Wine of The Week

Oktoberfest means beer

Posted on: Friday 10/14/2011 3:02pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

People are always amazed when I tell them that I really like beer. I know that my moniker, The Vine Guy, suggests otherwise, but my first love before wine was beer. I even brewed my own for several years – until my wife became pregnant with our first child and she had an “adverse” reaction to the smell of the wort. But my love affair with beer continues.

With the onset of Oktoberfest, my beer-roots bubble up to the surface like the head of a perfectly poured lager.

My passion for Oktoberfest is to drive home the point that, just like fine wine, many beers are brewed to be paired with specific types of food. Particularly the beers from the Netherland…

Brewing has been an integral part of life in the village of Hoegaarden, Belgium, since 1318. By the fifteenth century, Begarden monks settled in the area and began brewing Belgian white (or wit) ales. By the end of the nineteenth Century, the village boasted more than 35 breweries, although the town only had 2,000 people. Hoegaarden Witbier, Belgian White Ale boasts a spicy nose, courtesy of real Curaçao orange peel and coriander that are used in the brewing process.

Try pairing with salmon or the classic Belgian-inspired “moules et frites” (mussels with shoestring fried potatoes). ($12/six-pack)

Stella Artois was originally brewed as a special holiday beer, but demand was so high, it eventually became available year round. The lager features a creamy, lemony nose and a crisp-yet-mellow finish. The subtle bitter aftertaste works well with intensely flavored Thai, Asian Fusion and Indian dishes such as curries. The bitterness also helps cut through cream sauces in pastas and contrasts the creaminess of flavorful semi-soft cheeses, such as Havarti and Brie. ($12/six-pack)

The monks of St. Norbert began brewing Leffe beer in 1240 for the community surrounding the Abbey Notre Dame de Leffe. The Leffe Blonde is a fruity and lightly spiced dry ale which features a wonderful balance between bitterness and flavor. Roasted malt results in a nose of roasted nuts and roasted coffee. Delicate flavors of orange blossoms and citrus are noted on the front of the palate while a honeyed finish extends over the back of the tongue and lingers as a subtle aftertaste. Perfect with meat dishes like grilled pork loin or hamburger. ($12/six-pack)

For something brewed a little closer to home, try the deeply amber-colored Samuel Adams Octoberfest, a seasonal lager beer made in the märzen style. Brewed using five different roasts of malt, it has distinctive notes of roasted coffee, caramel and toffee that are nicely balanced by the refreshing hops pm the crisp, bitter finish. A nice match with traditional bratwurst or local half-smokes. ($11/six-pack)

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Oregon Pinot Noir, a fall classic

Posted on: Friday 10/7/2011 4:36pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, roughly an hour’s drive south of Portland, is now known for producing world class pinot noir wines that have a style all their own.

In general, they are a touch bolder than their French cousins and a bit rounder than the pinot noir revolution going on Down Under.

They display flavors of wild strawberry, dark cherry, graphite, tea and bramble. Stony minerality is another hallmark feature of these wines.

Best of all, they’re just right for fall. Retail prices are approximate.

Benton Lane is a family owned winery located in the heart of the Willamette Valley. They have a unique approach to growing fruit and producing wine, taking the best practices of sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming techniques. Their 2008 Benton Lane Pinot Noir displays red fruit and dark cherry characters, both in the nose and on the palate. Wild cherry and juicy raspberry flavors intermingle with hints of spice and minerals. $21

Founded in 1974 by Pat and Joe Campbell, Elk Cove Vineyards is one of Oregon’s oldest wine producers. Today, their son, Adam, continues the family legacy of producing textured, stylish wines. The 2008 Elk Cove Willamette Valley Pinot Noir displays vibrant aromas of black cherries, spices and vanilla. Intriguing flavors of nutmeg combine with ripe flavors of strawberries and cherries and mineral overtones. The mouth feel is soft, round and warm with a juicy impression of ripe fruit. The finish is long, with hints of baking spices, vanilla and sweet tannins, all balanced by abundant acidity. $22

