Archive for May 2011

2009 Cru Beaujolais   Leave a comment

Perhaps “Compelling Beaujolais” is an oxymoron.  Let’s see.

Recently, Jancis Robinson, wine critic of the Financial Times, noted that the 2009 Beaujolais vintage is the best in recent memory.  In her words,  “… how about delicious 2009s that are stuffed full of fruit, cost well under £15 a bottle and are actually delicious to drink? Now.” 

Given that, by and large, these wines are at the more affordable end of the spectrum, I decided to invite some friends over for a late spring Beaujolais dinner on Saturday evening to check out the 2009 Cru Beaujolais.  Not only did we taste some good wine, but most importantly we had a great evening filled with silliness, laughter and a little bit of dancing.  That, in the final analysis, is what Beaujolais is really all about!

Let me say that I am not a huge fan of Beaujolais.  That probably goes back to the few bottles of uninspired and/or Bad Beaujolais I have drunk over the years– mostly Beaujolais Villages.  But not much Cru Beaujolais.  Is there a difference?  You bet your sweet bippy! 

Where does one start to look for a Bippy, anyway?

We all remember the boom of Beaujolais Nouveau– though perhaps better to forget.  But remember the best of these had a ripeness, freshness and acidity that made them perfect for easy Thanksgiving drinking.  No small accident that the wines typically arrive in the third week of November each year?  Actually, a 1951 French government decree proscribes the release of the wines before November 15th of the vintage year.  You tell me. 

A lot of Beaujolais Nouveau comes from the green part of the Beaujolais map, below.  Then there is Beaujolais Villages which comes from a hillier section of Beaujolais.  A step up, though the wines do share a characteristic freshness with the Nouveau. 

And at the top of the food chain, we have Cru Beaujolais which are ten communes the wines of which are considered to be so distinctive as to merit their own appellation. 

So why are the wines getting attention now?  It seems that the prior years were not so good.  Was there a lack of focus?  Or a sacrificing of quality in pursuit of profit?  Perhaps complacency set in after the heady days of Beaujolais Nouveau in the 1980’s.  I can’t really say.  And then in 2009, the growing season was exceptionally good with the gamay ripening much earlier than normal and, according to Mrs. Robinson, harvest starting in late August. 

Based on last night’s tasting, the 2009 Cru Beaujolais are worth pursuing and drinking now and for the next few years.

Can one speak of Beaujolais without mentioning the varietal that makes it all happen: Gamay?  Gamay produces a fruity wine with a purply-pink color.  Acidity keeps the fruit fresh and lively on the palate.  If you add a little barrel aging, then you start to get somewhere. 

Beaujolais is located on the southernmost end of Burgundy.  It is bordered on the east by the Saone.  Beaujolais wines tend to get better and are of greater repute in the northern part of Beaujolais.  Thus, generally, the best place is the 10 Cru Beaujolais which are reputed to have the most distinctive production.   One note about shopping for Cru Beaujolais.  The bottles usually highlight the commune of origin, rather than prominently identify the wine as being Beaujolais.  

Although we did not obtain Cru Beaujolais from each of the 10 Villages, we had a representative sampling from 6 of them from North to South as follows:

  • Juliénas 
  • Moulin-à-Vent
  • Chiroubles
  • Morgon
  • Regniè
  • Brouilly

Here in order tasted are the wines we had last night.  Please note, that as there were only 7 of us tasting, we had lots of leftovers which gave me a chance to retaste earlier today.

1.  Henry Fessy Chateau des Reyssiers Regnie 2009: Good nose indicating floral almost lavender-like notes, but the palate did not follow through and the finish seemed a little out of balance.  Rated **

2.  Paul Cinquin Domaine des Braves Regnie 2009: More characteristic Beaujolais nose, delivers a nicely balanced package of fruit.  Rated **1/2

3.  Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes 2009: Decent fruit with  minerally quality that established structure throughout.  Rated **

4.  Chateau de Pizay Morgon-2009: Aromas of cherries and kirsch, with a consistent palate that contains a minerally edge (though not as pronounced as the Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes) and finishing with fine tannins.  This feels like it can age for a few more years in the bottle would be even better.  **1/2

5.  Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Village 2009: Not a Cru Beaujolais, but it snuck into the tasting.  Fruit-filled nose, palate did not really deliver, and finished off with acid and tannins that were a little intense.   Rated *1/2

6.  Louis Jadot Moulin à Vent Château des Jacques 2009: Inviting nose with floral components, red fruit balanced by acidity and tannin.  After tasting No. 5, this one really sang.  This was the first bottle emptied for the evening.  ** 1/2

7.  Domaine de la Chapelle des Bois Chiroubles-2009   Very attractive all around and good structure on the finish.  Rated **1/2

8.  Terres Dorees L’Ancien Beaujolais (Jean-Paul Brun) 2009 : another non-Cru Beaujolais that snuck into the tasting.  The palate has an attractive dustiness to it that translates into a mouthful of red fruit (think raspberries).  Done in a lighter style, it does not have the same level of concentration as the Cru Beaujolais in the tasting, but it was quite food friendly Rated **

9.  Henry Fessy Moulin à Vent 2009: Fine nose with a palate that showed good concentration.  This is quite comparable to the  Louis Jadot Moulin à Vent Château des Jacques and is another bottle that was drunk quite quickly by last night’s participants.  Rated **1/2

10.  Georges Duboeuf Brouilly 2009: A fruity nose on this wine from the southernmost of the Cru Beaujolais.  It is a very approachable wine that was the softest of the wines tasted.  Soft blueberry like flavors, soft acidity lending a roundness to the wine, and soft tannins.  An enjoyable style.  Rated **1/2

