Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Bitter End of 2016

Every year around the holidays, I make a batch or two of some kind of liqueur to give as presents, and occasionally throw last year's batch up for grabs after a year of aging. This year, there are three. 

Last year's chamomile liqueur aged gracefully, and is now akin to a fruity, potent sauterne with the sedative power of a Benadryl. While I still prefer it made with Steve McCarthy's Clear Creek Williams Pear Brandy as I've done in the past, The Fidelitas Obstler Pear and Apple Eau de Vie held up well and developed with time. 

One of my favorites is still in testing. A classic Amaro heavy on the gentian and wormwood, with galangal, iris root, and angelica. The base infusion is flavored with dried seville orange peels, but I felt it needed a darker fruit for the base syrup. At THIS point, I'm heading toward black cherry, although I recently discovered a source of frozen red currants. Maybe both?

And finally, my classic Earl Grey Liqueur. I've made this one since 1999 every few years, and is an important ingredient in my Earl Grey martinis. It's based on a product that Twinings tried to market here in the US back in the eighties that I fell in love with and have never forgotten. Usually, I use blood orange peels, but this year's will be brighter using tangerines. And of course, I only use Twinings, infused into california brandy, with orange blossom honey, citrus peels, and sugar. Tea strength is determined by a classic British tea service. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Grape By Any Other Name Would Taste As Complex

Recently, I had an opportunity to taste a cult wine from Linne Calodo, a Paso Robles winery that specializes in "GSM" wines, Rhone style blends containing various percentages of Grenache, Syrah, and perhaps one of my favorite grapes, Mourvèdre.

While the 2014 blend was primarily syrah, the mourvèdre was pretty evident to me, adding a depth of character beyond the predominate pepperiness of the Syrah: baked blueberries, a touch of camphor, and a meatiness I would sooner pair with bison over a beefsteak anyday. I had flashbacks to a pairing I did at the James Beard House many years ago using Matt Cline's "Small Berry Mourvèdre," a wine that's stuck in my memory for its intensity (yes, that's a recommendation, and it's still available on their website at last peek for $70, $56 for wine club members). One of the waiters––and a wine savvy one at that––said he'd never heard of Mourvèdre, and I assured him he'd had it many times, and just not known it's name. This grape appears in many of my favorite wines over the years, at least in some small part, if not in it's entirety (like the Small Berry):

  • Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant (see previous post)
  • Mas Amiel Cuveé Specialé 10 Ans d'Âgé, a delightful fortified dessert wine that the French pair with chocolate when the rest of the world isn't watching. so they can keep it for themselves
  • Domaine Tempier Bandol, my traditional Thanksgiving pairing with giblet gravy and sausage stuffing
  • Château Beaucastel Châteauneuf des Papes (and the Perrin Brothers' various American blends from Tablas Creek, and their more traditional Perrin Reserve Côtes du Rhône)
  • Ridge Geyserville, where Paul Draper always referred to it by its other name, preferred by the immigrant farmers in California, Mataro)

So YES, you've had this grape, so don't be afraid of it. It's humble beginnings in California as a table wine wine/jug wine can be ignored, thanks to the likes of Rhone Rangers like Cline and Randall Graham, who returned it to it's pre-phylloxera glory (it proved difficult to graft to American rootstocks and remained a blending grape for many years). And while it's European offerings known as Mataro or Monastrell might remain a mystery here in the states, give them a try! Less expensive bottlings may be a little bitter or gamey for American tastes, but try them with food!

Friday, July 15, 2016

I've waited long a Neuf!

OK, here goes nothing. It's too late to run out to Publix for a bottle of cheap Sardinian Cannonau, and I was in the mood for something a little spicy. Being unable to find the bottle of blended Malbec my sister brought me, I reached to the bottom of my wine cooler, past the Argyle Winery Nuthouse Pinot Noir that still needs a few years, and pulled out .......

A 2001 
Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant.

15 years old now. Am I too soon? Am I too late? 

While it probably could have gone a FEW more years, there was a 50/50 chance it had not survived a bout of improper storage, let alone the trip from NYC. I figured I'd better try it. Barely a tannin left in tact. so I think I made the right decision.

Nose of stewed plums, black cherry, and ...hmmm....medium-rare venison. Fairly heavy on the palate with blackberries, purple plums, juniper, licorice and hints of cognac. Long black cherry finish, crab apples, szechuan peppercorns. and an interesting tartness similar to Indian green mango.

Needs a red meat, but not necessarily beef, which would mask the more interesting flavors. Bison, Venison, Ostrich maybe? Spring lamb. OCTOPUS! Big Eye Tuna or Bonito. Chocolate with hazelnuts. Dry Spanish or Sardinian cheeses.

This IS the American answer to Chateauneuf des Papes, but with a chemistry unique to the winemaker and the previously (to Randall Graham) underutilized Santa Cruz area. Buy it if you see it, just don't drink it right away. Get a vertical.