Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Malbec – The Beauty of Immigration

Somewhere between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot you will find the varietal known as Malbec. One of the five grapes used in the blending of French Bordeaux wines, Malbec is known in France by many names, Auxerrois, Cot or Pressac to name a few. Plagued by weather related problems, Malbec in France has slowly faded into obscurity. The grape may have remained a varietal only for blending if not for immigration. Luckily in the mid-19th century, with the help of Frenchman Michel Pouget, a change of scenery altered the fate of Malbec.

Immigrating to Argentina was the prefect move for Malbec. By the end of the 20th century, the mountainous region of Mendoza became the Mecca of premium Malbec wines. High altitude, pure air and intense sunlight allowed for intense ripening, while cool nights allowed the Malbec grapes to retain sufficient acidity. The result is big, rich and deeply flavored wine balanced by rounded and luxurious texture. Unlike its French cousin the new more Argentinean Malbec juice ages well allowing for subtle intricacies to develop with time. Finished wines are sufficiently rich, able to stand up to red meat dishes, but soft enough to work with pork, veal or grilled fish.

Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon President’s Blend Malbec is a fine example of premium Malbec at an affordable price. The wines name refers to Argentinean President Juan Domingo Peron, husband to the beloved Evita. Annually this wine lives up to its big name billing. The 2003 President’s Blend is a deep red wine with purple hues. Rich and opulent this heady wine if full of fruit, the perfect guest for your next barbeque.

Immigration is always a charged debate. People often question what will happen when a forgien species is introduced into a new environment. The answers are of course not simple. However, at times the melding of two cultures can produce glorious results. Sometimes a new experience is all it takes for the ordinary to become extrodinary. Thus I propose a toast to Malbec and all immigrants that felt unwanted, through determination and a refusal to be ignored they eventully became majestic.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hogue Cellars Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 - A Strange Brew

Wine has become so popular that people are willing to pull all types of scams just to get another bottle. Recently I heard a story that sounded like a scam first attempted in a movie. As the story goes, the person opened their bottle of Hogue Cellars Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 to discover a high amount of sediment inside. We’re not talking about residue left in the glass; apparently they found a whole stem in the bottle. Now, this is no mouse in the beer bottle, but more than one would expect.

Traditionally, Hogue Cellars Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 is described as having a warm raspberry and cherry fruit core with highlights of black olive, nutmeg, tobacco, vanilla, and coffee bean. It is well structured but not tannic. A well-rounded Washington Cabernet with good acidity and great length. However, my guess is the bottle in question was a bit more tannicy than usual with a high amount of earthiness.

Should you find a stem in your bottle the only reasonable thing to do is take it back to the winery. Everything workout for Bob and Doug. Who knows, perhaps when Hogue change the label with this vintage they wanted to do something special. The stem could represents a golden ticket. A free winery tour with Johnny Depp wouldn’t be bad. (Though I would prefer Gene Wilder) In any case the worst thing that could happen is they tell you to “takeoff hoser”. At which time you could try the story elsewhere, there are plenty of wineries in the neighborhood, eh.

Friday, May 19, 2006

High Score - Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Riserva

American’s love to have their information quantified, streamlined and rated. Is it laziness? A lack of time? Or something else all together. I’m not sure, but clearly we love to have “experts” tell us what is best for America. Annually we track the Fortune 500, the 50 most beautiful people, top10 plays of the year and the list goes on. But our lists don’t stop there, constantly we have our information spoon-feed. Apparently we don’t want to figure things out on our own. My favorite is Yahoo!’s headlines; as long as you follow Yahoo!’s headlines you can engage in any cocktail conversation.

Wine too has its rating system, the Wine Spectator scores being the most popular. Scores do have value. However scores lose their affect when people become slaves to the score. All too often I hear people asking for wine with a score over 90 but nothing else. Wine is so much more than just a score, like life it is meant to be enjoyed. Remember, we all have our own opinions of enjoyment.

For example, Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Riserva is a great wine. In 2002 the wine was described as having pretty aromas of licorice, berry and lightly toasted oak. Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Riserva is full-bodied, with layers of fruit and silky tannins, followed by a Long finish. It was given a score of 90 by Wine Spectator.