11.  Henry Fessy Julienas 2009: From the northernmost of the Cru Beaujolais at this tasting, this wine had a heavier body and darker appearance than many of the others save for the two wines from Moulin à Vent.  It gets going with a hint of earth on the nose, which if I didn’t know better, could be mistaken for syrah.  But of course, this is Gamay.  On the palate, starts off sweetly but then turns down an acidic alley and delivers a punch of dark fruit and tannins.  What is this– a bad movie from the 70’s?  No it is a good wine that can definitely can be aged for a couple more years without harming it one bit.  It’s a shame this one was opened so late in the evening, as none of us really appreciated it as well as I did in the sip and spit session this morning.  Ah, the joys of leftovers!  Rated **1/2

As for the food last night, I prepared a menu that I thought would marry well with the wines:

Asiago Gougeres

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Radicchio Chiffonade Salad

Spaghetti Glicine (with Shallots, Parsley and Vine Ripened Tomatoes)

Grilled Rib Eye with Garlic Mushrooms & Spinach

The Pan-seared scallops were the best.  Not only was the dish tasty, but it was also the most beautiful with colors of purple and green to balance the carmelized seared scallops.  My mouth is watering just thing about this.  Yours will too… I promise.  

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Radicchio Chiffonade Salad ©

  • 2 lbs. Sea Scallops
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • One Head of Red Radicchio cut in a chiffonade (long thin strips)
  • 4 Scallions cross-cut on an angle yielding very thin strips of the white and green parts
 For the dressing:  The key to the dressing is to have enough sweetness to balance the bitterness of the radicchio and the acidity of the vinegar.  This is not an exact science and the flavor you get will depend on your ingredients.  Therefore, you should feel free to play with the measurements to obtain the right balance of flavors for you.  
  • 3 Tbsp of Champagne Vinegar (white wine vinegar can be substituted)
  • 1 Tbsp Pomegranate Molasses (this is a specialty that is worth searching for.  but if not available, more honey can be added)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp honey
  • 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I prefer Kalamata olive oil)
  1. Prepare the scallops by removing and discarding the tough side muscle from each scallop
  2. Wash the scallops in cold water in a colander, pat dry and lay out on a cutting board or plate
  3. Season the scallops with salt & pepper
  4. Combine the almonds and the minced garlic and place on top of the scallops and set aside
  5. Combine the first 3 of the dressing ingredients in a bowl.  Drizzle the EVOO while whisking the dressing.  Adjust the flavors to your liking.  Right before scallops are to be cooked,  dress the salad coating all of the shredded pieces evenly.  Arrange the salad in the center of your serving platter or individual serving plates
  6. Heat up a large frying pan until is very hot
  7. Add 2 Tbsps. of EVOO
  8. When oil is just starting to smoke, place the scallops almond/garlic side down and cook at high heat until they take on a light golden brown color (about 2-3 minutes depending on your stove).  Turn once and cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes.  Do not overcook these as they will lose their tenderness) 
  9. Arrange the scallops around the previously plated radicchio salad.
  10. Any of the garlic/almond crumbs that remain in the pan can be gathered up with a spoon and sprinkled on top of the salad.

Makes 8 appetizer sized servings or 4 entrée sized servings.

© Sybarite Sauvage

Posted May 29, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: The Double Dip Edition: 2009 Viacava Malbec Reserve & 2007 Celler de Capcanes Mas Donis Barrica Old Vines   Leave a comment


Wednesday night, I found myself at Ms. R’s around the time that I should be having dinner.  Funny that.  Dinner, complements of Ms. R’s mother, was on the stove. Arroz con Pollo (that’s rice and chicken for the uninitiated).   Good thing I brought along an Argentine Malbec.  Or so I thought.

2009 Viacava Malbec Reserve San Juan, Argentina ($8):  I honestly wanted to like this wine.  I poured, swirled, sniffed, sniffed some more, sipped.  But it wasn’t doing it for me.  In fact, it reminded me of the flavor profile that led me, not so long ago, to dislike Malbec.  I let it sit, and it got a little bit better.  But I still was not feeling it.   The nose really had nothing going on.  Also, I found the fruit to be a little unbalanced.  For $8, my expectations should not be so high, I know.  But the criticism of this wine was not universal.  Ms. R disagreed with me, though she described it as an easy drinking middle of the week kind of wine.  Oh hell, why not just say that’s “smooth” sweetheart!   “Enough!” said I, as I went in search of another bottle.  Thankfully, between Ms. R, her mother and visiting sister,  I did not have to drink this stuff.  Rated *

Ladies, you can drink this shallow Malbec, if you like.  But for me, only two words will do– “No Mas!”  Or on reconsideration perhaps Mas is the way to go.  So I reached for a bottle of:

2007 Mas Donis Barrica Old Vines Celler de Capcanes Montsant, Spain ($13.50): Now this was more like it.  I know, this isn’t a fair comparison with the 2009 Malbec.  And, so, I won’t compare.  For bargain hunters, the wines of Montsant are always worth checking out.  Why?  Because this area, located a short drive from Barcelona, borders on Priorat, which today produces some of the world’s greatest and most expensive wines.  Now the soil in Montsant isn’t exactly the same as Priorat, but the wines do have a unique concentration and at this price, should not be passed up.  Made with 85% grenache and 15% syrah and aged for 9 months in oak, this had the nose that I typically associate with wines from this part of Spain and especially those with a component of Syrah.  It’s a generous wine that I decided to decant as out of the bottle, it was a little tight.  As the wine relaxed in its oxygen bath, it started to release different aromas of earth mixed with dark fruit complemented by a slight herbaceous edge.  While this wine did not blow me away, I would drink this on any No-Guilt Wednesday!  And yes, it went very well with Grandma’s Arroz con Pollo.  Rated ** 1/2

Follow up note, after a little bit of internet research, I found the Mas Donis via mail order for as low as $8 a bottle if you buy a case.

Posted May 27, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Tasting of Paris May 24, 1976   1 comment

Ce bouquet est parfumé

By happenstance, last week I picked up a copy George M. Taber’s Judgement of Paris, California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting the Revolutionized Wine.  I had no idea when I purchased it that it was the advent of the 35th anniversary of that event.  Today being the day.

