October 1995 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 194 Rejected: 185 Approved: 9 Selected: 2
As we head down the home stretch, it's hard to believe that the year is almost gone. The last couple of months we have boasted about bringing you different and exciting wines. Well, it was bound to happen. This month we give in to conventionality and offer the two most sought-after wines in the country: Chardonnay and Merlot.
Obviously, we don't think this is a bad thing. After all, just because they happen to be popular is no reason to ignore them. The two selections are studies in contrast from the standpoint of size. Our domestic comes from Sylvester, a small winery we featured a few years back with tremendous suc¬cess. They make a big, rich style of wine which is always a favorite here. We particularly liked the new, upgraded label and the fact that it is designated as their reserve bottling, singling out the best barrels from their regular stock to offer to our members.
And speaking of packaging, our import is housed in one of the most dis¬tinctive bottle designs around. Piat has been around for almost 150 years and for the last 20 that we know of, has used the pot-shaped bottle for its wines. The depth and color of this Merlot was enough to offer it right off the bat. The taste was the clincher. This may be the best Merlot we've offered to date. Piat is a huge producer, the exact opposite of Sylvester, but they use their size to their advantage in negotiating for the best grapes and the best prices. We're glad we found them.
CHARDONNAY, 1993. SYLVESTER
Shar-doe-Nay. Sill, Vester
It took over 20 years for us to feature a Chardonnay from the Paso Robles region of California. In the last four years we've featured three of them. Things have certainly changed up there.
Paso Robles is nestled in the Santa Lucia mountain range midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is one of the newest wine regions in California. The gentle and scenic rolling hills and dramatic vistas, coupled with the excellent climate, are perfectly suited for growing certain grape varieties, but not all of them. Paso Robles can get blisteringly hot in the summertime, thus shattering the thin skinned, delicately-structured Chardonnay grape. Those that survived produced too much sugar, which resulted in higher alcohol and an unpleasant bitterness.
When enlightened grape growers, like Walter Dominico of Sylvester Vineyards, take the time to learn better grape growing practices, world class Chardonnays can be produced from these excellent soils. The most important part of a successful vineyard operation is canopy management. In warmer climates, like Paso Robles, the vines are trained so that the leaves cover the grapes, thus filtering the hot sun and allowing the grapes to mature slowly and without the potential for heat damage. In essence this leaf cover forms a canopy, thus the name of the procedure. This is very expensive and labor intensive. But, if producing quality grapes is your goal, then you have no choice. Walter is also
founder and owner of Peacock Cheese, one of the most successful cheese purveyors in California. Those of you who live in Southern California have probably seen their colorful trucks with the brightly displayed peacock on the side. His love of and interest in wine is what spurs him on to make better and better wines at more affordable prices. He runs his cheese business the same way. We wish there were more people like Walter. Everything would run better, taste better and cost less.
Sylvester's 240 acres in the sprawling and scenic Paso Robles area produce enough grapes for nearly 40,000 cases of wine. Sylvester only-makes a few thousand and sells the remaining grapes to their neighbor, Castoro, where winemaker Tom Meyer has been producing outstanding wines for over 10 years.
This is the classic Chardonnay style that is probably the most sought after in the world. Big, rich and buttery, it displays a massive wall of pineapple flavors, spicy, tropical fruit components and a healthy blast of vanilla. All this substance is fortunately held in check by the superb acid, creating a finish that leaves you hungering for more. A perfect foil for authoritative dishes like this month's recipe, Orange Scented Stuffed Cornish Game Hens.
Cellaring Suggestions: Perfect now but will improve with another year or two in the bottle.
PIAT, 1994. MERLOT
Piat Pere & Fils is one of the oldest and most venerable wine companies in France. Founded in 1879 in the Burgundy region of France, Piat's wines are distinctive from the packaging on up. Their unique "pot" shaped bottle is what houses each of their offerings. Since 1849, Piat has enjoyed tremendous success by producing beautifully crafted, exciting wines from Burgundy and especially Beaujolais. In 1979, as the demand was reaching its peak for reasonably-priced French wines, Piat launched its Le Mat d'Or program. They went to the Languedoc region in Southern France in search of well-balanced and affordable wines that were designated by the varietal in the bottle, not the area it came from.
Unlike most of the wines from this area, the Piat wines are made 100% from the grape varietal stated on the label. To ensure top quality, Piat has made the individual growers they work with a "supplier partner", giving each grower a stake and a return based on the success of the wines. Obviously, that success will be directly attributable to the quality of the wines, so it stands to reason that the suppliers will make sure that they deliver healthy and mature grapes with both balance and harmony of flavors evident.
Merlot is now the most popular grape in the U.S. For this reason, prices for domestic Merlots have sky¬rocketed. The Wine of the Month Club is fortunate to have been able to bring you several outstanding imported Merlots at prices that were just not possible from California.
The reasons are simple. Merlot is not as popular elsewhere as it is here, although we feel that this condition will change. Merlot offers a softer, friendlier alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon as well as more fruit. This is especially true when comparing the younger versions. In the past, this grape was grown almost exclusively in Bordeaux where it is the principal grape in this best-known French wine. As the demand increases, other suitable areas are being cultivated for this grape. Besides the softness of flavor, its other advantages are ease of growing and turning into fine wine. For this reason it has become an instant cash crop to many vintners around the world. While some have sacrificed quality in pursuit of quantity, Piat has presented us with one of the best Merlots we've tasted this year.
