February 1996 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 198 Rejected: 171 Approved: 27 Selected: 2
It seems as though I've been trying to fit the Gustav Niebaum Claret into our program for as long as Francis Ford Coppola has been making movies-over 30 years! I know it's only been a year since we first tasted it, but the wine is so impressive and gets better every time we try it, that I haven't stopped thinking about it since. While the his¬tory of this impressive property and how it finally was reunited to its origi¬nal boundaries is a tale as fascinating as one of Mr. Coppola's movies, we must still get our heads out of the stars and realize that we have to turn our sights, not to mention our palates, on what's in the bottle.
Regardless of the history, the owner, or all the glitz that Hollywood can muster, this is truly a magnificent find, one which I'm sure you'll find as amazing as I do. If the label design looks a little dated to you, you're very perceptive. It is the original design that
the founder of the winery used in 1879.
We certainly couldn't get any further from Napa, or Hollywood, for our im¬port selection. South Africa is not only the furthest continent from here, it's in a different hemisphere as well. The sea¬sons are reversed from ours. When we're just waking up from our Winter hibernation in March, the South Africans are beginning their Autumn grape crush at the end of a long summer. So, while most of our '95 vintage wines are yet to be bottled, theirs have almost a year of age on them. This is a terrific value and is sure to be a WOMC favorite for as long as it lasts.
CLARET, 1989. GUSTAVE NIEBAUM
CLAIRETTE GOOSE-Sthav NEE Baoume
A lot of people in the wine business think they're stars. Many are, but their star status is limited to the small arena of wine aficionados. Our selection hails from a star in one of the broadest arenas around, the entertainment world. The name on the label says Gustav Niebaum, but the owner is Francis Ford Coppola.
Many of you probably know that Mr. Coppola, one of the greatest film¬makers of this century (with such titles as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and Bram Stroker's Dracula to his credit) purchased one of the most famous vineyards in Napa Valley in 1975. These vineyards were originally planted by a Finnish immigrant named Gustav Niebaum in 1879, and were part of the Inglenook Winery property. Coppola wanted to pur¬chase the entire estate, but could only get part of it at the time. He named his winery Niebaum-Coppola and be¬gan crafting one of the finest of California's Bordeaux-styled wines, Rubicon, in 1978.
"It has always been my dream for many years to reunite all the pieces of that property called Inglenook," says the filmmaker. In 1995, he realized his dream and purchased the remaining 70 acres, thus rejoining one of the most historic vineyard sites in California.
Coppola doesn't see this as just a spectacular winery operation. He is bringing back a heritage of winemak¬ing similar to the heritage he has created in film. The property is un¬dergoing a renovation of epic proportions which is planned
for completion by this summer. When finished, visitors to the winery will see documents from Inglenook's early beginnings and memorabilia from The Godfather, Tucker, Apocalypse Now and Bram Stroker's Dracula. Five of Mr. Coppola's Oscars and numerous movie stills will also be on view. This acquisition was made pos¬sible by the tremendous success he en¬joyed with Dracula. The profits from the movie basically helped finance the pur¬chase. "We love him," Coppola readily admits of the Count, whose portrait hangs at the entrance hall of the house.
Napa has long been thought of as the greatest area for Cabernet Sauvignon in America and one of the finest on Earth. The addition of Cabernet Franc... and Merlot in Napa have broadened Cabernet's flavor profile, added dimen¬sion and softened it for earlier consump¬tion.
The color is a dark maroon with an almost opaque center. The aromas of cherries and smoky vanilla components are becoming apparent and caress the senses like a velvet glove. On the palate it is rich and flavorful, showing all the ingredients promised in the nose. The long, elegant and spicy finish would shine when matched with a flank steak marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sake, then roasted slowly over mesquite sprinkled with pecan shells.
Cellaring Suggestions: Beautiful now. Will improve over the next 2-3 years.
