Too much wine, not enough time!

So, there’s nothing like a renewal notice for your domain name to make you realize you’ve been neglecting your blog. I’ve just sat down and looked at how long it has been since writing anything, and it’s been a loooong time. Months in fact. And it wasn’t until I sat down today and opened up my homepage that I realized how much I’d missed it. It was like seeing a familiar, friendly face that I’d lost touch with, and I’m kicking myself for letting it get to the bottom of my list of things to do. That said, I have a pretty good reason for going AWOL. After 9 years of devoting my time to my kids as a stay-home-mom, I started looking to get back to work and I struck gold a lot quicker than I had been expecting. I was offered a job by a wine distributor, and have been working as an Imported Wine Specialist for them throughout New Jersey since September. It’s a fabulous job, and I’m loving every minute of it (of course I am, my days revolve around wine; talking about it, reading about it, teaching about it, presenting it, and of course drinking it… and I get paid for that!) But after such a long break, learning to juggle work and kids has taken a little time, and blogging just had to take a back seat. But, I’ve decided it’s time to try and add an extra line on my to-do list. I’m not aiming too high, I know I won’t get to sit down on a daily basis, and maybe not even weekly, but I’ll squeeze in some time whenever I can because I’ve missed it.

Now, full disclosure, chances are when I’m talking about a new wine I’ve tasted, it’ll almost certainly be found in the company’s portfolio. It makes sense, I’m regularly popping corks for work, and the choice and variety available is pretty huge. But I promise, I would never try and convince you a wine is good if I don’t like it. There are enough options for me to quite simply stay quiet about the ones I don’t like, and make sure I tell you all about the ones that I think are worth going looking for…

Talking of which, let me tell you about a particularly yummy little Pinot Noir that has been a pet favorite of mine over the last few months. Whenever I’m not sure which wine to present to an account, I grab a bottle of this and I’m pretty much guaranteed success.

domaine_fouassier_entourneau_loL’Etourneau, from Domaine Fouassier, is from the Sancerre region in France. Though most of us immediately think of gorgeous, elegant Sauvignon Blancs when we hear the word “Sancerre”, around 20% of the appellation’s production is actually red wine (all of which is Pinot Noir). Now, coming from the Loire valley, this is clearly a cooler climate Pinot Noir, and is old world in style. If you’re a lover of jammy, fruit-forward Pinot Noirs, then maybe this one isn’t for you. But if your kind of Pinot Noir is more along the lines of the Williamette Valley Pinots in Oregon and the world-famous French Burgundies, then this is definitely something worth hunting down to try. Just like classic Burgundy Pinot Noir, L’Etourneau is earthy and mineral, with fresh, ripe, red fruits, a little smokiness and great acidity. But it also has a wonderful pepperiness to it that you won’t find so prominently in a Burgundy Pinot, and I really like this added spicy warmth which lingers beautifully in your mouth. And as an added bonus, you can feel good about supporting this winery, which is 100 % organic and biodynamic. What’s not to like?

Expect to pay around $25 for a bottle of L’Etourneau at the wine store, and be prepared to search a little. It’s a relatively new import, and isn’t yet widely available (though I hope to change that of course…)

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Forget The Puttonyos, Let’s Go Dry!

Tokaji regionThe Tokaji wine region is situated in north-east Hungary, close to the Slovakian border, and is no doubt best known for its Tokaji Aszú sweet white wines. However, they are producing more and more great quality, dry white wines, and I decided it was about time  to shake up the classic pours of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Grigio, and pop the cork on something new for a change.

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For my first encounter with a dry Tokaji wine I picked up a bottle of Pajzos Tokaji Furmint Dry 2012. Furmint is the most common grape variety found in the Tokaji region, making up around two thirds of the vineyards.

The wine had a great nose, full, inviting and bursting with flavors. Pear and apricot mixed with zesty citrus, and was balanced out with a fresh minerality and a hint of flint. This wine had me positively salivating, and I’m pleased to say that it didn’t disappoint. It was rich and rounded in the mouth, almost creamy, but with a great zesty freshness and acidity to waken your taste buds and fill you with the feeling of summer all at the same time.

