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Wine Review: Le Grand Pinot Noir 2009

June 6th, 2011 No comments

This rich, dark red hails from the Limoux region of Southern France.  With sufficient aroma, the Le Grand Pinot Noir 2009’s nose consists of delightful red berries, cherries, raspberries, currants, and a note of fig.  The wine is rounded, and delights the taste buds with exploding flavors of red berries, cherries, and currants.  Its semi-spicy kick is nicely countered by its smooth, balanced, satisfying finish rich with tannins.  Though not an extremely complex wine, the Le Grand Pinot Noir 2009 is quite good considering its average low price of $8.99 a bottle.  In fact, I find the wine to be better than some higher-priced red Burgundies.  Pairing well with salads, various cheese platters, game birds, and fish dishes including salmon and tuna, this is a good wine to enjoy with light, summertime fare, as well as with hearty pork!  Although Le Grand Pinot Noir’s logo may contain a black sheep, this wine is certainly an inexpensive winner in my book!

Because this is a such an inexpensive, versatile wine, this would be an excellent choice to purchase by the case when throwing a party. To really impress your guests, store and serve from an elegant wine credenza, a combination wine storage cabinet and serving table!

Le Grand Pinot Noir 2009

Wine and Food: What Not To Mix

Wine and Food Pairing pic courtesy of pjwineblog.com

We’re often told what wines go well with certain food items, but we rarely discuss which wines and foods don’t mix well.  Here’s a few “don’ts”

  • Though a Chardonnay pairs well with chicken, salmon, and creamy sauces, it fails to delight when sipped with hot, spicy foods!
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  • Even a good bottle of Pinot Noir can become offensive when served with hot and spicy foods, and vice versa.
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  • If you’re having a semi-spicy dish filled with tomatoes, it’s best to avoid serving Pinot Grigio–the wine often mistakenly believed to “go with everything”.
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  • Dry Rieslings do not mix well with sweet foods and sugary dessert items.
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  • Neither will Sancerre or a Merlot (though many people often try the latter and are surprised by the unpleasant result!)
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  • When serving fish dishes, avoid serving a Shiraz.  And even a decent Cabernet may be too much for select fish dishes–it depends on the fish, and your taste!

  Remember: it’s all about balance.  You don’t want a strong wine to overpower a light food item, or a hearty dish to overpower a lighter wine.  Have fun with your wine pairing adventures, and refer to the advice above to avoid any (unpleasant) surprises!

Fotinos Brothers Presents the 2007 Pinot Noir, and a Sale!

April 28th, 2011 No comments

The 2007 Pinot Noir from Fotinos Brothers proudly hails from Napa Valley. (The 2007 is the second offering from the inaugural release in 2006.) For a second vintage, this wine is impressive, and Jake Austad from Vintage Cellars had the opportunity to taste and review it. “The upfront is pure cherry,” he recalls, “and a smooth mouth feel is followed by a taste of more ripe cherry and sugarplums.” The wine also possesses an enveloping, soft finish that “gives way to a secondary taste of raspberry.”

The Fotinos Brothers Vinyard

Fotinos Brothers is tucked away in the Los Carneros region of Napa.  All the fruit is entirely estate grown, hand picked, and double sorted. The family’s wine-making tradition extends back to Greece, but came to the U.S. in the early 20th Century via immigration. Thus, the family legacy continues in America!

The Fotinos Brothers Los Carneros 2007 Pinot Noir opened to great reviews, and was awarded a Gold Medal at the 9th Annual Pinot Noir Shootout. This wine will also be showcased during the annual Pinot Noir Summit in a blind tasting courtesy of Affairs of the Vine and CRN Talk Radio.

An invitation is extended to our blog readers (this means you!) to join Lot 18 for fantastic deals on premium wines, private flash sale discounts, and more. (Lot 18 is a membership-by-invitation website that features coveted wines at appealing discounts.) For a very limited time, Lot 18 members can even purchase the 2007 Pinot Noir at a discount nearing 50%. So, go ahead and try the Fotinos Brothers Los Carneros 2007 Pinot Noir. With this wine, you are in for an ambrosial treat!

Fotinos Brothers Winery - Pinot Noir

Course-by-Course Thanksgiving Wine Guide

November 15th, 2010 No comments

This Thanksgiving turkey might be too pretty to eat!