A friend of mine recently told me about a winemaker, Patricia Green, who was producing seductive pinot noir, so I decided to track down a bottle. I am glad that I did. The flavors and aromas in the 2009 Patricia Green Cellars Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir sweeten and deepen as the wine opens and finds its balance. A round entry gives way to a mouthful of juicy raspberry, black cherry and strawberry flavors balanced by fine-grain tannins that support a long, pretty finish. $36

Cristom Winery owners, Paul and Eileen Gerrie, moved to Oregon in 1992 with their two children, Christine and Tom, (Cristom in a contraction of the children’s names), with the dream of starting a winery dedicated to making world class Pinot Noir. With the help of longtime winemaker, Steve Doerner, I would say “mission accomplished.” The 2007 Cristom Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley exhibits complex aromas of roses, cherries and strawberries. It has a softer feel in the mouth that allows the lighter fruit characteristics (red cherries, raspberries and strawberries) to linger on the palate and just enough sweet tannin to reward the palate with a spectacularly long, seductive finish. $49

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Champagne Houses

Posted on: Friday 9/30/2011 2:22pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Last week, I reviewed the wines of a few co-ops. Tonight, we’ll talk about wines from a few unique Champagne Houses.

Back in 1981, Bruno Paillard founded his eponymous winery with a passion for Champagne and a specific vision based on blending the best wines. “We have a priority of assemblage,” declares Mr. Paillard. “It is a process of composition which allows a House to blend from vintage to vintage and from vineyard to vineyard in order to achieve consistency of a style. That is why a House bears the name of a person instead of a place. Something to consider.”

I enjoy considering the consistently delicious Non-vintage Bruno Paillard Brut Premier Cuvee – a tribute to Bruno’s vision of maintaining a “house style”. Tiny, elegant bubbles carry flavors of roasted nuts, green apple and bright citrus. Just a hint of orange clove and biscuit on the crisp, refreshing finish lends a note of refinement. $40

In stark contrast to the traditional House “style” is Champagne Jacquesson. Founded in 1798 by Memmie Jacquesson, it remained true to its heritage of style and consistency. But in 1974 it was sold to the current owners, the Chiquet family. When brothers, Jean-Hervé and Laurent Chiquet took over the operation in 1988, they made a radical decision to redirect the winery from a “House” philosophy to a “grower” philosophy, emphasizing a sense of place versus a sense of style.

The wonderfully dry Non-vintage Champagne Jacquesson 735 Cuvee Brut is a testament to the new style of winemaking embraced by the brothers Chiquet. The “700 Series” of wines is produced from the same Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards from the same vintage, with small additions of reserve wine from previous vintages as needed. The intention, according to Jean- Hervé is to, “retain the best characteristics of each harvest and not to disguise the variations that each year brings.” It features flavors of honey, apple and nectarine on a weighty palate with exceptional balance and finesse. The slightly creamy mouthfeel provides a silky-yet-firm finish. $60

Champagne Philipponnat is another House that advocates terroir over technique, using pinot noir grapes from their coveted hillside vineyard, Clos des Goisses, a five and a half hectare site overlooking the Marne River. In addition, the House buys chardonnay and pinot muenier grapes from exceptional growers. Charles Philipponnat describes the House style as a balance between freshness and intensity. “We want to produce a wine with complexity without weight,” he is fond of saying.

The Non-vintage Philipponnat Brut Royal Reserve is a blend of mostly pinot noir with 30 percent chardonnay and a small amount of pinot muenier. Aromas of ginger and brioche dominate the nose while flavors of nectarine, lime and roasted nuts sit lightly on a frame of chalky minerality. The finish is delicate and charming, leaving a graceful impression on the tongue. $40

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Champagne primer: Growers and co-ops

Posted on: Friday 9/23/2011 2:31pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

This week, I’ll review wines of growers and cooperatives and next week I’ll cover houses.

