Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Last Friday at the After 5 wine tasting, two whites were on the table which, in my opinion, stood up to whatever discriminatory scrutiny red wine lovers could give them.  The Giocato Pinot Grigio and Chilcas Sauvignon Blanc both offered moderate complexity within the bounds of their types with the Chilcas being noticeably more adventurous while the Giocato was light, clean, and correct.  These are two to keep in mind for later this summer.

I mention them now because we're talking about vegetarian pizza here and I like white wine with my veggies.  Saturday night I had those same two wines with a pizza I made using a facebook friend's recipe.  The post was taken from myrecipes.com and entitled, Cauliflower Pizza Crust.  So just to explain, the recipe is really about the crust and you could make it a meat-lovers pizza if you would like.  I like veggies though and I just happened to have a drawer full Saturday night!

While you now have access to the website recipe, this is what I did Saturday night:

1.  Grate 1/2 head of cauliflower
2.  Microwave it for 8 minutes
3.  Brush olive oil onto a foil lined pan
4.  Grate 1 cup of hard Italian cheese (parmesan, probably)
5.  Beat 1 egg
6.  After the microwaved cauliflower cools, mix with egg and cheese
7.  Add basil, black pepper, and garlic
8.  Spread out the crust mix on your pan
9.  Brush more olive oil on the top
10.Bake 15 minutes

So that concludes the crust-making part.  Like I said, I loaded the thing with veggies, especially the offensive ones like onions and peppers.  I added sauce and more cheese too, of course.  Actually now that I think about it, I believe my recipe was not the one from facebook but the one I googled from Paula Deen at popsugar.com.  Yeah, that's what it was!

After you get the top all gooped-up with whatever trips your gustatory trigger, bake your masterpiece for another ten minutes or, using the other recipe, broil 3-4 minutes.  While my pizza tasted great, the crust did not hold together well enough to eat by hand, so I may have done something wrong.  If yours too falls apart, scoop that scrumptious sucker up with a fork!

My heavily peppered vegetarian pizza probably showed better with the Sauvignon Blanc than the lighter Pinot Grigio but in another couple months, in the heat of summer, that Pinot may do the trick!  For red "pizza wines", I always defer to the Italians.  

This Friday, May 1st, we'll taste the current vintage of Maso Canali Pinot Grigio which I feel is their best in years.  We'll also taste the Hall Napa Valley Merlot, which frankly bowled me over when I tasted it last week.  I'm sure we'll also have a dry rose in the mix along with some more reds.  We ask for a ten dollar fee to taste which is refundable on a fifty dollar purchase.  Please join us.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cotes du Rhone (an overview)

If you look at a map of France, the Cotes du Rhone wine appellation is a 125 mile long vertical strip of land on the eastern side.  It starts about fifty miles south of Burgundy, a little south of the N-S midpoint of France, and follows the Rhone River south ending near Lyon.  A hundred miles to the east of the appellation lies Switzerland along with the northeast corner of Italy.

About two thirds of the way down the appellation, the town of Montelimar marks the accepted dividing line between the northern Rhone and the southern portion.  Again on the map, the south is a bell-shaped expansion as opposed to the slender strip to the north.  North of Montelimar the climate is continental with cool breezes influenced by the Alps.  The southern Rhone is Mediterranean in climate with hot summers and mild winters.  The topography of the north is hilly to mountainous featuring terraced hillside vineyards while the south is flatter; consequently, ninety percent of the wine production comes from the south.

Syrah is the primary red grape in the northern Rhone where place names like Cote Rotie, Hermitage, St-Joseph, Cornas, and Crozes-Hermitage have established the supremacy of the north as the finest Rhone wine production region.  Grenache is the primary grape of the South with top production regions including Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise, and Cairanne.

Close to ninety percent of the wine production of the entire Rhone valley is red wine.  The great white wines of the region feature Viognier as the primary grape with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Rousanne in supporting roles.  Sweet Muscats are produced in Beaumes de Venise and the commune of St-Peray produces sparkling wine.  The noteworthy place names for Rhone whites include Hermitage, Condrieu, and Chateau-Grillet (its own appellation) in the north and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south.  The Rhone Valley is one of only a few wine production regions in the world where the whites are often valued higher than the reds.

