August 1996 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 245 Rejected: 212 Approved: 33 Selected: 2
A Few Firsts
Featuring either one of these wines with other selections would be very exciting. Featuring them both together is cause for celebration. To find a Pinot Noir, any Pinot Noir from anywhere, that fits into our program with regard to quality and price would have been a real find. To get one from the acknowledged finest growing area for Pinot Noir in California, Carneros, is unbelievable. As a matter of fact, as I sip this Mr. Chips Pinot I am still amazed.
Don't forget to stand it up for a week or two for it to settle out. This wine was made with the same care as the $20 boys. Being unfined and unfiltered causes some suspended particles to appear in the wine. Because they are so fine, they take longer than most to settle. But, it's these particles that add the engaging flavor and mouth feel we love so much.
Our Argentinean import is a rare find. Not only is it the first Torrontes we've ever seen, it's a delicious offering that reminds us of those lovely Muscadets from the Loire. The history and makeup of this large, South American country is almost as intriguing as the wine. We think it'll be one of the most favored imports we've ever offered.
PINOT NOIR, 1993. MR. CHIPS
This month's selection qualifies as a unique story on several levels. The most interesting part is the fact that it's a Pinot Noir from Carneros. In case you haven't noticed, Pinot Noir is becoming one of the most sought-after wines in California with prices to match.
Carneros is a small area at the southern tip of both the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. It actually lies partially in each county. This situation makes it a rather unique viticultural area in that it transcends the boundaries of the counties it crosses. There are Carneros wines in the county of Napa and there are Carneros wines in the County of Sonoma. While there is good-natured rivalry between these two counties as to which is considered the best in the state for wine, Carneros is its own little fiefdom. Its inhabitants put their allegiance to their appellation before the county in which it resides. There is even a Carneros Quality Alliance, to which almost all the growers and wineries are members. Many wineries don't even tell you which county they're in since the most important thing about the wine is that it comes from Carneros, not Napa or Sonoma. I don't think there is another area in California that exists under these circumstances.
And why is it so special? On a map it just straddles the two counties at their southern most tips. But, when you drive through Carneros, you see that it is situated in a valley running almost due east/west from the San Pablo Bay to Yountville in Southern Napa. There are no hills or mountains to obstruct the cool ocean breezes,
which keep this area as much as 20 degrees cooler in the summer than its neighbors just 15 miles to the north.
That's the main reason why it is so perfect for Pinot Noir. This grape has a thin skin that is susceptible to being shattered under intense heat. When allowed to sit on the vine for an extended period, with cooler temperatures, this grape produces one of the most sublime wines on earth. For the longest time, Pinot Noir played second fiddle to Cabernet as the pre¬eminent red grape in California. Wines like these are turning that perception around quickly.
Our selection was crafted by the Selby winery in Healdsburg. It was aged for 14 months in expensive French oak barrels and bottled without being filtered. This technique is very important with Pinot Noir because the delicate flavors can be stripped away with filtration. That is what accounts for the slight haze you'll notice when holding the bottle up to the light. We recommend standing it up for a week or two before opening. It's worth the wait.
This is classic Pinot Noir with all the raspberry jam and cotton candy flavors mixed with smoke and vanilla. An exciting wine to complement roast duck or a rack of lamb seasoned with garlic and mint leaves.
Cellaring Suggestions: Engaging now, but should gain complexity with another 2-3 years aging.
TORRONTES, 1995. SANTA CECILIA
Tor-RON-Tays Santa See-SEELYA
Once again, we almost made the mistake of thinking we had seen, and tasted, it all. Then comes Torrontes. Quite frankly, it is one of the 5,623 grape varieties we hadn't heard of before. The fact that it reaches its pinnacle in Argentina didn't help either. There is also a grape of the same name grown in northwest Spain in an area called the Ribeira del Douro; however no direct lineage between the two has been established. This is the first time we've seen a Torrontes from anywhere. Better late than never.
Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world. Its principal wine-growing area, Mendoza, accounts for 70% of its total production and 50% of the entire produc¬tion of South America. Until now, most of the Argentinean wines imported into the United States were fairly ordi¬nary and very inexpensive. It wasn't because Argentina didn't make any great wines. It's because the Argentineans drank them! Argentina is fourth in per capita wine consump¬tion, almost 10 times more than the United States. It's only been in the last two or three years that we have begun to see some extraordinary examples of fine wines from this country.
While Argentina's wine industry is barely 100 years old, it has taken quantum leaps in terms of quality and quantity. Most of its wine pro¬ducing areas are quite arid, requiring irrigation in almost all of the vineyards. The perfect vineyard sites are protected from the freezing areas in the center of the country by the Andes Mountains. This combi-
nation of weather, protection from frost and perfect soil provide the ideal conditions for growing grapes.
There has been a huge influx of Italians into the country, many of whom were wine producers. This ac¬counts for the Italian names and grape varieties found often on the bottles. It also explains why the ancient methods of wine production, which were per-fected over centuries in Italy, were quickly adapted in Argentina. Argen¬tina has the largest Italian population of any country except Italy. This par¬tially explains the wine interest and certainly the per capita consumption since Italy is number one.
Santa Cecilia is part of the Viñedos Y Bodega La Agricola, a large, 1,000 acre estate owned by the Zuccardi fam¬ily. Their vineyards are located at the foot of the Andes Mountains and a healthy 1500 feet above sea level. The purity of the air is enhanced by the purity of the bountiful water from the Andes. There is probably no other area which can irrigate with water that is as good as rain.
This is an exciting and engaging wine with a mouthful of granite and chalkiness giving way to an exotic kiwi and melon fruit flavor. A gripping wine for matching with challenging foods like smoked salmon stuffed with shallots, arugula and olive oil.