Although, I am only about half way through the book, I find it to be an amusing read even if some of the anecdotes that Taber provides to add color about a situation or the personality of a Napa vintner, for instance, seem a little out of place in the text.  But that is a small quibble.  The book captures the essence of California wine country history in a retelling of the events leading up to the historic tasting where American wines, surprisingly, beat out some rather formidable French competition.  But as I think back on that event (of which I was blissfully unaware at that time), I see that the world, and specifically, the world of wine, is a very different place today, a mere 35 years later. 

Although I was too young to imbibe in 1976, in the years that followed, I somehow became aware that American wines had beaten the best France had to offer in a wrestle-mania kind of smackdown.  Hell, let’s face it, anytime we can show the French up, we enjoy it.   

But where was I in 1976?  Working, not that hard, toward a high school diploma, at the Cosmo-Demonic Catholic High School (thank you Henry Miller).  Wine was the last thing on my mind. 

I am grateful to have had two formative moments when it came to wine.  In the late seventies I had my first sweet sip of Fratelli Lambrusco (the cheap drink that started me on this journey) with a girl named JoAnn.  Not to worry, shortly thereafter I graduated from that delightful nectar to Lancers Rosé and then Mateus Rosé (Saddam Hussein’s date-night favorite, apparently).  Let’s not even talk about Riunite wines.  At 19, you can drink anything and and get away with it.

My second wine epiphany came in my first year of law school when I was 23.  I bought a bottle of some inexpensive rhone wine from Louis Jadot back in 1983 to accompany a roast chicken that I made for myself that night.  I must have enjoyed it since I finished the bottle by my lonesome that night.  I probably had Mahler’s Fourth Symphony playing on the stereo that evening.  It was magical!  I vaguely remember stumbling into bed and waking with a mild hangover the next day.  Maybe it wasn’t so mild, but, never mind.  I remember how startled I was that the wine tasted so much better when paired with the student cuisine du jour– my first stumbled-upon and successful pairing.

But I digress.  Why do I care about the Paris tasting?  It turned conventional wisdom upside down, for starters.  Although Prohibition ended in 1933, the aftershocks of those few boozeless years severely damaged the domestic wine industry and the effects of that carried into the 1970s.  Does anyone remember Paul Masson and Gallo jug wines?  That’s pretty much all we had, folks: these were the wines that most people thought of when buying American table wines.  Up to that point, if you were an American wine snob, you only drank French wines. 

The Paris tasting changed that.  Not just for Napa wines (the big winners in the tasting), but ultimately for wines from any number of countries including Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, etc.  That event made people around the world realize that America had something great to contribute to the wine world.  But perhaps, more importantly, it made people in America realize that good wines existed outside of France.  And that is a good thing for someone like me who is always looking for the next exciting region/varietal/producer.

Cheers y Salud!

Posted May 24, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Wine at Five Annual Wine Tasting   Leave a comment

Wine Tasting Faux Pas No. 1: "Hey, are you wearing cologne?"

Friday May 20th.  What a way to start the weekend! 

Wine at Five proprietor, Cai Palmer, has organized an elegant, yet informal, event at the Wainwright House, located in Rye, NY.  Bottom line: very decent grub, and a nice selection of wines being poured by 12 distributors.  All wines available for purchase, though not all of them at discounts to what you might pay for them elsewhere with a little bit of internet research.  But many of them were well priced.  Still, for a more-than-fair fee of $50 per person it’s tough to go wrong.  Wine at Five is a small, though high quality, store also located in Rye.  Want to learn more?  Check out Cai’s blog (the Wine at Five link is on the left side of this page):  Usually informative, always entertaining. 

Ms. R and I attended the event  last year, loved it, and were anticipating having an even better time this year.  We were not disappointed.  First off the food: an international selection items from Italian charcuterie to paella to barbecued pulled pork to vegetable and chicken skewers.  All quite good, but forgive me for this, Cai, the paella paled in comparison to mom’s.  The pulled pork, however, was excellent. 

During the course of the evening, Cai, ever the gracious host, polled some of his guests, including Ms. R, on the quality of the comestibles.  Their exchange went a little like this:

Cai:  How was the food?

Ms. R:  It sucked. 

Cai:  (expressing momentary look of shock) You’re kidding me!

Ms. R:  (Pauses) Yes I am!

Thanks a lot, Ms. R– Cai will not soon forget you.  It’s a good thing you happen to be charming because this is the only way we will get invited back for next year’s event…

Given the volume of wines being offered, it is difficult to decide where to start.  Thankfully, Cai and his team, distributed the evening’s  catalog of offerings earlier in the week.  So I had a chance to peruse the list and determine which distributors should get my fullest attention.  [Note to Cai– thanks for this, since I missed some good wines last year.]  With 12 different distributors to choose from, you know you will get an eclectic selection of wines and to Cai’s credit, he asked the distributors to pour higher quality wines than they might normally pour for a tasting.  Here were some of my favorite selections of the evening (the distributors are identified in parentheses). 

Table 1 (Soilair Selection): Pietranera Rosso di Montalcino 2008— This was a bit of a surprise.  With a pale color, my expectations for concentration were lowered.  You know who she is: the quiet young thing sitting at the end of the bar in the understated dress.  But this sweet thing was packing some heat underneath that shift.  We’re talking vibrancy of fruit and unexpected earthiness.  Rated **1/2

Table 2 (Acid Inc. Selections): Vaona Odino Valpolicella Classico 2009–another good Italian– but quite different from the Pietranera.  A softer style of wine with good fruit up front balanced by just the right amount of tannin and acidity.   Food friendly and just good on its own.  Rated **1/2

Table 3 (Encore Wines):

