August 1995 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 189 Rejected: 166 Approved: 21 Selected: 2
If I have to pick one thing that makes wine so interesting, I'd have to say it's the people. Sometimes, just knowing the people involved or the his¬tory makes the wine more enjoyable. "But, Paul," you moan, "all those great (and not so great) wines you get to taste." True enough. But, consider that wine is a convivial catalyst that brings people together with a common bond, and a pleasurable one at that.
And that's what brings me to our two selections. The people associated with our two selections are as interest¬ing as their wine. DeMoor's winemaker, Michael Cox, is a refreshing change from the "my Chardonnay can beat your Chardonnay" banter which sometimes pervades the conversation. We just loved his concern for the consumer and his down-to-Earth approach regarding cost and value. It's nice to know that some of these guys actually think about us once in a while.
Unfortunately, we never had the opportunity to meet Undurraga's founder, Don Francisco Ramon Undurraga Vicuña, but his story is so fascinating and his history so exciting that we have to be mindful of his place in Chilean history when we taste the wine. Having a hand in the liberation of your country has to be a family's greatest legacy. As if that wasn't enough, one of the officers who lead the revolution is one of your direct descen¬dants! You have to appreciate this wine more than most!
CHENIN BLANC, 1993. DEMOOR
Shen-in Blonk. Deh-Moore
What drives me crazy about the California wine industry, is what I call a "me too" mentality. I am referring to wineries who want to make a carbon copy of a wine which is already being produced so they can charge a lot of money for it. These win¬eries plant Chardonnay and Cabernet in areas better suited to other variet¬ies. They plant what's popular instead of what would make the best wine on a particular site. European wineries have learned from 300 years of expe¬rience which grapes produce the best wines in a specific vineyard location. Okay, I'll get off the soap box now.
DeMoor is a refreshing change. Maybe it's because it is owned by a European family. Maybe it's because their winemaker grew up in Napa and Sonoma counties and has an under-standing of those vineyards. What¬ever the reason, this winery has always had a soft spot in my heart because every year they fight an uphill battle of trying to sell Chenin Blanc to a Char¬donnay world ... a Chenin that is far superior to 90% of the "me too" Chardonnays out there.
Chenin Blanc is capable of produc¬ing one of the most exciting and long-lived white wines on Earth. It is not uncommon to find a 25-30 year old Vouvray (100% Chenin from the Loire) still gowing strong. Very few produc¬ers take this wonderful grape seri¬ously. Most allow it to overproduce and use it in jug wines. Fortunately, DeMoor brings this maligned grape to its pinnacle in California. Careful vineyard selection, low yields and over 10 years of experi-
ence is what makes their Chenin Blanc one of the top in the state.
Winemaker, Michael Cox, is a wine country native who started in the wine business from the ground up ... on the bottling line! It was there that his love for viticulture bloomed. After graduating from UCLA in chemical engineering, he went on to UC Davis, earning a degree in enology. He worked his way up from the cellar in one prestigious winery after another until landing at DeMoor. It was this experience, at such first class opera¬tions like Dry Creek Vineyards, which helped develop his style and philoso-phy.
"I believe in attention to detail," he readily admits. "You really can't cut corners when it comes to making great wines. You must stay in touch with the grape and the soil." Although Michael spends much of his time tasting his wines, he feels that his palate is no more authoritative than the general public's. "I am a consumer first," he states. "I keep asking myself 'Do I enjoy this wine? Would I buy it?" Well, Michael, we were certainly knocked out by it and feel that our members will be too.
Our selection offers incredible, up¬front melon and citrus flavors which are a pure delight. While still dry, it exhibits a clean, almost flowery nu¬ance and a lip-smacking finish.
Cellaring Suggestions: Will definitely improve with another year or two. Serve chilled with gazpacho soup or BBQ'd shrimp.
