June 1995 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 187 Rejected: 160 Approved: 25 Selected: 2
Two more fun wines to talk about this month. I believe we referred to them as "Rodney Dangerfields". You gotta pull for wines referred to like that, don't you?
The term is meant in an endearing way. We've loved Pinot Blanc as a full-flavored white wine for years. There is actually very little of it grown in the entire world which is one of the reasons it's so special. This one is as classic as it gets. The best thing about it is that it is purely California, no comparison to any other wine in Europe.
Our import is very rare, indeed. We basically got all there was. The grape for Sassella, Nebbiolo is better known in Piedmont as Barolo and Barbaresco. They fetch prices that a Sassella couldn't get away with, even if its name was Rodney Dangerfield!
Not only are we able to offer a very unique wine from a fascinating grape at
a great price, the best part is that it comes from one of the greatest vintages in this century.
And, whatever you do, don't miss that risotto recipe top go with the Sassella. That's one of the best taste combinations we've tried in a long time.
PINOT BLANC, 1994, HAMILTON CELLARS
Pinot Blanc has too often been referred to as the "Rodney 471 Dangerfield" of white wine grapes. It always seemed to play second fiddle to Chardonnay as a fairly robust and full-flavored wine, yet never attained the mystical atten¬tion its rival enjoys. This sorry state, however, is no reason to dismiss Pi-not Blanc as it not only makes one of the most thrilling wines on Earth, it is one of the few grapes which needs no European counterpart to insure its au¬thenticity. As a matter of fact, one rea¬son to give it a chance, is that it has attained a level of quality in Califor¬nia which can be considered second to none.
Most of the sought after wines have European origins and long his¬tories. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cab¬ernet Sauvignon, Riesling, just to name a few, have attained their pinnacle of existence in France. The best Pinot Blancs in Europe come from Alsace, not exactly on the tip of everyone's tongue when discussing their favorite wines. The wines of Alsace are distin¬guished by their intense fruit and ac¬ids along with an engaging soil com-ponent that marries so well with the hearty foods of the region. There are traces of Pinot Blanc grown in Italy, primarily in the Northeast around Fruili and Trentino. They, too, are lighter in style and almost never see any oak.
In California, winemakers have taken a different road. The intensity of flavors can be expanded on with the judicious use of oak barrels,
something rarely considered in Alsace or Italy. This technique is solely Californian which is why the Pinot Blancs from this state are so different and incomparable to those of Europe. While the rich tropical fruit flavor are reminiscent of Chardonnay, the clean acids and banana fruit pro¬file is uniquely Pinot Blanc.
Paul K., Sr. featured a Hamilton Chardonnay over 10 years ago. That one was a blend put together by and old friend of WOM, Ed Masciana. Our current selection is the work of Santo Ribolli from the superb Central Coast winery, Maddalena, named after his mother. The grapes were picked from three of the finest vineyards in coastal areas of California. Pinot Blanc is grown on such a limited basis here, that there probably isn't one vineyard in the entire state that could grow enough grapes for us to offer it as a selection.
It exhibits a deep, golden color and a fresh, ripe tropical fruit flavor. Flecks of kiwi and guava titillate the tongue along with a hint of banana. The fin¬ish is very long with all the flavors from the front coming into perfect harmony. Serve chilled, but not too cold. Try with our recipe on page six for wild mush¬room risotto.
Cellaring Suggestions: Starting to come together. Will definitely im¬prove with another two to five more years.
SASSELLA, 1990. SONDRO FAY
Sass-Sella. Sohndro Fay
What better import red to match with our "Rodney Dangerfield" domestic white than a wine made from a grape which is much better known in a neighboring region, is hard to pronounce and seldom seen in this country? Sasella is a small region within a much larger (and well known?) area called Valtellina. It is located in the center of the Northern most state in Italy, Lombardy. Here the regal Nebbiolo grape, which reaches it's highest posi¬tion of quality in neighboring Piedmont as Barolo and Barbaresco, plays a signifi¬cant role in the wines of Valtellina. The grape is often referred to by its local name, Chiavennasca, and is often blended with lesser known varieties, Rossola, Pignola and Brugnola.
Sassella nestles against the banks of the Adda river which cuts a horizontal swath across the Valtellina region. Un¬like the other wines of the area which are blends, Sassella is normally 100% Nebbiolo making it the best wine in the region, particularly in good vintages. The grape is so finicky that it is difficult to score a winner in an off vintage with¬out the addition of other, easier to ma¬ture varieties. Kind of a viticultural in¬surance policy.
Nebbiolo is to Italy what Pinot Noir is to everywhere else ... one of the m most difficult grapes to grow and wines to make in the world. The only reason why winemakers even try is once you pick the right spot to grow it, and figure out how to make it, you can produced one of the most magnificent wines in the world. Nebbiolo gets its name from the word "nebbia" meaning fog. The grape likes a foggy atmosphere in the summer, protecting it from harsh sun until early after noon when the temperature may rise to over 100 degrees. Nebbiolo is a late ripening grape, leav¬ing it prey to potential damaging rains later in the season. All this coupled with its propensity for very high tannin and acid levels makes it a tough grape to handle. But, as you'll taste soon, in the right hands it can be as majestic and in¬triguing as any wine one could imagine.
