Thanksgiving Wines for my Family’s Table (Heard of these Grapes?)

This year I’m really excited about a couple of wines that I will be bringing to Thanksgiving, departures from my tried and true faves (on and off the holiday table), which are Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gamay (not, ahem, you-know-what which is being “released” today), and Gruner Veltliner. But these, rather, are a couple wines I’ve enjoyed recently and that I want to share with family and friends.

The first is the one I’ll refer to as good ol’ Homeslice. It’s Vignoles (veen-yole) produced here in Stillwater, Minnesota by a winery called Saint Croix Vineyards.

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Saint Croix Vineyards Vignoles 2013

The nose evokes lilac and cherry blossoms, and the palate is rich and round with a delicate thread of acidity that keeps it feeling balanced, as it does bear a little sweetness.

The second one is from Sicily, a producer called Valle dell’Acate and the wine is called il Frappato, from the Frappato grape.

Valle dell'Acate Il Frappato 2013

Valle dell’Acate Il Frappato 2013

It’s absolutely delightful, with a pervasive wild blueberry character on a silky, textural body that has soft tannins and lifted acidity. It has inspired me to enter the unspoken family stuffing contest with a wild rice/dried blueberry/sage/ginger recipe I created.

Blueberry Wild Rice Stuffing

Cook a 12 oz package of long grain Minnesota wild rice and let cool (I used my rice cooker- worked perfectly). I sautéed two finely chopped celery stalks, a quarter of a large onion and about a teaspoon of garlic in olive oil and hit it with white wine when liquids got low. Took that off the heat and mixed in about 2 Tbsp fresh minced ginger and about ¼ cup chopped fresh sage. Then added in about a cup of freeze dried blueberries, didn’t want to use frozen as I was pretty sure the whole dish would turn magenta. And added in a grated green apple.

Note added on Friday, Nov 28th : It was dynamite! (I think I won- wink wink).

Happy Holidays!

April

Snapshot of an Incredible Wine Tour: Italy, April 2010

Vorberg vyd alto adige

Vorberg vineyard in Alto Adige, crazy high altitude.

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In the Vorberg vineyard.

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Cherry blossoms in Alto Adige symbolize spring. Asparagus was also in season and there were about 6 varieties being sold from the garage at the Terlano winery.

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More Vorberg vineyard, with our friend from Minnesota and Klaus, Cantina Terlano’s own export manager.

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Last shot of Vorberg I swear…

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Dinner at an incredible restaurant in Suditerol.

Checking into our hotel in la Morra.

Next stop…Piedmont! Checking into our hotel in la Morra.

Barolo!

Barolo!

Me and Elisa Scavino at … restaurant.

Me and Elisa Scavino at … restaurant.

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The gate to Michele Satta’s home and residence.

On the terrace in Satta's home, overlooking the beautiful Tuscan landscape.

On the terrace in Satta’s home, overlooking the beautiful Tuscan landscape.

After a winery tour, we have lunch in the Satta residence with Michele and his wife.

After a winery tour, we have lunch in the Satta residence with Michele and his wife.

Inside Satta's winery.

Inside Satta’s winery.

Umbria. In Lamborghini winery with winemaker Patrizia Lamborghini.

Umbria. In Lamborghini winery with winemaker Patrizia Lamborghini.

Vines in Umbria, at Lamborghini.

Vines in Umbria, at Lamborghini.

Dinner with Violante Colombini after tours and tastings at Donatella Cinelli Colombini's winery and incredible estate. Producer of incredible Brunello and champion of the arts community.

Dinner with Violante Colombini after tours and tastings at Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s winery in Montalcino. Producer of incredible Brunello and champion of the arts community.

The view from the hilltop winery of Tenuta Vitanza in Montalcino.

The view from the hilltop winery of Tenuta Vitanza in Montalcino.

Easier to drink than spell: Txakolina from Txakoli

Come on, this arguably has the most fun ever to say in terms of wines/wine regions. Say it with me, it’s like “Chalk-o-leena.” What usually ships to the States is a frizzante (lightly sparkling) version. At its essence its a light, fresh, clean bottle of white that slaps a smile on your face whether you want it or not.

What gets drunk domestically is another story. Light, fresh and clean, yes. But on Spanish soil they often vinify it still and drink it as such. I had the chance to taste both today, and I’d personally gravitate to this style, as it’s slightly more serious.

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Beldui Txakolina “Xiribil” 2013
The first thing I smell is like that pocket-warmed, slightly waxy piece of bubblegum that came in a pack of Topps baseball cards. There’s no sweetness on the palate, though that bubblegum note comes through, mingling with lemony citrus tones that last on the palate a ridiculously long time for such a simple wine. The fizz is fun and this wine will make many a patio cameo this summer, no doubt.

