1996-06 June Classic Newsletter

June 1996 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 238 Rejected: 212 Approved: 24 Selected: 2


I know you will bear with me on this one. It's hard to, believe, almost, how well the year has been stacking up. I mean, who would have dreamed that we would be able to send you a six-year-old Cabernet/Merlot blend from Francis Ford Coppola's Napa Valley estate, like we did in February? Or April's 1989 Re-serve Cabernet from Ivan Tamas? And May's Santa Ema Cabernet 1990 Reserve. Or this month's Cabernet? Hey, wait a minute! We're not supposed to select three of the same varietal in a row. "Paul, didn't you say you wouldn't do that sort of thing?" Well, when you taste this Creston Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1986, Winemaker's Selection, the culmination of this amazing string of three, you'll know why. What a wine! To add to my defense, however, I did warn you three months ago that we had a trio of Cabernets which were blockbusters. The re-orders on these wines have only underscored that fact.

Not to be outdone, this month's im¬port spawned itself in the hallowed earth of Bordeaux, France. Just as Chardonnay shines its brightest in Burgundy, and Chenin Blanc over-achieves in the Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc reaches quality levels unsurpassed on its native soil. I'm sure you will savor this Chevalier du Soleil Bordeaux Blanc 1995.

Domestic Selection

Kab-er-NAY Soo-veen-YOHN

Creston Vinyards began its evolution from obscurity into one of San Luis Obispo County's most successful wineries in 1980 when founding partners Stephanie and Larry Rosenbloom discovered the ram¬shackle, abandoned Indian Creek Ranch. They purchased the 479 acre property and began building the win¬ery, including planting and crushing grapes in 1982.

Set high in the La Paz mountains, the vineyards face southwest. Summer temperatures here range in the mid to high 90's during the day, then cool down to about 40 degrees at night, due to the coastal breezes from the west. Add to this picture a gravelly limestone soil and you have one of the most ideal vineyard conditions in all of California.

Winemaker Victor Hugo Roberts, graduate of U.C. Davis' renowned enol¬ogy program, has been at Creston Vine¬yards since its inception. In 1984 he in¬troduced the "Winemaker 's Selection" series of Cabernets, augmenting the winery's Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pi-not Noir offerings. Our selection this month, his 1986 version, may just be the best Cabernet he's ever come up with there.

This sought-after wine has long since been sold out at the winery. One of the reasons for its quick disappear¬ance, besides the press and enthusiastic response by the public, was a major purchase by a wine investment group. When time came to sell off their assets, we were the first contact. The best part is that the wine was stored under pristine conditions for all this time and aging to perfection. Thanks to our contacts, members can now enjoy an investment-grade wine that is aged to perfec¬tion.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the basic grape of many of the world's greatest red wines. It reaches its fullest potential in grape-growing districts that are on the warm side. Originally from Bordeaux, France, the grape does remarkably well when cultivated in the Central Coast. The wines produced in the Paso Robles region tend to be fruitier and less tannic than their French cousins, thanks to the additional sunshine.

This wine has a lovely, mature maroon tint and hue. A developed nose with refined Cabernet, cherry sweet spice and vanilla overtones lead to the silkiest palate we have encoun-tered in a long time.

I believe this to be the elegant style of red which is best showcased by a simple, basic down-to-earth entree like Fillet Mignon or a New York strip steak. Don't forget to stir fry a little green veg¬etables and steam a few new potatoes. Reserve about three quarters of a glass to complement your wedge of Brie for dessert. I said "simple and basic." I didn't say "mundane." A lovely wine.

Cellaring Suggestions: Probably at its peak right now. My advice: "lay down" enough to last for about two years and drink it as often as possible un¬til it runs out.
Reviewed by Larry Tepper

Imported Selection

Bor-DOE Blonk Shev-al-YAY doo Sole-LAY

Chevalier du Soleil is the brain-child of one of the leading forces in the French wine indus¬try today. As a subsidiary operation of one of Bordeaux's largest and most re¬spected shipping firms, the vintners re¬sponsible for the production of this el¬egant wine have access to a virtual sea of wine from which to create their mas¬ter blends.

