.00% disc. $76.68/case $6.39/each
#896B Torrontes, '95. Santa Cecilia "Exotic kiwi and melon flavors." Reg. Price $6.99 28.57% disc. $59.88/case $4.99/each
#796A Jo. Berg., '95. Maddalena "Peach and nectarine flavors." Reg. Price $5.99 20.00% disc. $57.48/case $4.79/each
#796B Vaquras., '95.Dom. de la Sol. "Big, spicy and mineral components." Reg. Price $8.99 22.22% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#696A Cab. Sauv, '86. Creston "Smooth, bing cherry and vanilla." Reg. Price $13.99 50.00% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#696B Bord. Bl., '95. Chev. d.Sol "Green plum and figs." Reg. Price $6.99 20.00% disc. $67.08/case $5.59/each
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