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2001-03 March 2001 Newsletter

March 2001 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 220 Rejected: 201 Approved: 19 Selected: 2
After a few months of Chardonnay and Cabernet, we're ready to explore some wine stars we don't see too often, and always love them when we do. The term "Fumé Blanc" was coined in the late '60s because it was thought that people would confuse the actual grape name, Sauvignon Blanc, with Cabernet Sauvignon. Fume means "smoke" in French and the prevailing wisdom of the time thought that Sauvignon Blanc in California has a certain "smokey" aroma. It seems to have stuck with many winemakers. One of them, Monteviña, produces one of our all-time favorites. We were just knocked out by all the lush fruit and hint of oak that keeps on going long after the taste. The sign of a sure winner. The first time I ever tasted Cahors (an area in Bordeaux where Malbec dominates) I thought it was the harshest wine I had ever tasted. So, it was with great trepidation that I tried a Malbec from Argentina. I couldn't believe it was the same grape! No wonder it is Argentina's most planted grape. It is a soft, complex fruit bomb with flavor for days, if you'll let it last that long.

Domestic Selection

Inspired by the Amador County zinfandels produced in the late 1960s by Napa Valley's Sutter Home Winery, a young winemaker named Cary Gott and his father-in-law, Walter Field, established Monteviña Winery in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley. For a quarter-century, Monteviña wines were produced in a cramped, technologically challenged facility. In 1988, the Trinchero family, owners of the very same Sutter Home that was used as a model for Monteviña, purchased the winery and began constructing a new, 64,000 square-foot facility on the site of the old edifice. Jeffrey Meyers is Monteviña's winemaker and general manager. Jeff has been at the winery since graduating with honors from UC Davis's Department of Viticulture and Enology in 1981, making him the most experienced winemaker in the Sierra foothills, one armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of the region's viticulture. Jeff's talent is making Amador County red wines that showcase the region's robust fruit flavors in a supple, approachable style. "My basic approach is to make rich, full-flavored reds with moderate tannins and good acidity, wines that are drinkable now, but will age well for ten years. Zinfandel and the Italian varieties we're working with are perfectly suited to this style." A genial baseball buff and avid Sacramento Kings fan, Jeff lives with his wife and two young children in the Sierra foothills. Fumé Blanc, made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, is one of only two wines Monteviria produces from grapes grown outside Amador County. That's because the variety produces more distinctive wine when grown in cooler climates, such as California's central coast (Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties). Montevina Fume Blanc sees little time in oak to better preserve its fresh, zesty character. We have always been huge fans of this wine and with one sip, we're sure you will be as well.
Fumé Blanc 2000 Monteviña
Foo-may Blonk Mahn-the-veen-ya
Rich and bold flavors of peach nectar and fresh herbs with a vanillian slant. Long finish to match the grilled salmon recipe on page 6.
Great now. Serve chilled (approx. 1 hr. in refrigerator).

Imported Selection

Don Juan Carlos Graffigna, an Italian immigrant, began his winemaking career in Argentina's San Juan district in 1869. Today, his empire, which includes Viria la Finca, is run by the sixth generation and produces over 750,000 cases of Argentina's finest wines. Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world. Of the 617,750 acres producing in 1996, almost 50 percent were planted with pink-skinned varieties, 30 percent with white-skinned varieties, and just 20 percent with red-skinned varieties. A new wave is fast changing these proportions in favor of premium varieties and styles, particularly reds. This allows Argentinean wine producers to compete successfully in the international arena. Considerable investments in new vineyard areas and improved winemaking technology were made in the 1990s and it is just now beginning to show in the wine. The vine arrived in Argentina by several different routes. The first was directly from Spain in 1541 when vines were thought to have been cultivated, without great success, on the Atlantic coast around the river Plate. A year later, seeds of dried grapes were germinated as a result of an expedition from Peru to the current wine regions immediately east of the Andes. The most important vine importation came from Chile in 1556, just two years after the vine was introduced to Chile's Central Valley. Malbec is the most planted red grape here with over 24,700 acres. It is quite odd that this grape should even be here at all. It is a very small player in Bordeaux's Cahors, where it makes rather hard and unyielding wines. Argentinean Malbec, however, is ripe and lush and capable of extended aging. San Juan is Argentina's second biggest wine-producing region with more than 121,000 acres of vineyards. The capital of the province, also named San Juan, is 90 miles north of Mendoza. The climate is much hotter than that of Mendoza, with summer temperatures reaching 107° F which is just what is needed to tame Malbec's hard edge.
Malbec, 1998 Finca de La Montaña
Mahl beck Feen-Ka-Day-La Mawn-Tahn-Ya
Soft, generous fruit in the nose and in the mouth with hints of cranberry and chocolate. Perfect with the Mexican Lasagna recipe on page 6.
Perfect now. Will mellow further for another year. Serve cool (approx 15 min. in fridge).

Adventures in Good Food

Grilled Salmon
The salmon fillets are marinaded before grilling; allow several hours for this step.
4 (4 ounce ) fillets salmon
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
Whisk together peanut oil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, green onions, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, red chile flakes, sesame oil, and salt. Place fish in a glass dish, and pour marinade over all. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.
Preheat barbecue or gas grill. Oil the grill rack, and adjust height to 5 inches from coals. Remove salmon from marinade, and place on grill. Grill for 10 minutes per inch of thickness, measured at thickest part, or until fish just flakes when tested with a fork. Turn halfway through cooking. Makes 4 servings
Mexican Lasagna
1 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 (16 ounce) can refried beans
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
12 dry lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 1/2 cups salsa
2 cups sour cream
One bunch chopped green onions
1 (2 ounce) can sliced black olives
1 cup shredded pepperjack cheese
PREPARATION Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sauté the ground beef until lightly browned and drain off excess fat. Combine the cooked beef, refried beans, oregano, cumin and garlic powder.
Place four of the uncooked lasagna noodles in the bottom of a 13" x 9" baking dish. Spread half of the beef mixture over the noodles. Top with four more uncooked noodles and the remaining half of the beef mixture. Cover with remaining noodles. Combine the water and the salsa. Pour over all.
Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours or until noodles are tender.
Combine the sour cream, green onions and olives. Spoon over casserole and top with cheese. Bake uncovered until cheese is melted, about 5-10 minutes. Makes 12 servings.