Monday, April 25, 2011

Will a Bottle of Wine Change Your Life?

American wine icon Robert Mondavi wrote in his autobiography that wine is passion.

“It’s family and friends,” the California wine legend wrote. “It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living.

“Even more importantly, it’s wine, food and the arts. Incorporating those three enhances the quality of life.”

One might expect such pronouncements from the man who was a key figure in making Napa Valley a major player on the world wine stage. But Mondavi lived his ideas and talked throughout his long life about wine as an important lifestyle issue. His voice simply echoed the words of others.

"In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and wellbeing and delight,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote. “Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary."

For some people, columnist included, wine can be transformational. Once wine drinkers move beyond the normal or the givens of Cabernet and Chardonnay and open their palate to the world, they are often transformed in the way they look at culture, agriculture, food and drink.

While this all might seem a bit gooey or tad too philosophical for a wine column, a single bottle of wine changed my perspective and many others writing about wine and marketing wine have similar tales.

Most wine drinkers start with grocery wine. A certain age group will remember Fetzer, Inglenook, Gallo, and many others as the staple of American wine. In some ways it’s not too different today. The brand names have changed but it’s now the grapes – Cab,Chardonnay, Merlot, and maybe Pinot Grigio or Riesling. For some people it was Riunite Lambrusco with pasta.

The constant message of Grape Sense has been to branch out, try something new, ask your wine or liquor store service people to recommend something different.

A single bottle of Spanish Tempranillo, in many ways, turned me into a wine writer and wine enthusiast. That happened about five or six years ago. Sharing the story always seemed a bit self-indulgent but I’ve heard it too many times from others.

I asked a wine shop owner to recommend something different. “Have you tried Spanish wines,” he asked. “Tempranillo?”

If I couldn’t pronounce it, I was pretty sure I had never tried it.

A single bottle of Montecillo Crianza red wine from Spain made me go ‘wow.” I don’t remember much of the detail other than it was rich, smooth, and delicious. And it was cheap. It’s available today at a range of about $9.99 to $12.99.

Spanish wines are great values because they are aged in oak and/or the bottle before being released. There are hundreds of great Spanish wines under $15. Tempranillo is the key grape for many Spanish wines. Tempranillo often combines the taste of dark berries, plum, vanilla, and herbs for a full-bodied wine. It is a great match for beef, pork, even a steak off the grill.

A bottle of the 2007 Montecillo Crianza, the latest release, arrived to my office recently. It was a media trade sample – yes, I get wine sent to me frequently for tasting. It brought back a lot of memories. I had never quite realized until that day, then reflecting on stories heard from others, that the Montecillo was my transformational wine.

After tasting that wine a few years ago I wanted to try other wines. After tasting it just a few days ago, I had to share the story. Find your transformational wine but asking for something different.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Red Wines and White Fish! Astonishing!

Red wine and red meat, as well as white wine and fish, has served as the holy grail of wine/food pairings for decades. Well, it’s not your mama’s kitchen anymore!
The best advice anyone can offer on wine and food pairing is simply to drink what you like. But as wine aficionados get more into wine, it becomes inevitable the not-so-precise science of wine and food pairing becomes more interesting, challenging, and exciting.

“I’ve always been a big proponent of pairing rich seafood with light bodied reds (besides Pinot Noir) like our Mourvedre, Grenache and even Rhone blends,” said Terry Brady, Clautiere Vineyards, Paso Robles, CA.

“We produced the Mourvedre for several years as part of our blends,” Brady explained. “We saw the potential to do a single variety from the Mourvedre and began to make it in 2004. Stylistically, we wanted a food compatible wine, not a big fruit bomb - we picked our grapes at maturity and ripeness, but not overripe. Our Mourvedre often has the lowest alcohol of all of our wines, coming in at the low 13 percent levels.

“We like to say we make French style wine with California grapes. It became one of my personal favorites due to its distinct structure, smooth tannins and great earthy flavors. It pairs well with many different foods and I’ve enjoyed it with salmon as well as beef, lamb and spicy pastas. “

Brady poured his wine for a group of visiting wine journalists at a Paso Robles’ Italian restaurant in October. The Mourvedre was paired with a Chilean Sea Bass in lobster sauce. It was a gorgeous pairing and my first time for “fish and red wine.”

While you might not find Clautiere wines easily in the Midwest, there are plenty of the Rhone wines available in better wine shops and liquor stores with a nice wine selection.

Brady got into the wine business after building a Santa Monica restaurant. So he knows a thing or two about pairing wine and food.

“In researching a place to plant a tree nursery, we talked to a Realtor in Santa Margarita about some land and we were told there wasn’t sufficient ground water to grow there and we should look in Paso Robles - ‘where they grow vineyards!” It was an existing vineyard of about 33 acres that had been planted in 1989 with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cabernet - amazing enough, the owner had planted some very advanced and unique Rhone varietals for that time. Other wineries were making wine from this vineyard and so we were able to taste the wines produced and we realized that this was a special piece of land for growing these varieties. “

Personal experience suggests trying a Mourvedre or Grenache, especially a wine with a lower alcohol level, with lighter foods. If that scares you, go with the tried and true combination of salmon on the grill with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir. But don’t be afraid to try new things. The Clautiere Winery and tasting room is all about fun. Brady’s medium-bodied Paso Robles wines, like others from the region, really pair beautifully with food.

The food-friendly Paso Robles wines are often as rich in flavor as any from California. They are usually about half the price. Brady’s Rhone blends are $25. You can find great Mourvedre and Grenache under $15 in many locations.