Monday, December 30, 2013

Wine and Cheese for New Year's Eve

Yes, toasting at midnight is a must, but what about all the hours before hand, or wines for football the following day? Here are a few of my picks, along with friendly cheese suggestions from Kerrygold Natural Irish Cheese. Almonds are good to offer as well - ancient Romans nibbled on them to prevent intoxication.

Stylish Italian  -
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco Superiore Valdobiaddene $20
Friendly cheese: Kerrygold Dubliner - a robust, aged cow’s milk with flavors ranging from nutty to sharp to sweet.

Classic French
Chateau de Sancerre Blanc Loire Valley $29
Understated and intense – like an unwavering gaze from behind thick glasses. This 100% Sauvignon Blanc has notes of pink grapefruit, chalk, dried sage and lemon.
Friendly cheese: Kerrygold Reserve Cheddar - an extra year of aging brings out its concentrated flavors.

Dreamy Californian
Terlato Family Vineyards Pinot Grigio Russian River Valley $16
Clean, round, honeyed and slightly nutty, this is richer than Sauvignon Blanc but lighter than Chardonnay.
Friendly cheese: Kerrygold Red Leicester - mellow cow’s milk cheese with a tangy finish.

Austrian Aphrodisiac
Kracher Beerenauslese Burgenland Austria $39 375ml
One of the world’s finest sweet wines from from the great Kracher estate in Austria, this decadent blend of Chardonnay and Welschriesling is richly perfumed, seductive, intensely sweet, and appropriate for pairing with cheese, desserts, or your lover.

Friendly cheese: Kerrygold Aged Cheddar with Irish Whiskey - nutty, smooth, whiskey-infused aged cheddar.

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Reds from California

Winter in California

What is it about the holiday season that brings so much joy yet so much stress? There’s just so much pressure to do all the extra things we do, and to do it right. Entertaining, selecting gifts, getting gifts to their destinations, attending all the parties, the list goes on and on.

Let grape goddess® lighten your load. Here are my picks in California reds that will impress your friends and family as we wrap up tumultuous 2013.

-          NV Tess Red & White Blend Napa Valley $20
Technically not  a red, it is just so delicious and different I had to include it. From Lisa and Arianna Peju, this fruity blend of Bordeaux grapes, Zinfandel, and even Sauvignon Blanc spends 10 months in French oak but is light on its feet. It is slightly sweet with bright watermelon and berry fruit and is incredibly refreshing. Perfect alone or with spicy or teriyaki wings.

-          NV Troublemaker Blend 7 Paso Robles $20
Hope Family Wines created this multi-vintage multi-grape Syrah-based blend to offer a crowd pleasing style at a crowd pleasing price, and they nailed it. One sip of this velvety, spicy and fruity red and there is no going back.

-          2010 Dry Creek Vineyards The Mariner Dry Creek Valley $45
This elegant, carefully crafted Meritage, or Bordeaux blend, mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is rich and fruity with notes of cherry, cassis, plum, tobacco and vanilla bean. Decant for aeration or stash in the cellar for a few years.

-          2009 Kenwood Vineyards Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County $60
Artist Markus Linnenbrink created the label for this 35th Artist Series release and it is as stunning as the wine. With layers of blackcurrant, plum, fig and bing cherry fruit, along with earthy white pepper and a touch of Italian black, slightly bitter licorice, this complex Cabernet is a must have for any serious collector.

-          2011 McGah Family Cellars Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford-Napa Valley $60
Pure decadence in a glass, this rich, velvety Cabernet is an attention-grabber. With dark berry fruit, dark chocolate notes, cigar box and Maduro cigar notes, it is wonderful way to warm up by the fireplace. E. W. McGah co-founded the Oakland Raiders football franchise in the 1960’s and it stayed with the family until 2005.

-          2010 Lineage Livermore Valley $145
Only four vintages in, this effort from Livermore’s Steven Mirassou, himself a sixth-generation winemaker, is culled from the top 5% of Bordeaux grapes, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon. Only six barrels of this Meritage, or Opus-One style were produced. With layers of deep, blackcurrant and cherry fruit, dried herbs, and warm, spicy oak notes, this is a wine to cherish.

-          2009 Lange Twins Centennial Zinfandel Lodi $60

With access to some of the finest vines in Lodi – the Lange family is in their third generation – Lange Twins continues to produce some of the area’s finest and most serious wines. This Centennial effort is the result of fruit from 103-year old vines, and is intense, rich, vibrant, and complex with notes of blackberry compote, blueberry, chocolate-covered cherry, vanilla bean, and finely ground black peppercorn. Decant for aeration and enjoy!

