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November 30, 2008

The Future of California Wine?

The evolution of California wine over the past quarter-century has been anything but a smooth ride. Some of us who go back that far well remember the "nimmy" wines of the early 1980s, about the time several of the gatekeeper wine competitions were launched.

Judges would often disqualify a wine based upon the rank smells in the glass, refusing even to taste it. The expression they used was "nimmy," which was a judge's shorthand for "not in my mouth."

Because so many commercial wines were badly flawed, the goal of many winemakers from that era was to simply make "clean" wines that exhibited freshness and varietal character.

With time -- and wave after wave of highly skilled graduates of the enology and viticultural programs at UC-Davis and Fresno State -- the California wine industry found its legs and began to improve quality across the board.

Of course, any new industry experiencing rapid growth amidst an influx of ambitious raw talent is going to see its share of excess and one-upsmanship. You can see where this is leading.

So we, the consumers, endured the assault of the new French oak brigade. We got butter in our Chardonnays until it oozed from our pores. And Cabernets so jammy you could serve them with toast and butter. Above all, it became monotonous and tiresome as a pack mentality settled upon the winemaking class.

Now, don't get me wrong. There is a place for all of this. If a person loves the creamy thickness of a Rombauer Chardonnay, I say God bless! But change is the mantra of the moment and change is what I see on the horizon, most noticeably in California, where the excesses were the greatest.

Those of us who prefer to choose from a broad spectrum of wine styles, recognizing that circumstances often dictate which we crave, can take heart in one of the new wineries on the California winescape -- Freestone Vineyards, which straddles the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley appellations and specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Thanks to Freestone and a handful of other bold California producers who would buck conventional wisdom -- Sonoma Cutrer, Kistler, Corison, Truchard, Nickel & Nickel, Alma Rosa and Elizabeth Spencer, just to name a few -- the crowd that prizes balance, elegance and diversity now has some good options. That is the subject of my Creators Syndicate column this week. Read the whole thing, as they say.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 10:23 AM

November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Wine Service Tips

Statistics show that millions of Americans drink wine on just a few days each year, and Thanksgiving is a big day for these very occasional imbibers.  If you are among them, I'd certainly like to see you enjoy wine much more frequently in the future, but for now we need to get you through today with a positive experience.  Here are a few pointers that may help you, and perhaps one or two that might come as news even to more experienced wine lovers:

--If your wine glasses have been sitting in a cupboard for a month, they've surely picked up a little dust even if they don't look dusty, and some of these particles can produce undesirable aromas or flavors.  Be sure to rinse them out with hot water and dry them with a lint-free dish towel.

--If you'll be serving sparkling wine or Champagne, these glasses need to be washed differently.  As beer lovers know, soap residue kills bubbles, and whereas a flat beer is a disappointment, a flat glass of Champagne is a catastrophe.  My mantra is:  No soap, ever!  You can remove fingerprints and lipstick from the outside of glasses when perfectly inverted with a lightly soapy sponge, but never let any soap into the interior, which should only be rinsed with very hot water.  Dish towels can retain soap residues, so air-dry sparkling glasses or use paper towels.  If one of your guests thinks it is icky that you don't use soap on your sparkling wine glasses, solve the problem by striking that person from the guest list.

--If you'll be serving sparkling wine, don't put a damper on your dinner by blasting someone with the cork.  This is serious:  A Champagne cork can really do a number on your eyeball, and since the hospital emergency room will already be packed with inept turkey carvers, you'll be there for hours if you suffer a mishap when opening your bubbly by the ballistic method.  So:  Keep constant and very firm downward pressure on the cork, even when unwinding the wire cage, which will require exactly six twists.  Keep the cage on the cork, as it will enhance your grip.  Ease the cork from the bottle by grasping it firmly as you twist the base of the bottle from side to side.  A nearly inaudible result is what you want, with the faintest "pfffffffft" showing that you know what you're doing.