Beldui Txakolina 2013
Very citrusy here too, mostly lemongrass and some subtle mandarine. It’s bright and mineral-driven on the palate. It’s a little more texturally rich than the Xiribil and the acidity is bright, keeping the balance in check. It’s begging for food, and I think baked clams or some Manchego would do it proud.

Simple and easy, very crowd-pleasey. Find a bottle and throw it back!

 

Cheers!

April

Some Italian Vino I’ve been Sipping this Week

This time of year is no different from others. I’m thinking of VinItaly and sad that it’s the first time I’ve missed this fair in 4 years. But I can always drum up a little Italy love in my own wine glass as I think back to some of these wineries that I’ve had the incredibly good fortune to visit.

Stylistically, this time of year, I want my reds to bring texture and lightness but not too much weight. And I want freshness and brightness in the whites, but an element of complexity and nothing too fruity. Here’s what I’m working with this week…

From Italy’s northeast, in the Veneto region:

Remo Farina Bianco di Custoza 2011. This is a bright, crisp white wine made with a blend of the five regional white grapes of the region. Orchard fruit from ripe yellow apple to creamy peach, this is a crowd pleasing white wine that has an incredible capacity to serve both as a cocktail wine or would work well with poultry, shellfish or spring vegetable dishes.

From Alto Adige, in Italy’s Dolomite mountains.

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Cantina Terlano Terlaner Classico

Cantina Terlano “Terlaner Classico” 2012. Rich and textural, this is a multi-faceted blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Pinot Bianco. Each of these grapes makes its way into their own bottlings at Cantina Terlano. This proprietary blend of the three has been a perpetual favorite wine of mine since it first hit my lips around 2007. Fruit notes are ripe apple and sutle pear, and it bears a very rich mouthfeel without the weight of having been thumped with oak. A pretty phenomenal bottle of wine for this “classic” range of wines from Terlano. Almost everybody falls in love with this wine, including people who often fancy themselves exclusive red wine drinkersPaolo_LangheBianco_bottle

 

From the northwest, in the Piedmont region, famed for the rich Barolo wines:

Paolo Scavino Langhe Bianco DOC 2012. This wine wine glistens with fresh acidity and international styling. It makes perfect sense when you think of the people who live in this region, farmers at heart, but with an incredible reverence for the land and blessed with some of the most incredible culinary riches in the world, including earthy and decadent truffles and chingale, or wild boar. This region is also famed for Barolo wines, beautiful and elegant wines made in either a modern or more traditional style, but these are wines that are quite contemplative and require years to mature. So, often the people here reach for something easy and refreshing, like this Langhe bianco, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Delicious and citrus-toned with an incredible backbone of minerality and a brave streak of acidity.

From the heart of Tuscany, three wines from Italy’s own Sangiovese:

Ali Sangiovese 2012 is a bottle of wine that holds it’s own on a weeknight with easygoing counterparts like pizza or burgers. The fruit shines, with bright red fruit like cranberry and Bing cherry and tannins are soft and medium-bodied. Great value and easy to like!

Alteo Chianti DOCG 2012 is pleasant and fruity with more elements of earth and ripe fruit, like blackberry and black cherry. Tannins are smooth but add great texture. This would be a great accompaniment to grilled red meats, grilled vegetables or pasta in a tomato-based sauce.

Bramosia Chianti Classico DOCG 2011 is a wine that wears its pedigree well and stikes a great balance between tannin and acidity, offering a complexity on the palate that well belies its low price tag. It shows nice earthy notes of forest floor, but is clean and bright and is definitely in the camp of modern style Chiantis. The oak barrel aging adds nice spice notes, like nutmeg and cinnamon and just a hint of vanilla. The fruit is mature and reminiscent of black cherry and plums.

Back to the Veneto for this red:
Remo Farina Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2012. Here’s a wine that seems to blow everybody away! Made from grapes that have been partially dried prior to pressing, the natural sweetness of the grapes is enhanced and the concentration is richer. The juice is passed over the dried grape skins one more time (ripasso = re-passed) to extract even more of the baked fruit concentration and the resulting wine is a velvety combination of rich baked fruit and beautiful brown spices like cardamom, cinnamon and also brings forth elements of cigar box and cedar. Tannins are very fine and the wine is medium in weight, perfect for a spring/summer red. Made up of a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara.

A little gratitude for a favorite restaurant- the New Scenic Café

Feeling incredibly blessed that I got to share wine with the folks at the New Scenic Café just north of Duluth today. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in the world, for too many reasons to mention. Lake Superior crashing away at the shore 100′ away tops the list, as does unpretentious service and consistently remarkable food.

Just basking in gratitude for a moment…life is good.