SAUVIGNON BLANC, 1995. BAY VIEW
While South Africa's history goes back much further than America's (one of it's top vine¬yards was planted in 1684) it started pro-ducing fine wines at about the same time, the mid 1970s. All of South Africa's wineries are centered around the south¬ern tip of the continent at the Cape of Good Hope. Its natural climate and soil is perfectly suited to grow exceptional grapes. These ideal circumstances in¬clude an unheard of eight-month grow¬ing cycle. Its vines are virtually disease free and its soil so fertile that the wine-makers use 1 /10th the amount of fertil-izers-of Europe. Add to this the fact there is never the threat of hail during the critical spring flowering season, no incidence of frost in the early stages of flower development or rain during the harvest, and you have the most ideal grape growing area on Earth.
Of course, as is usually the case, when Mother Nature cooperates, Man finds a way to mess it up. Because of the political climate, obviously much more unstable than the viticultural one, South African wines were shut out of most of the wine drinking world until recently. This stunted their growth, not to mention the winemakers' ability to both compete with and learn from the international wine arena.
Fortunately, things have dramatically changed for both the South African winemakers and the rest of us who can now enjoy these superb wines. While the prime grape growing regions are unknown to most of us, they will soon elicit the same reverence that heretofore have been reserved for such respected areas as Napa,
Bordeaux and Tuscany. Our selection comes from Stellenbosch, the center of estate winemaking in South Africa and the undisputed king of fine wine producing areas. The gentle sloping hills with soils of shale, chalk and granite are very similar to the fine wine producing areas in Alsace and the Loire. This is why the same grapes of those areas do so well here, namely Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.
It was over 20 years ago that the Wine of the Month Club first featured a wine from South Africa. It came from a government run coop, as did 80% of all the wines then. Today that same coop controls less than 20% of the output. Like California, most of the fine wines are produced by small, hand-crafted concerns like Bay View. Bay View is the name used by the Longridge Winery of Stellenbosch to signify the best sites of their vineyards. The vineyards all face the Cape, which keeps the temperatures consistent throughout the long growing season, ensuring ripe and flavorful wines with naturally good acidity and generally lower alcohols.
This offering is a shudderingly good, clean and flinty gem with elements of gooseberry, pear and grapefruit. The finish is extraordinarly crisp and lingers long after the initial sensation. Try with cod cakes on page 6.
Cellaring Suggestions: Super now, but could show a bit more complexity in a year or two.
"Paul, I was recently told that you should store red wines standing up and white wines laying down in a cellar unless you're going to drink them within a few weeks or a month of purchase."
J.C., Pasadena, CA
When possible, especially over long periods of time, say a year or more, you should store wines on their side. Storing a wine standing up, red or white, runs the risk of drying out the cork and ruining the wine. It's fine for a few days or a week, but any longer than that, especially in warm weather, could create a problem.
Wines are hardier than most people give them credit for. While a temperature-controlled cellar is the best way to store wines for extended periods of time, most of us drink our wines within a few months (some within a few hours) of purchase. A young Cabernet, or other full or medium-bodied wine (red or white), can withstand fairly brutal punishment in a few months' time and come out relatively unscathed.
As wines age, however, they become more fragile. A big, young Bordeaux, for example, would probably suffer no damage if it were stored in a garage for a year as opposed to a temperature controlled cellar. A 25-year-old Bordeaux would suffer considerably.
There are three important factors to consider in wine storage: temperature fluctuation, light and movement. It is more important to keep the temperature constant than it is to have it varying, even over
a month's time. Perfect cellar temperature is considered to be 55 degrees. However, you're better off storing it at a consistent 65 degrees than to vary the temperature between 55 and 65.
When the wine is at a constant temperature it becomes relaxed and settles into that posture. If it is cooled down, it contracts and allows air to take up the space where the wine was. If it is warmed up, it expands and allows the wine to escape and replace the air. This continual expansion/ contraction of the wine allows air to come in contact with the wine more often, thus speeding up the aging process.