With a retail price of around $10-12, this is a great introduction to dry, Hungarian white wines that won’t break the bank and definitely won’t disappoint the palate. I am ready to order more and convert all those around me to breaking free of the obvious and trying something a little more outside-the-box.

Let’s Go Old School

The heat is rising, and the deck is beckoning me to go collapse in a shady corner with a glass of something cool. Yes, summer is well and truly here, and what better way to celebrate than with a fresh, clean, French rosé that will transport my mind to beautiful, picturesque French villages in the heart of the South of France? Well, as luck would have it, I have just the thing in my fridge.

“Old School” Rosé is produced at Chateau Maris in the Minervois region of France, which is located in the Langudoc (imagine stopping at Narbonne, the halfway point between Perpignan and Montpellier on the mediterranean coast, and heading inland just a little. You’ve found the Minervois region, and it should be hot, dry and beautiful right now!)

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The Old School rosé is a blend of 90% Cinsault and 10% Syrah, and pulls its name from this rather nice anecdote, which you can find on Chateau Maris’s website:

“A few months ago, I was visiting a Manhattan retailer who carries Chateau Maris and I saw a floor person presenting one of our wines and, bottle in hand, she was explaining that “…these guys are really doing it “Old School”, they even plow with horses”. I thought it was brilliant and decided to create this label. “Old School” says it all. It’s a vision of the future with roots in the past, using tradition to craft an innovative wine. Utilizing Organic and Biodynamic methods in the vineyards and the most up-to-date technology in the cellar.”

IMG_0841 (2)The wine itself is a “rosé de presse”, which according to Chateau Maris, means it is being made the proper way! The two principal methods in rosé wine-making are the presse method and the saignée method, both of which use red grape varieties. The saignée method involves running off some of the “mout” (or juice) in a red wine fermentation vat (often around 10% of the overall volume). This allows the wine maker to produce a more concentrated and structured red wine, while at the same time giving him the possibility to allow the “saignée”, which will have had a certain amount of time in contact with the grape skins, to follow its own fermentation and produce a fairly structured and deeper colored rosé wine. In contrast, the “vin de presse” method used in the production of the Old School wine involves pressing the grapes to release the juice that will be fermented, and then quickly separating it away from the skins so that there will be minimal color and tannin extraction. This leads to much paler, salmon colored wines that are light, fresh and with good acidity.

The website states “We like our Rosé to be crisp, fresh and lively” and I can confirm that they have achieved their goal. On the nose there are some gentle herbal notes backed up by ripe strawberries and red currants. On the palate this is like a beautiful fresh mixed berry salad. It is crisp, fresh and zippy, yet still smooth, and juicy red fruits linger nicely on the tongue. A perfect summer backyard treat that is guaranteed to please, and with a price tag in the $10-12 range, you really should buy a case if you get the chance.

Playing with aromas

I have been meaning to get started on making a “real life” aroma kit for a while, and I finally clicked the payment button on Amazon the other day for a set of 10 small spice jars that I thought might be just perfect for the occasion. I considered buying 2 or 3 sets, but figured it might be best to check them out first and make sure they were exactly what I was looking for. Bad choice, since of course they are perfect, and now out of stock, but that’s another story!

IMG_0756So, my 10 little pots turned up on my doorstep, and I kind of felt like a kid again as I excitedly opened the package, checked they were what I was looking for, and starting hunting around for items in my kitchen and garden that I could easily and quickly use.

The pots themselves are small, slightly opaque, plastic jars with an opaque holed cover (officially so you can sprinkle herbs and spices, but in this case perfect for letting all those aromas escape up to your nose without getting a clear look in the jar!) and a screw lid for keeping the smells as fresh as possible.

