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A Crowd-Pleasing Shiraz From Down Under

The Wine of the Week: Rosemount Estate Shiraz

by Annette Tomei

2016 Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Shiraz, South Australia, AustraliaRosemount Estate Diamond Label--a crowd-pleasing Shiraz

Sometimes what you really want is familiarity, consistency, and simplicity. Like the comfort foods that we often turn to as the holidays approach, there are some wines that also fit this description. These are wines that are made to be consistent crowd pleasers. They create a simple background for the meals, conversations, and festivities to take center stage.

Rosemount Estates was founded in 1974 and is still just as popular in its native Australia as it is internationally. Their wines have always been intentionally unpretentious, easygoing, and lushly flavorful. They are also well-priced for anytime enjoyment, or pleasing a crowd. Their Diamond Label wines are the most widely-known, and are made for immediate enjoyment – no pretension.

About this Wine

This deep inky hued wine has the classic Shiraz aromas of blueberry, black pepper, and a touch of smokey incense. Flavors of cocoa, plum, blueberry, clove, and other baking spices abound. The mouthfeel is lush and velvety; juicy but without much perceptible acidity. At “only” 13.5% ABV, it is made to please, not to overwhelm.

A wine this rich would overwhelm all but the most hearty dishes. Also, with lower acidity, it could easily feel flabby on the palate if served with acid-bright foods. Stick with braised meats, barbecue, and bacon (of the shiitake mushroom variety, if vegetarian). The back label also recommends a good strong cheddar – worth a try!

The Verdict

This is not fine wine, nor does it pretend to be. I recommend this wine for what it is… a familiar crowd-pleaser that will be very easy on the wallet (average $8/bottle). And, in my opinion, a giant leap above some other similarly priced Australian wines with fuzzy critters on their labels. There is a time and place for everything – it’s always good to know some reputable producers continue to uphold their promises.

 

My new mission… to taste things I’ve never tasted before – either because I’m a snob, I can’t afford it, or it’s just a little too weird. I’ll let you know what I thought, and then you can decide for yourself if you will make the splurge, or take the leap into the strange but potentially delicious unknown!

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Vermouth to Savor By Itself

The Wine of the Week: La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge

by Annette Tomei

NV La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge, France

Maybe you are most familiar with vermouth as the often-maligned but necessary ingredient in a martini, manhattan or negroni – one that you would no sooner pour a solitary glass of than the angostura bitters that are often overlooked as well. Or maybe you are much more in touch with your inner-hipster and have a great collection of obscure hand-crafted vermouths on your well-curated bar cart. Either way, I’d like to introduce you to my latest nightcap.

Vermouth is an aromatized wine that was first created in Italy in the 16th century as a medicine. Aromatized wines  are infused with botanicals (herbs, roots, barks, fruit, etc.) that influence taste as well as aroma, often adding a bitter or astringent component. Sugar (in the form or syrup or grape must) is often added, as well as alcohol, qualifying vermouth as a fortified wine as well.

Today, Vermouth is made around the world. The top brands still come from Italy, but also from France and Spain. There are also several craft-style producers in the US that are worth looking into. Each producer has their own secret recipe that yields a house-style that is replicated continuously. There is little to no regulation of vermouth production, so reputation for quality is everything.

About this Wine

La Quintinye is a relatively new producer from southwest France, founded in 2013. It was named after Jean Baptiste de La Quintinye, the royal botanist for Louis XIV at Versailles. One of the things that makes this vermouth unique is that it is made from the grape Pineau des Charentes, the same used in making Cognac. In fact, this vermouth is fortified with 25% Cognac.

The Vermouth Rouge is infused with 28 botanical components that include cardamom, cinnamon, bitter orange, quinine bark, and ginger. The base is a blend of white wines with the red Pineau des Charentes. The color is pale cola. Aromas of licorice, baking spices, and cola are most prevalent. On the palate, flavors of dried fruit, dark caramel, and candied bitter orange, with herbal bitterness on the finish. It is more bitter than most red “sweet” vermouths – like Italian amaro rather than vermouth. For me, that is a good thing.