--Pay attention to serving temperature!  Most Americans are guilty of serving their whites too cold and their reds too warm.  Wines pulled directly from refrigerators--much less ice buckets--are typically so cold that aromas are suppressed and flavors flattened.  Similarly, the old rule of thumb about serving reds at room temperature has led millions of people to mishandle their wine.  The rule made sense when coined by some guy in the 18th century, but only because he lived in an English manor house without central heat.  Reds lack focus and seem overly alcoholic at 72 degrees, and are much better at 62.  So, stick your reds into the fridge for 20 minutes and pull your whites out of if for 20 minutes before cracking into them.

--Don't overfill glasses when serving wine at the table.  Sparkling wines can be filled to slightly above halfway, since they look much better with that fill level, and you don't want your guests thinking you are cheap on a day when you are supposed to be celebrating bounty.  However, glasses for table wine should never be more than half full.  An overfilled glass has no open space to collect the wine's aromas, which are absolutely crucial for appreciating it fully.

--Last but not least:  When you've gone through all of this and are finally ready to wine and dine, just relax and enjoy this wonderful beverage.  It is famously difficult to get a perfect wine to harmonize with everything involved in Thanksgiving dinner, and you shouldn't be shamed if your choice isn't perfect with everything on the plate.  After all, this meal brings wine pairing experts to their knees.  And if some self-appointed expert at your table makes a nasty crack about your choice, don't dignify his (it will surely be a he) comment with a reply.  Just roll your eyes.  And know that everyone else at the table is on your side!

Posted by Michael Franz at 1:01 PM

November 26, 2008

Tina Caputo's Wine Picks for Thanksgiving

[WRO Readers:  We've been publishing Thanksgiving wine recommendations from our WRO contributors in this space for days, so if you're still deciding what to drink tomorrow, click on "More WRO Wine Blog" after reading Tina Caputo's suggestions.  Also, you might want to check out the Thanksgiving wine audio clip under "Franz and Lukacs Talk Wine" under WRO on the Air.   Michael Franz]

* * *

Anyone who tries to tell you that there's a single perfect Thanksgiving wine is gobbling mad.  The idea that one wine could match roasted turkey, tangy-sweet cranberry sauce, butter-and-gravy laden mashed potatoes and sweet-spicy pumpkin pie is delusional at best.

The array of different foods on the typical Thanksgiving table calls for a variety of different wines--which is a good thing, because that means there's something on the table for every taste preference.  For example, my dad is a red-wine-only kind of guy--no matter what he's eating.  My mother-in-law rarely drinks wine, but when she does, she likes it a little bit sweet.

That said, some red wines are better than others with Thanksgiving food--and the same goes for sweet wines, whites, etc.  Here are some guidelines to help you keep everyone in the family happy.

Red:  Go for light- to medium-bodied reds like Pinot Noir/Burgundy (Oregon Pinots are a good choice in the U.S. wine category because of their earthy character, and French Burgundies tend to have food-friendly acidity), or cru Beaujolais.  Reds that are tannic, super-jammy, oaky or high in alcohol, like some California Cabernet Sauvignons or Meritage blends, tend to overpower mildly flavored dishes like turkey or mashed potatoes, and they're sure to clash with the sweet stuff.

White:  While rich, ripe, vanilla-kissed Chardonnays are adored by many wine lovers, they're not a very good match for Thanksgiving dinner. Wines that are crisp and clean make a better pairing, so steer toward low- or un-oaked Chardonnays, like those from Chablis. (Marimar Estate, in California, makes a nice unoaked Chardonnay.  Some Chards now list their "unoaked" status on their labels, so they're easy to find.)  Not-too-lean Sauvignon Blanc wines, like the Charles Krug SB, with its yummy guava and lime notes, are also good choices.  Aromatic, slightly off-dry whites, like Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Chenin Blanc, can make good pairings for sweet-spicy Thanksgiving flavors.

