Friday, August 29, 2008

The Ultimate Brunch

Every once in a while, a leisurely brunch with mimosas or Bloody Marys is a necessity. Last Sunday I slept in late... like really late, and decided against spending what was left of the day dashing around the city. What better than to make my mom's delicious apple pancake with a mimosa or two? Apple pancake is a dessert posing as a breakfast recipe in my opinion, but its sweetness is balanced by the wealth of fresh apple. Since it's a family recipe, I'm only offering it per email-request, so send a line if you're interested.

As for the sparkling wine, it was another Trader Joe's selection; this time a M. Chevallier Cava Brut around four or five dollars. M. Chevallier Winery is located in the Penedes region in Catalonia, Spain. Cava can be viewed as the Spanish equivalent of Champagne in France, but unlike French Champagne, some Spanish Cava are created outside the Penedes region. Cava was actually labelled "Spanish Champagne" until EU law prohibited it. The Spanish Denominación de Origen demands that Cava only be produced in six regions and only by traditional methods, including a second fermentation in the bottle.

The regions where Cava is created have a cool climate that traps the acidity needed to craft a fine sparkling wine. The locals noticed this but it wasn't until a phylloxera plague killed many of the red grapes in the region in the late 18th Century that the climate was taken advantage of. Oddly enough, though the region uses traditionally French methods of producing sparkling wine, it did not use Chardonnay grapes until the 1980's.

To ensure that you're drinking true Cava, take a look at the cork and make sure it has a four pointed star on it. I forgot to check my bottle, but I thought the sparkling wine was everything I wanted from a cheap bottle. If not lacking character, M. Chevallier's Cava was pleasantly quiet, not too bubbly, dry, and left a clean finish. Plus, since I know that Cava should be drunk young, I couldn't go hanging onto it any longer. I highly recommend this sparkling wine for mimosas or for large events.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Imagery Winery: A Picture's Worth A .08% Blood Alcohol Content

When I first heard the name “Imagery,” it conjured up an image of yet another Sonoma or Napa winery that focuses too much on vision and not enough on wine. You know, the Disneyland winery: many varietals hastily planted, quickly produced, and a tasting room full of knick-knacks, (see Jacuzzi Winery). When I heard that Imagery Winery was an offshoot from Benziger, my prejudices seemed confirmed. Boy, was I wrong.

Imagery wine is experimental, full-flavored, and there are so many varietals that tasting all of Imagery’s wines would take half a day. And what a wonderful day it would be. Each wine has its own personality, and I found the Cabernet Franc exceptionally friendly. Some of the other standout varietals were the Lagrein, Petit Verdot, and Barbera. The winery itself has a nice aesthetic with an almost circular bar for tasting, over 20 drinking options, an impressive collection of over 190 wine-label artworks, and a comfortably shaded picnic area. Each of Imagery’s wine labels feature an original artwork from a wide number of acclaimed artists; the only restriction on the artwork is that it include some representation of the Parthenon symbol, which is the winery’s signature.

Imagery also isn’t an “offshoot” of Benziger. Well, not exactly. Benziger winery, lead by Winemaker Mike Benziger, began producing wines of critical acclaim in 1981. By 1985, the Imagery series was born through a few plots given to the “winemaking team” to experiment with. In 1990, Joe Benziger became the primary winemaker of the Imagery Winery, and in 2000, the winery was given it’s own, separate facilities and tasting room. So, Imagery has been with Benziger from almost the beginning.

During a brief discussion with the man behind the bar, I learned that Imagery uses biodynamic farming. Biodynamics is a wholistic approach to farming conceived by Austrian-philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1920. Steiner is best known for his concept of Waldorf education. How much of Steiner’s theory Joe Benziger adopted is not certain, but Steiner’s basic idea is that a farm should be treated like an individual, living organism, which I find fascinating, though I’ll understand if you skip to the last paragraph. To keep the farm happy, the farmer must develop a cyclical process of give and take using a series of complex manures. For example, manures may contain chamomile blossoms stuffed into the small intestines of cattle or valerian flowers extracted into water. I doubt if Joe Benziger uses either concoction.

