Monthly Archives: December 2013

Sunday Read: Five Wine Books Worth Noting

This Sunday Read, which section I neglected terribly lately, comes to you from Alaska. I am already with my in laws after I secured an insanely low mileage ticket deal and since I can work from wherever I have an internet connection, there was no need to hang around in rather dreary Michigan…so why not head to the land of snow, cold, and darkness instead? Right?

Being up north also makes me realize how close we are getting to Christmas, so this Sunday Read will be devoted to some ideas for gifts, notably in the form of wine books. Eric Asimov, the New York Times wine writer, has compiled a list of five books he found worthwhile in 2013. All related to wine, but from very different perspectives. I enjoy Asimov’s style, so I feel like I can trust him with his recommendations. I have not read or looked through any of these five books. But they’re probably a good place to start in case you are hunting for a gift for a wine lover you know…shoot me a PM for my mailing address if you want to be my Secret Santa. :)

Happy Sunday, from what feels like pretty close to Santa’s home…

Eric Asimov: Five Wine Books Worth Noting

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Alaska: Bear Creek Winery Strawberry Rhubarb

A fruit wine from Alaska...

A fruit wine from Alaska…

Last year, I read in an article that every single state in the United States now has at least one winery. At first, I was puzzled because I immediately asked “How the hell can Alaska have a winery????” (Nina is from Alaska, so I have at least a rudimentary understanding of weather conditions there….)

Some friendly bloggers gleefully pointed out that in the U.S., fruit wine makers actually qualify as wineries. Maybe it is just me, but it might also be the European in me that could only shake his head. Seriously? While I acknowledge that there is wonderful cider out there (aka “apple wine”) – although, at some point someone will have to explain to me how a bottle of cider can cost $20 -, I do not consider that to be a wine really. Same goes for any other type of “fruit wine”. In my world, wine is alcohol made from grapes. Period. The other stuff might be called “wine”, but the producers are definitely not winemakers. They might be farmers or millers or whatever, but not winemakers. So how can fruit wine producers call themselves “Winery”, that hallowed of all terms?

Sigh. End of rant. I still don’t get it. But, clearly my one and only Alaskan reader, one of my brothers in law (thanks Weldon!), was intrigued as well and gave us a bottle of Bear Creek Winery Strawberry Rhubarb wine for Christmas last year. We had a good laugh, and I vowed to try it (reluctantly).

And then spring came and went, then summer which we spent in South East Asia, upon our return summer was over way too quickly, and the bottle was still stacked in a wine rack (yes, we do have standards!)…what to do? Would it still be drinkable?

So, last Saturday, as I was preparing and heating up Glühwein (aka mulled wine) to make Feuerzangenbowle (literally “fire tongue punch”), a German winter tradition that involves Glühwein, sugar cones, lots of rum and fire (you have to have seen it to understand), Nina decided to throw the bottle in the freezer to chill it down quickly so we could have it before the guests arrived….and in time before I was leaving for Alaska to face my brother in law.

So, we tried it. In December. The rather well made label states boldly “Other than standard” and that the wine is made from equal parts strawberry and rhubarb. It is produced in Homer, Alaska (I’ve been there, it’s gorgeous), and has 10% ABV. It poured in a blush wine color and was immediately fruity on the nose (duh). Other than feared, it definitely had not suffered from waiting a year for its consumption. On the palate, it was fruity and fresh, the aromas as were to be expected, but it was neither in any way cloyingly sweet (as I had anticipated) nor boring. The rhubarb seemed to give it a nice acidic punch, and the strawberry was just fun. I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. I can totally see us drinking this in summer on the porch, a nice switch from our obligatory Vinho Verde when we want something less citrussy.

We’re now actually talking about acquiring a couple more bottles when we are in Alaska for the holidays. Strike that. I just checked the price list and the Strawberry Rhubarb has a whopping $20 SRP (which makes it one of the cheaper wines on offer from the winery). And that, honestly, is not just a tad too much. Ah well, at least we were considering buying some of it…Who would have thought? Will my mother in law (and my mother, for that matter) stop referring to me as a wine snob? Probably not. But do I have a new found appreciation for fruit wines? For sure. Do I think they’re wines? Nah….

