1999-04 April 1999 Newsletter

April 1999 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 224 Rejected: 198 Approved: 26 Selected: 2
This month begins our series of special offers around key holidays. With Mother's Day just around the corner, we've come up with a great gift idea that wine-loving moms are sure to appreciate. If you sign up your mother to The Wine of the Month Club for a year, we'll send her three bottles of wine the first month instead of two. If you send her a one-time gift, we'll send you five dripless pour disks so you never have to mess up your mom's, or your own, tablecloth again! Just fill in the enclosed order form and mail it to us by April 20, and we'll do the rest.
After a brief hiatus, we've got another terrific Chardonnay for you. This one is grown organically and while you probably can't taste the difference, at least you know that Headlands is practicing sustainable agriculture and safe vineyard techniques. Oh, by the way, the wine's great too!
Our import is an old favorite from La Vieille Ferme, "the old farm." Their Belle Provençal comes from the Côtes du Ventoux. This is a wine that Paul Sr. was enthusiastic about 30 years ago, way before it was fashionable.

Domestic Selection

Organically grown grapes have been around longer than pesticides. It makes sense, doesn't it? After all, agriculture was here way before chemists. Pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers made the farmer's job easier and more efficient. That translated into higher profits or, in most cases, lower prices. But, there was a price, and today that price is getting higher than the benefits of inorganic farming. In the short haul, the pesticides got rid of the pests. In the long haul, the pests just got stronger and became immune to the chemicals. This necessitated the need for stronger and more expensive pesticides but the result was always the same. Finally, the pesticides got so powerful that they were affecting the people! That's when a second look at organic farming became a real need. The biggest problem, as it usually is, was cost. The initial cost of establishing a new, or converting an old vineyard using organics is very expensive. However, once it's converted and established, the costs are much lower to maintain than conventional farming. And, there-in lies the rub. Only the well-financed operations could make the investment. As the larger ones buy up the smaller ones, organic farming is becoming more common. Headlands is the organic label of Hidden Cellars in Mendocino. We've been huge fans of their wines for over 15 years. They simply make exceptional wines at terrific prices. This new venture may be one of their most exciting yet. The grapes came from several of the finest vineyards in the North Coast that were recently certified organic. This places them in the top percentile of the organic vineyards in California. We applaud this trend and encourage others to do likewise. This Chardonnay comes from the top-rated 1997 vintage. It was partially barrel-fermented to add the oak complexity, but not so much as to obscure the spicy orange blossom and pineapple flavors. All in all, a win-win combination.
Chardonnay, 1997. Headlands
Creamy, soft and ripe green apple and nectarine scents with touches of vanilla and spice. Full flavors of the same with a lively finish to balance challenging seafood dishes like the crab cakes on page 6.
Perfect now. Will continue to delight for another year or two. Serve chilled.

Imported Selection

It's not often we have the opportunity to show a wine that comes from parentage like this one. And we mean, literally, parentage. This winery is owned by the two youngest sons of the late Jacques Perrin, winemaker of the world-renowned estate in Chateauneuf du Pape, Chateau de Beaucastel. If there were a pecking order in the Rhone, as there is in Bordeaux, Beaucastel would be at the top without question. It would be considered in the same league as such legendary names as Chateau Lafite and Chateau Margaux. Jean Pierre and Francois Perrin make this lovely Belle Provençal wine at the other family estate, La Vielle Ferme, within the boundaries of the Côtes du Rhone in the Côtes du Ventoux. The grape makeup is the same as the superb Côtes du Rhone and even many wines from Chateauneuf du Pape. The Perrin brothers vinify Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignane and Cinsault separately and then blend together in varying amounts until the optimum result is achieved. The result is a harmonious amalgam of ripe cherry and spice, softened by extended aging in large oak casks to smooth out the rough edges. La Vielle Ferme was established in 1972 as an alternative to what the Perrins saw as escalating prices for Côtes du Rhone. After all, back then Côtes du Rhone had climbed to the exorbitant price of $3.00 a bottle! Today, even at $16-$18 they're still a bargain considering that the exalted Chateauneuf du Pape is now $40 and up. Côtes du Ventoux is part of the Rhone valley, just southeast of Chateauneuf du Pape. This area is beginning to come into its own as more vintners are discovering the superb landscapes, high elevation and suitable vineyard land on which to plant premium varietals. Unfortunately, it's just a matter of time before these prices begin to go up and we'll be looking at yet another undiscovered Mecca. For the time being, however, don't miss out on this little gem.
Belle Provençal, 1996. Perrin
Bell Pro-vehn sahl Per-ann
Sweet/tart cherry and very berry nose with bright fruit and similar flavors in the mouth. A plethora of fresh fruit pummles the sense and leaves you waiting for more. A great wine for lighter fare, but still flavorful. Try with the exotic Dutch Meatloaf on page 6.
Perfect now. Will hold for a year or two. Serve cool.