    • Fontallada Cava Brut Nature (NV)— typical cava with some soft edges and a yeasty bread like finish.  Rated **
    • Broc Cellars Vine Starr White 2009— Chardonnay (50%), Rousanne (25%) & Picpoul (25%).   My first reaction “This SOB is from California!?  No way!”  Way, dude, WAY– a native Nebraskan winemaker with a degree in philosophy working with Paso Robles grapes at a Berkeley address.  Perfect, huh?  This is chardonnay for chardonnay haters– I know, we had one with us and she was enamored with this white.  Of the whites I tasted, this was among the ones that showed some elegance.  I’m thinking Rhone.  I’m also thinking buy it.  Rated **1/2
    • Sleight of Hand Spellbinder 2009— another one of these kitchen sink blends from the Columbia Valley.  It’s Super Tuscan meet Washington State: Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese & Syrah.  A little something for everyone with good presence and in a nicely balanced package.  Rated **1/2

Table 4 (Felipe Gonzalez-Byass): Beronia Crianza 2007— I have to confess that I like the more classically-styled crianzas.  Restraint, but a lot going on in the bottle.  And at $13, this is one that is bound to make it to No-Guilt Wednesday.  Stay tuned for more.  Rated **1/2

Table 8 (Wildman & Sons): Heitz Cabernet Trailside Vineyard 2001— this is the standout of the  evening– layers of aromas and flavors.  And at 10 years of age, doing that thang the way it should be done.  Not inexpensive at $74, but a damn good wine.  Rated ***1/2

Table 10 (Jerome Selections): Chateau de Callac Prestige 2005— Having tasted the Heitz Cab, this was my favorite affordable wine.  An expressive nose in this Bordeaux blend, but with restrained fruit and balance.  A wine done up in a classical style from the very good 2005 vintage.  The tannins were still a little grippy.  Decant this before you drink it.  I had this rated at little bit better than **1/2, but I don’t think it merits a *** rating, at least not yet.  In time, that may change.  Rated **1/2

How many hands does it take to balance a glass of wine, a plate of paella and um...

Wine Etiquette Observation No. 1: To the subtle woman who smothered herself in perfume shortly before arriving at the tasting, 2 short couplets:

The wines we tasted were most glorious;

Contrary, your bouquet was just odoriferous. 

Your scent, we noticed before you arrived

And taking our leave, we felt revived. 

OK, I’m no Lord Byron, but you get the picture.

Wine Etiquette Observation No. 2: While this was, ostensibly, a wine tasting it seems that different folks arrived with different agendas.  For some, tasting wine was mere pretext.  Flipping through a recent issue of Ebony (and doesn’t everyone read Ebony?  If you don’t, you should.), I came across a comment by a real-life Hitch– the professional pick up artist/wingman who charges clients to show them how to score with the opposite sex in social situations.  He noted that women choose to go to wine tastings to troll for men.  And so they do– I saw some of these women.  They did not look like my friend to the left.  And they certainly couldn’t hold a candle to my wingwoman, Ms. R!

Posted May 22, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

The No-Guilt Wednesday Wine: Michel Torino Cuma Torrontés 2010   Leave a comment

This little guy doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  Every Wednesday I will write-up a wine that I feel delivers good value for drinking in the middle of the week.  Aside from quality, my only other criteria is price.  To start, less than $15, but ideally less than $10, for a 750 ml bottle.  I will also add any recipes that I paired with the wine.

Now, I realize that it is already Friday, so I am behind schedule.  Nothing new…

Torrontés is my new favorite white varietal.  This is the predominant white grape in Argentina.  There are different strains of the varietal, but the common denominator seems to be a relationship with the Muscat of Alexandria varietal. 

Michel Torino Cuma Torrontés 2010 ($10): exhibits a citrus-like freshness on the nose that I associate with Sauvignon Blanc– but it is definitely not Sauv Blanc.  There is also a floral component that defies specific descriptors, but that also lends an appealing quality to the wine.  On the palate, it delivers on those floral promises backed up with a pleasing jolt of acidity.  It also has a more viscous mouth feel than what you would expect from a wine like this.  Rated **

It’s even better with food.

Oven Roasted Sole with Toasted Almonds and Lime-Butter ©

This is a too easy recipe that serves 1-2 people.  Proportions can be easily adjusted for larger crowds.


  • 1/2 lb grey or Dover sole (allow 1/2 lb. per person), but really any fish will do including steelhead trout and salmon
  • salt & pepper
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 tablespoon of butter
  • sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 scallions slice into thin rounds
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 doz. fingerling potatoes cut in half lengthwise (the purple ones make for a dramatic presentation) and tossed with EVOO, salt & pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400°
  2. Place a sheet of aluminum foil in a baking dish large enough to hold the fish
  3. Season the sole with salt & pepper and place on the aluminum foil
  4. Melt the butter and combine with the lime juice and pour Lime-Butter over the sole (make a little bit more if you want to dress the fish after it emerges from the oven)
  5. Sprinkle scallions and thyme over the sole
  6. Loosely cover the fish with another sheet of aluminum foil and crimp the edges to seal tightly (the idea here is to roast and steam the fish at the same time)
  7. Place in oven for 35 minutes
  8. Roast the seasoned fingerling potatoes in a separate baking dish at the same time as the fish.  Keep an eye on the potatoes to make sure they do not over-cook.
  9. While the fish and potatoes are roasting, toss the almonds in a pan until lightly toasted and set aside
  10. After 35 minutes, remove fish and potatoes from oven and carefully remove the foil being careful not to burn yourself from the escaping steam (Note, this can be done at the table to keep the fish warm while guests are gathering)
  11. Sprinkle the fish with the toasted almonds (Note, if you want to make this a bit more luxurious, you can add a little more lime-butter at the time the fish is served) 

© Sybarite Sauvage

Serving Suggestions:

No. 1: Serve with a colorful green salad or a tomato salad.

No. 2: Invite that special lady over, put on Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain and see what happens to you… Whipped cream with dessert is optional (but if you do, Reddi–Wip is preferred for ease of use).  Bon appetit!

