1998-01 January 1998 Newsletter

January 1998 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 229 Rejected: 210 Approved: 19 Selected: 2
Breaking the Rules
Our new year's resolution is to continue finding the wines which don't fit the mold, but fit right in with our taste. Our import certainly fills the bill in both arenas. We've never encountered a blended wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the Veneto. After one taste, we're wondering why they didn't come up with this sooner!!! Here's a great offering, packed with lots of flavor and one that will match hearty dishes (like that rich lamb chop recipe on page 6). The Italian winemakers never cease to dazzle us with their innovation and quality. This one is sure to dazzle you as well.
Our domestic selection comes from a super little operation that makes small lots of exciting and unusual wines. There are very few wineries who have been committed to making Gewurztraminer for almost 30 years, and Talon is, thankfully, one of them. This is as close to an all day wine as we can get. Great with light lunches, light dinners or all by itself. It's one of those refreshing offerings with enough flavor to please, but a lilting presence, that makes it the perfect accompaniment to almost any dish you can serve.

Domestic Selection

Talon Gewurztraminer is grown at the Parriso Springs Vineyards. They are in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County. The winery is a small, family-run operation producing distinctive lots of exciting wines. An experimental lot of Gewurztraminer vines were planted here in 1969. The cuttings came from one of the most dramatic vineyards in Alsace. The soils here are mainly decomposed granite with shallow top soils, the perfect type of environment to grow this grape. Obviously, the experiment was a success. Gewurztraminer is a unique and ancient grape. Its name means "spicy Traminer" in German and came about in a rather interesting manner. The Traminer grape is one of the oldest grapes known to man. It was cultivated in Mesopotamia over 7,000 years ago. It is an descendent of the oldest known grape, Muscat, and shares similar properties...those being a spicy, musk oil scent and taste, and a peach/nectarine flavor. As the Phoenicians conquered the known world, they took their grape varieties. One of the places that Traminer did quite well was Northern Italy. So well, in fact, that a town was named after it, Termino. The Italians noticed that some of the lots produced a simple, nicely fruited wine and some produced a bolder, spicier version. They liked the spicy version and little by little propagated it, letting the other one become extinct. Termino is near the German border and German is spoken as much as Italian. That's why the new grape was named by its German translation. When the Romans conquered the world, they took their grapes with them as well. This time, they planted Gewurztraminer in Gaul (later known as France) and found that in Alsace it did even better than in Termino. The French never elevated the grape to the status of naming a city after it, but it is a general consensus that Gewurztraminer reaches its pinnacle in Alsace. This is a lovely, refreshing and lighter-styled wine which will compliment almost any dish. It's one of the few wines we don't even mind having by itself.
Gewurztrami ner, 1996. Talon
Geh-vertz-trah meener tahl-on
Wild musky and nectarine scents compliment the full floral components in the nose and mouth. Light, but generous flavors make this the perfect foil for a variety of dishes including chicken salad, crab and spinach canapes or filet of sole.
Great now. Will hold for a year or two. Serve chilled.

Imported Selection

Wines made from a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are fairly common in France and California. Even producers in Chile and Spain have been known to blend these two incredibly complimentary grapes. So what makes this wine so unique? First of all, it comes from Italy and, secondly, a portion of the Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in small oak barrels. This may not sound like a big deal here, but in Italy, it is close to heresy! You see, Italian wines are made by strict laws which govern the grape varieties, vinification and vineyard location. In the Veneto, where Pasqua is located, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are proven winners and scores of producers are proud to show off their wares to an eager public. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, however, is not included in the law. Therefore, it must carry the lowest classification available, vino da tavola. The fact that many of the finest Italian wines carry this classification, and are the most sought-after and expensive wines produced in Italy, is probably what caused Pasqua to experiment with this blend in the first place. Pasqua is a small, family-run concern in the ancient city of Verona located in the furthest reaches of Northeast Italy. The family has been making wine here for over 100 years, using the best of old and new world techniques. Their quest for unparalleled quality will occasionally cause them to make wines outside the DOC (Denominazione Origine Controlatta) laws in order to achieve a quality beyond what the law would allow them to make. This is what accounts for the occasional straying from the law which is all the better for us. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have been grown in this area for over 150 years. The fine alluvial soils and warmer climates allow these grapes to mature better than in most other areas of Italy. Amplifying the flavor with the use of oak barrels is generally frowned upon by the Italians as it is seen as copying the French. When the results are as good as this month's selection, we can't complain.
Cabernet Merlot, 1995. Pasqua Kab-er-nay
Mare-low Pass-kwah
Big and bold flavors of ripe cherry and earth mixed with saddle leather and a modicum of spice. Still a brooding giant of a wine that needs some time to tame it or a full flavored dish like our lamb recipe on page 6.
Quite good now but will easily improve. Serve cool.

