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1998-12 December 1998 Newsletter

December 1998 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 231 Rejected: 211 Approved: 20 Selected: 2
From Start to Finish
This is my favorite time of the year. Oh sure, we get cold weather for making those hearty meals, the holiday atmosphere, lots of parties, but I'm not talking about those things. I'm thinking about sparkling and dessert wines. I could begin each meal (except maybe breakfast!) with a glass of Champagne. The dry tartness of the wine gets your appetite enhancers going and sets the tone for the meal to come. Our Italian delight this month is absolutely stunning. Finding a Chardonnay-based wine with this much flavor at this price took some doing. Choosing it was a snap, just like all those bubbles you'll get when you pour a glass.
On the other side of the meal comes this incredible Port. This is the first time I've featured a wine that was born before I was! Hard to believe that this Vino Encanto was started in 1952. The color tells you from the tawny edges that there is some age here, but the addition of the newer wine gives fruit and flavor beyond compare. Like I said, my favorites. And, I'm sure, with one sip, yours too. Have a great holiday and we're looking forward to more great selections in the new year.

Domestic Selection

Port is an absolute, an extreme. No wine is stronger, darker or more powerfully flavored than this fortified wine from the wild and rocky Douro Valley in northern Portugal. It is served as the climax to grand meals, its rich, sweet fruit exploding in the mouth. The country of Portugal is so tied to the production of this magic elixir, that the wine could only be called Port. Other countries, however, have produced wines of comparable quality from different grapes grown half a world away. The principles of making port are simple. You start by making a red wine, except that the juice is run off the skins midway through fermentation, and fortified with high-strength brandy to produce a finished wine of around 20 percent alcohol. The brandy stops any further fermentation from occurring, since the yeast cannot survive in solutions of above 17 percent alcohol. The result is that natural grape sugars remain in the wine, providing Port with its sweetness. The main difficulty in Port vinification is the extraction of sufficient color, extract and tannin from the grape skins during the short period (two to three days) between the beginning of fermentation and fortification. The ideal implement for this extraction is the human foot. There are several different styles of port. The biggest, richest and most age-worthy is the Vintage style. This wine is bottled within two years of harvest with the "crust," which is the sediment that helps port age beautifully for 100 years or more. One of the most popular styles is called Tawny, after the color it picks up from several years, sometimes decades, in the bottle. Our Vina Encanto is such a wine. The original batch was made in 1951. Each year new wine is added and some taken away for bottling, like sherry. The new wine gives the spark of fruit and the old wine the silkiness. In other words, the best of both worlds. It's not often that we come across a wine of this age and flavor. It's a true find and one that will grace any holiday setting as it has for nearly three centuries since it was first produced.
Fine Tawny Port. Vina Encanto
Veena En Cahnto
Rich, extracted and explosive flavors of black currants, cherry and vanilla with flecks of chocolate, cedar and licorice. A virtual powerhouse of flavors that almost goes over the top, but hold on long enough to behold the beautiful inner core of soft fruit that will reward the patient. Awesome with the chocolate recipe on page 6.
Perfect now and for many years to come. Serve cool.

Imported Selection

Marwood represents a singular tribute to the vision and standards of excellence pioneered by California winemakers in recent decades. From the selection of the Marwood name to its handsome, contemporary label design, the work of one of California 's leading graphic artists, this impressive entity projects the spirit of California elegance and craftsmanship with an Italian flourish. Marwood is produced at a new, spectacular, state-of-the-art facility that is equipped with the latest wine making technology and equipment dedicated exclusively to the production of sparkling wines. This contemporary and sophisticated "cellar" reflects the California inspiration for the Marwood sparkling wines. This selection is made as carefully as all other fine sparkling wines. It starts off as a still wine, then sugar and yeast are added, the container shut and a secondary fermentation begins to create the bubbles. It occurs when the yeast converts the sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol. The carbon dioxide, having no place to go in a sealed container, goes back into the wine and accounts for those wonderful little bubbles. The blend here is similar to the finest Champagnes from France, primarily Chardonnay, blended with small quantities of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. As with those from France, the Chardonnay adds the steely crispness while the Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc contribute body and weight. The vineyards are located in Italy's Trentino region along the scenic Dolomite Alps. The area has exceptional climate, similar to that of Champagne, France, and is therefore home to the most extensive Chardonnay vineyards in the world and is acknowledged as Italy's leading area for quality sparkling wines. This is one of the best Regular Series sparklers we've featured in quite some time. It will certainly add a festive flare to your holiday fare. Cheers!
Brut, Marwood
Clean, crisp and forward flavors of pippin apple, yeast and granite. Beautiful bubble activity just adds to the festive flavor of this wine. Great with smoked salmon or caviar.
Perfect now. Will hold for another year. Serve chilled