Since I didn’t have the patience to go about this in a logical and ordered way, I just grabbed what I could find and had some fun. After all, I plan on getting more jars, so I’ll have plenty of time to fill in the holes of all the aromas I’m missing, like pepper, raspberries, sage, citrus fruits, pineapple, strawberries, violets, and oh so many more! Thanks to Trader Joe’s freeze dried fruits, there are plenty of fruity options that can be covered without fuss, and herbs & spices are always easy to come by.

So, back to the original 10, this is what I came up with:

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dried figs
coffee
tea
vanilla
dark chocolate
honeysuckle
roses
mint
citronella

The flowers and herbs obviously needed to be dried out, so they were put to one side for a couple of days, and in the meantime I threw a handful of blueberries in one jar, chopped up a couple of dried figs for jar number two, and then tore open a tea bag, sprinkled some ground coffee, grabbed some chocolate pieces and poured a little vanilla essence (I will be buying some fresh vanilla pods soon, but was too impatient to wait!) until all my jars were accounted for.

IMG_0767Now, as I say, I needed to wait a few days for the flowers and herbs to dry out and be ready for the jars, but I couldn’t resist testing out those that were ready on my eldest son, who is 8. Now, these are all pretty obvious, basic aromas. There is nothing hard or complicated about them, I haven’t been sneaky or perverse. But still, smelling things blindly can sometimes be surprising and even the most obvious smell can elude you when you least expect it. I was decidedly impressed with my son therefore, as he got pretty much everything right. Admittedly, he thought the dried figs were prunes and that the dried blueberries were raisins, but hey, I think that is pretty good. And when he got the tea at first whiff, well I had to congratulate him (though maybe with a British mom who drinks countless cups all day it was to be expected?!)

The good news is, I just found almost identical pots, with just a red top instead of a black one, back on Amazon, so I now have another 20 perfect little jars heading my way so I can continue my fun. Let the hunt begin for the aromas 🙂

Bodegas Olarra Añares Reserva 2006

With a special offer of free shipping (which, I might add, is still available!) on this Rioja wine, I decided it was time to open up my one bottle and decide whether I wanted to order some more!

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The Bodegas Olarra Añares Reserva is from the Rioja region of Spain and is made from 100% Tempra

nillo. Rioja wines are classed into four different quality labels: Rioja, Cranza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. Each label has its own set of rules, and the Reserva label is for wines that have been aged for at least one year in oak, and 2 years in the bottle. Though Gran Reserva may be the best of the best, the Reserva labels allow you to access some great wines with lovely potential, but without breaking the bank.

At first sniff, this wine made me go “Mmmmmm”, so I guess that was a pretty good start! I am a lover of heavier, structured, reds rather than light, fruity ones, so a Rioja Reserva wine is obviously going to be pretty likely to fit the bill for me. Still, being meaty, structured and filling my nose with lovely oakiness doesn’t always mean the wine will deliver as I hope. I’m sure we’ve all had plenty of occasions where we think we have a good wine in our glass, only to discover that it disappoints on the palate. So, though salivating nicely thanks to my first sniff, I was still reserving judgement.

The nose of this Añares Reserva was intense and concentrated. It was big and meaty with a lovely earthiness mixed with strawberries, cherries, raspberries and notes of coffee and chocolate (you understand my “Mmmm” now, right?!). On the palate, there were raspberries and blackberries with a nice spicy bite of pepper, and the tannins were soft and nicely balanced as you would expect from a wine that is now 6 years old. It had good length and persisted in the mouth with some discreet floral notes towards the end.

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Having drunk a number of younger reds recently, I enjoyed the gentle smoothness of this 2006 Rioja, and it is a great bottle of wine for drinking with the grilled red meats you’ll soon be preparing under the beautiful summer sunshine (or grilled Portobello mushrooms in my case… I’m afraid I don’t eat meat, though I never let that stop me indulging and enjoying big, beefy red wines!)

And for anyone that feels reassured by good ratings, this was awarded a very nice 92 points from Wine Spectator.

Needless to say, I ordered a few extra bottles 🙂

Purchased at WineLibrary.com @ $14.99