Also, given that I now have tried wines from several states (Alaska, Oregon, Washington, California, Michigan, New York, Texas, and New Mexico – I think New Mexico, not entirely certain), I think I will go on a mission to try wines from every state in the Union. Keep suggestions coming my way.

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A night spanning three continents…

Last night, we had my good blogger friend John, The Wine Raconteur, and his wife over for dinner at our place. The dinner had been a long time in the making, and I am glad we finally got to it. It has become a Christmas tradition in Nina’s parents’ house for me to cook a boeuf bourguignon (beef burgundy) “between the years”, as we call the period after Christmas and before work starts again in early January. I had to tweak my established recipe (over at FX Cuisine’s stunning food blog) a bit, and figured John and his wife would not mind being the guinea pigs to give the new recipe a try.

I have always loved this dish, and pride myself in having mastered quite some skill in its preparation. It is time consuming, with the marinating and dealing with the meat, but it is also so rewarding! This photo is from FX Cuisine, and mine looks pretty much like this (and yes, I do serve it with mashed potatoes as well!):

Boeuf Bourguignon

As a French classic, a Burgundy Pinot Noir is normally a must to accompany this dish, but John had something else in mind. He had recently acquired a bunch of single vineyard reserve Pinot Noirs from California-based Tudor Wines and wanted to share this wine, which was very generous. He knows of my reservations as regards California Pinot Noirs (too fruit-driven, not enough earthy aromas), so he grinned and informed me that this had enough “dirt” in it. And oh boy, it did. We were drinking the 2007 Tudor Tondre Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands. It was such a pleasant surprise: The initial taste was this wonderful earthiness that a light Pinot Noir carries when done right, and it stretched through the mid-palate, only to be taken over a by surprising fruitiness of sweet cherry and berries. This fruit explosion was in no way a problem, it was so well integrated and part of the earthy tones. Just a great wine, wonderful with the meal as well.

After we were done with the Tudor bottle and our dinner, and conversation was flowing naturally back and forth, I was making eye contact with Nina. We had a bottle of Riesling in the fridge, but it didn’t feel right to crack that bottle just now. As John’s wife was describing how much she enjoys Cabernet Francs and has a penchant for big wines (just like Nina), Nina suggested we should open our last bottle of 2007 Tukulu Pinotage. John reported that he had only ever tasted his first Pinotage at a recent tasting and seemed not very keen on reliving that experience (who can blame him, a lot of the stuff sold here is not up to par), but we insisted. Nina and I have had a weak spot for good Pinotage ever since our time in Botswana, were amazing wines from this grape were available. Tukulu quickly became my favorite producer back then, and has remained so since. Tukulu was one of the first wineries in South Africa to be run by black entrepreneurs and deems itself a black empowerment project (granted, I do like the winery for that reason alone!). This particular bottle had been sitting for a while, and Cellartracker kept nagging me that its drinking window was closing…man, was Cellartracker wrong. The wine poured in a gorgeous purplish red, and swirled heavily through the glass. The nose was fresh and enticing, with typical rubber and dirt aromas mixed with red fruit. On the palate, the wine was wonderfully fresh. Great acidity, lots and lots of earthiness, mixed in that unique style that only good Pinotage can achieve with red fruit. Stunning, and by far not nearing the end of its drinking window.

A night spanning three continents: North America, Africa, and Europe

A night spanning three continents: North America, Africa, and Europe

Instead of dessert, as is common in our household, we opened a 2003 Vereinigte Hospitien Piesporter Schubertslay Riesling Spätlese. You all know my love for aged Rieslings by now, and this one did not disappoint. Petrol aromas in the nose, some mineral aromas and citrus. On the palate, the wine was a stunning mix of toffee and vanilla and underlying acidity and yellow fruit aromas. It still tasted very fresh, and was not on its way to (what I loosely describe as) the more sherry-like qualities of even older Rieslings. By this I am referring to a narrower scope of aromas, and a “thinner” mouthfeel (thanks to Frank for making me explain this a bit more!). I love this stage in a Riesling’s development: still supple and a good mouthful, but turning more towards the caramel side. In general, I find the 2003 Mosel Rieslings are great to drink at the moment, so if you have a bottle in your cellar, give it a try!

All in all we spanned three continents last night. Add in that we talked about our Asian trip as well, and we can make that four. I love how wine can do that, so easily. But as always, the best wines are worth nothing if not had in delightful company.

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