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Luncheon with Marcelo Papa of Concho Y Toro, Chile

Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis and Concha Y Toro Lead Winemaker Marcelo Papa
On a spectacular Indian summer day in mid-October I joined fellow wine writers including the legendary Gerald Asher of Gourmet Magazine, whose column I followed from the beginning of my career, to meet with Concha Y Toro’s Lead Winemaker Marcelo Papa for lunch on a penthouse rooftop in San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill neighborhood.
Gerald Asher, with signature Suspenders

Winery Chef Ruth Van Waerebeek,

a well-known food ambassador for Chile who consults with Concha Y Toro in addition to her role as proprietor of the Mapuyampay Hostal Gastronomico & Cooking School south of Santiago, expertly paired the wines she knows so intimately with dishes that came alive with each sip.

Here is the menu:
Reception: Casillero del Diablo Coastal White 2012 and Red Blend 2011
Causa with octopus in olive salsa

Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2011
Flash-cured tuna with citrus-fennel

Marques de Casa Concha Carmenère 2011
Risotto of quinoa with mixed mushrooms, Carmenère and Manchego cheese

Marques de Casa Cocha Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Braised lamb in merlot wine, fresh tomatoes and sweet spices, almond basmati rice and cilantro chutney

Concha y Toro Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Passion fruit mousse with tropical fruit salad  and crème brulée de Lúcuma

Papa, the man behind the longstanding success of Concha Y Toro’s Casillero del Diablo range, said, “One month ago we had a very heavy Spring frost. Early ripening grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot were the most affected. Casablanca and Leyda valleys were hit hard. Limari in the north had no frost at all. Frost killed the buds. We are waiting for a second bud. It might be good, or even better in quality. We won’t know until we start picking around the last week of February.” The country may lose 20% or more of its Chardonnay for the 2014 vintage.

Marcelo Papa is also the driving force behind the emergence of Limari Valley in the northern province of Coquimbo, known until recently more for its production of Pisco than for quality wine. He likes it for gentle Moscatos and crisper, European style Chardonnays, which describes perfectly his 2011 Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay Single Vineyard Limari Valley $23. The Camanchaca fog from the Pacific clears in the morning yet the coastal proximity keeps things cool even in full sunlight. Papa does feel the area will become most well-known over time for Pinot Noir however.

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Champagne Fall Release Report

Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis sabers a magnum of Laurent Perrier Brut at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

Champagne is going green. The CIVC has approved a new bottle (2 oz total weight)
reducing the region's CO2 output by 8,000 metric tons.  Champagne is also staying very commercially minded. Despite a very difficult start to the 2012 harvest, Philipponnat, Dom Perignon, Bollinger and others will release vintage wines.

New in non vintage releases are the precise, muscular, yet graceful nv Philipponnat Grand Blanc de Blancs $60, yeasty and deeply toasty with notes of almond butter and lemon crème brulee, the nv Delamotte Brut $50, aka Baby Salon,  elegant, ethereal almost, as it is primarily Grand Cru Chardonnay, and the nv Gaston Chiquet Cuvee de Reserve Brut $70, which offers lovers of mature Champagne notes of honey and lanolin owing to “reserves” of ’01 and ’04 cuvees in the blend. The finish is bracing and clean. The nv Gosset Brut Grande Reserve $70, based on ’05 and made with a sprinkling of  Fromenteau, Petit Meslier, and Arbanne, is a lively, layered, very powerful Champagne that is rich enough for Lamb, as are the biodynamically-farmed nv Fleury Carte Rouge Brut $45, a breathtaking, intense cuvee of Pinot Noir, and the powerful, seductive nv Fleury Rosé de Saignée Brut $78

Another must have is the well-loved nv Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut $100, pretty in appearance but book smart underneath -  it is exclusively Grand Cru Pinot Noir.

Finesse is the order of the day with the classic nv Pol Roger Brut Reserve $65, while the edgy, razor sharp non-dosed and therefore bone dry nv Pol Roger Pure Brut $75 is ideal for crudo or that old standby, caviar. 

Get your geek on – the nv Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres Extra Brut $105 is made from ungrafted 60-year old vine Pinot Meunier, a grape that is getting much attention in Champagne these days, at least when it is old-vine. 

Polar opposite in style is the nv Feuillatte D'Luscious Demi-Sec Rose $59, for that huge swathe of America that can’t get enough sweet in their wine.

Are you a Special Club girl or guy? Check out these two Chardonnay-based lovelies - the 2008 A. Margaine Blanc de Blancs Special Club Brut $84, a rare honeyed, intense Champagne from the Montagne de Reims. 

The 2006 Marc Hebrart Rive Gauche-Rive Droite Grand Cru Extra Brut $140, a luxury cuvée named for vineyards on both sides of the Marne River, is broad and fleshy - immediately likeable. 