Pink:  Dry rosé wines--both sparkling and still--are some of the most versatile wines at any table, and they pair well with a variety of Thanksgiving eats.  One of my favorites is Robert Sinskey's Vin Gris of Pinot Noir.  A couple yummy sparklers include the Korbel Brut Rosé (a bargain, too, at around $10) and the Roederer Estate Rosé from Anderson Valley.

Bubbles:  Sparkling wines are extremely versatile and food friendly, pairing well with everything from deep-fried turkey to spicy sausage stuffing.  I'm a big fan of the sparklers from Roederer Estate, Champagne Deutz and J Wine Co.  Or, for a fun twist, try the Korbel Rouge, a fruity, deep-red sparkler.

Dessert Wines:  Sweet, spicy desserts like pumpkin or apple pie are delicious with wines that have similar characteristics, like late-harvest Gewurztraminer or Riesling, Moscato or ice wine.

Posted by Tina Caputo at 11:25 AM

November 25, 2008

Red, White and Blue Thanksgiving Wines

Tradition will hold sway at the Whitley house this Thanksgiving, with hungry and thirsty relatives invading from the north (that would be the Los Angeles area) for a day of feasting, followed by a liesurely Friday at the San Diego Zoo.

I'm not exactly sure what I will haul up from the cellar on the big day, but I can tell you there will be plenty of good swill to go around. My mantra at these family bashes is variety, and lots of it.

I've posted my Creators Syndicate column on "comfort" wines for Thanksgiving over at Whitley On Wine, and there are a number of specific recommendations there. And I'm also written about "value" wines for Thanksgiving at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Today I'm thinking about what I may have missed that might taste good, and the 2007 Eberle Syrah Rose comes to mind. This is a robust rose at more than 14 percent alcohol, and it shows a bit of tannin on the finish. Perfect for a main course-rose, meaning it has enough oomph to tackle the strong savory flavors of the Thanksgiving table. You can find this wine in my corner of the world for about $15.

I'm generally of a mind to set out a number of wines and let the gang pick and choose as it pleases. Doesn't leave much room on the table for food, but everyone manages.

Gotta have a couple of good whites (though you would be surprised how much of the rose is drunk) and I'm remembering how much I enjoying the delicate floral perfume of the Four Graces Pinot Gris ($18). Definitely a hit with this crowd. And the Ventana Riesling ($18), which was a big winner on the wine competition circuit earlier in the year. The Ventana shows a hint of sweet fruit, which is good for this type of food and will please a few of my guests.

I've written quite a bit about Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving, so I think for a change of pace I'll also set out a Syrah and a Merlot. The 2005 Syrah from Truchard ($28) is wonderful, with plush fruit, supple tannins and a peppery note on the finish.

And I've become quite fond of the Milbrandt "Legacy" Merlot from Washington ($28). It has plenty of power and weight (without being jammy or heavy) to satisfy the "big" red-wine drinkers, but enough elegance that everyone around the table would be more than happy to have a glass.

If tradition holds throughout the evening, there will be many hoisted glasses and toasting all around. So here's a hooray for the red (definitely the color of the Eberle rose), white and blue wines of Thanksgiving Day, 2008!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:31 AM

November 21, 2008

Paul Lukacs' Wine Picks for Thanksgiving

[WRO Readers:  We'll be publishing Thanksgiving wine recommendations from our WRO contributors in this space almost every day until the holiday--so stay tuned!  Michael Franz]

* * *

I guess I remain the patriot in the WRO-writer group, as I only open American wines on Thanksgiving.  It just seems to me that the last Thursday in November is the one day in the year in which most everyone in this traditionally non-gastronomic country actually pays attention to food.  And since the United States today produces many truly excellent wines (something that was not true even a generation ago), it only makes sense to give thanks with native bounty on what after all is our national feast.