Having just covered Tavel in the previous post on roses, we will just add here that Tavel roses are the finest wines of their kind in the world.  Lirac lies just to the north of Tavel and theirs are comparable.

So why this post now?  In preparation for last Friday's French/Italian tasting we noticed an abundance of Rhones in the French wine rack along with three stacks on the floor.  The wines range in price between $15 and $40 and as has always been the case, they are some of the finest red wine values available.  Red Rhones, in general, are medium-bodied, spicy, dark berry wines that marry well with most any red meat dish.  Consider picking some up for your weekend cookout!

Please join us this Friday after 5 when Dean Johnston of Eagle Rocks makes his debut at the weekly event with an eclectic lineup of wines from three continents, and by all means, become a follower of this here blog!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


We've covered this territory before (June 4, 2013), but it's rose season again, so let's have another splash of the pink stuff.  As satisfying as the stuff is, we'll make this a "refresher" course (ahem).  Let's start with a little history, then move on to the contemporary rose scene, eventually landing in the present here and now with our currently rich store rose inventory.

As we have said in the past, roses have a particularly prominent place in wine history.  Since red wines have only been made really dark and extracted using twentieth century technology, you could say that virtually all of wine making history has been a history of making varying shades of roses.

Prior to the middle ages, written records showed that sweet roses were genuinely preferred to stronger darker and drier wines.  In the middle ages, Bordeaux became the center of the wine world but it wasn't the reds that were in vogue.  Once again the records show roses to be the more popular style.  Similarly, at about the same time, the Champagne region emerged on the scene with both sparkling and still wines and the style there too was a darker shade of rose.  Bordeaux, of course, went on to fame as a dry red wine region while seventeenth century Champagne learned how to make truly white wine from red grapes.  If there is a general historical trend with roses though, it is that they have become progressively drier through time.

Today fine roses are made in every wine production region of the world.  Europe, as usual, makes the best rose with Spain and France currently being the leaders by acclamation.  Greece lies outside of the popular purview but the Kir-Yianni Akakies Rose we have successfully sold here recently takes a back seat to none.  Disappointingly, Italy, despite its amazing wine culture, doesn't seem to have created a rose style commensurate with its other production.

Not surprisingly, the best grapes for making roses are among the oldest.  Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo,and Mourvedre are probably the best followed by Cinsault, Carignan, and in a different vein, Pinot Noir.  France has the historical rose-making edge on Spain despite Spain being the older wine producing country.  But for the popular American palate, Spain probably satisfies the best.

Because of their history, the French wine laws are definitive of just what kind of wine may be produced where.  Those laws acknowledge southern France including Provence, the Rhone Valley, and Languedoc-Roussillon to be the primary rose region of the country and the rose epicenter of the continent.  Spain, which no doubt had a history of rose production through the centuries, has only exploited its production in the modern era and now it is producing roses everywhere.  While France is locked into its legally delimited production values, Spain, with its many modern wineries, is blending new grapes with the traditionals to create new roses.

We probably have a dozen roses here at the present time but I will only mention four.  John Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rose is from that southern French rose locale just mentioned.  Cortijo Rose is from the acclaimed Rioja region of Spain.  Both are sale priced at $9.99 because they are the 2013 vintage and the new '14s have arrived.  Castel des Maures and Chateau Paradis are both 2014 Provence Roses and are priced in the high teens.  All are exceptional wines and priced appropriately.

At the weekly After 5 wine tasting on Friday, David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections presents French and Italian wines from his fine portfolio.  Then on the 24th, Dean Johnston of Eagle Rock Distributing pours tastes of wines from six different countries on three continents.  Please join us for these events.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ole Imports

Founded in 1999 by Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte, students at the time; Ole Imports is one of a handful of small companies retailers can confidently draw from without undue quality/value concerns.  It's actually written into their four-principle mission statement: "terroir, quality fruit, exceptional wine making, and exceptional value".  Since we're talking about Spain, so much of that mission statement seems unnecessary and redundant since we really don't get anything, to my way of thinking, that isn't exceptional from there.  Maybe the statement expresses an effort to elevate the Spanish standards to an even higher plane.

Starting with just three wines in 1999, the partners went to work scouring the peninsula for unique terroir-driven gems that would meet or exceed the existing standards of the worldwide wine marketplace.  Since economy was part of the equation from the beginning and coming from that old world country, the partners focused on less highly extracted wines aged in concrete tanks, which allow wines to breathe without the expense of oak barrels.  Wines made this way, I would add, would allow the intrinsic fruit flavors to take center stage without the oak crowding them out.