Member Inquiry

"Paul, I've heard people talk about the smell and taste being equally or not equally important. What do you think."
V.A.M., Torrance, CA
The nose is the single most important organ used in assessing a wine. The sense of smell is so closely linked with the sense of taste, as anyone with a bad cold can testify, that the palate is really a confirmation of what is found on the nose, enhancing the flavors already perceived and adding the elements of weight and texture.
When tasting, or drinking wine for pleasure, there is almost continuous motion between admiring the color, "nosing" the wine and savoring the wine in the mouth. In an analytical tasting, there is so much information to be gained from the aroma (for a young wine) or bouquet (for a mature wine) that a taster may go back several times before he or she is satisfied. To release the full aroma, the glass should be swirled vigorously, so that the wine rises up the sides of the glass, creating not only a vortex that pushes the aroma towards the nose, but also releasing the aroma by aeration.
The nose is then put into the glass and smelled. The nose tires faster than the palate, so the taster should put the glass down, exhale deeply, and begin again. As color denotes the age of a wine, so will smell: young wines will retain their primary fruit aromas: blackcurrant, raspberry, strawberry, cherry for red wines, apricot, peach, sometimes banana for whites. These primary aromas refer to the fruity quality of the different grape varieties, and it is by these that varietals are most easily identified. Certain grape varieties are floral, vegetal, fruity, spicy or mineral, to name a few. All of these differences can be detected from those first few short sniffs of the wine.
Secondary aromas are concerned more with the transformation of wine during fermentation and aging. The presence of oak aging can be detected by vanilla aromas, even a certain toastiness, apart from the obvious smell of new wood, which most often is an indication that the wine is too young to drink.
A mature wine will have more complex aromas, a mixture of secondary and tertiary aromas that are referred to as "bouquet." These are less easy to recognize, less easy to describe from just the smell, and at this point the taster has more need of the palate to pinpoint the flavor, which is straightforward in a young, fruity wine, more complex in an older one.

Adventures in Food

The beauty of a recipe like this is that it is not overly sweet. The dense, moist cake with fudge-like frosting qualifies as a chocoholic's dream. But, the combination won't obstruct the flavor of the Port.

7/8 cup (1 3/4 sticks) butter, plus extra for preparing pan
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons cocoa
6 eggs, separated
1 scant cup sugar
1/4 cup strong coffee
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup cake flour, sifted, plus extra for pan
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup strong coffee
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Melt butter and chocolate with cocoa in top of double boiler over simmering water. Pour into bowl, and cool slightly. Beat egg yolks and sugar with electric mixer in another bowl until very thick and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add chocolate mixture, coffee and vanilla and beat on low speed until well mixed. Add flour and mix well.
Beat egg whites with electric mixer until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar, and beat until whites hold soft, moist peaks. Stir 1/4 egg whites into batter. Fold in remaining whites. Pour batter into 10-inch springform pan, the sides and bottom of which have been greased and the bottom fitted with circle of parchment paper or foil that has been greased and lightly dusted with flour. Place pan on baking sheet.
Bake at 300 degrees until few crumbs stick to toothpick inserted in center of cake, 45 to 50 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool on wire rack. (Cake can be baked 1 day ahead and kept overnight at room temperature tightly covered or frozen up to a month.)
Melt butter and chocolate with coffee in top of double boiler over simmering water. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth. Let stand or refrigerate briefly until slightly thickened and of spreadable consistency. Invert cake on platter and remove circle of parchment paper. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. (Cake may be served immediately or held overnight at room temperature.)