If you're lucky enough to live in a part of the country producing fine wines these days, I'd urge you to think (and drink) locally this Thanksgiving.  All fifty American states now have commercial wineries in operation.  Obviously not all the wines are good, but many are.  Even some wines made with non-European vinifera grape varieties have taken a significant leap forward in quality recently, the result I suspect of vintners employing the same sort of modern technologies in their wineries as do vinifera producers.  To my taste, wines made from native grapes like Catawba, Delaware, and Niagara probably always will seem too sweet.  But I've certainly enjoyed wines made from Chambourcin, Norton, Traminette and others recently.  So my first recommendation is to at least consider gracing your Thanksgiving table with a local wine or wines.  The rise of quality American wine throughout the country is something for which we all should give thanks.

Given the state of the economy, my second recommendation is not to spend a great deal of money on wines for Thanksgiving.  You know your own budget, but this isn't an occasion in which it makes sense to break the proverbial bank.  Moreover, odds are that you'll be pouring for a crowd that may include wine novices as well as aficionados.  The challenge is to find affordable wines that can please everyone.  

Finally, looking to the country as a whole and wines that are available nationwide, I have some more specific recommendations.  Like my colleague, Ed McCarthy, I like to start a family feast with sparkling wine.  But on Thanksgiving, I'll pass on the Champagne and open an American bubbly.  There are a number of fine choices out there, but I remain especially partial to Roederer Estate Brut NV ($22) from California's Anderson Valley.

On the dinner table, I'll definitely have both red and white, as the meal certainly can accommodate both.  For the white, I want something full-bodied yet not too heavy (so not too oaky).  A well-balanced Chardonnay can do the trick, but this year I think I'll opt for a Pinot Gris from Oregon.  A wine like Ponzi Willamette Valley Pinot Gris 2007 ($17) tastes of apples and pears, with nary a whiff of wood, so seems just right for this autumnal celebration. 

Finally for the red, I might go with a West Coast Pinot Noir--if I can find one that is both affordable and not sappy, as far too many examples are these days--or a Long Island Merlot--if I can find one at all, since few make it down as far as my home in Maryland.  But I think that I instead will open a Rhône-style blend from California.  I find that these are some of the best values in American wine these days, and because good examples are not too big and bold, they can complement Thanksgiving fare nicely.  How about Zaca Mesa 'Z Cuvée' 2006 ($20) from the Santa Ynez Valley?   A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Syrah, it is full of peppery fruit and fun.  I'll be sure to lift a glass in toast--and thanks.

Posted by Paul Lukacs at 9:09 AM

November 19, 2008

Marguerite Thomas' Wine Picks for Thanksgiving

[WRO Readers:  We'll be publishing Thanksgiving wine recommendations from our WRO contributors in this space almost every day until the holiday--so stay tuned!  Michael Franz]

* * *

In this winter of our economic discontent, with people and banks, corporations and car manufacturers, insurance companies and retail giants going bust all around us, frugality seems the most appropriate response.  While we keep our fingers crossed that our savings, our 401 Ks, our hopes for educating the kids, and our dreams of retirement don't take an even bigger hit, we can still give thanks for what we've got.  And we can certainly open bottles of wine for our family and friends this Thanksgiving that won't send us further into hock.  In looking back through the tasting notes of the wines I've enjoyed this year, I realize that it's more than possible to put together an array of delicious wines that cost less than $20 a bottle.  Here are some of my suggestions.

Personally, I like an aperitif wine with a hint of sweetness rather than highly acidic wines (which to my palate are less appealing on an empty stomach).  To accompany the nibbling of nuts and crunching of crudités I propose a choice of two white wines.  The first is MAN Vintners Chenin Blanc 2008, a $10 South African sipper that has loads of ripe mango and melon fruitiness plus a cool zippy finish.  For even less money--$9--there's Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling from Columbia Valley to provide an off-dry, enormously pleasing prelude to the meal.

Are you serving a first course--clam or corn chowder, or some such all-American gastronomic treasure?  Pour glasses of Pillar Box White 2008 to go with it.  This is a luscious Australian blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho from Henry's Drive Vignerons, an Australian producer.  The wine has mouth-filling tropical fruit flavors, a soft texture, a lingering finish, and an $12 pricetag.

