April 1995 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 213 Rejected: 191 Approved: 20 Selected: 2
Two years ago we took a family outing to Washington. It has to be one of the most beautiful states in the country. I often accuse my friends up there of perpetuating the myth of how much it rains in order to keep Californians out!
Of course it rains more than here (although I'll bet we could sure give them a run for their money this year). But, we tend to forget that once you cross the Cascade Mountain range you're practically in a desert. So, it should come of no surprise that that's where our domestic selection hails (no pun intended) from. It's a terrific wine that could honor any dish.
The grape-growing tradition in Tuscany goes back over 1000 years. This area is primarily known for the most famous of Italian wines, Chianti. However, it is the lesser-known, but certainly not lesser in quality, Brunello that rolls the eyes of the wine cognizenti.
Our import selection, the Rosso di
Montalcino of Col D'Orcia, is the younger brother of this famous wine and a delightful offering. The town of Montalcino is as rustic and steeped in tradition as you can get, its wines are a reflection of that heritage.
This month's recipe is a perfect foil for either wine. The Italian influence of the eggplant, garlic and cheese stuffed in a chicken breast is similar to what you would expect in a little trattoria in Montalcino. It's great with Semillion, too.
SEMILLON, 1993. PAUL THOMAS
Paul Thomas was one of the pioneers in Washington state's budding wine industry. Although he came from a fruit farming family in eastern Washington state, 99% of the state's premium wine grapes are grown here. His passion for food and wine flourished while he lived and traveled in Europe and Asia in the 1960s. He attended the University of Paris for a time before returning home to graduate from the University of Washington. It was then that the fun and excitement of food and wine that had captivated him in France took hold and never let go.
He began experimenting with making wines using fruit from his native Columbia Valley. By the mid 1970s, Paul had built such a reputation for his wines that he enlisted help from friends and family to open his own winery in 1979. At that time there were fewer than 12 wineries in Washington (a far cry from California's 800). Today there are nearly 90.
Paul gained his reputation by making dry fruit wines from his family's orchard. He was definitely all by himself in this category. Not only were there hardly any fruit wines at all, but none of them were dry. I'll never forget being forced to try a Bartlett pear wine, and thinking it would probably be horribly sweet. I was stunned by its quality and dryness. I would have sworn I was drinking a superb Chardonnay from one of California's finest producers. His cranberry wine tasted like a lighter-styled but well-made Pinot Noir.
Though quite small, Washington's wine production is second to California. Unlike
California, however, nearly all of the grapes are grown in the Columbia Valley in eastern Washington. We associate Washington with rain, but it might as well be two states divided down the middle by the Cascade Mountains. Most of the rainfall settles in the western half (20-30 inches a year) while the east gets a mere 10 inches or less. The Columbia River provides ample water for irrigation which, when combined with excellent the excellent soil of the area, accounts for the fine wines produced there.
Most wine drinkers prefer the broad, sensuous guava, fig and pineapple fruit that are so sought after in the great whites of Bordeaux. Unfortunately Semillon's low acidity can make many wines taste dull and flabby. This is why it is normally blended with its high-acid cousin, Sauvignon Blanc, to attain the needed balance. When grown in the coolest regions of the Columbia Valley, as is our selection, it exhibits all those wonderful flavors with a crisp finish as well.
Our feature is positively bursting with rich, ripe melon and fig fruit. The barest hint of oak rounds out the flavors and the compelling structure and finish would allow it to easily handle a pan-roasted fresh trout doused with olive oil, lemon juice and fresh oregano. Serve slightly chilled, but not too cold.
Cellaring Suggestions: Terrific now. Will hold through the year.
ROSSO DI MONTALCINO, 1992. COL D'ORCIA
If you ask any American, "What is the most famous wine in Italy?", he or she would probably answer, "Chianti." If you ask an Italian, the answer would probably be "Brunello." The odd thing is that these two wines are not only made just a few miles from each other, they're both crafted from the same grape.
Montalcino is a town in the southeast corner of Tuscany, just a few miles from its famous neighbor, Chianti. While Chianti is a blend of several grape varieties, the principle one being Sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino is made from only one grape, the Brunello, which is actually a clone of Sangiovese and is often referred to as Sangiovese Grosso. The strict translation is "a big Sangiovese."
According to historical records, the hills surrounding Montalcino have been covered with vineyards and olive groves since the 16th century. A little over 100 years ago, several producers were experimenting with different clones of the Sangiovese grape. One of these producers introduced a clone that was darker and more robust than any other and labeled it Brunello. This is how Brunello di Montalcino was born.
The laws regulating Brunello are very strict. The vines have to be a certain age, the wine has to be aged a specific time in wood and then a specific time in bottle before it can be released. So what do you do with the grapes from young vines and the wine that didn't make the grade to be called Brunello? You produce a second, less expensive wine. That's how Rosso di Montalcino was born.
Rosso di Montalcino evolved during the 1970s as a second wine to Brunello so that the producers could protect the integrity of Brunello by leaving out any lots that weren't of the highest quality. The government sanctioned the process by granting Rosso di Montalcino DOC status in 1983. Many producers, like Col d'Orcia, vinify and age their Rosso with the same care and dedication they reserve for their Brunello. Often times, as you'll taste here, the results are remarkable.
The Col d'Orcia estate is located on the southern edge of Montalcino and covers over 1000 acres perfectly situated 1000 feet above sea level. The name literally translates to "the hill of Orcia." The estate is owned by a 9th generation Italian wine family headed by Count Francesco Marone Cinzano of vermouth fame, in Piedmont. Under his direction, not to mention lots of his money, this estate has been transformed in the last 20 years into one of the most beautiful, if not one of the finest, in the entire area.