Named after the barrel it was fermented in, the 2005 Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvee 225 Brut $100 is more formal, and offers a Krug-like oxidative note from the base wine’s fermentation in oak.

For only the third time in their long history, Champagne Bollinger hosted a non-local Vin Clair tasting earlier this year in San Francisco, led by the very knowledgeable and dapper Commercial Director Guy de Rivoire. After a flight of vins clairs we were treated to a  smoky, briney and very muscular 2004 Bollinger Grande Annee Rose Extra Brut $220. The 2000 Bollinger R.D. Brut will make an appearance in the market shortly, in Jeroboam exclusively.

Exquisitely luxurious, just looking at the 2004 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rose Brut $350 feels decadent. But inside is where the real treasure lies – layers of red fruits, peach and apricot, autolytic notes and a rich chalky minerality mingle together discreetly, with breed and class. The 2002 Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Brut $160 also wins kudos for its packaging, designed with a thousand pearl-shaped indentations in honor of the Opera Diva who captivated Nicolas Feuillatte. The package converts conveniently to an ice bucket. Take notice, James Bond.

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Spain Fall Release Report

Cava is always a bargain, but the elegant, lemony and slightly yeasty Anna de Cordoniu Cava Brut nv $15 is especially a good deal. Ideal for showcasing delicate seafood and shellfish dishes, it also has the texture to match silky carpaccio. 

The slightly more esoteric Castell D’Or Flama D’Or Cava Brut nv $16 is creamy and tarry with notes of bosc pear, lemon curd and grilled pineapple. The first is a blend of 70% Chradonnay with 30% Parellada, while the second is all native – a blend of 30% Xarello (say “Charello’), 50% Macabeu, and 20% Parellada.

Though 2012 was unusually dry, vineyards near the Atlantic, older vineyards, and  irrigated vineyards fared well. The 2012 Palacio de Fefinanes Albarino Rias Baixas $26 consistently ranks as one of the area’s top producers – there are close to 200. It offers fresh, briney notes as well as keen Riesling-like minerality, peach, apricot, and melon. It is bone dry and much creamier – less nerdy you could say – than Riesling. The estate, located inside a baronial palace on the coast of the Atlantic in Cambados, was the first to produce a wine under the DO Rias Baixas and has remained true to its terroir despite the recent trend to increase alcohol and ramp up barrel use. 

From Rioja, the 2012 El Coto Rioja Rosado $11, a 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha, is unusually minerally, almost sanguine-like, along with the expected notes of ripe cherry, fresh strawberry, and lemon peel. This rosé has enough depth to pair well with richer fall fare.
From the Martinez family, owners of Bodegas Faustino in Rioja which is very traditional in style comes this more modern, ripe, deep and more intense 2012 Ebeia de Bodegas Portia Ribera del Duero $18. It still maintains a foothold in tradition however, with its rather light body (13%) and notes of Fernet Branca, Red Vines, white mushroom, and salami.

Esoteric regions and grapes continue to create buzz locally and abroad. Katrin Naelapaa, Director of Wines from Spain, comments, “Spanish wine exports are doing very well,  particularly to US. There are a lot of new varietally designated wines from regions permitting varietal labeling which is helping boost interest in Tempranillo, Garnacha,  Albariño and Verdejo as well as the more obscure grapes like Mencia, Carinena, Godello, and Bobal. There is a lot of rediscovery of near forgotten varietals, recovery of old vineyards and return to some traditional practices. Quality at affordable price points seems to be more evident than ever.” 

The 2011 A Portela Mencia CVA Valdeorras $14.99 (say “men thee a”) from this “valley of gold” in inland Galicia is unusually floral and minerally, with luscious blueberry and cherry fruit and not a drop of oak. This is a gem for BTG programs. The 2011 Tierras Guindas Verdejo Rueda $11 is another standout from this vintage, with fresh cut grass notes bringing a refreshing counterpoint to melon and peach fruit.  I fell in love with the dry, crisp, austere 2011 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas “Royal” Rioja Blanco $14 immediately, with its clean, lemony, chalky, and quinine notes and alcohol of only 12%.

These non-conforming or “rebellious” wines are neither traditional nor modern. The 2010 Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Zaco Rioja $15 is 100% Tempranillo, and is soft in texture, deeply fruity and not oaky. From their “Varietales” collection which serves to showcase indigenous grapes of the area, the 2010 Baron de Ley Maturana Rioja $24, a 100% Maturana, is ripe with deep, smoky red and black fruits, a subtle earthiness, and a soft vanilla bean note. 

These wines are delicious, user-friendly, easy to find, and are perfect for entertaining this month. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.