Posted May 20, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

Moroccan Inspired Chicken and 2009 Vin de Pays du Vaucluse selected by Kermit Lynch   Leave a comment

Recently I found myself in a wine shop I had never visited before.  I love new wine shops– always full of the possibility of some great find, a new name I had not heard of before, a new varietal, an up and coming region.   As I trolled my way through the store, at the back, on a shelf marked “Recommended”, I spotted a 2009 Vin de Pays du Vaucluse selected by Kermit Lynch.  Normally I would walk past something like this.  Nothing against Kermit Lynch, but Vin de Pay generally isn’t worth the trouble.  But at $11 a bottle with the endorsement of the establishment right there how could I go wrong?  Let’s see: I bought two bottles.

First tasting: The wine has some nice cherry flavors, tannins are not particularly strong.  However, it felt slightly unbalanced because of the acidity.   Still it was attractive enough that none of the bottle remained at the end of the evening.  With that kind of acidity, I though it would do better with food.  Rated **

For the second tasting of this wine, I paired it with a Moroccan inspired dish.  On my travels to Morocco back in early 2001, I was impressed by the ubiquitous lemon chicken.  I have come up with my own variation of the dish that requires very little actual cooking time though it does require a little bit of  patience while it marinates. 

Second tasting: Even though I decanted the wine this time, my initial impressions were the same as on the first tasting.  However, the magic of a good pairing should never be underestimated.  This budget beauty started to sing.  A little more about this wine: it is a predominantly grenache based wine from the Southern Rhone.  55% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% Merlot, 10% Marselan.  The wine never sees the inside of an oak barrel– it’s all about stainless steel and cement cuves*– which helps explain the more pronounced acidity I picked up in the two tastings as well as the minimalism of tannic structure.  And yes, with only 13% alcohol and at $11 a bottle, I am buying more of this juice!  I don’t mean to gush, but this wine is all about delivering value.  Though my heart wants to go higher, my head says hold the rating to ** 1/2

Here is the recipe for Simple Moroccan Inspired Chicken which I made up on the fly earlier this morning before I left for work:

Simple Moroccan Inspired Chicken ©


  • 10-12 Chicken legs and/or thighs, seasoned with salt

Marinade Ingredients

  • Zest of one lemon minced
  • Juice of the same lemon squeezed into a mixing bowl (remove seeds)
  • 1 tsp. dried Thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Medium sized shallot thinly sliced
  1. Place seasoned chicken in a zip lock bag.
  2. Whisk together all if the marinade ingredients in a bowl and pour into the bag with the chicken. 
  3. Close the bag and toss chicken pieces with the marinade till coated.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.  This is easy since you can do this in the morning before you leave for work and it will be waiting for you when you come home.
  5. Preheat oven to 350°.
  6. Remove chicken from refrigerator 1/2 hour before cooking and place in roasting pan.
  7. Bake for 35 minutes.
  8. The chicken should be done at this point.  However an optional step to ensure browning of skin, is to place the chicken under the broiler for 3-5 minutes until the skin turns golden brown.

Serve this with a simple buttered couscous and a rocket salad.  You’ll be living large baby!

Sybarite Sauvage ©

Cheers y Salud!

*Cuve is the French word for a vat or tank.  A cuve may be made of any material including wood, concrete or stainless steel.

Posted May 16, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Paso Robles: Kismet and Karma   2 comments


And the Award goes to... READ ON


Late last December I found myself “stranded” in LA after a snow storm hit the East Coast and grounded my flight out for a couple of days.  Pity, that.

My business in LA having been concluded, what to do…?  A couple of quick phone calls and I was on my way to Paso, as the locals call it. 

Don’t know Paso?  Here is a little promotional video that I picked up from the Dr. Vino blog:

A quick word on the topography of Paso.  As my visit was an overnight stay and I only had two days to explore the area, I found myself (quite by accident) in the part of Paso west of Highway 101.  Unlike Napa and Sonoma, which are dominated by valleys, Paso’s topography is a bit more hilly on the West side.  The result is that West Paso seems to offer a variety of microclimates which seem to benefit from the cool Pacific air currents in the evenings.  And because of the nature of the terrain, the microclimates vary depending on high ground/low ground. 

Driving through these parts of Paso, I was impressed by the amount of mature trees in the region.  Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to spend time in the vineyards.  That’s for the next visit.

Paso is home to well established producers such as J. Lohr and Robert Hall.  But this is not where I go looking for good juice, though both of these producers know what they are doing. 

Wineries to Visit

Adelaida– The folks there seem to have a reverence for the land, the fruit and their customers. Those are factors that are going to win me over when it translates into wines that speak of place. 

2007 Recess Red– more of an everyday wine and thankfully priced for the everyday.  Rated **

2007 Pinot Noir HMR Estate– Pinot from Paso?  Yes, this is grown in one of the cooler lots on the estate.  Showing good fruit and balance.  Rated ***

2007 Syrah Viking Estate– showing the richness of syrah, but still balanced with still prevalent tannins.  I would wait on this one for a few more years.  But when it’s ready watch out.  Rated *** 1/2

2006 Zinfandel– red berry flavor profile with an acidic backbone supporting the fruit.  Far from flabby, this is a nice wine I would be happy to drink most any time.  After tasting the Pinot and the Syrah this one really woke up my taste buds.  Rated ** 1/2

Denner– Young winemaker making damn good wine. 

2008 Dirt Worshipper is a must have.  95% Syrah, 5% Viognier.  Concentration, complexity, balance.  Shame that the Wine Spectator also liked it enough to give it a 97 point rating.  At $45, you’re already too late to get some.  Rated *** 1/2

Justin– Good wines, but high prices.  Knowledgeable tasting room staff.  Worth the visit.  Their wines had more presence and were more interesting than the Turley wines (see below), even if price/value ratios are also a bit off. The skinny on Justin: worth visiting and tasting for sure– worth buying, perhaps not.

Lone Madrone– This was one of my favorite places to visit. 

2007 Barfendel– seriously bad name, seriously good juice.  This one you can still buy.  Rated *** 1/2

Volk– if single varietal bottles is what turns you on, this is the place to visit.  They share a tasting room with Lone Madrone.  I especially enjoyed the Mouvedre.  Generally, the wines ranked in the ** to **1/2 range. 

