1995-03 March Classic Newsletter

March 1995 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 167 Rejected: 155 Approved: 28 Selected: 2

It looks as though Spring has srung. This is the time of year when we traditionally start dusting off the things around the house that have been gathering dust and spruce them up or replace them with something new.

How better could we say "hello" to Spring than with these two unique varietals? We haven't featured either one for quite some time. One comes from a superb wine growing area which hasn't graced the pages of this news¬letter for nearly two decades!

I am referring, of course, to our import the 1994 Swartland Colombard from South Africa. This wine is just about the cleanest, most refreshing wine I've had in years. It would be a terrific addition to your Easter dinner.

The domestic selection is from an old friend whose name always brings a smile to our hearts and warmth in the glass. Martini is one of the workhorse wineries in California, making classy offerings for over three generations. Our Cabernet Franc is a terrific wine, loaded with exotic fruits and yet show-ing a delicate finish. They made barely enough to offer it to our members. To¬gether they could provide the one-two punch to enhance any meal. Salud! PK, Jr.

Domestic Selection

Kab-er-Nay Frawnk

In 1937, Louis Martini acquired a large vineyard 1,000 feet above the Napa Valley floor crossing the Napa-Sonoma county line in the Mayacamas mountains. Moun¬tain vineyards have long been noted for low yields and the resultant richness in the grapes. Since legally he couldn't label his wines from either Napa or Sonoma because the grapes came from both, he settled on "California Moun-tain." This term could signify low qual¬ity except in the case of Martini where the wines were intense, yet gentle on the palate and age worthy.

The Martini vineyards now total more than 1,000 acres, including hold¬ings in the Cameros, Healdsburg and Monte Rosso. Martini has made some outstanding whites, yet it is the reds for which they are best known. The win¬ery is currently run by the third gen¬eration: Carolyn who is president and her brother Michael, winemaker.

Cabernet Franc is a late coiner to the red wine scene in California. As recentlyas five years ago you probably couldn't find more than two or three wines on the shelf labeled Cabernet Franc. Maybe you'll find twice that many today. Even with this stupendous growth, Franc won't be muscling Cabernet Sauvignon off the shelves in the near future. Its softer structure and bright fruit defi- nitely make it more user friendly than its more tannic counterpart, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Franc has long been a major grape component in the great wines of Bordeaux, especially the opu¬lent St. Emilions and Pomerols. Here, when blended with Merlot, the result is more fruit and flavor in the begin¬ning, yet with enough stuffing to age well. Franc is often blended with Sau¬vignon to tame the roughness its big brother normally exhibits early in its development. While 100% Francs are rare, ours is also the best introduction to this grape we've tasted.

At first sniff, whiff and smack, many tasters would guess this wine is Cabernet Sauvignon. It has the black cherry and vanilla flavor matched with a warm, full mouth feel. The differ¬ences become apparent in the spicy component and a marked cranberry fla¬vor which sets it apart from the rest. A classic match with broiled meats sea¬soned with rosemary or thyme. Serve cool and open an hour or two ahead.

Cellaring Suggestions: Terrific now. Flavors will become more integrated, with another year or two in the bottle.

Imported Selection

Swart-Land Kole-om-bard

It's more than 20 years since we featured a wine from South Africa. The political climate wouldn't permit it until recently. Boy, have things changed in that time! You could say that the wine industry here has done a complete flip-flop in terms of its marketing of fine wines. Twenty years ago, 70% of the wines from South Africa came from the giant, govern¬ment-controlled co-op, the KWV. To¬day, it's less than 40%, the slack being made up by small, hand-crafted winer¬ies and private co-ops.

South Africa's wine comes from the southern tip of the continent at Cape Province. The area was colonized by the Dutch in the middle 17th century. They brought with them a love of fine wines and classic German and French viticulture. The natural advantages of this region are impressive. Its growing season never experiences frost, hail or autumn rain. It harbors few if any dis¬eases and its soil is so rich that the farm¬ers boast of using less than one tenth the fertilizer of their European coun-terparts. These advantages, coupled both the hot days and cool nights, produce some of the best grapes on Earth.

Our selection comes from the larg¬est private co-op in the country. It's not as big as you might imagine. By California standards it would be considered a boutique. Swartland Cellars is located in the Malmesbury wine growing district about 30 miles from South Africa's most famous grow¬ing district, Stellenbosch. It was founded in 1948 by 15 farmers who decided to break from the traditional practice of selling their grapes to giant co-ops and found their own cellars. Up until 1977 they sold their grapes to small wineries. It was then that they decided to market all the wines them¬selves under the Swartland label.

The slate and granite soils found around Malmesbury are perfect for the production of finely tuned whites like our Swartland Cellars Colombard. When grown in the hotter plains of California and the Provence, this grape yields a dull, insipid, flavorless wine. With fine soils and cooler climate, one is treated to the best this grape can pro¬duce. Lovely pineapple and melon scents shyly release themselves and de¬velop in the mouth. The tightly wound structure and crisp finish make it a per¬fect foil for rumaki appetizers or sea bass in parchment with pesto (pg. 5).

Cellaring Suggestions: Very enjoyable now. Will hold for another year or two.