However, when I drink Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Riserva, I taste much more. One sip and I remember the aromas of Florence, Italy on a warm May afternoon. The taste transports me back to the Palazzo Frescobaldi. As the flavors lingers, my memory strolls back toward the Ponte Vecchio. In my mind's eye, I cross over the bridge, pushing through the crowds that have gathered to take in the sparkle from the diamonds and gold. I make my way up the road until I reach the Piazza Della Repubblica. I find a seat at the base of the monument in the middle of the plaza. As the sun begins to set, a Tuscan band begins to play. Taken by the music, a couple begins to dance, I smile, what a beautiful glass of wine.

Wine is more than a beverage, great wine can transcend a meal, a moment or even a romantic day. With something so beautiful how can it be quantified by numbers alone. Be adventuresome, be willing to try something new, with wine you never know what favors might arise from the next glass.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Welcome to the Cheese Burger Challenge

If you happen to be one of those people that has to travels frequently for business you know the constant headache is always food. Finding a place worth the wait, convenient, reasonably priced, worth the effort, having edible food, bla bla bla… these are but a few of the many questions a business traveler faces each night on the road. In my experience the landscape surrounding business travel is often filled with big corporate box restaurants where profit far out ways taste. Thanks to this fact (or shall I say no thanks) I’ve eaten at more RUI establishments then I care to admit. Basically, when on the road get use to big chain restaurants.

This isn’t to say the food isn’t good (or should I say edible); rather the food is better described as nothing special. When I think about large corporate chain restaurants the words predictable, sterile, basic come to mind. In city after city across the US one can expect a consistent experience that at times makes it hard to remember where you are, much less where you are eating. In short, business travel become a monotonous task, void of the romance usually conquered up by the once beautiful word travel. It was this experience of forgettable food that led to the development of “The Cheese Burger Challenge”. If you can’t enjoy the food at least you can enjoy the wine.

The Cheese Burger Challenge is really quite simple. A cheese burger (the all American staple, rich in flavor and hard to screw-up) serves as home, our baseline. Basically it’s the constant that one can count on no matter where you find yourself, weahter on the road or in paradise. Please burger lovers don’t miss understand me, like any food there are glorious exceptions and I do have my personal favorite. But when in comes to bland box restaurants the cheese burger becomes the most bland. So to make the meal on the road exciting, I invite competitors to the challenge. Competitors comes in the form of two glass of hearty red wine. Bite for bite, sip for sip we compare which wine holds up against Americas most recognizable food. French, Italian, California, where ever, wines of any region are eligible to compete. You might be surprised how well wines pairs with a cheese burger and which wines varietals you end-up enjoy the most.

In my most recent competition, fate matched Crosspoint Pinot Noir vs. Concannon Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the great feature of the Cheese Burger Challenge is you are left to choose from only the wine carried by the restaurants. It’s always interesting to explore the cellars of these only for profit establishments.

Crosspoint Pinot Noir is characterized by aromas of cherry jam, rhubarb and stewed strawberries with a faint touch of sage underbrush spiciness. Overall it is a soft, fruit flavored, spicy wine. In contrast Concannon Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon is full bodied, rich and fruitful. The wine is a complex California Cabernet with black cherry and vanilla-oak flavors followed by a rich, smooth finish.

Overall each wine had its moment. Alone I felt the Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon would be more to my liking. However, in the context of the Cheese Burger Challenge I was surprised to find I enjoyed the Crosspoint Pinot Noir much more, which is exactly the point of the entire competition.

The Cheese Burger Challenge has nothing to do with measuring quality, developing ones palate or even taking wine serious. No, the Cheese Burger Challenge is only about entertainment, which is the reason we drink wine in the first place. Wine was created to bring enjoyment, no matter what the situation. The Cheese Burger Challenge is meant to bring wine back to its roots, enjoyment. So remember, don’t get too caught up in the formality of wine and which wine goes with what, and what occasion one can or can’t enjoy wine. Instead, relax; enjoy a glass of wine and laugh, because anyone who is eating a burger and drinking wine (much less two glasses) has plenty to laugh about.