The largest cooperative in Champagne is Nicolas Feuillatte. With over 5,500 growers in the co-op, it produces over 8 million bottles of Champagne annually. That may sound like a lot of wine, but considering that the region produces over 340 million bottles of bubbly per year, it’s just a drop in the Champagne bucket. Given the sizeable production, the Non-vintage Nicolas Feuillatte Brut ($28) is remarkably refined, with notes of toasted brioche and crisp apple on the front of the palate and a touch of roasted hazel nuts on the medium-balanced finish.

Representing one of the oldest wine regions in the area is Champagne Mailly, a prominent co-op made of up of 70 growers. All of the grapes sourced for the wine come exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards near the village of Mailly. This quality is expressed in the chalky minerality of the Non-vintage Mailly Brut Reserve ($55) which supports flavors of rip apple, honey and bees wax. Moderate acidity keeps the wine fresh and in balance.

Growers pride themselves on making wines that have a sense of place, or terroir, and few do it better than Pierrer Gimonnet. The Non-vintage Pierrer & Fils Blanc de Blancs Brut ($40) is made exclusively from chardonnay and boasts flavors of creamy lemon and nectarine that are elegantly woven into a round, balanced wine with wonderful structure and tiny, precise bubbles. A touch of brioche is a pleasant highlight at the end of the graceful finish.

Collard-Picard is a grower/producer with deep roots – figuratively and literally – in Champagne. Husband Oliver Collard is a fifth generation grower and his wife, Caroline Picard, is fourth generation. Together, they make wines of artisanal quality, like the Non-vintage Collard-Picard “Prestige” Brut Champagne ($45). A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the wine is aged in oak casks, blended, and then aged for over three years. Flavors of biscuit highlight notes of apple blossom, peach and honey on the front of the palate. Crisp acidity and mineral notes provide a remarkably fresh and balanced finish.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Family reunion wines

Posted on: Friday 9/9/2011 12:40pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

My mother in-law hails from Louisville, and makes the best fried chicken I have ever eaten. My brother in-law lives near San Francisco and grills a mean salmon. My aunt in-law grew up in southern California and has an affinity for lamb. Me? I’m known for my neighborhood-famous teriyaki flank steak. To celebrate our last evening together, my father in-law thought it would be fun to have a smorgasbord and try each of our specialties collectively. A wine pairing disaster if I ever did see one.

I decided to orchestrate the evening by starting with the fried chicken, then the salmon, followed by the flank steak and finishing up with the rack of lamb. Once the order of the meal was set, the wine pairings fell into place, with lighter-styled wines kicking off the evening and bigger wines towards the end of the meal. Retail prices are approximate.

Pairing wine with fried chicken was a new experience for me, but I knew I wanted a wine that would hold up to the spiciness of the coating but not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the meat. The 2007 Trimbach Pinot Blanc from the Alsace region of France hit just the right balance. This straight-forward wine has a bright, fruit oriented bouquet, featuring scents of nectarine and peach. Flavors of summer stone fruit, apple blossoms and green melon slip across the tongue in an easy, uncomplicated way. Best of all, there is just the right amount of acidity to cut through the richness of the fried skin and keep the palate refreshed. ($16)

Pairing wine with salmon would usually be a snap. However, my brother in-law threw me a curve when he decided to grill the fish on a cedar plank with a maple-cayenne pepper glaze. The cedar plank departs a distinctive smoky note while the glaze adds both sweet and heat. I skipped the usual pinot noir pick and went with the 2006 St. Francis Pagani Ranch Zinfandel from Sonoma, California. This sumptuous Zinfandel has a remarkable bouquet of sweet blueberries and cherries. In the mouth, the ripe black cherries, dark plums and blueberry liqueur on the front of the tongue complement the sweet glaze while the touch of black pepper on the powerful finish keeps the heat in check. ($25)