For nearly two thousand years the "Bordelais" have been involved in the tending of vines and the vinting, selling, sipping and shipping of wine. The city's well-filled restaurants and well-fed citi¬zens attest to the fact that wine is big business in Bordeaux. There are roughly 10,000 small wineries ("chateaux") that comprise this most her¬alded and most extraordinary of wine growing regions, and long may it pros¬per!

Bordeaux has also been a major port for more than a thousand years. In fact this function prompted its name: au bord de l'eau, translates as, "at the water's edge." Its Roman name Burdigala means exactly the same thing, and in the days of the Caesars the town provided headquarters, both strategic and convivial, for the thirsty Roman troops assigned to Gaul.

Like the Port of London, Bordeaux is not on the ocean, but lies inland, 60 miles upstream from the Atlantic, sheltered from storms. Its access to the world is through the Gironde River, a wide, lazy, muddy river fed by the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers which flow into it from the west. The vast triangular land mass be- tween these two tributaries is called "Entre-Deux-Mers", which translates literally as: "between two seas." And the sea be¬tween these two seas is a sea of wine which funnels out the Gironde to the world!

In Bordeaux two native grapes pre-dominate for red wines: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Likewise for the two native white wine grapes: Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. While each of these can be offered as an individual varietal, the usual practice is to blend the two reds (or the two whites) with each other, in the pursuit of attaining greater complexity, balance and finesse in the finished wine. A little known fact about white Bordeaux is the addition of a third grape, in very small quantities known as Muscadelle. It must have some thread of a connection with the Muscat grape as it adds a floral, almost musk-like, component to the wine. Most produc¬ers add a scant 2% to 3% to the blend, but its presence is smelled and tasted due to the grape's forceful aromatics.

A pale yellow/green hue belies this wine's opulent fruit aromas. The palate is rich, light, and pleasantly dry, offer¬ing that hint of green plum and fig so typical of this varietal, with almost none of the grassiness which can detract so in a Sauvignon Blanc. Serve chilled with shellfish or with this month's recipe on page 6.

Cellaring Suggestions: Enjoy through¬out 1996 and 1997.
Reviewed by Larry Tepper

Member Inquiry

"Paul, a lot of stores I go into, like supermarkets, keep their wine bottles standing up. Isn't that supposed to be bad for the wine? Am I at risk of getting bad bottles from them?"
— R.T., Covina, CA

Could be! But that would depend to a greater or lesser degree on sev¬eral key factors. First of all, have you ever pur¬chased a bottle of wine that you knew had gone bad? Just because the wine doesn't taste good to you doesn't au¬tomatically mean that it went bad. It may have been a poorly rendered wine in the first place or it just didn't agree with your taste. I've seen wines sell like hotcakes at retail that I wouldn't drink, but other people loved them! The only reliable way to know for sure that a wine went bad is to taste several bottles of it, so as to be familiar with its consistently good characteristics.

Even this is an imperfect system since a bottle can come off the line and be no good - bad cork or whatever. A sommelier (wine steward) in a super premium restaurant tastes the wine about which there has been a com-plaint. He has tasted this wine from his list many times before and knows whether it is an "off" bottle. If the bottle is flawed, he will have gained new respect for his patron's palate. If the bottle is actually okay, well, a good customer is valued (usually), even if he has no palate.

And how did you know that it went bad? See, we're dealing with a definition, your definition, of what constitutes a "bad" wine. I assume you mean a wine that has somehow turned and is no longer of sound quality. There is also the possibility in this definition of a wine that never was any good in the first place. For some reason a poorly made wine ended up in your bottle.

What makes a wine go bad? Standing the bottle up, per se, doesn't do the damage. It is the fact that when the bottle stands up for too long the cork can dry out — no wine touches the cork unless the bottle is lying down. The cork would then shrink and allow oxygen to enter and ruin the wine. But it takes about four months of standing up for the cork to dry out. What wine is going to stand on the shelf for upwards of four months, especially in a supermar¬ket? If sales of the product are that slow, it will end up laying down in the close-out bin!