MERLOT, 1993. UNDURRAGA
Viña Undurraga's beginnings are as fascinating and unique as any we've heard in quite some time. Don Francisco Ramon Undurraga Vicuna purchased a plot of land, which would become his winery, at a land auc¬tion in 1882. The gavel descended on Don Francisco's final bid just moments before Dona Isidora Goyenechea de Cousiño arrived, missing her opportu¬nity to purchase the estate. She was so intent on owning this property, she of¬fered Don Francisco 100,000 pesos over his auction price! He declined, and she went on to establish Don Francisco's most distinguished competitor, Cousiño-¬Macul.
The Undurraga family origins began at the turn of the 19th century at the beginning of the Chilean revolution. In 1803, Spain forced laws on Chile for¬bidding a non-Spaniard from any capi¬tal investment or settlement in the coun¬try. Spain uprooted olive trees and vines because they wanted Chile as an export market for these products, not a competi¬tor. By 1810, the Chileans had had enough. A junta of only seven leading citizens seized power in Santiago. This single act lead to the civil war which fol¬lowed. Two Irish professional officers, who were formerly in the service of Spain, switched sides and helped over¬throw the Spanish government in 1820. One of these two officers was John MacKenna, a direct ancestor of Don Francisco Undurraga. Besides having a place of prominence in the Chilean wine scene, Undurraga was a prominent force in Chile's fight for freedom as well.
Like most of Chile's estates,
Undurraga's vines are planted on their own rootstock. Their 220 acres would be considered huge by California standards, but rela¬tively small in Chile. Because the vine-yards are un-grafted, Chile's vines last longer and are healthier than the grafted vines. Grafting the shoots of the grape plant on to American hybrid rootstock is an insurance policy against the dreaded louse, phylloxera, which de¬stroyed the un-grafted vines of France in the 1860's. Phylloxera doesn't attack American hybrid roots and has yet to reach Chile's un-grafted vines. There is a small plot of these ungrafted vineyards at Undurraga which go back to the founding of the winery in 1885.
Because of its softness and imminent drinkability, Merlot is the most popular red wine in the United States. In case you hadn't noticed, the price of Merlot in California has increased dramatically. The principle reason is the price of Mer¬lot grapes which has more than doubled in four years. Fortunately, this frenzy has yet to take over Chile's Merlot, although it's just a matter of time. Our offering preserves the engaging Merlot fruit fla¬vors without being masked with oak.
Here is a classic, spicy, full flavored varietal offering blackberries and a hint of cocoa. The rich plumy ingredient will enhance a classic osso buco atop wild mushroom polenta. Serve cool.
Cellaring Suggestions: Very enjoyable now. Will continue to improve for the next 2-4 years.
"Paul, we've been hearing a lot lately about matching food and wine. Is there some voodoo associated with this concept? Is it really that difficult?
I think you hit the nail on the head. There has been far too much discussion regarding which wine to choose for a dish. The old adage "White wine with white meats and red wines with red meats" is simply a lazy person's way of not having to think. Instead of tak¬ing the easy way out and classifying wines by color (a common problem in our society) you'll find it much easier if you classify them by weight. In other words, light wines with light foods and heavy wines with heavy foods.
This takes a bit of getting used to, and requires a lot more time, but it's worth it in the long run. Consider light, thinly sliced beef tenderloin, served with a touch of lemon and olive oil and seasoned with capers and fresh basil. Would you serve a big, heavy Caber¬net, or coarse Barbaresco? The meat would get lost. But beef is red, and the "rule" says you should serve a red wine. Or, how about cioppino, a blend of shrimp, mussels, lobster and calamari in a rich tomato broth and served with crusty bread? Most Chardonnays and nearly all Chenin Blancs and Rieslings would disappear under the avalanche of flavors.
It's time to quit worrying about the wines to choose for which dish and just enjoy the blending of good food, good wine and good company. There are two areas to consider when matching food and wine:
1) Pairing light foods with light wines.
2) Deciding whether you wish to complement or contrast the fla¬vors.