The Verdict

I’ve been enjoying this as an aperitif, as a digestif, and as a low alcohol cocktail on its own with seltzer and cardamom bitters. For those who shy from amaro and other bitter beverages, you may prefer to explore other vermouth options (there are some tasty ones out there). La Quintinye Royal is available in red, white, and extra dry. At $14-18/750 ml bottle, it’s quite worth it – especially since vermouth will keep open in the refrigerator for at least a few weeks, if not longer.

 

My new mission… to taste things I’ve never tasted before – either because I’m a snob, I can’t afford it, or it’s just a little too weird. I’ll let you know what I thought, and then you can decide for yourself if you will make the splurge, or take the leap into the strange but potentially delicious unknown!

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Chardonnay from Napa Valley That Won’t Break the Bank

The Wine of the Week: Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay

by Annette Tomei

2015 Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay, CaliforniaHess Collection Chardonnay from Napa Valley

The Napa Valley and its world-renowned wineries have had a difficult year. As one who called the area home for nearly a decade, I want to do all I can to show my support. This includes drinking more wines from Napa and Sonoma. And I’m happy that I can share a Chardonnay from Napa Valley that falls into the affordable range.

The Hess Collection wines were some of the first California wines I tasted in my 20s. Since then, I’ve visited the property several times, bought and sold decades of vintages, and enjoyed pairing meals with their wines. Hess stands out in many ways. Its location in the western mountains is a unique and special place with a great history – grapes have grown on this property since the 1870s. The stone winery was constructed in 1903 and is still in use. A visit to the property also includes access to Donald Hess’s private contemporary art museum… worth the visit in itself. Hess is also known as a leader in the movement toward sustainable winery practices.

The Su’skol Estate Vineyard where the grapes for this wine are grown is located near the San Pablo and San Francisco Bays. The climate is cooler than other parts of Napa Valley and is greatly influenced by the famous Bay Area fog. This is a great climate for growing Chardonnay, which prefers cooler temperatures.

About this Wine

Hess Collection Chardonnay is made from a blend of Chardonnay clones including the fragrant musque clone. This is a full-bodied wine with 14.2% ABV, which is quite high as white wine goes (though not so high for Napa Chardonnay). If served too cold, the aromatics and flavors are muted and the alcohol is quite intense. If you allow this wine to warm a bit toward room temperature, your patience will be rewarded!

Initial aromas of ripe pear and cream opened to include a touch of clove and sautéed apples. On the palate, a silky mouthfeel with balanced acidity and flavors of lush pears and apples, and buttery croissant. The finish had a hint of white pepper which was pleasantly palate-cleansing.

This is a great white to pair with hearty appetizers, creamy soups, and richly-sauced seafood entrees. A classic Bay Area pairing would be with cracked Dungeness Crab with local sourdough bread and melted butter for dipping – if you have access to this, you must! The rest of us may be equally happy with lobster bisque, creamy risotto, or perfectly seared scallops.

The Verdict

For me, this is not an everyday style of wine because of the high ABV and richness. However, I like having it available at this time of year when my food choices tend to be creamier and more decadent. At $20-25/bottle, Hess Collection offers great quality for a fraction of the price of many other Chardonnay from Napa Valley.

 

My new mission… to taste things I’ve never tasted before – either because I’m a snob, I can’t afford it, or it’s just a little too weird. I’ll let you know what I thought, and then you can decide for yourself if you will make the splurge, or take the leap into the strange but potentially delicious unknown!

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Organic Wine from Italy – Si, Grazie!

The Wine of the Week: Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a bargain organic wine from Italy

by Annette Tomei

2016 Cirelli La Collina Biologica, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, ItalyCirelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo a great organic wine from Italy

Francesco Cirelli is building a strong reputation for his dedication to organics, natural wines, and true biodiversity on his farm in the Abruzzo region of Italy. In under two decades, Francesco and his wife Michela have built a thriving organic farm. They have a diverse production that includes wine grapes, olives for olive oil, grains, and even geese.

The Collina Biologica program is a collaborative effort of Francesco Cirelli, Tommaso Turci, and Domenico Francone. It is designed to provide education and inspiration for future sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs. This “real-life laboratory” provides hands-on experience with true biodynamic agricultural practices, and more. This wine is produced as part of the effort, and helps financially sustain the project.

Montepulciano is a red grape, common to central Italy, especially Abruzzo along the Adriatic coast. This grape is loved for its soft tannins and low acidity. The wines produced are typically juicy and deliciously drinkable. The Cirelli La Collina Biologica is a great example.