Tablas Creek– this is the California outpost of Château de Beaucastel of Chateauneuf-du-Pape fame and is known for its Rhone varietals.  I came, I saw, I tasted, I left.  I have spoken to a few folks in the area about TC and they seem to have gone gaga for the place.  Sorry, I guess I didn’t see it.  Again, good wines, but I felt they were inferior to the wines at Adelaida, Denner and Lone Madrone.  This is one I really would like to retaste.

Opolo– Many wines, many boozers!  The large tasting room was staffed by two/three servers who offered unlimited tastings for a very nominal fee.  If only the wines were worth it.  Not that they were bad, but nothing really stood out as being extraordinary.  Still if you’re looking for a good time, this might be the place.   And with an all you can taste tasting fee and a few bites of their brick oven pizza, hell why not?  Overall rating on wines **

And One to Avoid

Turley– The tasting room staff were friendly enough.  The winemaker– less so– curt and dismissive of anything even mildly negative about the wines.  I decided to pay for the reserve tasting.  A fresh bottle was opened.  But I noticed that it was a bit cloudy and remarked as such to the person serving me.  She call the winemaker over to look to review the situation and in a dismissive tone, said only that the wine would clear up later.  Maybe; but I was tasting it now.  Also, there are a number of potential causes that could result in a cloudy wine– some of which may not “clear up”.  Here is a simple solution when a customer expresses concerns about a specific bottle– especially when that customer is paying a few extra bucks for the reserve tasting (as I did)– open another bottle.  Of course they did not do that– wasn’t even a thought.  I should have walked out, but I wanted to keep an open mind. 

Note to Turley: When people come to your tasting room, a bit of hospitality is a good thing.  Bad customer care = Bad Karma = Less customers no matter how good your wines.  Speaking of the wines: I did not find anything there that had the presence to justify their pricing on the higher end.  Given a cursory review of other posters on the internet, I am not alone in my impressions that Turley people specialize in being inhospitable– but hell, do I need that kind of validation?  Not really, but it still feels good to know I have not been singled out for crappy customer service.  This pattern of bad behavior won’t win you any more fans.

Second Note to Turley: Great, so you make some decent wines in Napa— it doesn’t give you the right to be an A-hole.  But, you’ve earned it, so congrats on your Award! 

Hey, obviously, there are people who will disagree with this assessment given that they regularly seem to sell out of their wines.  Better for you and me, since that leaves other wines from better producers for us to drink. 

Where to stay? 

I stayed at the aging, down-home, Paso Robles Inn which was built over sulfur springs.  Some of the rooms are designated as spa rooms with access to the sulfured water.  Not the most fabulous digs, but it was clean and how much time did I spend there anyway.  The place is famous for having hosted early 20th century glitteratti and presidents.  The breakfast at the Inn, can’t be beat.  I opted for the Jesse James Breakfast (his uncle was one of the original owners and apparently he visited there to take advantage of the sulfur springs to heal a bullet wound).  Remember, a big breakfast with carbs is the most important meal of the day in wine country!

In Town Dining
Dining on the square in town and just a short stroll from the Paso Robles Inn is Basil Thai Restaurant.  I was served a succulent shrimp dish that came in a special terra-cotta plate that looked like an egg plate with a terra-cotta cup covering each of the shrimp in the dish.  You like shrimp and Thai coconut curry?  Don’t ask me what the dish was called.  Ask them, they’ll know.  Highly recommended.
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Posted May 13, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Another Nixonian Dilemma   1 comment


"Holy crap, Leonid! It's a good thing you're only drinking that cheap New York 'champagne'."

 As a wine lover, I believe that one of the great enjoyments of wine is the simple act of sharing it with people who are like-minded.  But what if your guests like their wine plentiful, cheap and out of a big ole jug?  Is it acceptable to serve your invited guests a different wine than the one you have reserved for yourself?  The answer seems obvious and yet this does happen.

A famous example of this was relayed by Eric Asimov in the NY Times Diner’s Journal:

“Nonetheless, secretly reserving a wine for oneself while serving something else to the guests violates numerous rules of etiquette. Not that it’s uncommon. The most famous such anecdote comes from “The Final Days’’ by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in which Richard Nixon is depicted entertaining Congressmen on the Presidential yacht Sequoia, serving them a modest Bordeaux with their dinner of tenderloin while the stewards poured Nixon Margaux 1966, the bottle wrapped in a napkin to conceal the label. Tricky, Dick!”

Imagine the potential embarrassment and the look on his face if that napkin covered ’66 Chateau Margaux had been corked.   You know he’s not drinking the plonk being served to the Congressmen.  What is a Nixon to do? (Please select from the following choices.)

a. Intimately whispers into the ear of his server: “I don’t want to drink that other crap, is there  another bottle of this out back?” 

b. Sits silently sober

c. Drinks the tainted bottle

d. Ask for the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman as a diversionary tactic while a new bottle is ushered in. 

And what if there had been a mix-up with the covered bottles?  Could Dick have known the difference?  And if he thought there was a mix up, how would he even broach that subject?

Assuming the wine was good and we have no reason to believe it was not good, and assuming there was no mix up with the bottles, imagine delighting in the presence, the majesty, the power, the finesse of a ’66 Margaux and not being able to discuss it with anyone.  It is possible to be completely alone in a room full of people.  This sort of self-imposed vinous exile smacks of hubris and speaks volumes about a person’s character, personality, sense of entitlement, etc.  

There is one other thing that I need to mention here.  Nixon resigned from office in 1974.  If Woodward and Bernstein were correct in their reporting, that means he was drinking what could have been a fantastic, age-worthy bottle of Margaux within 8 years of the vintage date!  I would have thought that the leader of the free world should be able to score a well aged bottle of fine bordeaux.  My money is on the fact that the “modest bordeaux” being served to the other guests was actually drinking better than the Margaux (at least I really want to believe that).  Which begs the question, how much did he really know about wine?   