The first one is easy. A light Beaujolais and many of the lighter Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels are perfect with salmon, swordfish and even many shellfish dishes. Chardon-nays and Sauvignon Blancs can easily stand up to veal, turkey and even duck. If you know what the dish tastes like but not the wine, ask someone. Any wine merchant or restaurateur worth his pay should know something about what he's selling you.
Contrasting and complementing is a bit more interesting. Now we must get into the actual preparation of the dish. A heavily spiced dish like cioppino, curry or a rich tomato sauce would go well with a big, oaky Chardonnay, a brawny Amador County Zin-fandel, or a full-bodied Petite Sirah. A spicy dish could be complemented by a spicy Chateauneuf du Pape or an herbal, melon-flavored Chenin Blanc. Or, you could contrast them with a rich, cherry/berry Zinfandel or Barbera.
Armed with the above information is enough to make you dangerous in a crowded room. But, seriously folks, this is only a guideline. For every rule there is an opposite one, especially when it comes to wine. Just remember: when you think you know it all, along comes something you hadn't thought of and didn't even know existed. The important thing to remember is to not get excited about it. Drink what you enjoy, with the food you enjoy and in the company of those you enjoy. After all, it's only a bottle of wine.
Adventures in Eating
There are few dishes which conjure up broad smiles, smacking lips and wide eyes as much as one of Italy's most revered and traditional recipes, osso buco. It's easy to tell how popular this dish has become when you look at the price of veal shanks today. I remember when my neighborhood butcher would GIVE me the shanks because they weren't worth much!!! Can you believe it? Today, there are few veal cuts which cost more. Yet, when thinking about one of the most flavorful dishes around, there are very few that come to mind over this.
I have found that this dish benefits from an extra day of preparation more than most. Making it a day ahead, let¬ting it sit in the refrigerator so the fla¬vors will integrate, does more for this dish than any other. If at all possible, I strongly urge you to plan ahead. You can start it in the morning and finish it at night, but it's not the same. Am I getting too fussy about this? You bet!
For this recipe you will need a large cauldron, mixing bowl and knife.
6 Veal shanks approx. 1 1/2 thick or
about 3/4 lb. each.
1 cup flour
2 celery stalks
2 onions, coarsely chopped.
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1-28oz can of fine, peeled plum
3 oz. tomato paste (1/2 can)
2 cups vermouth
2 cups rich veal or chicken stock
Zest from half a small lemon
2 Tbs. capers
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
Tie string around each shank. Add salt and pepper to flour. Dredge shanks in mixture until completely coated. Fry each side in olive oil until just brown (about 5 min.) at medium heat. Remove shanks. Add more olive oil if needed and sauté carrots, celery, onion 5 minutes. Add half the garlic and saute 1 min. Add rest of ingredients and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer one half hour. Add shanks, cover and cook for 4-6 hours. You can cook for 2 hours, refrig¬erate for a day or two then reheat for 2-4 hrs. This actually helps integrate the fla¬vors. Before removing from heat add rest of garlic and simmer for 1 min. Remove shanks, increase heat and reduce sauce by about one third of the original volume (not exact science here). Remove string from shanks, put on center of plate and ladle sauce on top. Top with chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Prep time: 20 min. Cooking time: 4-6 hrs. Serve with noodles. Serves: 6
Item: Description Qty. Member
Reorder Prices Total
#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
#695A Pinot Blanc, '94. Hamilton
"Tropical and banana flavors"
Reg. Price $6.99 22.32% disc. $65.16/case
#695B Sassella, '90. Sondro Fay
"Authoritative, black cherry."
Reg. Price $7.99 20.03% disc. $76.68/case
#595A Nebbiolo, '93. San Dominico
"Bright, cherry and spice."
Reg. Price $7.99 20.03% disc. $76.68/case
#595B Sauv. Bl., '94. Villa Montes
"Fresh, melon and pineapple."
Re2. Price $6.99 28.61% disc $59.88/case
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