Moving on to the main event, some people prefer white to red wine with turkey.  For them I propose Willakenzie Pinot Gris, an absolutely gorgeous offering from Oregon that has enough complexity and rich body to be a superb partner for either white or dark meat (miraculously, it will even complement the sweet potatoes and most of the other trimmings).  At $18, wine of this quality is a steal.

For red wine imbibers who may be hosting a crowd, Wolf Blass 'Yellow Label' Shiraz is an appealing pour, especially at $14 a bottle.  For a relatively inexpensive Aussie Shiraz, this one shows a fair amount of decorum, and its full fruit flavors and medium body suit the turkey better than a more flashy, fleshy wine might. 
For those who think that Bordeaux is the way to go for any holiday feast, the good news is that there are a surprising number of excellent budget Bordeaux bottles to be had.  One that I particularly like is Chateau Lyonnat 2005, a Lussac Saint-Emilion Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend that you should be able to find for no more than $15 a bottle.  A medium-bodied wine that delivers both power and suppleness, its hints of spice and berry fruit are flavors that seem designed for pairing with the Thanksgiving menu.

I don't know about you, but for me one of the best things about Thanksgiving is the next-day turkey sandwich.  What I'm going to want to drink with mine is a cheerful and refreshing rosé.  This year Alexander Valley Vineyards' Rosé of Sangiovese 2007 might be just the thing.  It's robust yet utterly dry, with the right kind of strawberry and cherry flavors to fill in for cranberry sauce (I go for mayo and lettuce on my sandwiches, not cranberry sauce).  The wine costs $12, a reasonable price for something this good.  And that's something to be thankful for!

Posted by Marguerite Thomas at 9:04 AM

November 18, 2008

The Two Hands Garden Series

When I caught up recently with Michael Twelftree, co-owner of Australia's Two Hands wines, he was touring the U.S. showing off the 2006 vintage of the Two Hands Garden Series Shiraz.

There are six wines in the Garden Series, all of them from different growing regions throughout South Australia and Victoria. Each wine is named after members of the two families that founded Two Hands in 2000.

Most important, however, each wine is distinctive in its own right, and each expresses nuances of structure and flavor that are specific to a region.

Though the Garden Series is not Two Hands' top of the line, these are extraordinary wines and hardly inexpensive at about $60 a pop. Over the brief lifespan of the winery, Two Hands Garden Series Shiraz has cultivated something of a cult following here in the United States.

For the most part they play into the stereotype of very ripe, jammy Aussie Shiraz that we've all come to expect from Down Under, but the Two Hands style manages to stand apart because the Two Hands wines achieve levels of elegance and finesse you wouldn't think possible in wines with such raw power.

In this video Michael walks us through the series, explaining the sourcing of each wine while describing its distinguishing characteristics.


Posted by Robert Whitley at 8:39 AM

November 16, 2008

Ed McCarthy's Wine Picks for Thanksgiving

[WRO Readers:  We'll be publishing Thanksgiving wine recommendations from our WRO contributors in this space almost every day until the holiday--so stay tuned!  Michael Franz]

* * *

I'm thinking that more wine is consumed in the U.S. on Thanksgiving than any other day.  And I wonder how satisfied people are with their wine choices.  I'll try to help with my input, in anticipation of this great American holiday.

First of all, when I'm hosting (or "guesting," for that matter), I always start with some Champagne, to serve with the hors d'oeuvres.  That puts everyone in a festive mood.

I like to serve both white and red wine, to keep everyone happy; also, with all the various courses we eat on Thanksgiving, some foods invariably go better with one wine or the other.

