- Q & A
April 1996 NewsletterWines evaluated last month: 212 Rejected: 186 Approved: 26 Selected: 2
CALL ME A CAB
This month begins a three-month string of exciting Cabernet Sauvignon selections. Two hail from California, as does our current selection, and next month's is a Chilean gem. The Ivan Tamas wine was as much fun to buy as it is to drink. We rarely decide on a wine at first tasting. Usually, a little adjust¬ment is needed in order for it to fit into our program. But in this case, one sip was all it took.
It was also a special treat to do busi-ness with a couple of old friends. I've known Steve Mirassou for over 20 years, since his days with his family winery, Mirassou Vineyards. I met Ivan 14 years ago when he was selling wines in Wisconsin. The wine business is a small business indeed. You never know who's going to pop up out of the past. Situations like this make it more fun than doing anything else I can think of.
In no way does the praise of our Cabernet mean to slight our import beauty. While 1989 wasn't stellar in Northern California, except for San Luis Obispo, it was positively mind-boggling in most of France, especially in the Loire. It was another "gotta have" wine when we first found out it was available. I re¬member tasting it on release and won¬dering how it would taste with some age. We weren't disappointed. It's just as in¬credible as we anticipated, maybe even more so.
This Vouvray will change the way you think about how white wines age, and is sure to change your perception of the Chenin Blanc grape.
Domestic SelectionCABERNET SAUV. RESERVE, 1989. IVAN TAMAS
The press kit for the Ivan Tamas Winery boldly states that the two principals, Ivan Fuezy and Steve Mirassou, have over 500 years of family-winemaking history be¬tween them. That's a pretty heady num¬ber when you think that Steve Mirassou's family started a little over 100 years ago. Ivan's family history in wine goes back to the early 1600's. Un-fortunately, his wine history hails from Eastern Europe where few records were kept and 70 years of Communist rule hid most of that history, and the wines, from the outside world.
If there was ever a classic "Mutt and Jeff" combination, this has to be it. Ivan's fireplug frame matches his spit¬fire personality and unbridled exuber¬ance for his products. Steve's tennis-champ build and Hollywood-type good looks may throw you off the mark when you first meet, but it becomes quite ob-vious in a short period of time why these two guys have been in business together for over 10 years. Their unyielding com¬mitment to put exceptional wines in the bottle at user-friendly prices dissolves any pre-conceived notions you may have about these two seeming mis-matches at first glance. I can't think of any two partners in the wine business who are as together on that point as Ivan and Steve.
This selection is a tremendous find at several levels. First of all, here is an age-worthy wine with some age on it. The Reserve bottlings of Ivan Tamas wines are some of the best kept secrets in the business. Unfortunately, 1989 was a spotty year in Napa and Sonoma. But, these grapes came from San Luis Obispo County, an area which enjoyed one of the finest vintages in its history. While Cabernet Sauvignon has only been grown in San Luis Obispo for less than 25 years, it con¬tinues to amaze even the most ardent Napaphiles with its heady structure, bright fruit and length of flavor. Napa and Sonoma hold a definite lead in the race for the top Cabernet area award. We are quite certain that wines such as this will start turning heads in a very short period of time.
This is classic San Luis Obispo Cabernet. The color is a deep, concentrated purple with magenta hues along the edge. The nose is reminiscent of blueberries and chocolate with a touch of marzipan. The flavors mirror the nose on the palate adding a hint of black cherry fruit and a tannic edge for a walloping finish. This is definitely big-league Cabernet at a pony league price. We bought all there was, which is a little more than covering our membership. I suggest you order extras soon as this will be another guaranteed sell-out. Match with turkey thighs marinated in tomato juice and pepper vodka and seasoned with fresh thyme and garlic. Cellaring Suggestions: A pure joy in the glass. Will soften and complex with another several more years in the bottle.Cellaring Suggestions: A pure joy in the glass. Will soften and complex with another several more years in the bottle.