There’s nothing wrong with picking a wine or two that will please all your guests and complement your full buffet of Thanksgiving dishes.  In fact, if that’s your style, we have two posts for you: one on great Thanksgiving wines, and one on Beaujolais Nouveau.

But if you’re more of the adventurous type when it comes to wine, you might think about another great technique: pairing a wine with each course.  This can be a great way to facilitate spirited dinner table conversation (something you might be looking for if you have guests you don’t know that well), or keep the table talk away from that family-dinner mood-killers: politics.  If you find your interest piqued, take a “pique” at our handy Thankgiving pairing guide:

Appetizers (think olives, pate, cheese and crackers, and the like): Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, and sparkling white wine.

Creamy soup (like a first course of roasted butternut squash soup, my family favorite): Full-bodied whites such as Chardonnay.

Green salad with vinaigrette (one with orange slices, bleu cheese and toasted walnuts makes a festive fall first course): High-acid wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Zinfandel.

Turkey and sides (of course): Think smooth.  Crisp and medium-bodied are words you should look for.  Try Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Sauvignon Blanc, or Pinot Grigio.

Desserts: If you can handle a dessert wine after all that food, go for Sauternes or Vin Santo.  If the mere thought makes your sweatpants feel tight, go for more Champagne, or (yes, we said it) coffee.

Great Wines for Thanksgiving

November 5th, 2010 No comments

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Louise Gerome

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, there’s no time like the present to start planning your dinner menu–and the wines that will go with it.  Choosing wines for Thanksgiving can be a challenge, because you have to please a variety of palates and complement a variety of dishes.  But have no fear!  Our suggestions will help get you through the holiday meal planning stress-free.

Champagne: If your concern is finding a wine that will continue to please from appetizers to pumpkin pie, look no further than champagne or sparkling wine.  As well as being a festive choice, champagne complements all kinds of flavors (even that sweet potato casserole that Aunt Edna insists on bringing every year).  Champagne also acts as a palate cleanser, refreshing the mouth after each rich Thanksgiving-meal bite.

Riesling: Riesling is excellent with dishes that are salty or sweet, like many Thanksgiving dishes.  It can be dry or sweet (we recommend dry as most likely to please a variety of palates.)  Its flavors of apple and honey make it a great complement to fall flavors.

Sauvignon Blanc: The acidic, mineral characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc make it thirst-quenching, a great quality when you’re eating a heavy meal.  Its refreshing quality will keep your guests’ tasebuds interested from mashed potatoes to stuffing.

Pinot Noir: A longtime Thanksgiving favorite, Pinot Noir’s hearty, earthy flavors make it a great match for the homey, earthy tastes of turkey and stuffing.

Beaujolais Nouveau: This is an easy-drinking, light and fruity wine that your guests will enjoy sipping all night.  Its easygoing character makes it pair well with the full spectrum of Thanksgiving dishes.  And each year, Beaujolais Noveau is released on “Beaujolais Day”–the third Thursday of November.  Perfect timing!

Which Wines Age Well?

September 7th, 2010 No comments

Some VERY old bottles. Let’s hope they have what it takes to open up well!

Aging a bottle of wine has a very distinct, qualitative effect on the contents. But it’s a very unpredictable effect. This leaves wine aficionados in a rough place–you don’t want to spend the time and the money aging a nice bottle of wine, only to open it up and find out that: a) you didn’t wait long enough, b.) you waited too long, or c.) it wasn’t a good candidate for aging anyway. Although wine aging is imprecise, there are some clues that can help you, like some psychic detective who figures out the crime in advance, determine the right bottles to cellar.

Sugar content and alcohol: A high percentage of sugar and alcohol slows the aging process, keeping the wine chemicals from reacting too fast and becoming unbalanced, or worse, turning to vinegar.

Tannins: Highly tannic wines are generally great candidates for aging. Tannins are phenolic compounds present in the skin, seeds, and stems of grapes (and thus, usually only in red wines). You know the wine you’re drinking is tannic when it gives your mouth a dry, puckering sensation that can be very unpleasant. But as tannins age, they bind to each other, losing their astringent quality and making the wine supple and smooth. They also bind to other compounds in the wine, changing their chemistry and giving the wine new, complex flavors.