This two-tiered wine service is rife with potential landmines. 

Let face it– there are people who don’t “get” the wine thing.  For them it is just another way to ingest alcohol– and maybe we should have a six-pack of Bud on hand just for them IF THEY ARE INTERESTED IN THAT SORT OF THING.  And there are those who on principle, decline to pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine.  But to put out a different wine for them than the one I’m drinking is just bad manners and if history is any teacher, you will be found out.  Even Tricky Dick eventually received the painful lesson that accompanies the discovery of a deception.  I have found that many of my friends who are not fluent in the culture of wine are actually intrigued enough to pursue better bottles once they have been introduced to higher caliber wines and realize what goes into and comes out of a decent bottle of wine.  And even if they don’t take to it as passionately as I do, friendships are made and strengthened over good wine, or at least what people may think is good wine.

Drink the value wines right along with the larger crowd.  Best to save the good stuff for a smaller crowd of 2-4 people or in Nixon’s case, party of 1 in a darkened Oval Office.  And if you’re thinking of recording conversations with friends, colleagues, drinking buddies?  Best to avoid that altogether, Dick.

Posted May 8, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

When is it OK to put ice in your wine?   4 comments


Ice in Sangria?  De Rigueur and the only time I will do it.

White Wine Spritzer?  Never OK for so many reasons.

Wine on the rocks?  Hell no!!

We have a friend, a certain Ms. L, who drinks primarily (OK exclusively) whites.  She insists on the ice thing.  Reason?  She likes the clinking in her glass.  Reminds her of a party, I guess. 

Recently, she joined us with some other friends for a visit to one of the cathedrals of Italian wine and food excellence, Eataly in NYC.  After ordering a nice bottle of white, she proceeds to dump several ice cubes into her glass.  One of my other friends, Mr. M (a native of Piemonte) was about to have a seizure upon witnessing this.  I quickly shot him a look and whispered, “I know; just look away.”  But Ms. L, it seems is not alone. 

Is this behavior limited to people who are not wine professionals/critics/lovers?  Apparently not.  During a trip to Sonoma a few days ago, I saw a Dry Creek Valley winemaker do the same thing!  His explanation?  Gives him an opportunity to drink more without getting hammered.  Here’s an idea: DRINK MORE WATER.  Personally, I like Ms. L’s explanation better.

So why should this bother me?  It doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the wine I happen to be drinking.  Or does it?  How much of a snob am I?  (Note to reader: these are rhetorical questions that I do not expect any of you to answer.)

Speaking of snobbery, is this any different from pouring a lesser wine when the people drinking it are not truly appreciative of, or willing to make an effort to appreciate, what’s in the glass?  Do you pour Petrus for the masses?  Hell, bad example, I don’t pour Petrus for myself.  But you get the idea.  People will tell you that they are not wine drinkers, until they find out that you’re pouring from a special bottle.  Then it turns out the unruly hoard is lining up for their allocation… usually a nice tall glass of the stuff.  “Fill it to the brim please.”  They are so polite.  They are also the first to say the wine is too dry and that they wished it was, you know, sweeter.  Ugh! 

But I digress.

So how do we solve the ice problem with Ms. L?  Even though I don’t care for ice in the wine, Ms. L is a good time and sure to keep the party lively.  Surely, that’s worth putting up with an ice-cube or two?  I keep some low-cost yet quality white wines in the house.  This way when it’s “bombs away” into the wine glass, I don’t feel as bad.  And I can drink the same thing.  And when she says, this is so much better than Santa Margherita!  I can respond, “And at half the price!”  All of a sudden, that ice problem just melts away…

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Posted May 7, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love, Wine Etiquette

Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend   2 comments


View of Lake Sonoma from the Vineyards at D.H. Gustafson

The Set up: Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend: 46 of DCV’s wineries poured their wines with food pairings and entertainment for 5 ½ hours this Saturday and Sunday.  This is the third year that Ms. R and I have made the pilgrimage. 

Saturday April 30, 2011:   

Kokomo Winery.  Winemaker, Erik Miller and best friend-Assistant Winemaker, Josh Bartels, have begun carving a path to exceptional wines.  Recently, his 2008 Peter’s Vineyard Pinot Noir garnered a 93 rating from the Wine Enthusiast.  Here’s what I like about Erik: he could sit back and repeat the formula that yielded that rating.  This he refuses to do—being in operation since 2004—he recognizes that there’s still a lot of learning to do.  Here’s another reason to like Erik: he cares to hear the positive and negative feedback about his wines.  Early on I made a negative comment about his 2006 Malbec: lack of presence, overpriced, etc.  He called me to try to make good on it by offering a bottle of something else—45 minutes into the conversation, I knew that he was the kind of winemaker I want to follow.  I never accepted a replacement for that “bad” bottle and when I opened a second bottle of the 2006 Malbec from the same vintage last year, I have to admit that I was impressed.  It had settled down: I guess it just needed a little more time.  This is why I continue to go along for the ride.  This Indiana raised surfer dude knows his juice and he’s works hard to get the best from it while letting the grapes speak for themselves.  You want artisanal?  Go to Kokomo.  You want predictable, then buy Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio or better yet Coca Cola.

So enough of the history lesson.  What about the Kokomo wines today? 