Imported SelectionVOUVRAY, 1989. CH. MONCONTOUR
Voo-VRAY Sha-TOW Mone-cone-TURE
The history of Vouvray in France's lovely Loire district, is as colorful and charming as its wines. The area's first vineyards were planted by Saint Martin in the 4th cen¬tury. At that time he was the abbot of Marmoutier and was to become a potent force in the area's wines.
The church owned the property for nearly 500 years, only to lose it for an¬other 500 years during the Dark Ages. By then, however, they had sown the right seeds (so to speak) for its future by propagating the Pineau de la Loire grape, also known as Chenin Blanc. Vou¬vray returned to the hands of the monks in the 14th century where it remained until the French Revolution in 1789.
It is interesting to note that, while the wine had a small local following, it was virtually unknown outside the area. This was because it was the general prac¬tice to ship almost the entire vintage in bulk to Spain where it was sweetened and bottled. Until a law was enacted in 1936, strictly governing what could le¬gally be labeled as Vouvray, ordinary wine was passed off to unsuspecting tourists as the real thing.
Unfortunately, California has given Chenin Blanc a bad name as an inexpen¬sive, characterless white wine without even a single thread of similarity to its regal counterpart. Fortunately for us, we can now enjoy the real thing. The rocky soils and presence of shale and limestone are what give Vouvray its nerve and character. The grape is typi¬cally harvested around the 15th of October, a full month later than the Cabernet and Merlot of Bordeaux! It is the long growing season, along with the soil, which accounts for the wine's complex flavors and incredible longevity. From an average year, Vou¬vray will reach its peak in 5-8 years. In a great year, it is not uncommon for these wines to be exploding with flavor 50 years later!
Chateau Moncontour is one of the oldest and grandest of the domains in the Loire. Its 160 acres surrounding the 15th century castle were planted nearly 1000 years ago. In 1961, the entire estate was purchased by the Foltz Company, which added Moncontour to its formi¬dable holdings in Touraine.
We were ecstatic to be able to offer this beauty. If you've never experienced Vouvray with a little age on it, this will be a special treat. First of all, 1989 was one of the greatest vintages in this cen¬tury. The grapes were harvested even later than the October 15 norm. As with most Vouvrays, there is a hint of sweet¬ness that is almost completely masked by the tremendous acidity. The flavors of pineapple and guava descend on the palate depositing generous fruit compo¬nents, which are perfectly balanced with the tingly acidity. This combination al¬lows the wine to finish fresh and clean, providing a perfect accompaniment to Tortilla soup recipe on page 6.Cellaring Suggestions: Incredible now, but will continue to improve for another 5-10 years.
Member Inquiry"Paul, You have mentioned a grape being grown in perfect climate. What are the basic characteristics of ' an area for it to be good for grape-growing?"
T.R, Torrance, CA
Vines, to survive, cannot tolerate ei-ther excessive heat or cold. For this rea¬son grape growing exists only in a very narrow range of latitudes worldwide, and then only in areas where soils are suitable.
The search for suitable climates in California was simplified in the 1960's when professors at UC Davis devised a system for measuring the overall climate of a vineyard during the growing sea¬son. It is called the "Zone" system.
The minimum average temperature during the growing season when vines can be cultivated is 50 degrees Fahren¬heit. This is the base temperature from which the zone is figured. For each de¬gree that the average temperature is above 50 degrees in a day, one degree day is added to that vineyard's zone. As an example, if the high temperature on a certain day is 70°F. and the low is 50°F., then the average temperature on that day is 60°F. Since the base is 50°F., the heat summation in excess of 50°F is 10°F. and is expressed as "10 degree days." The total number of degree days experi¬enced in a particular location through¬out the entire growing season, roughly March thru October or about 200 days, denotes the Zone (sometimes called Re¬gion) in which that location falls.