Sandro Fay is run by the enigmatic winemaker who's winery bears his name. Fay's winery is small, but signifi¬cant. Though founded in 1973, his vine¬yard site has been know by the locals to be of superior quality. They are situated in one of the sunniest areas near Sondrio, not far from the picturesque village of Teglio. Sandro makes less than 8,000 cases of wine. His is one of the smallest premium wineries in the Valtellina. We are justifiably quite honored to feature his wines this month since it represents nearly 20% of his entire production.
The translucent color belies the pow-erful mouthfeel. Hints of tar and earth are matched with a cool mintiness and shy, blackberry fruit. The finish is long and lean. Should be opened an hour or so before serving. Serve cool with ro¬bust meats like charred lamb leg with lots of rosemary and garlic.
Cellaring Suggestions: Very enjoyable now. Will hold for another year or two.
"Paul, you mention that some wines will get better while others won't and comment on previous selections aginig potential. Does aging make a wine better?
K. McG., Westchester.
Assuming that no outside demon in-terferes with the finished wine, i.e. faulty corks or bacteria in the bottle before it is filled, once a wine is bottled it enters into a different phase of its life. Because of the tumultuous act of plunging this liq¬uid into the bottle at a very rapid rate, the wine "shuts down" in what is com¬monly referred to as bottle shock. Some wines like nouveau, or light whites, re¬cover quickly. More robust wines, espe¬cially reds, need time to recover. Some¬times even a year or two must pass be¬fore it has the same fine flavors it had in the barrel before bottling.
The benefit of aging a wine (on its side so that the cork is in full contact with the wine to avoid air getting in and wine getting out) is the coming together of all the components from discreet and sepa¬rate flavors into one complete whole. The vineyard, vintage, type and length of time in oak, the acid and tannin lev¬els, malolactic, etc. will be apparent when the wine is young. As the wine ages, these components meld together to present one united front of complex flavors with the whole being greater that the sum of its parts. Each component ages at a slightly different rate and each has its own dominance in the blend of flavors.
As the wine ages, the flavors of the grape(s), the soil, vintage, winemaker's hand, etc. all combine to re-arrange what you taste down the road. The small
amount of air space between the cork and the bottle is all that is needed for this "reductive" transformation to take place. The inter¬action of acids, tannins, coloring agents and other compounds interact with the oxygen and change both the color, smell and taste of the wine. In most cases this is a positive occurrence. De¬pending on your individual preference, you might enjoy a red wine after a year or two of age while someone else may prefer it after 10 years.
Aging is not a panacea for mediocre wine. Everything has to be there going in or there won't be anything to get out. A wine which tastes awful in its youth will taste awful when it's old. Too many people in the wine trade, from winemakers to retailers and the press, may extol the virtues of a very tannic wine with the saving line, "It'll age." The fact is, if a wine is out of balance, if the tannin levels are higher than the fruit levels, it will always be out of balance. Wines do not magically attain balance in the bottle. If the wine was too high or too low in acid to begin with, it will always be so.
What is the perfect age for a wine? That depends on the taster. It is as much a matter of individual taste as deciding what's a favorite white or red wine. Only by being exposed to wines of similar quality at different ages can you begin to get an idea of what your preferences are with respect to aged wines.
Adventures in Eating
When most people think of an Italian food staple, they think of pasta. There is obviously good reason for this (although it was the Chinese who invented noodles first). However the choice of pasta or rice is more regional than proprietary. Pasta is a staple in the south while it is rice which you will find more preva¬lent in the north. Since our import comes from Northern Italy, we figured that it would be more authentic to offer a risotto recipe.
The most important part of mak¬ing a successful risotto is to start with the best rice. Arborio is the very white, stubby rice of Italy's Northern plains. The finest variety of Arborio is Vialone Nano. If you can't find it ask your grocer for the best quality Arborio he has.
RISOTTO WITH WILD
For this recipe you will need two saucepans, a colander, wooden spoon, measuring cups.
1 cup Arborio rice, preferably
3-4 cups homemade chicken stock
2 med. shallots, minced
2 Tbs. butter
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup good quality imported
Pinch of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the stock until barely sim¬mering, but not boiling. Sauté the shallots in 1 Tbs. butter until translu¬cent. Briefly rinse the rice in cold water (about 3 sec.) This removes the excess starch. Add the rice to the shal¬lots. Add the mushrooms to the stock. Sauté the rice for about a minute. Add the stock to the rice at about 1/2 cup at a time. It's okay if some of the mushrooms get in too. Continue to stir the rice for the entire cooking time, adding stock as it is absorbed. It should take about 20 minutes for the rice to be cooked, but not too soft. There should be a bit of a bite to it. When rice is finished add remaining tablespoon of butter and cheese. Salt and pepper to taste and serve imme¬diately. You can add 5 oz. of lamb or pork per person to make a main course.
Cooking time: 25 min. Prep time: 12 min. Serve with lamb shanks, pork tenderloin. Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main dish.
Item: Description Qty. Member
Reorder Prices Total
#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
#495A Semillon, '93. P. Thomas
"Fresh fig and melon."
Reg. Price $7.99 25.03% disc. $71.88/case
#495B Rosso di Mont, 1992.ColOr.
"Raspberry fruit, earthy."
Reg. Price $9.99 36.04% disc. $76.68/case
#395A Cab. Franc, '92. L. Martini
"Fresh cranberry and spice."
Reg. Price $9.99 37% disc. $75.48/case
#395B Colombard, '94. Swartland
"Clean melon and tangy citrus."
Reg. Price $7.99 37.55% disc. $59.88/case
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