Cellaring Suggestions: It's new to us. Tastes great right now, maybe another year could change its character.
"Paul, recently there was an article about an urn which had contained wine over 7,000 years ago. Can you tell us about the early beginning of winemaking?"
Well, I wasn't around then, but I've read a few things about it. The use of wine is cited several times in the Bible making it one of the most ancient of beverages. It existed in Russia and Mesopotamia at least 7,000 years ago and was probably man's first introduction to alcohol. It endured because it was high enough in alcohol to keep without refrigeration or proper enclosures. Alcohol and sugar are natural preservatives. That's why the first wines were high in alcohol and sweet. They tasted better for a longer period of time.
There are numerous references to wine in the Bible. Noah planted vineyards and "became drunken" according to Genesis IX. Even then, drunkenness was frowned upon. And, of course, there is Jesus' turning of water into wine in the New Testament.
In Western civilization, wine grapes were first cultivated in the Near East around the Mediterranean Basin. The vine and wine culture were first spread by the Greeks into France and Italy (tough news for the French and Italians!). The Greeks called Italy Enotria, "The Land of Staked Vines." Grapes were grown wild in Italy, whereas the Greeks were more scientific. The Italian wine tasted better because the grapes were grown higher off the ground (trained around olive trees), allowing more sunlight to reach them. This ripened the
grapes more than those of other countries thus making them more flavorful. The Greeks took this idea of training the vines off the ground to garner more sunlight (referred to as trellising) along with their own practices regarding irrigation and hillside exposures and planted grapes in the farther reaches of Europe.
While it was the Greeks who really started the ball rolling, it was certainly the Romans who carried it. They planted vines in every country they conquered and probably a few they didn't. As the Roman Empire expanded, wine grapes were established in nearly every part of present-day Europe.
Vineyards in France, Italy and Germany were very extensive by the Middle Ages. The literature of the times clearly shows wine was a staple of life. Coincidentally, wine shares a few properties with two other staples, cheese and bread. All are the result of fermentation of one kind or another.
The grape varieties cultivated in Europe today belong to a special species known as Vitis Vinifera, meaning wine-bearer. It numbers well over 5,000 varieties, but only about 100 to 200 are of importance to commercial wine makers. The vinifera grape varieties have been successfully transplanted to many regions besides Europe: Australia, South America, South Africa, New Zealand, Washington, Oregon, California and several other parts of the United States.
Adventures in Eating
This is a light and easy dish which is low in fat, but high on flavor. It also makes a lovely presentation and can be assembled quickly.
STUFFED CHICKEN BREAST
This recipe is for one. The ingredients are adjusted in direct proportion, double it for two, triple it for three, etc.
Chicken breast, boned and skinned
1/2 oz. slice of fat-reduced cheese like
Alpine Lace Swiss, or Sonoma Jack
One thin slice (1/4 in.) of Japanese
eggplant cut lengthwise
1/2 finely chopped small tomato
Two or three fresh herbs of choice
(Basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary)
1 small clove of garlic, pressed
Salt and pepper.
Rub a drop of olive oil on each side of the eggplant slice and bake at 350° for 10 min.
Sprinkle salt and pepper on cutting board and lightly press chicken breast against mixture.
Spread pressed garlic evenly along breast. Add slice of eggplant. Add herbs and chopped tomato. Add cheese.
Roll up and secure with toothpick. Quickly sauté in cooking spray on medium heat until just barely brown on all sides. Keep turning for even
Poach, half submerged in stock, for ten minutes.
Check doneness. Turn over and poach until barely done. Meat will be firm but with a little spring to it.
Check tip of meat under fold to make sure it is done. If not fully cooked, discard or risk overcooking the rest of it. Slice in half and serve over pasta, rice or (not for the faint of palate) chopped garlic and onion seasoned with black olives.
You can easily use a turkey breast sliced into fillets.
If you have difficulty rolling up the breast, don't. Poach the breast in liquid with the above ingredients on top and the broth barely covering the breast.
Cover so that the cheese will melt and hold the ingredients together. Serve immediately.
It is very important that you not overcook the breast. It will take some practice so check it frequently.
Remember, the breast meat cooks quickly and continues to cook after you take it off the flame. Work on pulling it off the flame when it is not quite done so as it continues to cook it will reach peak doneness and be moist and flavorful. Over done breast meat has no flavor and the consistency of wet pine.
Item: Description Qty. Member
Reorder Prices Total
#896A Pinot Noir, '93. Mr. Chips.
"Smokey, cotton candy and vanilla."
Reg. Price $7.99 20.00% disc. $76.68/case
#896B Torrontes, '95. Santa Cecilia
"Exotic kiwi and melon flavors."
Reg. Price $6.99 28.57% disc. $59.88/case
#796A Jo. Berg., '95. Maddalena
"Peach and nectarine flavors."
Reg. Price $5.99 20.00% disc. $57.48/case
#796B Vaquras., '95.Dom. de la Soul.
"Big, spicy and mineral components."
Reg. Price $8.99 22.22% disc. $83.88/case
#696A Cab. Sauv, '86. Creston
"Smooth, bing cherry and vanilla."
Reg. Price $13.99 50.00% disc. $83.88/case
#696B Bord. B1., '95. Chev. d.Sol
"Green plum and figs."
Reg. Price $6.99 20.00% disc. $67.08/case
#596A Sauv. Bl., '93. Bargetto
"Classy peach and herb flavors."
Reg. Price $6.99 20.00% disc. $67.08/case
#596B Cab. Sauv., '92. Santa Ema
"Cassis and vanilla."
Reg. Price $9.99 37.02% disc. $75.48/case
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