Member Inquiry

"Paul: It's interesting to note the big differences between the ages of most California's wineries and their European counterparts. When did California come into its own in the world of wine?"
S. T., Stevenson Ranch

The European grape varieties, called Vitus Vinifera, are considered to be the finest for making wine. They were brought to California in the mid-19th century. Winemaking in Califor¬nia enjoyed a short spurt of success until a vine pest called phylloxera, which at¬tacks the root system of vines, de¬stroyed many of the vineyards. The grape vine's natural root system was susceptible to this pest, but native Cali¬fornia vines weren't. The solution was to graft the vines of the susceptible plants to the roots of the resistance ones. California caught on to this idea early, but it took Europe a bit longer. By the end of the 19th century, phylloxera had decimated most European vineyards.

At the beginning of this century, as Europe was recovering from the scourge of phylloxera, California was struck by the scourge of Prohibition. Prohibition (1920 to 1933) virtually destroyed the wine industry. Vineyard owners survived by uprooting their fine wine grapevines and replanting inferior, but easily transportable, table grape varietals. With Repeal, the California wine industry was reestablished, but since the fine wine grapes were largely not available, wineries concentrated on quantity instead of quality. Inexpensive "jug" wines and sweet dessert wine produc¬tion was the order of the day. The re¬vival of California fine wines did not occur until the early '60's when in¬creased demand for table wines forced planting of the better varietals.

While Europe can draw on centu¬ries of experience in both viticulture and winemaking, the California industry essentially began in the '50's and '60's. But its progress has been rapid thanks to highly innovative scientific practices unencumbered by tradition. Extensive microbiological research and fermen¬tation techniques developed in Califor¬nia are responsible for the delicate, finely flavored white wines we have today. Yet, in keeping with tradition, many winemakers still age their wines in small oak barrels while fermentation is carried out in modern, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks or hy¬gienically sound barrels. Vineyards, too, have moved forward with stricter crop control because quality, generally speaking, is in inverse proportion to quantity. Today's California wine pro¬duction is a combination of old world traditions and new world technology. And, the best is yet to come.

Adventures in Eating

This recipe uses one of my favorite combinations, sea bass and parchment paper. Sea bass is absolutely perfect this time of year. You must get it fresh as the ten¬der flakiness, which tastes like but¬ter, is lost once the fish is frozen.

If you've never cooked in parch¬ment paper, you're in for a real treat. This method can both brown the fish and cook it in its own juices for added flavor. You can substitute aluminum foil for the parchment but it won't come out exactly the same.

The beauty of using parchment is that it allows for some evaporation on the outside of the fish while still holding the juices inside the fish. I guess you could say it's like getting your fish and eating it too. (Does anybody know what that expression means?)

Sea Bass in Parchment with Spinach
To prepare this dish you will need:
Dish to marinate fish.
Parchment paper.
1 lb fillet of sea bass
2 bunches fresh spinach
4 cloves garlic, minced
Black olive paste
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice from 1 lemon
1 cup dry white wine or vermouth
Pierce fish with fork all over. Mari¬nate in lemon juice, wine, salt and pepper for 2-6 hours, turning every 60 minutes. While fish is marinat¬ing, clean and stem spinach. Spin dry in salad spinner or pat dry carefully. Do not wring out. Saute in olive oil with half the garlic until just barely wilted. Remove excess water. Cut two pieces of parchment paper in the shape of a heart and fold in two. Cut the fish in half. Put half the spinach and half the remaining garlic on one half of one piece of parchment. Place the fish on top and spread the olive paste over the top. Fold over the pa-per and crimp all the edges to seal. Repeat for other piece of parchment. Bake in preheated 425° oven for 12 minutes and serve immediately. Each parchment serves two.
By Ed Masciana from his hopefully soon-to-be-published book: Living Well, A Cooking Guide for the Healthy Hedonist.

Earlier Selections

Item: Description Qty. Member Reorder Prices Total #395A Cab. Franc, '92. L. Martini "Fresh cranberry and spice." Reg. Price $9.99 37% disc. $75.48/case $6.29/each
#395B Colombard, '94. Swartland "Clean melon and tangy citrus." Reg. Price $7.99 37.55% disc. $59.88/case $4.99/each
#295A Gewurzt., '93, Son. Creek "Spicy pineapple and tangerine." Reg. Price $8.99 30.03% disc. $67.08/case $5.59/each
#295B Cabernet Sauv., '91. MzzCrn "Light berry, clean finish." Reg. Price $7.99 33.37% disc $71.88/case $5.99/each
#195A Syrah, 1992. Ramsay "Bold, authoritative blackberry." Reg. Price $9.99 40.04% disc. $71.88/case $5.99/each
#195B Chard., '93.Dom. de Brenier "Clean, tangy pineapple hints." Reg. Price $8.99 27.84% disc. $77.88/case $6.49/each
#1294A Brut, 1991. Mirassou "Heady, yeasty and slight toast." Reg. Price $13.99 50.0% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#1294B Ries. LH., '93. Da Vinci" "Stunning apricot and mango." Reg. Price $14.99 27.84% disc. $59.88/case $4.99/each
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