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Life-changing Brussels sprout salad. Yes, it’s that amazing.

If you’re into genuine hospitality, art, beauty, divine food and fine wine, do yourself the favor of making the venture up the majestic shore of Lake Superior to this sweet spot.  I’ll see ya there.

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Yours truly sneaking across the road from the Scenic to snap a pic of the icy lake, earlier this year.

What to Wear (and Drink) on These Cold A** Days

After a little blogging hiatus, it’s time to come back to the computer and get back in the practice of sharing the wine love. And the wine love related stuff.

Today, because it’s not just any old day, but one of the coldest days in the world, ever, I decided to write about my outfit.  More specifically, what a MN wine industry rep wears to work during the bleak abyss of the oddly named and especially cruel Polar Vortex.

It was so cold that school was cancelled today. So cold that when I stopped into my accounts, their faces registered surprise and they couldn’t seem to believe a wine rep just showed up.

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Even after work it’s too cold to take them off.

I wore these to work today. Professional attire? Not sure about that. But, when the thermometer reading showed a balmy -20 degrees this morning, I thought I’d cut myself a break from my fancy shoes and perhaps return home at the end of the day with ten toes intact. I hesitated for all of a nanosecond before giving myself the green light, hoping that my customers would appreciate my winter sensibility.  My wardrobe today, aside from the obvious winter coat, wooly mittens and stocking cap, included long underwear (top and bottom), wool socks, corduroys, two sweaters and yes, my Steger Mukluks. Hot I was not. But warm, well, I can say that on occasion today I was actually warm.

I took only two wines on the road with me, both of which I tucked into my Duluth Pack alongside my computer (risk-ay) instead of towing a rolling wine bag through the ice and nasty snow-muck. They were a dry Furmint from Hungary and a tasty little Spanish red.

I already talked about that little Furmint, the lovely Evolucio here. But the other wine I tossed in my bag is the Neil Santofimia 2012, made from the grape Garnacha Tintorera, which is grown in Spain’s southeast, as is the case with this wine from Almansa, Spain. Truth is I already had it open a couple days, but it proved that it has the structural integrity to hold up to some oxygen. In fact, it’s got a beautiful combination of tannin, acidity and a mineral austerity that keeps it really interesting. It’s complex but not opulent. It would get down with some food, but is totally quaffable on its own. I think that on day three it’s showing at its best yet, and at around $12.99 on the retail shelf that should earn it a spot on some dining room tables.

Neil Santofimia 2012

Neil Santofimia 2012

Neil Santofimia 2012

Grape: Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet)

Deep brooding purple-black color. Nose is blackberry and cassis, with some anise and graphite. Wine has opened up quite a bit aromatically with the fruit becoming somewhat more “baked” as would be expected. Palate echoes the nose but adds the textural interest of medium-plus tannins and ample acidity. Could this wine age a while? From what I know about the price point it doesn’t make sense, but I actually guess it would hold up 5-7 (or more) years. Score!

Cheers to this fantastic glass of wine in front of me, hoping that it can bring a little heat forth from the inside out.

Sushi, Meet your Match.

In Minnesota, we like to open conversations by talking about the weather. For better or worse it’s what we do, and at present there is ample opportunity to discuss just how crappy and disappointing ours has been. However, I’m not about to ramble on about that. Or rant about the fact that I’ve only sat on one restaurant patio so far this year, shivering and too proud to make for the warm indoor dining room because HECK, the sun was shining on that fine day and the fact that the patio was open was reason enough for me and my pasty, pale skin to clamor for a spot in the sun. This is Minnesota and sometimes the weather sucks. Sometimes it sucks an entire season right out of existence.

Nonetheless, I’m determined to remain positive and turn my thoughts to summer. That leads to daydreaming about the pleasure of eating long stretched out meals of sushi.  Which leads to thinking about which of my favorite wines to drink during the aforementioned meals. We all know that sake and shochu are classic pairings for Japanese fare like sushi, but wine can also be an amazing pairing. It can, in fact, rocket the entire culinary tango of eating and drinking into blissful nirvana.

Today I experienced an exaltation of sorts with a most unique wine, a wine I knew would be the perfect vessel for this sushi and wine marriage. It was a dry version, two of them actually, of Furmint from Hungary.  You might be familiar with Furmint as the grape that is used in the famous Tokaj dessert wines, and indeed it’s the same grape from the same region, but in this application it’s made into a couple of beautiful dry white wines.

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The wines at hand are brought to the US through an importer called Boutique Wines and their tagline is “Love Over Money.” Never met the folks but I like their philosophy. The wines are known by their proprietary names, “Evolúció” and “Affinitás”.