Light's ultraviolet rays will cause a chemical change in the wine, spoiling it in a very short period of time. That's why wines meant for long aging are bottled in dark glass or a leaf green that helps filter out ultraviolet light.
Air pockets will form if a wine is transported or moved about often. This can have the same effect as letting more air into the bottle through expansion/contraction. This is why cellars are normally cool, dark and motionless. Humidity is a factor, but not as important a one. Within most areas of the world no humidity control is necessary. Ranges from 50% to 80% are acceptable. Too dry and the cork will dry out from the outside in and allow air inside. Too damp and it's liable to slide right out of the bottle. As with temperature though, consistency is also the key.
Adventures in Eating
This dish is similar to creations in both Italian and Spanish cuisines. Mine is a combination of the two. Most Of you will read the first line and say "forget it!" But believe me, once you taste this dish, you will look forward to making it over and over again.
The most important part of the dish is how you deal with the salted cod. This recipe has worked best for me as codfish cakes although, instead of making into cakes, you could sauté ingredients and then add a can of tomatoes and an equal amount of chicken stock and turn it into a stew. Season to taste and serve. I wouldn't cook the codfish too long as it can get a little tough.
COD CAKES OR COD
1.25 to 1.5 lb piece of salted cod fish.
1/2 small green pepper coarsely chopped
1 small onion coarsely chopped
6 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbls. capers
1 medium red potato. Peeled, steamed and cubed 1/4" square
1/3 cup toasted breadcrumbs
1 handful of parsley, finely chopped
Olive oil, salt, pepper.
If making stew add:
1-28 oz. can of peeled, chopped
2-cups of homemade, de-fatted, low salt chicken stock
Place cod fish in cold water. Change water twice a day for two days. Can be done at room temperature or in refrigerator. On the third day, remove from water and pick through with fork to remove any bones.
Place salted cod in simmering water for 5 minutes, drain. Shred cod in bowl, chopping large pieces.
Sauté onion and pepper for about 3 min. in olive oil until slightly soft. Add garlic and potatoes. Sauté for about a minute more. Add rest of ingredients (except tomatoes and stock), parsley last and combine until all ingredients are mixed well. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
If making cakes, scoop up a ball of mixture about 1 1/2" in diameter. Press between to sheets of wax paper to form a 2" cake or flatten by hand, smoothing out edges for evenness. Fry in olive oil for about one minute on each side or until brown and serve with garlic mayonnaise, red pepper sauce or just lemon juice.
If making stew, add tomatoes and stock, heat until just simmering and serve with crusty French bread.
Other flavorings could be vinegar, lime juice, green olives, or thinly sliced ham.
Item: Description Qty. Member
Reorder Prices Total
#296A Claret, '89. Gust.Niebaum
"Cherry, cassis and vanilla flavors."
Reg. Price $11.99 41.70% disc. $83.88/case
#296B Sauv. Blanc, '95. Bay View
"Flinty with pear and grapefruit."
Reg. Price $5.99 20.00% disc. $57.48/case
#196A Fumé/Chard., '94. Hedges
"Fesh fruit and herbal flavors."
Reg. Price $6.69 20.00% disc. $64.20/case
#196B Chi. Clas., '93. Cas. di Fab.
"Black Cherry and earth tones."
Reg. Price $8.29 20.00% disc. $79.56/case
#1295A La Pilla, NV. Ramano
"Creamy, smooth black cherry"
Reg. Price $8.99 33.37% disc. $71.88/case
#1295B Brut, NV. Jaume Serra
"Citrus and melon"
Reg. Price $9.99 30.00% disc. $83.88/case
#1195A Cab. Sauv, '83.Smith & Hook
"Licorice and cherry."
Reg. Price $15.00 56.33% disc. $78.60/ case
#1195B Anjou, '93. Ch. d Montget
"Pineapple, kiwi and guava nuance."
Reg. Price $6.79 20.02% disc. $65.16/case
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