Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The father of our neighbor was George Sternfels, and over the course of the evening he regaled us with tales of learning the wine business, first in Paris and later in Manhattan, then of being in the distribution business, and currently where he teaches wine appreciation classes in Florida. In addition to being a wonderful dinner partner and a great story teller, he says he thinks he is the oldest living enlisted man from the D-Day invasion. Wounded in France after the invasion, he recovered back at headquarters. After the war ended, he found himself managing a large hotel for Allied officers in Saint-Cloud near Paris. He learned about French wines, knowledge he took back with him to New York. He owned two different wine stores, and helped introduce many Americans to the art of appreciating wine.
After starting in the hospitality business, George worked in retail and worked for Heubleins, a distribution company. He retired to Florida in the 1970s, and began teaching wine appreciation courses in Gainesville. He is active, entertaining, and still has a keen taste for excellent wine. He has clearly conveyed that passion for wine to his daughter, and we were lucky to share it as well.
As it happens, George brought a bottle of Barolo, a Brunate 2001 which we opened and decanted when he arrived. I had decanted a bottle of Cannubi Barolo, Fratelli Serio e Battista Borgogno, 1998. My bottle, however, didn't taste right to me. It was lacking that massive body, intriguing tannins, and wonderful lingering aftertaste that marks a wonderful Barolo wine. I thought it might need some airing, so I let it sit.
We started with Bellinis, a cocktail made of fresh white peach juice and sparkling Prosecco wine. I cooked a steak, and Dory prepared fresh green beans, and a salad with local greens from our CSA. We were enjoying the conversation, getting ready for a memorable meal, and anticipating the wine. But when we sat at the dinner table, I thought something was wrong.
Barolo is one of my favorite wines. It is complex and inspirational. But my wine, the '98 Cannubi, which I normally really like, wasn't tasting very good. Nobody else complained, but it just didn't seem right to me. After a few minutes I left the table and opened another bottle, a 1997 Reserva from the same vintner. This wine was sublime, the way Barolo should be.
The Brunate was more fruity than the (1997) Cannubi, but both wines were excellent. We don't often have a chance to meet D-Day heros, or to share a meal over not one but two bottles of a world class wine. But as we finished the evening over Grappa, we felt like we had experienced a very special evening.
Monday, August 11, 2008
May 11th, 2008
The Wine was Tempranillo, a Spanish grape from the Rioja region.
The Meal was leg of lamb, grilled to perfection, with roasted potatoes, a chick pea salad, and a roasted red pepper salad.
The Cheeses, all hand made by Appleton Creamery, were
• Grilled Halloumi kebabs, a unique cheese made from half goat milk and half sheep milk, grilled over coals with onions, mushrooms, and peppers.
• Pepper lime log, a soft goat cheese,
• Brie from local sheep milk
• Penobscot Fog, an ash coated Goat Cheese
Desert was a cinnamon infused Flan, accompanied by sparkling wine made in Appleton of local pear (90%) and crabapple (10%) by one of our wine tasting regulars. This wine was dubbed by “the best thing he’s ever made” by local critic and life partner Cait.
The occasion was an opportunity for old friends to enjoy the evening and the company and to celebrate the respective mothers on Mothers day. We get together on a regular basis to taste wines and enjoy a meal.
We chose Tempranillo as a theme last fall, and this was the first opportunity to explore this grape. Often blended with Garnacha and Carignane, it is the core of most wines from the Rioja region in Northern Spain. For this evening we tried to find wines that were 100% Tempranillo, and our six selections were generally medium-bodied and noticeably tannic. Guests followed our usual convention and were instructed to bring a bottle of Tempranillo wine that cost less than $20. The selections we tasted cost between $9 and $13.99 each, and all were 100% Tempranillo.
SPADA, 2005, $11, 13.5%, www.handpickedselections.com This was our favorite wine, excellent with the lamb, with cherry and licorice notes.
FONTAL TEMPRANILLO ROBLE, 2003, $9.20, 13%, www.winebow.com This wine had less astringency than the others, leading us to think it was a blend of other grapes (it wasn’t). The label attributes the smoothness to the oak barrels.
CAMPO VIEJO CRIANZA, 2005, $10.99, 13.5%, www.campoviejo.com We tasted cherry in this wine also, but there was a decided tartness. Those that liked it called it tannic, and those that didn’t called it bitter.
ALBET i NOYA TEMPRANILLO CLASSIC, 2006, $13.99, 13% www.albetinoya.cat Our most expensive wine by a hair, this was an acceptable wine but not remarkable. Several people said it had a nice balance.
MANYANA TEMPRANILLO CRIANZA, 2001, $10.99, 13.9% www.prestigewinegroup.com This was the first wine we opened and the comments were “Bitter” “Unremarkable” “ Flat” and “drinkable but not special”.
MONTECILLO CRIANZA, 2004, $9, 13.5% bottled by Bedegas Montecillo SA. When first tasted this wine was universally panned. Guests used words like chicken manure and other less than complementary terms to describe it. It was ranked last.
A curious result of this tasting was that prior to the evening many of us professed to really liking Tempranillo, but afterwards we thought our selections were kind of humdrum and not that special. Two of us said we had really enjoyed one of the bottles within the last week, only to find that at our tasting it was not as special as we thought.
Some of the wines were labeled Crianza. This indicates that the wine has been aged for at least two years, one of those in oak barrels. The next levels of aging are Reserva and Gran Reserva, each of which require longer aging and more time in oak.
For me there were three things I learned during this evening. First, the Appleton Creamery Halloumi cheese, grilled and eaten warm with the grilled vegetables, was outstanding. We had enjoyed grilled Scamorza in Italy, but this Cypriot cheese had a different texture, firmer, more like a mozzerella but less stringy.
Second, it may be that to get memorable Tempranillo you need to go the blended route, or perhaps spend more money. These selections were just not that outstanding.
Finally, (and I knew this before,) the thing that makes these evenings really wonderful is the combination of good company, good food, and good wine.
A note on the tasting process:
On arrival at our house, guest hand a bottle of wine to me (which I am quite fond of, I have to say!). I take the bottles into another room and wrap them in newspaper after removing the foil. I mark each bottle with a piece of colored yarn. Each person at the table has an array of stemware, one for each wine, and each glass marked with a piece of yarn. I pour about an ounce of wine into the same yarn-color glass and we discuss the wine. We use a 20 point wine scoring sheet, but it is really just a prompt to induce more detailed comments. I try to capture descriptive words, and prompt more details about what it is tasters like or dislike, and why. We start with wine and whatever snacks or cheese we may be serving, and then move towards the meal. So each wine is tasted with appetizers and with the meal. After all wines have been poured and discussed, we remove the paper and talk about cost, what the merchant said, and any other anecdotes. Finally, we report which wines we liked and didn’t and why, and then I try to faithfully record all this (the next day, of course!)