We mentioned above that the Ole partners were students when they formed their company.  Alberto studied law and Patrick, business.  Their first venture together was Ole Marketing, an advertising company.  Then independently of each other, Patrick studied the wine industry in Miami while Alberto studied Oenology and Viticulture in Madrid.  Both partners' families had a background in wine so one thing led to another and Ole Marketing became Ole (Wine) Imports.

Of the 150 wines in their book, Alberto makes thirty of them, many of which are part of the "Peninsula" portfolio subcategory of wines made from little known grape varieties in Spain.  Some of those grape varieties are actually "endangered" and by propagating them, their possible extinction is avoided.

Our wines for Friday's tasting include two whites: Papa, which is made from the Godello grape in Valdeorros in northwestern Spain and Ipsum, a Verdejo from Rueda, south and east of Valdeorros.  We have a rose of Garnacha from Cortijo of Rioja along with the tinto, which is Tempranillo from the same producer.  Rioja is the best known wine appellation of Spain and its locale is north and just a little east of central.  Our remaining two reds on the docket are Ludovicus and La Cartuja.  Ludovicus is made from Garnacha grapes in Terra Alta; La Cartuja is in Priorat and constructed of Garnacha and Carinena.  Both locales are in northeast Spain with Priorat being arguably the finest wine production region in the country.

So how good are the wines of Ole Imports?  Kermit Lynch is arguably the finest importer of French wines in America.  Robert Parker says Ole Imports is to Spanish wines what Kermit Lynch is to the French.  Please join us for the tasting.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Veramonte, Chile, and Agustin Huneeus

Friday evening we tasted the 2013 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc from Veramonte of Casablanca Valley, Chile.  We also tasted the Ritual Pinot Noir but consumer interest centered on the Sauvignon Blanc which, in fairness, was higher priced and should have been better than the Pinot.  While this role reversal of inauspicious Sauvignon Blanc actually being superior to the vaunted Pinot Noir looks funny on paper, it actually proved on the palate that Veramonte got it right when they valued the white wine higher than the red.

When the Veramonte distributor initially presented the Ritual wines to us, they were presented as "Paul Hobbs" wines; Mr. Hobbs being one of that elite class of winemakers that traverses the globe seemingly on retainer with wineries everywhere.  What was omitted in the presentation was the name, Agustin Huneeus, surely an equal to Hobbs historically and now the patron owner of Veramonte.  We blogged about Mr. Huneeus back on the 31st of January 2013, recounting in that post his top shelf resume of winery accomplishments.

Just one touchstone of that resume showed how Mr. Huneeus took a very mediocre, under-performing Franciscan Vineyards in the mid-eighties and seemingly overnight transformed it into a prestigious producer of fine wines.  Then in 1996 from that Franciscan Estates platform, he launched Veramonte back in his native Chile.  Since selling Franciscan in 2004, Huneeus has concentrated on the expansive Veramonte line and his two Napa elites, Quintessa and Faust.  Lest we forget, Huneeus got his start with Concha y Toro back in 1960!

When we think of the Chilean wine industry, we often give it short shrift, especially when comparing it with Argentina and its best-in-the-world Malbec.  But there's good reason to acknowledge Chilean wine quality too, when you consider they've been doing it since the 16th century, courtesy (as always) of the missionaries.   Within a century the popularity of those "sacramental" wines would have to be reigned in by Spain when shipments from Chile began to eat into the local wine industry profits.  Then a hundred years after that, French varietals (like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir) made their debut in Chile and it's those wines that have currently reinstated Chile as a wine exporting powerhouse.

I would say the rest is history except for a couple of serious 20th century snags, one being the macro-economic doldrums caused by World War II but the other being the political upheaval and resultant dictatorship that was very much self-inflicted.  It wasn't until 1990 when democracy was restored that the wine industry again was able to spread its wings.

Please join us this Friday when David Hobbs of Prime Wines joins us with a tasting of Spanish and California wines.  There are no better wine values currently than what Spain produces and California, of course, has its thumb on the pulse of the American palate, so this one should be quite good.  Please join us.

...and please become a follower of the blog too!