So, for wines that move, this is not a factor. For wines that sell more slowly, like those $30 to $45 Reserves I sometimes see standing on the shelves, you are right. I wouldn't risk it. Another pitfall: We stop in the store and get a cold bottle of white wine from the display fridge to serve with dinner. How many times have I regretted doing this? Again, if it's White Zinfandel or something else that sells like crazy, it doesn't matter. But if that good (supposedly) bottle of Chardonnay has been sitting there for too long, you could be in trouble. Light and vibration are also enemies of wine. Chill your wines freshly and enjoy.

Adventures in Eating

A Spice by Any Other Name

In ancient times spices were treasured, hard to come by, and very important in the seasoning of foods, especially meats lacking modern refrigeration. One of the most sought after spices was Cardamom. In the fourth century B.C., cardamom was an article of Greek trade. The inferior grades were known as amõmon; the supe¬rior, more aromatic, as kardamõmon.

The earliest reports of Ayurevedic medicine in India, also dating back to the fourth century B.C., mention cardamom as an aro¬matic medicinal spice.

By the first century A.D., Rome was importing substantial quanti¬ties of cardamom from India. Apicius recommended it as an aid to digestion for those who indulged in gastronomic excess, a major pas¬time in those days.

Today, cardamom is the third most costly spice imported into the U.S., topped only by saffron and vanilla. Oddly, though cardamom shows up in almost all curry blends, I've seldom seen it in other recipes.

What I have seen, not in recipes per se, but in Thai soup pots, is another uncommon spice, called Galanga. It looks like slices of raw, unpeeled ginger root. Don't bite it, for it tastes like a cross between raw ginger and turpentine! But it gives the soup a great flavor, all bathed in coconut milk, and flanked by stalks of lemongrass.

I, for one, am not so brave as to cook with raw galanga. But I did find the pow-dered version of same in an Asian mar¬ket. Like powdered ginger, it is milder, yet delivers the soul of the spice. The next time you feel like chicken that tastes like chicken, not smoke and mirrors, prepare this simple, honest dish.

3 to 4 lbs fresh chicken parts
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp galanga powder, or
1 / 8 tsp ginger power
1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 leek, washed well and diced, or
4 green onions, diced
Prepare a shallow roasting pan with 1 tablespoon of oil. Coat chicken pieces with remaining oil and lay them in the pan. Sprinkle all other ingredients evenly over chicken. Roast at 400°F for 30 min¬utes. Baste with pan liquids every 10 or 15 minutes. Lower heat to 325°F for 20 minutes more, or until golden brown.

Earlier Selections

Item: Description Qty. Member Reorder Prices Total #696A Cab. Sauv, '86. Creston "Smooth, bing cherry and vanilla." Reg. Price $13.99 50.00% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#696B Bord. B1., '95. Chev. d.Sol "Green plum and figs." Reg. Price $6.99 20.00% disc. $67.08/case $5.59/each
#596A Sauv. Bl., '93. Bargetto "Classy peach and herb flavors." Reg. Price $6.99 20.00% disc. $67.08/case $5.59/each
#596B Cab. Sauv., '92. Santa Ema "Cassis and vanilla." Reg. Price $9.99 37.02% disc. $75.48/case $6.29/each
#496A Cab. Sauv, '89. I. Tamas "Black cherry, cassis and spice." Reg. Price $10.99 40.94% disc. $77.88/case $6.49/each
#496B Vouvray, '89. Ch. Moncontr. "Ripe pineapple and guava." Reg. Price $8.99 22.24% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#396A Chard., '94. Dr. John "Rich, pineapple and vanilla." Reg. Price $8.29 20.00% disc. $79.56/case $6.63/each
#396B Merlot, '94 Com. SaraLena "Blueberry and spice." Reg. Price $6.69 25.41% disc. $59.88/case $4.99/each
Please call for shipping prices outside CA in states where Sub-Total permissible. Recipients must be 21 years or older. 8.25% CA Sales Tax
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