Our selection is a lighter style than that you would get from its big brother, Brunello, but it is no less engaging. The delicate cherry, berry and licorice nuances seem to coat your mouth on first impression but not enough to hide the spicy cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg flavors. Perfect with roasted chicken, new potatoes and spinach. Serve cool.
Cellaring Suggestions: Very enjoyable now. Will hold for another year or two.
"Paul, ,you've featured some really wonderful Italian wines lately and have referred to the wine laws of Italy often. How do they control the quality of the wine?"
For centuries Italians have pioneered laws to control the origins and protect the names of their wines. The ancient Romans defined production areas for dozens of wines. In 1716, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany defined these areas as being important for wines, setting a precedent for modern legislation.
Since the mid-1960s, these laws have been applied nationwide to wines of "particular reputation and worth" under what is known as Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC. At last count there were 240 DOCs, all defined geographically. Wines from nine zones have been further distinguished as DOCG (the G for garantita or guaranteed authenticity). These are Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Albana di Romagna, Gattinara, Carmignano (red only), Torgiano Rosso Riserva and, more recently, Gavi.
Within the DOC and DOCG zones more than 900 types of wine are produced. They may be defined by color or type (still, bubbly or sparkling; dry, semisweet or sweet; natural or fortified). Or they may be referred to by grape variety, by age (young as novello or aged as vecchio, stravecchio or riserva). Or by a special subzone as "classico," or "superiore," though the latter may also apply to a higher degree of alcohol or a longer period of aging. The producers must also adhere to specific laws relating to the
specific area in which the grapes are grown, their yield per acre and the specific grape varieties. For instance a DOC Pinot Grigio from Trentino could have come from grapes picked at five tons to the acre, a minimum 11% alcohol and not aged in barrel or bottle until released. Barolo must come from grapes harvested at 3 tons to the acre, be aged in barrel for two years and in bottle for one year and be a minimum 13% alcohol.
Sweeping changes in the wine laws in 1992 opened the way for DOC and DOCG wines to carry names of communities, areas of geographical or historical importance in the zones and names of individual vineyards of established reputation. Much of the better vino da tavola is expected to qualify under the category of Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), designed to officially classify wines by color or grape varieties and typology from large areas. IGT will be the Italian equivalent to the French vin de pays and German Landwein.
The aim is to increase the proportion of classified wines to the majority of national production, but it is important to remember that many good to excellent Italian wines are still not classified. The reason might be that the vineyards are in a non-DOC area or that the wine has been made under a new formula or that the producer chose to retain an individual identity. In the end, the most reliable guide to the quality of any wine from anywhere is the reputation of the individual producer or estate. Certain names, like this month's imported selection, Col D'Orcia, are worth getting to know.
Adventures in Eating
Chicken breast responds well to cooking in moist heat. Instead of just poaching in water, poach in stock. Because of its ability to absorb flavors easily, chicken can easily be matched with red or white wine so either of our selections this month will complement this dish.
STUFFED CHICKEN BREAST
This recipe is for one breast. Ingredients can be adjusted in direct proportion to servings: double it for two, triple it for three, etc.
Chicken breast, boned and skinned
1/2 oz. slice of fat-reduced cheese like
Alpine Lace Swiss, or Sonoma Jack
One thin slice (1/4 in.) of Japanese
eggplant cut lengthwise
1/4 finely chopped small tomato
Two or three fresh herbs of choice (Basil,
oregano, thyme, rosemary)
1 small clove of garlic, pressed
Salt and pepper
Rub a drop of olive oil on each side of the eggplant slice and bake at 350° for 10 min.
Sprinkle salt and pepper on cutting board and lightly press chicken breast against mixture.
Spread pressed garlic evenly along breast.
Place eggplant on breast.
Add herbs and chopped tomato.
Roll up and secure with
Quickly sauté in cooking spray on medium heat until just barely brown on all sides. Keep turning for even cooking.
Poach, half submerged in stock, for ten minutes.
Check doneness. Turn over and poach until barely done. Meat will be firm but with a little spring to it.
Check tip of meat under fold to make sure it is done. If not, discard.
Slice in half and serve over pasta, rice or (not for the faint of palate) chopped garlic and onion seasoned with black olives.
You can easily use a turkey brew. sliced into fillets.
If you have difficulty rolling up your breast, don't. Poach the breast in liquid with the above ingredients on top and the broth barely covering the breast. Cover so that the cheese will melt and hold the ingredients together. Serve immediately.
It is very important that you not overcook the breast. It will take some practice so check it frequently. Remember, the breast meat cooks quickly and continues to cook after you take it off the flame. Work on pulling it off the flame when it is not quite done so as it continues to cook it will reach peak doneness and be moist and flavorful. Overcooked breast meat has no flavor and the consistency of wet pine.
Item: Description Qty. Member
Reorder Prices Total
#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
#295A Gewurzt., '93, Son. Creek
"Spicy pineapple and tangerine."
Reg. Price $8.99 30.03% disc. $67.08/case
#295B Cabernet Sauv., '91. MzzCrn
"Light berry, clean finish."
Reg. Price $7.99 33.37% disc $71.88/case
#195A Syrah, 1992. Ramsay
"Bold, authoritative blackberry."
Reg. Price $9.99 40.04% disc. $71.88/case
#195B Chard., '93.Dom. de Brenier
"Clean, tangy pineapple hints."
Reg. Price $8.99 27.84% disc. $77.88/case
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