I'll start by mentioning some red wines that I avoid on Thanksgiving. I never serve Beaujolais, especially Beaujolais Nouveau!  Too grapey!  Beaujolais is a casual wine, meant to sip at parties, or perhaps with appetizers--nor for important dinners such as Thanksgiving.  Nor would I serve Zinfandel--red or white!  Too fruity.  I've heard the argument about serving American wine on an American holiday.  I just don't buy into that.  I think we should serve the most suitable wine for the food and the occasion.  Zinfandel at barbecues, fine.  Not with roast turkey.  I also don't believe that Cabernet Sauvignon, whether it be from California, or Bordeaux from France  (or anywhere else) is a good match with turkey and the trimmings.  Cabernet Sauvignon is too tannic; I think it's horrible with turkey, in fact.

First of all, white wine generally goes better with turkey than red.  My choice would be a simple Bourgogne Blanc, from a good producer such as Faiveley or Leflaive (about $20 to $25).  Expensive, higher-profile white Burgundies might not work as well, especially young ones; they might have too much oak in the aroma and flavor--something you won't find in Bourgogne Blancs. 

My red wine choice would be a simple red Burgundy, such as a Chorey-lès-Beaune, Savigny- lès-Beaune, or St.-Romaine.  A full-bodied red Burgundy might overwhelm the turkey.  A California Pinot Noir might also work, as long as it's not too jammy or high in alcohol  (Go to the WRO Archives for my column on "The State of California Pinot Noir" for my specific recommendations).

I like to end Thanksgiving dinner with a glass or two of Tawny Port, from a good Portuguese producer such as Taylor-Fladgate, Dow, or Smith-Woodhouse.  Perfect with the walnuts!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by Ed McCarthy at 10:59 AM

November 14, 2008

San Diego International Wine Competition Announces Judges

Once again I find myself staring down the barrel of another wine competition season.

I've just finished the entry books for both the Monterey Wine Competition, where I have been Director for the past 16 years, and the San Diego International Wine Competition, where I am in my sixth year as Director.

I will soon begin work on the entry book for the Critics Challenge, which I founded six years ago, the same year I took the reins of the SDIWC.

The three competitions keep me busy from now until the end of May, a span also sprinkled with trips to the Bordeaux primeurs tastings, Vinitaly and various other wine events here in the U.S. and around the globe.

But the wine competitions have a special place in my heart because of the good vibes I get when I see old friends, such as Wilfred Wong of Beverages & More, or the legendary Gary Eberle of Paso Robles, or the very talented Long Island winemaker, Roman Roth.

The sense of reunion and renewal makes the long grind of three major wine competitions well worth it. This year we've brought back Wine Review Online Editor Michael Franz back as Chief Judge in San Diego, and a large part of our Napa Valley contingent from 2008 has signed up for a return engagement, including winemaker Ashley Hepworth, who was promoted recently from associate winemaker to winemaker at the iconic Joseph Phelps Vineyards.

You can see the entire San Diego judging lineup (scheduled for March 21-22, 2009) over at Whitley On Wine. Click here.

Of course, you will be able to find results of all three competitions right here at WRO shortly after the tastings conclude.

PHOTOS: Top, winemaker Duncan Williams; bottom, Linda Murphy of Wine Review Online, Decanter, and JancisRobinson.com.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 6:45 PM

November 10, 2008

What's Behind Those Two Hands?

Two Hands is a phenomenal success story from South Australia. The winery was founded in 2000 with $60,000 (Australian) and a vision of what Australian Shiraz could be.

Since its inception, Two Hands has taken on cult status here in the U.S., in particular the not-so-inexpensive "Garden Series" Shiraz. This is a collection of six different regional Shiraz, each one named after a family member.

Though agressively priced at about $60 per bottle, the wines are in great demand and difficult to obtain if you wait too long to act upon release of the latest vintages. Each is distinctive in its own right, expressing the regional differences that are the point of the series, yet all have one thing in common: intense, concentrated, dymnamic flavors and smooth, supple tannins.