Steak marinated in teriyaki and orange juice calls for a red wine with both strength and finesse. The 2007 Markham Merlot from Napa Valley, CA has an enticing nose of red currants and dried herbs cedar on the fragrant bouquet, but it is the smooth-textured palate, featuring flavors of blackberry and ripe dark plum, that makes this match work. The complex, lengthy finish shows off just a touch of smoky cedar and earthy notes. ($20)

Fortunately, the rack of lamb course was a classic preparation, roasted with rosemary and garlic, so the choice of wine was simple; Shiraz. The 2007 D’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz from the McLaren Vale appellation of Australia has just a touch of Viognier blended in to smooth out the bold flavors of blackberry, licorice and black pepper and give the long, elegant finish a slightly floral quality that plays off of the rosemary notes. ($24)

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reser4ve

Labor Day pains: What wine to choose this weekend

Posted on: Friday 9/2/2011 11:40am By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

If you’re still firmly rooted in “summer” mode, then try the 2007 Trimbach Pinot Blanc from the Alsace region of France is perfect to chill out with. The pretty straw-colored wine has a lovely floral nose that includes scents of nectarines and lemon rind. The crisp flavors of apples, pears and honeyed-citrus make this a wine to pair with either grilled seafood or barbeque chicken. And for around $14, you can’t go wrong.

If you think that Labor Day signals the start of fall, then you’re probably looking for a great excuse to entertain friends one last time before the grind of school, work and sports schedules dictates your routine and throw a party with grilled meats and the appropriate big red wine to compliment it, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Syrah.

If you’re going to go for a big red wine, try the 2008 Michael-David Seven Deadly Zins Zinfandel form Lodi, California. This is a full-throttled, sumptuous Zinfandel from the center of California. It has a remarkable bouquet, throwing off scents reminiscent of chocolate covered blackberries, blueberries and cherries. In the mouth, it tastes like ripe black cherries, dark plums and blueberry liqueur on the front of the tongue and a touch of black pepper on the powerful finish. It’s the perfect accompaniment with either burger or steak.

And if you’re looking to keep the peace in your family this holiday weekend, why not chose something in between, like a rosé? Aurelio Montes is responsible for some of Chile’s best wines. Made from 100 % Syrah grown near the Pacific coast, the 2010 Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah from Chile offers seductive scents of rose petal, orange peel and strawberry. Bright cherry and strawberry flavors predominate with brisk acidity and a firm lingering finish. Great with just about anything. $15

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

White wines from the Loire Valley

Posted on: Friday 8/12/2011 9:26am By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

The wines of the Loire Valley have long been a favorite of wine lovers throughout Europe and sought out by knowledgeable consumers here in the United States for decades.

However, most Loire Valley wines go unnoticed by most wine buyers, which is too bad, since so many of these wines are just what the wine doctor ordered for cooling down on hot days.

Here are a few choice Loire Valley wines to slip into your picnic basket or serve well-chilled at your next party.

Made exclusively from chenin blanc, the 2009 Champalou Vouvray, Loire Valley, France has a lovely nose of peaches and nectarines. The full mouthfeel offers up more peach fruit notes and hints of ripe apples and cloves. The long finish is full and rich, with notes of wet stones and spices. The wine offers an excellent value and a solid introduction to this splendid region. $17

Also made from chenin blanc is the 2010 Domaine des Aubuisieres Vouvray Cuvee de Silex, Loire Valley, France. This wine has a delightful nose of apple blossom, lemon and minerals. Citrus flavors and light honey notes dominate the palate and add just a touch of sweetness at the end, but the wine maintains a very clean, crisp finish, thanks to substantial acidity. $18

A delicious introduction to the Sancerre appellation is the 2009 Thomas Crele Sancerre, Loire Valley, France. Made from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, the nose of ripe pears and orange cloves is memorable. In the mouth, the wine feels lush and full with flavors of pears, apples and the ever-present mineral notes. The medium-bodied finish is smooth and well balanced, with hints of lemon peel popping in at the end. $24