To calculate degree days, you take the AVERAGE of the DIFFERENCE between 50°F and the average tem¬perature for that day. For example, a particular vineyard's 200 day growing season has an average daily temperature of 70°F. That average is 20°F over the base mini¬mum of 50°F per day. The impor¬tant number in the zone system is the AVERAGE temperature. If the high is 80°F and the low is 40°F, the av¬erage is 60°F. The difference between this average and the base (50°F) is 10°F and is calculated as 10 degree days. The average temperatures change as the sea¬son gets warmer. On a day that the high temperature reached 90°F and the low 60°F the average would be computed as 75°F (the average between 60° and 90°). The difference between 50°F (the base number) and 75°F is 25°F, so we add 25 degree days to the total. At the end of the growing season we add up all the numbers for each day and calculate its zone.
ZONE I 2,500 degree days or less
ZONE II 2,501 - 3,000 degree days
ZONE III 3,001 - 3,500 degree days
ZONE IV 3,501 - 4,000 degree days
ZONE V 4,001 degree days or more
If the average temperature of a vine¬yard for the entire season is 62°F, the difference between that average and our base of 50°F is 12. Multiply that by 200 days and you have 2,400 degree days or a Zone I. If the average is 68°F the dif¬ference between that and the 50°F base is 18°. Multiply 18 by 200 days and you have 3,600 degree days or a Zone IV. As you can see, it doesn't take much change to have a dramatic impact on the Zone.
This system only takes into consideration the overall summation of heat. It doesn't make allowances if a high temperature of 100 degrees was reached for 5 minutes or 5 hours. The vines, however, can sure tell the difference!
Adventures in EatingIt's In the Stock
It's a well-known truism in cooking that too often the simplest dishes are the best. So true with this one. As a first course, it fills all the requirements for today's needs; it is light, healthy, tasty, wine friendly and, with a few changes, can be converted into a quick, deli¬cious main course.
As usual, the most important ingredient here is the chicken broth. It should be homemade, defatted, unsalted broth, not the canned, salty stuff made from water and bouillon cubes. Sorry to sound so pedantic, but when over 75% of the volume of a dish is one ingredient, it makes sense that it should be of the high¬est quality or the dish will suffer as a result. Don't you agree?Tortilla Soup
Thick tortilla chips
1 onion, finely diced
1 Jalapeno or serrano pepper, seeded and finely diced.
Juice of 1 lime
2-3 fresh tomatoes, diced
3 1/2 to 5 cups chicken broth
1 Tablespoon minced cilantro
1/2 clove garlic, pressed
1/8 teaspoon oregano
Cooked diced chicken breast (optional)
Salt to taste
Louisiana Red Hot sauce, to taste
Grated Monterey Jack cheese
3 or 4 green onions, chopped
Lightly sauté onion, pepper and gar¬lic in olive oil.
Add broth, tomatoes, lime, cilantro and oregano (optional: add cooked, diced chicken breast).
Add seasonings to taste. Simmer 3 to 5 minutes.
Place tortilla chips in individual serv¬ing bowls and pour prepared soup over tortilla chips.
Top with grated cheese and green on¬ions. Serves 4.
Earlier SelectionsItem: Description Qty. Member Reorder Prices Total #496A Cab. Sauv, '89. I. Tamas "Black cherry, cassis and spice." Reg. Price $10.99 40.94% disc. $77.88/case $6.49/each
#496B Vouvray, '89. Ch. Moncontr. "Ripe pineapple and guava." Reg. Price $8.99 22.24% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#396A Chard., '94. Dr. John "Rich, pineapple and vanilla." Reg. Price $8.29 20.00% disc. $79.56/case $6.63/each
#396B Merlot, '94 Com. SaraLena "Blueberry and spice." Reg. Price $6.69 25.41% disc. $59.88/case $4.99/each
#296A Claret, '89. Gust.Niebaum "Cherry, cassis and vanilla flavors." Reg. Price $11.99 41.70% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#296B Sauv. Blanc, '95. Bay View "Flinty with pear and grapefruit." Reg. Price $5.99 20.00% disc. $57.48/case $4.79/each
#196A Fumé/Chard., '94. Hedges "Fesh fruit and herbal flavors." Reg. Price $6.69 20.00% disc. $64.20/case $5.35/each
#196B Chi. Clas., '93. Cas. di Fab. "Black Cherry and earth tones." Reg. Price $8.29 20.00% disc. $79.56/case $6.63/each
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