Member Inquiry

"Paul, I've seen the same grapes listed in a wine labeled 'blush.' 'Blanc' or 'rose.' What's the difference?"
Dr. E.F.W., San Diego, CA
Very interesting question, and one, I'm afraid, may not be as easy to answer as it seems. First of all, none these terms have a legal definition associated with them. Pinot Noir Blanc is a white, or even slightly pink, wine made from a red grape. Chenin Blanc and Pinot Blanc are white grapes with the word "blanc" in their title. So, it's easy to see the confusion here.
When the term "blanc" is applied to a red grape, it usually means that the wine was crushed with very minimal skin contact. It is the skin contact that gives the juice its color. The juice of nearly all red grapes is pure white. Without contact with the grape's skin, the wine would be white. Usually, a red grape need only make contact between the juice and the skin for a few hours to get that "blush" of color in the wine, ergo the term.
A red grape used in the making of a white wine is common in Champagne where the majority of the grapes used are red, Pinot Noir and Pinot Munnier. They are crushed with no skin contact which is why most Champagnes, though made with red grapes, are white.
A rose is normally a pink wine made from a red grape that has had a little skin contact to give it the pinkish color. But again, there are no rules. Just look in the store and you'll see wines labeled rose that span the spectrum from the slightest pink to a fairly dark magenta. You could also make a rose wine by taking a white wine and adding red wine to it until the desired color is reached. This is an experiment you can try in your own kitchen.
Of course all of this assumes that there is some end result in mind. Most of the blush wines are of little consequence in terms of quality or ageability. They are normally made from inferior wines that have been slightly sweetened, so as to hide their flaws, and blended so that there is an acceptable flavor at a competitive price. The truly wonderful roses from France's Tavel and Anjou regions are highly regarded and priced accordingly. Unfortunately, this entire category has been dismissed by Americans because we were inundated by mediocre wines labeled "rose." As a result, very little of this wine is made that can be compared to the French counterparts. There are a few, however, and they are worth seeking out. A great rose is a sublime match for hearty foods like bouillabaisse, cioppino and the like.

Adventures in Food

2 large eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon fresh thyme chopped
1 scallion, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 dash Tabasco sauce
16 ounces cooked crab meat
1 pinch salt to taste
1 pinch black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons double-acting
baking powder
Butter for sauteeing
1/4 cup red, yellow, and green
bell peppers julienned, 2" long (about half a pepper each)
1 Tbsp. fresh chives, minced
4 teaspoons capers
PREPARATION: Making the Batter.
Using a small whisk, combine the flour with the eggs and milk. Strain through a fine strainer to remove any lumps. Add the following ingredients: thyme, scallion, parsley, and Tabasco. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Batter can be made a few hours in advance up to this point. Cover and keep under refrigeration, until ready to use.
Just before cooking the crab cakes, add crab meat and baking powder to the batter, combining gently, using a wooden spoon. Heat butter in a large frying pan, at medium heat. Using a two-ounce ladle, make a batch of three cakes. Fry gently on one side for two minutes, turn over and cook another two minutes. Keep cakes warm, while cooking the various batches.
Arrange three cakes per serving on plate and top off with the julienned peppers and chives. Sprinkle some capers around the cakes and serve.
1 1/2 lbs. Ground meat, preferable 1/2 lb. each of beef, pork and veal or chicken.
1 cup bread or cracker crumbs
1 onion, chopped fine
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. prepared mustard
2 Tbsp. vinegar
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Hot cooked noodles
Combine meat, bread crumbs, onion, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup tomato sauce. Press into a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Combine 1 cup tomato sauce, water, mustard, vinegar and brown sugar; blend well. Pour half of sauce over loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Unmold loaf and place on noodles. Heat remaining sauce and spoon over meat loaf. Serve with steamed broccoli, garnish with parsley.