Another sauvignon blanc from Sancere is the 2010 Vacheron Sancerre, Loire Valley, France. This wine has a nose of honey and minerals that is rich and powerful. On the palate, it is intense, yet bright with predominate flavors of pear, white peach and nectarine. The finish is long and lush with hints of wet stone at the end. $27

For a special treat, try the 2007 Baumard Savennieres Trie Speciale from the Anjou region of the Loire Valley. This Chenin Blanc features a nose of ripe apples, white flowers and wet stone. The palate has a polished texture that features a complex mixture of roasted almonds, white nectarines and honey. The long finish continues to entice the tongue with notes of toast and minerals. A delicious alternative to the everyday chardonnay. $28

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Ship, Ship Hooray

Posted on: Friday 8/5/2011 11:38am By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Washington, D.C. has allowed residents to receive wine shipments for quite some time and Virginia opened their boarders shortly before the high court’s ruling. Until recently, Maryland was the lone holdout in the area.

Starting July 1, Maryland joined its neighbors, allowing wineries located outside of the state to ship up to 18 cases of wine per year to Maryland residents who are of legal drinking age. The Maryland bill excludes shipments from out of state retailers.

Virginia allows up to two cases of wine or two cases of beer per month for your personal consumption and not for resale.

But just because consumers can get wines shipped to their doorstep, doesn’t necessarily mean they should.

Pros

  • Access to highly allocated and “cult” status wines.
  • It comes to you!

Cons

  • Taxes are still collected by the winery, so no cost savings
  • Shipping adds an additional expense of three – five dollars per bottle
  • Wine is subject to bottle shock or worse, adverse exposure to extreme temperatures during summer and winter months
  • Carbon footprint: Some shippers contain Styrofoam and shipping just one case at a time is very inefficient

Unless the wine is impossible to find, I am in favor of developing a relationship with a local wine shop, which can have many ancillary benefits.

As your merchant gets to know you and your palate, he or she can offer suggestions that can broaden both your knowledge and your appreciation for different styles of wines.

Next, many wine shops will actually let you try a wine before you buy it. Or, at the very least, will include you on an email list that will alert you to in-store wine tastings, many featuring winemakers or producers.

I also like the fact that I can buy a couple of bottles to take home and enjoy them in a more neutral environment. That way, if I like the wine, I can always call the wine shop and ask them to put a few more bottles aside for me. A few too many times I have had my “wine goggles” on while visiting a winery or wine shop and end up ordering a case (or two) of a particular wine only to discover that once I get it home, I am not as in love with it as I thought I was.

Lastly, many wine shops offer discounts to regular customers, especially if they are recommending a particular wine. By the way, it is always prudent to ask for a “case discount” (usually ten percent or more) when you are buying twelve or more bottles of wine from any merchant.

The bottom line is that shipping laws now provide more options to consumers to purchase hard to find or “cult” status wines that local wine shops may not have access to, and that’s a good thing. But I would recommend that consumers first ask their local wine merchants to find and acquire a particular wine on their behalf. If you do order wine online, make sure that the juice is worth the proverbial squeeze. Shipping charges and exposure to extreme temperatures in transit can turn your prized wine into sour grapes.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

White Burgundies to Love

Posted on: Friday 7/29/2011 10:38am By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Many wine lovers consider chardonnay from Burgundy to be the Holy Grail of white wines, sought after by collectors for their seductive flavors, incredible balance and remarkable aging potential.

The 2009 ripe fruit vintage produced wines with solid core flavors, good acidity and lovely concentration and balance. Here are a few excellent values to lookout for.