About this Wine

This organic wine from Italy is a pleasure to feature. Ripe raspberries, fresh black pepper, and a hint of fresh herbs on the nose, followed by juicy tart cherries and ripe plum on the palate. The finish has a pleasantly astringent cranberry tartness. This wine reminded me of how much I love simple, well-made wines from this region.

This was one of several wines my family and I enjoyed at Thanksgiving dinner. It was the one that stood out most to me for its adaptability. I enjoyed it equally with pre-dinner nibbles of deviled eggs and spiced nuts as I did with roast turkey, cranberry compote, and buttery sage stuffing. Now that the holiday meal is over, I’m enjoying it with pizza – it is truly a versatile wine!

The Verdict

At $12-17/bottle, this makes a great “house wine” for any day of the week. I feel even better about it knowing that its production supports the growing movement toward biodiversity and sustainability in agriculture. And that it brings organic, well-made wines to the world at a price point that is good for nearly all of us. The La Collina Biologica (Organic Hill) project also produces a lighter almost-rosé style red and a white. Agricola Cirelli produces a line of natural wines fermented in custom designed amphorae (labelled “Amphora”) that are well worth seeking out as well.

 

My new mission… to taste things I’ve never tasted before – either because I’m a snob, I can’t afford it, or it’s just a little too weird. I’ll let you know what I thought, and then you can decide for yourself if you will make the splurge, or take the leap into the strange but potentially delicious unknown!

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Honey, This is Not Your Average Mead

The Wine of the Week: Floralia Botanical Mead

by Annette Tomei

2017 Floralia Botanical Mead, Enlightenment Wines, Brooklyn, New York

Wine, by definition, is fermented fruit juice. So, maybe I’m going a bit beyond the scope of this column by including a “honey wine”. I hope you’ll agree that it is well worth a diversion to discover something new – a taste adventure.

Mead is an ancient fermented beverage in which honey is the primary sugar. Fruits, botanicals, aromatics, and herbs may also be incorporated. Though often associated with vikings and Renaissance “faires”, mead is an international beverage with its deepest roots in China and India. Mead is also one of the fastest growing beverage markets in the US. It helps that mead is generally produced from local bounty, gluten-free, natural, and seasonal.

Enlightenment Wines was founded in 2009 by mazer (mead-maker) Raphael Lyon in New York’s Hudson Valley. Production has recently expanded to include a facility in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Enlightenment Wines has a cultivated reputation for experimental, artistic adventures in flavor. Lyon’s everything-but-grapes approach to wine making delivers deliciously exotic experiences. I’ve tasted his meads made from local apples, hand-foraged dandelions, tea, cassis, and tart cherries. Styles range from sparkling to still, sweet to bone dry. All are made from local raw organic honey (though their products are not certified organic).

About this Wine

Floralia is an off-dry style mead made with juniper, lavender, and marjoram. It is intensely aromatic. The essence of fir trees combined with a warm sunny hillside along the Mediterranean. The off-dry style means there is a bit of sweetness on the palate, but not so much to detract from the overall savory flavor profile. The finish is quite dry.

Serve chilled by itself, this mead makes a wonderful aperitif or digestif. As an accompaniment to food, I recommend earthy cheeses and buttery olives, or maybe a warm Provencal bean stew. I also recommend this mead as a substitute for gin in some cocktails. The aromatic composition is similar, the alcohol content significantly lower at about 12% ABV. Or, include it IN your gin cocktails as a complementary component far superior to nearly any vermouth.

The Verdict

The aphrodisiac properties of each ingredient are only enhanced by their combination, so consider this an ideal aperitif to more than a meal! It is available online for approximately $25/375 ml bottle. It is produced in extremely small quantities, so hurry. (if not available, Enlightenment has numerous other delicious options)

If you happen to be in Brooklyn, visit Honey’s in Bushwick for a variety of items on tap and cocktails made with mead and more.

 

My new mission… to taste things I’ve never tasted before – either because I’m a snob, I can’t afford it, or it’s just a little too weird. I’ll let you know what I thought, and then you can decide for yourself if you will make the splurge, or take the leap into the strange but potentially delicious unknown!