Structure: Tannins don’t mean good aging by themselves. They need the proper acidity and fruitinesss to back them up.  Having great tannins or wonderful fruitiness alone isn’t enough. A wine that will age gracefully needs to have a backbone–or “structure” to it that will keep the wine from deteriorating into muddiness as it ages. A wine with good structure should have tannins backed up by distinct acidity and concentrated, nuanced fruit flavors.

Varietals that age well:

Riesling: A wonderful candidate for aging. A good Riesling can go on improving, growing rounder in flavor, virtually forever.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabs from Bordeaux, California, and many other places have the bold richness needed to age well. When determining whether a Cab will develop delicious secondary and tertiary flavors, ask yourself if it has the structure, tannins, and richness of fruit needed to hold up to years of aging.

Chardonnay: It depends. A rich, buttery Chardonnay doesn’t have the structure to age well and will fall apart within a few years. But acidic Chardonnays with rich mineral tastes can very well improve with aging.

Fortified wine: Port, Madeira and the like age wonderfully because their high quantities of sugar and alcohol act to slow down the aging process, meaning that they can open well after even hundreds of years.

Pinot Noir: Professional opinions vary. Many experts think that the taste of a young Pinot is so great that you shouldn’t hang on to one for more than five years. But others hold that a well-aged Pinot is the holy grail of the wine world. This grape, so unpredictable on the vine, is unpredictable in the cellar too.

Syrah: Most Syrahs age well, but only up to a limit–about 10 years.

Merlot: Merlot is a very forgiving wine. Many bottles taste great young, but will still benefit from some time in the cellar. So Merlot is a great varietal to experiment with–try a variety of ages and see what suits your tastes.

Zinfandel: Like Cabernet Sauvignon, many Zinfandels have the potential to age to greatness.

Old Italian wines: Yes, they’ve already been aging, so you might say they don’t count, but these wines can make a valuable addition to your cellar. Italian wines from the 50s and 60s age wonderfully because they were made by farmers with primitive equipment. Their wines ended up very high in tannins, making them great aging candidates.

Varietals that don’t:

Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and most Rosés: They don’t have the structure necessary for good aging.

Wines under $15: They’re made to drink now.

Champagne: Though some champagnes can age well, becoming rounder, softer, and less bubbly over time, most are not meant to. If you’re holding on to a 20-year old bottle from your wedding, you probably won’t like it.

Why age at all?

You may have heard that since most wine nowadays is drunk within 48 hours of purchase, winemakers are starting to cater to the customer who plans to open the bottle right away. There is some truth to this statement–some winemakers, for example, are tending to harvest Cabernet Sauvignon grapes when they are very ripe–almost too ripe. This results in a wine that is high in fruit, acid and tannins, meaning that you can drink it younger, but not necessarily that it tastes good. Wines like this lack the subtlety and grace of a “true” Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a richness of background flavors that makes drinking it anything but a one-note experience.

Wines that have the foundational flavors to age well–a balance of tannins, acids, fruit, sugar, and alcohol, will develop secondary and even tertiary flavors, meaning that the wine will keep surprising the palate with new tastes and aromas from the first sniff to the end of the bottle. These flavors, which can remind the drinker of smoke, leather, figs, soil, or a thousand other subtle smells and tastes, make the drinking of a properly aged bottle a completely unique experience.

Hints for wine collectors:

No one can predict the perfect age at which a wine should be opened.  If you want to come as close to perfect as possible, the best thing to do is buy a case of wine at a time, and open a bottle every so often to gauge how it’s coming along. And don’t think of it as a waste–it’s an entertaining an educational experience to see how the flavors change as a particular vintage matures. Alternatively, you can look online to find people who have opened the vintage you’re holding on to, and see what they thought of it. This is the best way to determine the right age.

Be sure to keep tabs on the ages of the wines in your cellar. Remember that there’s no use aging wines if you’re just going to let them turn to vinegar in a forgotten corner. Keep tags on your bottles‘ necks so that you can read the label without disturbing the contents, and keep a detailed record of everything in your winery, whether on paper or digitally (such as with an  eSommelier wine cellar management device). Don’t forget to include tasting notes when you finally open the bottle.