What Joe Benziger has done is create a wildlife sanctuary on the estate to help promote a natural predator/prey relationship; he's developed a watershed and composting area to break down winery wastes for reuse; and, of course, he has not used artificial chemicals. He says that biodynamic farming has allowed him to keep the fruit on the vine longer without as much decay, which has in turn allowed him to extract a more full flavor from the grapes.

The jury is still out on Biodynamics. Some studies have shown it to work, but a long-term study involving California vineyards has found no conclusive results that it works. I, however, will gladly stand up for the practice, since Imagery wines are some of my favorites in Sonoma Valley.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Recipe For An Inexpensive, Delicious Evening

Trader Joe's repeatedly offers some of the best prices on wine around. For example, I've seen Sonoma and Napa wine's that I'd bought just days before at the wineries for lower prices at Trader Joe's. TJ's wine selection is 100% designed to satisfy your everyday needs, and this is why their vast selection of wines under five bucks is worth checking out. I will be posting brief reviews of these everyday wines.

Last night I tried a 2006 Sangiovese by Tuscan Moon Winery. Sangiovese is the primary grape in Chianti; in fact, if it's less than 90% Sangiovese, it's not a Chianti. At four or five dollars (I can't remember exactly) this is a great wine to go with pasta, pizza, tomato heavy salads, and so on. The Tuscan Moon Sangiovese is not as bone-dry as most traditional Sangiovese. Instead, it focuses on the juiciness of the grape, but don't worry, it's not jammy. (Note: the majority of the photographs of wine bottles featured on this blog will be empty. Look at it as proof of authenticity.)

We had our bottle with a simple but refined pasta dish:

Heirloom Tomato
Fresh Basil
tons of garlic
good olive oil (we used Laleli Cold Press)
salt and pepper

When pasta is half way cooked, begin sauteing garlic and jalapeno in lots of olive oil in a large pan. Drain pasta. Turn off the sizzling garlic/jalapeno, and add the pasta to it, making sure to use enough olive oil so that it does not stick. Toss together with bite size slices of heirloom tomato, chopped fresh basil, salt, and pepper. Serve with Parmesan on side.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wine and Truffle

In the spirit of living well, my girlfriend and I experimented with two unknowns: The Wine House wine shop and TartufLanghe's Acacia white truffle infused honey. The Wine House, for all you San Franciscans, is a warehouse of fine wine on 16th Street and Carolina. Focusing on French wines (but not exclusively), their wines are stocked by region and vary from four dollar bottles to 300 plus. While my mouth watered over the expansive selection and the great descriptions offered by the friendly staff, I decided to go for a bargain: a 2002 Beaujolais for $5.95. I assumed the price was so reasonable due to the age; Beaujolais, for the most part, is designed to be drank young. I hoped that The Wine House would not sell a bottle they didn’t believe in.

The truffle-honey was directly imported from Italy by a friend who had just returned. Bearing gifts, she said that it was to die for and she was right. A relatively new concoction from the Lanhge region, the small jar contains a powerful white truffle aroma that will have any devotee seeing double. We decided to try it on brie with baguette and a few slices of apple; a blue cheese would have been decidedly too strong for the truffle.

Opening the Beaujolais, I noticed a build up of tirates on the cork; not always, but sometimes indicative of a wine gone bad. Tiratric acid is the most prevalent acid in wine and sometimes crystallizes to form this sediment. Once poured, the wine’s color was noticeably darker than I expected, which is sometimes characteristic for the region in which this particular Beaujolais was produced: Beaujolais Villages, the northern half of the Beaujolais region. I also discovered more sediment in the glass, and, unfortunately, I’d read that sediment is a bad sign for Beaujolais, as it is with Pinot Noir. However, this wasn’t the case! The wine was delicious; nicely light with oaky hints that kept it interesting. (If you’re in the Bay, several bottles were still available at The Wine House as of 8/16/08, and white truffle infused honey is available online).

Thanks for checking out my first blog post. Please email me with any questions!

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