They are all blockbusters, though some more than others. I caught up with co-owner Michael Twelftree recently and asked about the philosophy behind this enormously successful lineup of wines.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 9:26 AM

November 5, 2008

Chardonnay Turnaround

You can do a few bad things before you get a reputation for being a bad person.  (I'm rather grateful for that, as one whose youth was a bit, um, mis-spent.)  But once you get a bad reputation, it is very hard to shake--almost no matter how many good things you do.

This latter situation is the lamentable circumstance now confronting Chardonnay.  So much bad Chardonnay was made in the two decades between 1985 and 2005 that it is now saddled with a rotten reputation among relatively sophisticated consumers.  And though the style and quality situation for Chardonnay has changed dramatically during the past three years, any upswing in the variety's reputation has been much less dramatic.

These observations were stirred in part by reading Mary Ewing-Mulligan's remarks on Bouchaine's 2006 Chardonnay in her new "On My Table" feature.  Mary has written about five Chardonnays during the past two months, which is saying something since her feature runs on WRO bi-weekly.  She implies that there's a discrepancy between Chardonnay's reputation and the wines she's now encountering.

That's true for me as well.  After years of being afraid to face a bottle of Chardonnay without a preliminary shot of Novocain, I'm now finding that the excesses that have plagued the wines are now rare rather than ubiquitous.  Moreover, this is increasingly evident all over the wine world. 

Oak levels are much less pronounced than they used to be in many premium-level wines.  This trend is trickling down to moderately-priced renditions as well, and even quite affordable versions are showing less taint from cheap oak chips, presumably because this is no longer needed in a winemaker's effort to mimic the style of more expensive Chardonnays.  Likewise, the gooey, buttery, overtly lactic character that once marred many wines (resulting from performing 100% malolactic fermentation on very ripe grapes) is now in headlong retreat.

I don't claim to know the reason for the shift, and in all likelihood multiple factors are at work.  The winds of fashion are famously fickle, and maybe that's what happened in this instance.  Consumer backlash is a likely explanation, and it has always seemed plausible to me that the rise of Pinot Grigio was fueled by a thirst for something like a stylistic antipode to butterball Chardonnay.  Maybe winemakers themselves got sick of tasting their own wines, or perhaps their cellar workers all got carpal tunnel syndrome from too much battonage, or lees-stirring.

At any rate, let's not get too caught up in diagnosing this welcome development and end up looking a gift horse in the mouth.  The fact is that it is once again safe to jump into the Chardonnay waters, and if you want to know where to start, Mary's "On My Table" has some great ideas for you….

Posted by Michael Franz at 2:16 PM

November 1, 2008

Stuff It, Serve It, and Savor It with the Right Wine

Everybody knows that chicken breast is good for you, being high in protein and quite low in fat.  The problem is that it can also be pretty damned boring because it is, well, quite low in fat.

So how do you turn it into a dish that will be as acceptable to your palate as to your conscience?  And then how to you take it from acceptable to delicious by pairing it with a wine that can really make it sing?

This is just the sort of challenge that Marguerite Thomas and Paul Lukacs tackle for us on WRO twice each month in their "Wine With" feature.  If you aren't in the habit of scrolling down to "Wine With," you are missing out on one of the most distinctive and interesting English-language contributions to wine writing--for those individuals who love wine but also happen to eat.

Although Marguerite and Paul occasionally work with a dish for a special occasion, they usually work with affordable, manageable dishes that don't require a trust fund or a degree from a culinary academy to prepare.  Then they yank the corks from a whole slew of possible partner wines to find out which hypothetical winners turn out to be actual winners.

The wines, like the foods, are generally moderate in price.  And so it should be:  Any idiot can come up with a good wine-and-food match if he's got $150 for wine and a truffle-studded crown roast of veal.  The real challenge, in the real world, comes on an ordinary night, when you've got twelve bucks for wine and are confronting a boneless breast of chicken that threatens to send your taste buds into a coma.

So, have a look at this issue's edition of Wine With to learn what to do with that chicken breast, and to see which $12 wine came out on top in the tasting trials!

Posted by Michael Franz at 11:04 AM