Wines to Pair with Summer Tomatoes

August 9th, 2010 No comments

It’s the height of summer, and tomatoes are at their juicy, sweet best right now.  I’ve been eating them in salads, on burgers, and even by themselves.  As you know all too well if you grow your own tomatoes, the season for these beauties is a short one, and as you know if you’ve ever even tasted a home-grown tomato, there’s simply no comparison between the sweet flavor of the real thing and the watery, lifeless store-bought version.  So anyway, tomatoes are the thing to be eating right now.  But what to drink with them?

Pairing wine with tomatoes can be tricky.  You want a wine that doesn’t overwhelm the delicate sugars of the summer tomato, so don’t reach for something strongly tannic.  You also don’t want something with too much acidity, as tomatoes are acidic enough already.  What you really want is a wine that will bring out the fruitiness and subtle sweetness of the tomato, showcasing this short-seasoned treat–because, really, it’s good enough to shine on its own.

Although you want to be careful not outcompete the tomato flavor, raw tomato dishes like caprese salad and gazpacho need a wine with a bit of acidity to match the tangy quality of this summer fruit (not vegetable!) in its freshest state.  Try a fruit-forward Sauvignon Blanc or even a Pinot Grigio.  The bright, crisp qualities of these wines will match up to the acidity of the tomato, while the fruit will play up its sweet, juicy characteristics.

Cooking tomatoes lowers their acidity, so if you’re going with a richer, cooked tomato dish such as pasta with a fresh tomato sauce or stuffed tomatoes (fill them with fresh breadcrumbs and chopped basil, or cous cous with herbs), go with a lighter, fruity red wine.  Play with what you like here; just be careful to avoid overtly tannic wines, or you won’t be able to taste the tomatoes.  Try a Merlot or fruity Pinot Noir.  The 2008 Les Jamelles Pinot Noir would be perfection.

If your or your neighbor’s garden is overflowing with ripe red tomatoes right now, try having a tomato-themed outdoor dinner party!  Serve a caprese salad with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc, and follow it with simple pasta in a fresh tomato sauce with a soft Pinot Noir.  Extra points for a tomato dessert!

Wine Review: 2008 Les Jamelles Pinot Noir

August 7th, 2010 No comments

If you’re looking for a great red wine at a reasonable price, try the 2008 Les Jamelles Pinot Noir.  This is a wine perfect with a light summer meal or to drink on its own–preferably outside with your toes in the grass, watching the setting sun.

The first word that comes to mind when drinking this wine would have to be: smooth.  This isn’t a robust red, but that isn’t to say that it’s lacking in flavor.  It’s full of deep fruity flavors like raspberry, but doesn’t veer into sweetness–in fact, it’s a bit tart, making it a refreshing choice for hot weather.  It’s got subtle spice flavors and a distinct anise taste, which gives it an unusual, flavorful twist.  Despite its delicate nature, this wine isn’t weak on the finish–jammy and spicy, it makes you want another sip.  And for about $9 a bottle, you can afford one.

It’s a myth that all red wines should be served at room temperature, and since the 2008 Les Jamelles is an especially light red wine, it should definitely be chilled a bit.  To bring out its maximum fruit and spice flavors, we recommend serving this wine at proper cellar temperature: between 50 and 55 degrees.  Don’t have a wine cellar or a wine refrigerator with a special red-wine section?  Try putting the bottle in the fridge for about an hour.  Besides bringing out the subtle flavors, not the alcohol fumes, chilling this wine a bit amps the refreshment factor, making it a perfect way to cool off a bit when you’re still sweating by cocktail hour.

This wine would be great with pan-fried pork chops or a simple roast chicken.  It would also make a perfect picnic wine: pack up a basket with your outdoor-eating favorites (mine are cold grilled chicken and pasta salad) and enjoy the summer from your local beach, park, or hilltop.  Cheers!

Check out other posts about Pinot Noir.

Wine for St. Patrick’s Day

March 17th, 2010 No comments

Sure, the traditional beverage of St. Patrick’s day is beer.  Usually it’s a frothy pint of Guinness.  And if it’s not Guinness, it’s most likely dyed green.   And there are some who love their St. Patty’s day beer and wouldn’t consider parting with it for anything.  But others, faced with a pint glass of green beer, would prefer to opt for something else.