This is an extremely engaging, beautifully endowed and flavorful wine. The first impression overtakes the senses with a basketfull of blackberry and raspberry fruit. The color is deep and concentrated giving way to magenta hues at the edge. A wonderfully spicy nose hints at the spice and black fruit to come along with just a touch of violets. Long and complex flavors finish with a flourish. Would be a real stunner with a veal roast seasoned with rosemary and served with new potatoes and asparagus.
Cellaring Suggestions: Drinking extremely well now. Should hold for another year or two.
"Paul, I've heard that sulfites are added to wines as a preservative and eventually dissipate with time. Does that mean that the wine then goes bad?"
R. T. San Anselmo
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) or a derivative (sulfite agents, potassium metabisulphide, etc.) is a wonder additive used in the vineyard as well as the winery. As an anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent, SO2 helps to keep fungus from attacking grapes before the harvest during periods of high humidity. It quickly and inexpensively sterilizes bottles, barrels and other tools used in the winery. It can delay grape fermentation when there is a risk of it starting spontaneously due to a long trip to the winery.
Sulfur has been used for thousands of years in the making of wine. How, or exactly when, it was discovered, no one knows for sure, but we do know that it has been instrumental in the preservation of wine for quite some time. Another anti-oxidant and anti-bacteria agent is citric acid. However, citric acid isn't as strong, as cheap or as effective as SO2.
SO2 smells like the striking of a match, indeed sulfur is what is used at the tip. In the natural occurring process of fermentation, mother nature will produce between 30 and 50 parts per million of "free" sulfur in the wine. When used to prevent browning, primarily in white wines, it can leave a residual smell which is unpleasant to many and intolerable to a few.
Most white wines will have SO2 added, bringing the total level to between 60 and 100 parts per million of sulfur.
It is true that SO2, because it is a gas, will dissipate over time. Even if none is added, the naturally occurring SO2 in the wine will also dissipate. This does not necessarily mean that the wine will go bad, since if it has been properly stored with a sound cork, no bacteria can get to it. Sulfur is added to preserve the wine from the time it is made until it goes into the bottle. Afterwards, only the quality of the grapes and winemaking will determine how long it will last.
Beginning in 1987 all wines with more than 10 parts per million of sulfur had to contain a statement, saying "Contains Sulfites". For a wine to not carry the "Contains Sulfites" statement, it must be manipulated far more than other wines. Wines with 10 parts per million of SO2 typically do not age as well as those with the higher levels. That level isn't high enough to kill every bacteria that may be in the wine at bottling. The fact that Mother Nature produces a higher level naturally than the government wants should tell you something about how much she thinks is necessary. And, of course, we all know the saying about not wanting to fool Mother Nature.
As an example, an egg yoke has __ parts per million. I guess, according". to the government law, two egg yolks would have to carry a warning label.
Adventures in Eating
I used to stay clear of any savory dishes with fruit in them. I figured that fruit was for dessert and meat was for main course and never the twain shall meet. Okay, I changed my mind...a little. I still don't like sweet stuff with my main course, but the acidity of certain fruits, like oranges, really "wakes up" the senses and brings out the flavor of the meat. In this case, those tender, juicy Cornish game hens really sing, so to speak. Get fresh ones when available.
ORANGE SCENTED STUFFED
CORNISH GAME HENS
4 cornish game hens
1/4 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper
Wild Rice Dressing:
1 cup wild rice
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
6 green onions, chopped
1 cup celery
1 cup toasted almonds, chopped
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ginger
Zest from one orange
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup chicken broth
Place the wild rice in enough water to cover. Soak for 1 hour.
Drain rice and spread on paper towel to dry.
Season inside of each hen with the wine, salt, and pepper.
Saute rice, celery and mushrooms in 1/4 cup butter. Add 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and 1 teaspoon salt. Simmer, tightly covered for 25 minutes.
Add green onions, almonds, marjoram, half the zest and nutmeg. Fill hens with dressing.
Brush hens with 1/4 cup melted butter. Place breast side up in shallow pan and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
Combine ginger, cornstarch and 1/2 cup chicken broth. Add orange juice and zest and spoon over hens.
Bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees, basting occasionally.
Serve with Sylvester Chardonnay.
Item: Description Qty. Member
Reorder Prices Total
#1095A Chardonnay, '93. Sylvester
"Tropical fruit and vanilla flavors."
Reg. Price $6.99 20.00% disc. $67.08/case
#1095B Merlot, '94. Piat
"Blackberry and spice."
Reg. Price $7.99 20.02% disc. $76.68/case
#995A Cab. Sauv. '86. Dom. Michel
"Dense, chocolate and tobacco."
Reg. Price $10.99 36.76% disc. $83.40/case
#995B Angelico, '94. Calvet
"Bright melon and nectarines."
Reg. Price $8.99 36.71% disc $68.28/case
#895A Chenin Blanc, '93. DeMoor
"Flowery, melon flavors."
Reg. Price $7.49 20.02% disc. $71.68/case
#895B Merlot, '94. Undurraga
"Cherry and plum flavors."
Reg. Price $7.49 20.02% disc. $71.68/case
#795A Bono--Sirah, '92. Parducci
"Black berry and earth tones"
Reg. Price $8.29 20.02% disc. $79.56/case
#795B Chardonnay, '94. Carmen
"Lot's of tropical fruit. Good oak"
Reg. Price $6.69 25.41% disc. $59.88/case
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(Bottles) 1-2: $3.75; 3-4: $4.65; 5-6: $7.65;
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