Member Inquiry

"Paul, There has been a lot of talk lately about Bordeaux futures. Could you explain what they are?"
R. F., Pasadena CA
Futures buying involves the purchase of the wine before it is actually bottled in order to secure it at a better price than it will sell for on release. In Bordeaux, it is normally done with particularly good vintages like the two most talked-about ones coming up, 1995 and '96, so that people have a chance to buy them before they're all sold out. Back in the old days, like the 1950s and '60s, the local French press would extol the virtues of a particular vintage and the chateaux would then offer the wines on a pre-release basis for a better price than they would plan on releasing it for later. This would bring cash into the winery sooner and the consumer would get a price break.
Today the futures market has taken on a personality that is somewhere between commodities trading and a Ringing Bros. circus. First we have an international press writing about the vintage before the grapes are even harvested! This gets the hype rolling and with every thunderous adjective, the price goes up another notch. Next, we have a new market that is just jumping on the Bordeaux bandwagon. That market is the new¬found wealth in Asia, particularly China, Taiwan and Korea. The chateaux keep raising prices and the Asians keep buying them. So they keep raising the price and they keep selling. It's an amazing spiral which has seen prices rise 300% in less than a year!
The biggest factor here is that the Asian market did not exist just five years ago. It's not that they bought a lot less then, they bought nothing. Now they're trying to catch up to the rest of the world and are buying everything in sight. And with two incredible vintages in a row, they have lots to buy. A similar frenzy was treated by the 1989 and '90 vintages, but the '95-'96 Frenzy is much greater. The market for the '89s and '90s was basically the US and Europe. Consumers rushed to these wines, but they still had a backlog of '82s, '83s, '85s and '86s to covet. The Asian market exploded with 1995 and 1996 with no backlog to slow them down. This s why we've seen futures price for Margaux go from 690 in 1994 (a very good vintage) to $150 in 1995 and 6300 in 1996. Imagine paying $300 for a bottle of wine today that you won't get to see for over a year!

Adventures in Food

I was puttering around the kitchen the other night and came up with a pretty tasty lamb chop recipe. I served our 1995 Pasqua Cabernet/Merlot with it, and the match was a great one.
Lamb is one of those meats that can take to any kind of wine, from softer, more subtle Pinot Noirs and Chiantis to rich Cabernets, Syrahs and especially this month's selection. Using the wine in the sauce is a sure-fire way of ensuring a terrific match between food and wine.
2 large loin lamb chops, fat trimmed
2 Tbs olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 Tbs finely chopped basil
1 tsp. chopped rosemary
ground pepper
1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup Pasqua Cabernet/Merlot
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
2 tsp. butter/margarine
2 tsp. flour
Pour the olive oil on a plate, then add the garlic, basil, rosemary and several hearty grinds of pepper. Mix everything together, then place the lamb chops on the plate, coating both sides thoroughly. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Soak the porcini mushrooms in 1/2 - 3/4 cup hot water for 20 minutes, until soft.
Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. When hot, pour the oil off the plate into the pan. Place the lamb chops in the pan, searing both sides for 2 - 3 minutes each. Remove the chops and place on paper towel.
Lower the heat to medium. Strain the water from the porcini mushrooms into the skillet, then add the red wine and basil. Coarsely chop the porcini and add them to the pan. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add chops and cook on each side about 3 minutes for medium rare.
Remove chops from skillet. Set them aside and cover to keep warm. Raise the skillet heat to high and boil until the sauce is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter. Add flour and stir to mix. Cook for 30 seconds. Lower the heat to medium, add butter and flour mixture to the sauce and cook for 2 - 3 minutes until thick. Place chops on plate. Pour sauce over chops and serve.

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