The 2009 Maison Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne takes advantage of sourcing their chardonnay grapes from all over Burgundy. Chablis-like in character, with hints of honeysuckle and nectarine on the nose, it sports a solid mouthfeel, featuring flavors of baked apples and green melon, with just a whisper of mineral notes on the crisp finish. Even though this is the winery's entry-level wine, I think it is always a special treat. ($14)

Despite the fact this vineyard is located just outside the village of Chablis proper, the 2009 Guy Mothe Domaine de Colombier Petit Chablis retains all of the true characteristics of Chablis, with tangy notes of green apple and citrus in the mouth and flinty crisp dryness on the mineral supported finish. ($16)

If your palate favors a richer style chardonnay, try the 2009 Michel Bouzereau Bourgogne Blanc. Its floral bouquet is seductive and the well-delineated flavors of apples, citrus and buttered toast are supported on a creamy texture. The medium-bodied finish is persistent and clean. ($20)

A personal favorite in our home is the 2009 Verget Mâcon-Bussières Vieilles Vignes du Clos. It's a step up from the producer's Mâcon Village, featuring intense flavors of crisp apple, green melon and ripe pear. A touch of citrus and mineral notes on the slightly flinty finish provides nice balance and structure. ($22)

Ex-pat Blair Pethel makes an extraordinary chardonnay from his winery in the Cote de Beaune region. Blair's 2009 Dublere Bourgogne Blanc is graced by scents of acacia and melon on the lovely nose that beautifully compliments the flavors of green apples and pear in the mouth. The balance is delightful, featuring a clean, crisp finish. ($25)

The 2009 Jean-Marc Boillot 1er Cru from the Montagny region is simply stunning for a premier cru level wine at this price. It sports mouth-filling flavors of ripe apples, pear on the front of the palate and a touch of slate and wet stone on the beautifully round finish. ($25)

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Spanish Wine Values

Posted on: Friday 7/22/2011 3:18pm

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

What do Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Portugal all have in common? At one time or another, each of these wine-producing countries was considered the little darling of wines values.

Well, today, there's a new country in town. Spain. The third largest wine producing country in the world is now gaining a reputation on the world wine stage as making very good wines at very reasonable prices.

Capital investments in modern winemaking equipment and a new breed of young winemakers with contemporary winemaking ideas have revolutionized the industry. This combination has added up to one great bang-for-the-buck for the American consumer.

There are some terrific white wines under $15 and a plethora of delicious red wines for under $25. Surprisingly, many of the red wines can be enjoyed at both a young or considered for long-term cellaring, thanks to prominent tannin structure.

For a summer white wine treat, try the 2009 Protos Verdejo from the Rueda region. Produced from 100 percent verdejo grapes and fermented in stainless steel vats, the wine features floral scents of honeysuckle, green apple and nectarine. Flavors of apple, orange blossom and tropical fruits are buoyed by delicate mineral notes and nice acidity. $14

One does not often hear about wines from the Coast Brava section of Spain, but the 2009 Oliver Conti Turo Negre could change that. Turo Negre is Catalonian for the "black hill" that sits at the edge of the estate, located in the Empordą region. A red wine blend made from separately vinified and aged cabernet sauvignon, merlot, granacha, cabernet franc and a touch of carignano, it spends about one year aging in French oak barrels, just enough time to give the juicy black cherry fruit, plums and licorice flavors a chance to mellow and meld with the refreshing acidity. The touch of pepper on the deep finish is just right. $15

The 2004 Castillo Labastida Rioja Reserva from Rioja is made exclusively from old-vine tempranillo grapes. It is superbly balanced and refined with notes of ripe red cherry, cocoa and vanilla on the front of the palate and hints of tobacco and smoke on the elegant finish. $19

An example of a remarkable value in hand-crafted wine is the 2006 Convento San Francisco Crianza from Ribera Del Duero. The fruit, a blend of 90 percent tempranillo and 10 percent merlot, is sourced from a number of vineyard sites around Ribera del Duero, including 50 percent from pre-phylloxera old vines.

The wine is aged in a combination of French and American barrels for 14 months and sports a bouquet of black plums and tobacco. Stylish flavors of blackberry, dark plum and cherry dominate the palate. Lovely notes of licorice and tobacco mingle with soft tannins and bright acidity to provide remarkable balance and structure on the lingering finish. All this for $25.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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