2010 Grenache Rosé: Now this may not be the greatest Rosé ever, but with its floral components combined with hints of strawberry, etc., etc., here’s the bottom line: if a woman could Jizz in Her Pants over a wine, then this would be the one for Ms. R.  Rated ** but she would say that I’m being reserved with this review.  Ok—any wine that can spark a great evening deserves another half point just for the Jizz factor.  Re-rated ** 1/2  

2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Peter’s Vineyard Winemakers Reserve: This one keeps getting better and better each year.  I think that Erik’s partnership with Randy Peters is providing him access to great fruit and it shows.  The acid is pronounced but not overwhelming.  Typical for Kokomo—but the red fruits shine through along with other flavors and aromas.  A few years in the bottle and I will be the one doing the jizzing!  Rated ***

2008 DCV Zinfandel, Timber Crest Vineyard Winemakers Reserve: Nice cherry flavors combine with an herbal component that is reminiscent of eucalyptus with an herbal overlay (thyme?).  I confess, I liked this better at the winery than I did at home in Connecticut a few days after receiving a recent shipment.  Given the Malbec experience, I’m thinking that the stress of shipment must be affecting the wines when they travel cross country (a topic for another post), so I’m going to let this these rest longer before pulling corks.  Still, I don’t find this to be as strong as the Mounts Zinfandel that Erik puts out as well.  That’s the one I am looking forward to drinking.  Rated ** ½

Talty Vineyards and WineryA nice selection of Zins for all tastes.  Ms. R and I completely disagreed on our favorites.  We did agree on two things though: first that the Cherry Chipotle Lamb Taco went with every wine we tasted; second that we would have been happy to drink our least favorite of the Talty wines with each other.  We will visit again next year.

Martorana Family Winery.  Each time we visit Martorana we come away with two impressions.  First, the property appears to be situated in a warmer micro-climate than some of the other DCV wineries.  Second, the Italian hospitality can’t be beat—endless servings of brick oven pizza.  This year, we came away with a third impression: during our first two trips, the wines seemed over-priced given the quality.  Not that they were bad, but they did not seem on par with their neighbors’ wines from a value perspective.  This year we found what appeared to be better value especially in the chardonnay and merlot releases.  Two standouts: the estate 2009 Chardonnay and 2005 Merlot.  Both rated ** ½

Dutcher Crossing.  But it wasn’t ALL GOOD– what fun would that be.  The disappointment of the day was at the Dutcher Crossing Vineyards and Winery.  This is one of those places that other people seem to like—perhaps it is because they have been around for a while and have an established brand.  However, the winery has been under new ownership since March 2007 and the wines that I tasted back in 2009 and again this year did not impress.  Food pairings—if you can call it that—were insipid and uninspired.  How about a flavorless coconut shrimp or this: some sort of fruit on cream cheese spread on a piece of stale bread.  Are you kidding me?  Naaaaassty!  Unimpressive pedestrian wines, uninspired food, and need I say more?  Somebody please explain to me what I’m missing here.  Then again, never mind.  I will revisit them in a few years time to see if they have figured it out.

Wilson Family Winery.  The end of Day 1.  Picture if you will this recipe.  A good blues band driving the party bus.  Add grilled tri-tip.  Toss in some free-form stumbling-bumbling that some people thought passed for dancing.  Put in a crowd of 200+ people who have been adequately marinated at other wineries  who have shown up to consume copious amounts of the highly extracted, high alcohol Wilson wines.  Imagine, an awesome Sunday morning hangover.  Imagine 200+ Sunday morning hangovers!  We could be in Australia—also known for bad dancing, strong wines and horrific hangovers.  But no, we were at the after-Passport party at Wilson Family wineries.  Passport ends at most wineries at around 4:30.  This is not Wilson’s philosophy.  As a former Wilson Wine Club member, I can say that they do have some nice wines, but the real draw for me these days is the great people-watching on the deck overlooking the Wilson vineyards. 

Sunday May 1, 2011:

Kachina Vineyards.  We survived the Wilson test and awoke on Sunday morning sans hangovers.  After a suitably large breakfast (the most important meal of the day on Passport weekend), we headed out and found ourselves at Kachina Vineyards.  Friendly, family owned and small.  They are worth watching.  Of particular note:

2009 Russian River Chardonnay:  Can you say “ohr-GAH-hom!”  This wine was matched beautifully with a simple poached shrimp on a salted tortilla chip with…was that a mango sliver and a cilantro dressing?  Can you say the word “orgasm” with a mouth full of this pairing?  There is no need to try, but you know Ms. R can!  Rated ** ½ add another ½ for the pairing if you must.  But I’ll stick with a rating of ** 1/2

2009 Charbono (this is not the time for a cheap Sonny & Cher crack) is a varietal otherwise known as bonarda.  Typically, this is a blending grape, but here, it produces a strongly colored wine that exhibits surprisingly approachable fruit without the expected tannins that normally accompany a wine that looks like this.  Rated **

2005 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Port: nice ruby color with an elegant mouth-coating of plum-like fruit balanced by good acidic structure.  Even Ms. R, a person who despises dessert wines, liked this one.  Perhaps it was the chocolate truffle pairing.  Go ahead, say it– ohr-GAH-hom!  Rated ***

Michel-Schlumberger.  We’re fans—period.  Most interesting wine poured was a 1991 (not a misprint) cabernet sauvignon.  It seemed to be little bit past its prime at 20 years.  But made for interesting drink.  Most creative dish was the popcorn flavored ice cream drizzled with olive oil and with a sprinkle of sea salt.  Sounds bizarre, I know, but trust us it was the most memorable, unusual and delicious thing we had to eat.   Oh yes, they also served those Pinot Blanc sno-cones.  Whoa.

D.H. Gustafson Family Vineyards.  Surprise of the weekend!  For our money and our preferences, these guys can’t seem to make any bad wines.  Why did it take us so long to get there?  Because, literally, it took us a long time to get there—this winery is tucked away on Skaggs Spring Road which is a 10-15 minute drive from the nearest DCV winery on Dry Creek Road.  Ms. R, who served as chauffeur for most of the weekend, bitched and moaned the whole way there.  Thankfully the wines made her shut her mouth.  Oh look, another Rosé made it to our favorites list:

2010 Estate Rosé of Syrah.  This one reminded me of some of the Burgundian Rosés I’ve had in the past.  This baby qualifies for the LPR award (Liquid Pants Remover)!  Ms. R agrees.  Rated ** ½

As for the other Gustafson wines, I hope that we are not wrong in our assessment.  Since I have ordered some, I will find out soon enough!

Cheers y Salud!

Posted May 6, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love