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Evolúció is made of 100% Furmint and has a gorgeous textural richness to accompany the delicate floral aromas and less-than-subtle tangerine aromas. It’s hard to say at 13% abv that it’s off-dry, but it definitely doesn’t strike the palate as being bone dry either. The acidity is soft, which makes it such a lovely accompaniment to sashimi, as there’s not a lot of fat that needs to be ripped through. The wine itself kind of reminds me of the way your hands smell after you’ve been handling clementines, with notes of honeysuckle, lilac and white peach also present on the palate.

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Affinitás is based on Furmint, making up 85% of the blend, and the other 15% comes from Yellow Muscat, a grape I saw in play quite a bit while I was living in Croatia. At first sip the Affinitás was quiet on the palate, then it stretched out and woke up. It is a little more wound up than the Evolúció, with brighter acidity, more complexity and some stony minerality to its character. I gotta admit, the opening aromas and flavors are of crushed baby aspirin, and in case that comes off as a negative comment, I’d like to set the record straight: I was very excited about this. I’m not a closet pill popper, and I guess if I was this would be proof that I’m a pretty lame amateur, but I love me some baby aspirin with it’s subtle orange-iness and chalky finish. My lunch date concurred that a) baby aspirin is delicious and b) this wine is also delicious and a brilliant combination with the more complex futomaki rolls and their various flavor components. The Affinitás delivers textural breadth as well, but more in the realm of broad, sweeping acidity. More citrus aromas evolved on the palate as well as the wine opened up, primarily to the orangey citrus fruits, but also key lime and lemon. Chalky minerality makes waves through the palate too. It’s an incredibly alluring wine with plenty of complexity, in fact much more than you would expect for the price.

Both of the wines we tasted today were from the 2011 vintage, and are drinking beautifully. The fine folks at Masu Sushi and Robata in Northeast were kind enough to let me explore this burgeoning obsession idea of pairing these wines with sushi, bringing in my own bottles while they indeed have their own lovely drink program, including some dynamite cocktails. If you’re reading from the Minneapolis area, get yourself over there for an awesome meal or their rockstar happy hour.

If you’re inclined to try these lovely wines, try tracking them down at your favorite local retailer. They should be able to order them even if they don’t carry them at present. They’re brand new to the MN market. The Evolúció is a freakin steal at $10.99 and so is the Affinitás at $12.99. You’ll regret picking up anything less than 6 bottles of each.

Some of the shops in the Twin Cities that carry one or both of these wines:

Lowertown Wine and Spirits

The Wine Thief, St. Paul

Tournament Liquor, Blaine

MT Liquor, Mahtomedi

Wine of the Day: Les Rocailles Rosé Gamay Vin de Savoie

I’ve got a crush on a girl.

Well, at least if we put rosé wines into the more feminine category, I guess that’s true. She’s pretty in pink too. Actually, she’s my favorite rosé-ified hue of pale salmon.

New fave rosé?

I’m talking about the Les Rocailles Rosé Gamay Vin de Savoie. It’s a beautiful little French number (in case you couldn’t tell) and it’s won a place in my heart. The nose opens with white peach, green apple, lime and tangerine on a chalky backbone that reminds me a little of the white dipping stick in a Fun Dip. That’s not a bad thing in my book. There’s also a pink lemonade note that makes me think this is a perfect summer wine, but here we are in fall and I’m loving it still.

Here’s a little help, too, if the label is posing a bit of a challenge for you:

Les Rocailles is the producer

Rosé is the type of wine, and it’s made of the grape Gamay in this case

Vin de Savoie is the region. It’s tucked into the French Alps, east of Burgundy and not so far from both the Swiss and Italian borders.  Here they tend to produce a number of different grapes, and the AOC (or controlled region) is simply called Vin de Savoie (pronounced like van du sav-wa). The grapes and wines in this region tend to be lighter in body, and are usually white or rosé, though some red wine is also produced. I’ve tasted some interesting wines from this region, particularly coming from the white grape Roussanne, which can be really tasty.

I tried the Les Rocailles Rosé with a Southwestern chicken salad, and the spice buried it. It would be much better and express more of its inherent elegance with an arugula salad with goat cheese and slivers of granny smith apple.

Awesome. And under $20.

The Ale Jail and Wine Thief Anniversary Party 2012

The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The weather couldn’t have been any nicer or the beer any tastier in Saint Paul’s Mac/Groveland neighborhood for the backyard bash at The Ale Jail and The Wine Thief. Pair that up with fantastic wines from friendly vendors, amazing burgers from The Blue Door Pub and we had an all around winning day. Hope you had a chance to swing by!
The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012
The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012The Wine Thief & Ale Jail Anniversary Party 2012

The Ale Jail & Wine Thief Anniversary Party 2012

Above is the link to the full set of photos. Enjoy and please ask permission before using images.