Why not try wine for St. Patrick’s Day?  Many wines match just as well as beer–if not better–with traditional Irish foods.  And if your friends tease you for not following tradition, just remind them that there’s nothing very traditional about green beer, either.  Here are some St. Patty’s Day food and wine pairings that will help you decide what to make or order tonight:

Corned Beef and Cabbage with Pinot Noir: Even though this dish has a recipe as a highly traditional Irish food, it’s not.  The Irish were introduced to corned beef once Irish immigrants to the U.S. used it in place of bacon.  But traditional or not, corned beef and cabbage is a long-standing–and delicious–part of St. Patrick’s Day.  The best complement to this dish is the earthy flavors and velvety texture of Pinot Noir, which will complement the salty, meaty flavors, not fight with them for dominance.  Try one from Sonoma County.

Bangers and Mash with Zinfandel: This dish, sausages and mashed potatoes, is popular all throughout England and Ireland.  If you’re eating traditional pork sausages, you’ll want something fruity to contrast.  Try a Zinfandel.

Irish Stew with Bordeaux: Irish stew is a simple, traditional dish of lamb (or mutton) boiled with the root vegetables of Ireland: carrots, onions, and, of course, potatoes.  With it, try a red Bordeaux: its complexity of flavors goes nicely with the simple, straightforward ones of the stew.

If your tastes lean towards wine no matter the occasion, try these pairings.  But don’t forget to wear green!

Wine Profile: Pinot Noir

February 15th, 2010 No comments

Maya: You know, can I ask you a personal question, Miles?
Miles: Sure.
Maya: Why are you so into Pinot? I mean, it’s like a thing with you.
Miles: [Laughs softly] Uh, I don’t know, I don’t know. Um, it’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It’s uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.

-Sideways, 2004

Miles’ obsession with Pinot Noir in Sideways has given the fruity, subtle wine a renewed popularity in recent years.  But what is it about this wine that’s just so good?

The most appealing aspect of Pinot Noir may be its soft and velvety texture.  Its flavors are invariably delicate and complex, but subtle.  It is a smooth wine, easy on the palate.  Pinot Noir varies greatly from bottle to bottle, but it generally falls into one of two categories: Old World and New World.

Old World Pinot Noir is light-bodied, with fruit flavors taking a backseat to earthy ones.  Common flavors are mushroom, smoke, spice, and tart red fruits, like cranberry.  New World Pinot Noir is full-bodied and fruit-forward.  It often has flavors of juicy fruits, such as strawberries or raspberries, and also flavors of flowers, toast, or red meat, particularly bacon.  The two categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive, so certain Pinot Noirs can exhibit flavors form both styles.  Also, “Old World” and “New World” do not refer to regions; wines from America, for example, can follow the Old World style.

Pinot Noir is a particularly good wine to pair with food.  It is flavorful enough to stand up to  rich flavors, and smooth enough to not interfere with more delicate ones.  It pairs well with fishes and leaner meats, but can go well with red meat provided the dish isn’t overtly heavy.  Spicy or strong-smelling foods also go well with this subtle wine.

In Sideways, Miles is absolutely telling the truth when he waxes poetic about how difficult Pinot Noir grapes are to grow.  They are unusually fickle, requiring warm days and consistently cool nights.  The classic region in which to grow Pinot Noir grapes is Burgundy, France.  This two mile-wide, thirty mile-long stretch of gentle hills has produced the best and tastiest Pinot Noir grapes since the beginning of of winemaking.  Burgundy’s hills slope towards the East, providing its vines with many hours of sun exposure each day but protecting them from the intense afternoon heat.  The soil is also high in calcium carbonate (this kind of soil is often called “chalky”), which means that the soil drains easily and retains a higher average temperature, making it conducive to ripening.

Pinot Noir seems to reflect more Gout de Terroir, or flavor of the soil, than other types of black grapes.  The ideal soils of Burgundy make for a great product.  But grown in inferior regions, Pinot Noir can easily be flat-tasting and flavorless.  Although for many years a good Pinot was hard to find, now impressive vintages can be found all over the world, not just in Burgundy.  Oregon, California, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Italy have all produced quality Pinot Noir.

So the next time you’re sipping a glass of Pinot Noir, enjoying the smooth texture and the complexity of flavors, consider how much expertise went into growing the perfect Pinot Noir grapes.  And if you’ve never really gotten to know Pinot Noir, now is the perfect time to swing by your local wine shop and extend your hand in friendship.