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Montalcino, Rick Steves and How This Whole Wine Thing Began...

Beth Ribblett

Fog in the Tuscan Hills - First Italy Trip October 2004

Fog in the Tuscan Hills - First Italy Trip October 2004

I can remember the moment pretty clearly.  Before there was Swirl, before hurricane Katrina and the failure of our levee system upended our lives, I was having a lazy weekend in the summer of 2003, flipping through channels and found a Rick Steves travel segment about Montalcino and its famous wine, Brunello.   You know how travel shows have that way of pulling you in and making you want to go there?  Well, that was the day that the travel bug bit deep, infecting me with an all consuming wanderlust and it has never let go...

We were wine enthusiasts at the time, focusing more on the easily understandable California wines, dabbling a bit in Bordeaux and the Rhone, but besides a Chianti now and then, Italy just seemed too vast and complicated.   In watching that show on Montalcino, I became totally enthralled by the history of the place, the beautiful countryside and winemaking traditions,  deciding right then and there that I wanted to visit that town and drink their wines.  Of course, I didn’t know then that it was a life changing moment and the beginning of my ongoing obsession with Italy, wine and travel. 

Because of that show, I began planning our first of many trips to Italy in 2004.  It was also one of those decade birthday years so what better time to reach out to friends who might want to join us on this adventure.  Limiting that first trip to Tuscany, I wanted to experience all that the region had to offer from the Renaissance jewel of Florence to the medieval stronghold of Sienna,  the enchanting villages of Montepulciano, Greve, Montalcino, San Gimignano and even to its coast and the beachside town of  Viareggio – I wanted to see it all. I obsessed over the details, diving headfirst into learning the regional wines and culinary traditions, planning and plotting routes on paper maps, researching villa after villa and most importantly, what wineries to visit.

The rooftops of Florence - First Italy Trip, October 2004

The rooftops of Florence - First Italy Trip, October 2004

Just before we left I met this crazy Italian guy who just happened to work for Castello Banfi, the winery featured in the Rick Steves travel show.  It was too late for him to arrange anything special for our visit but it was the start of a relationship with my now good friend and Italian "brother", Antonio Molesini.  Little did we know our lives would take many different twists and turns over the next few years and we would be arranging trips together some 7 years later.

So off we went, 10 ladies on holiday (as we were called by a Brit we met in the tiny village of Ambra).  Making our way through the region in our rental cars, frequently getting lost and taking wrong turns down one way streets, drinking an embarrassing amount of wine (even for New Orleans standards!) indulging in all of the local culinary specialties, visiting the cultural and historical sites - it was an exhilarating, festive and gluttonous romp across Tuscany.

The day we went to Montalcino was magical for me.  I scheduled a visit to Castello Banfi, explored the fortress on the edge of town while taking in the views of the valley below, ate the best ravioli of my life, spent time with the friendly locals in the piazza during the passagiata, savoring each moment and experience - I somehow knew then that I would be back many times.  I didn’t know how or why that would happen, but Italy had gotten under my skin and seeped into my soul.  

Castello Banfi, Montalcino - First Italy Trip, 2004

Castello Banfi, Montalcino - First Italy Trip, 2004

Here we are 13 years later, and it's still difficult for me to explain my connection with Italy and its people because I don't really understand it myself. All I can say is that there's a sense of comfort that comes over me as soon as I step foot on Italian soil. Their passionate nature helps me focus on what is important, their slower way of living life on what is real. As my wise friend and other Italian brother Vincenzo Fusco once said, "life, there is only one”.

Kerry, Me & Antonio, June 2014 Tuscany Trip

Kerry, Me & Antonio, June 2014 Tuscany Trip

So it seems fitting to do a tasting of Montalcino wines, now 13 years since that first trip with the man who helps fuel my obsession with Italy year after year.  Antonio Molesini and I have been to visit the famous hill town twice together since then and no one knows the region like he does. We hope you will join us in a tasting of wines from one of our favorite places.  

For more information, reservations and tickets, go to Montalcino with Antonio Molesini
 

8 Reasons to Bring Your Jazz Fest Guests to Swirl!

Beth Ribblett

Jazz Fest Central Round 2!
The energy in the neighborhood last week was incredible as we kicked off Jazz Fest 2017 with mostly good weather, amazing music and lots of backyard parties that continued well after the gates had closed.  While we got a little cleansing rain yesterday, it looks like there's beautiful weather on the way. And with that extra day at the Fest on Thursday this week we want to be sure to give you and your out of town guests lots of reasons to stop in to shop for party beverages, check out all of the local art or just have a drink at the bar with friends and neighbors. 

1. Check out one of New Orleans Own Famed Food Trucks -  Arepas, tacos, and the intiguingly named "burri-tacos" are stuffed full of meat, beans, cheese, and general deliciousness can be had from La Cocinita's bright red food truck that parks in front of Swirl every Monday.  Bring your dinner inside Swirl to eat and get your first glass of wine at half price! No reservations required.

2. Wine by Local Producers - People are always looking for "local" wines and we feel these great labels produced by some of our favorite New Orleanians should fit the bill and deliver a whole lot of quality.  We've got James Moises' Oregon Pinot Noir in stock from Oregon a few wines from our friends at Vending Machine Wines in California. Open a bottle in house, take a few home, or we can ship!

3. Refreshing Beverages to Kick off Your Day at the Fest - Join us on Thursday, Friday, Saturday AND Sunday this week from 10:00-1:00 ish for our $4 mimosas, $6 aperol spritz or Erin's special bloody mary! - a Jazz Fest Swirl tradition!
 
4. Great Local Art on the Walls - Check out the really cool New Orleans themed work with local art from Shaun Aleman, Lizano’s Glass Haus and Julia Stefanski! Their original works start at just $20!!

5.  Quality Selection of Wine and Beer - The perfect gift to thank you for hospitality?  Bring them over to pick up a few bottles for the house or sit outside and watch the festers go by while enjoying a glass of wine and a cheese plate.  How about a nice cold rosé to share on the bayou in the evening? The perfect end to a wonderful day at the fest! 

6.  Artisan Cheese, Local Chocolates - A nice selection of imported cheeses, olives, cured meats and local chocolates from Bittersweet confections await!  Cheeses are cut into perfect cheese plate sized chunks and lots of great accouterments available to round out your presentation.

7. Try a Wine Flite at the Bar - What better way to kick off the second weekend of Jazz Fest 2017 than a flight of french rosé? And better yet, what if we poured that beautiful flight out of magnums? Nothing says party quite like a giant refreshing bottle of pink wine! The tasting is from 6-8pm but knowing that some of you can't wait 'til then, we'll be pouring the flight all day! If you do want to come between 6-8pm you may want to make a reservation to secure your spot as we are limiting the flight to 25 people. 

8.  More than 25 Wines by the Glass - Have a drink at the bar or sit outside with a cheese plate and watch the festers go by! And our selection of quality rose' is infamous!  The perfect New Orleans 

Falling Head over Heels for Jean Marc Burgaud Beaujolais...

Beth Ribblett

For those of you who still think Beaujolais is only that fruity, young, usually not very good wine that is released in November each year, these wines will forever change your mind...for those of you who know and appreciate what good Cru Beaujolais is, you can't help but be impressed. Cru Beaujolais is made in the the top 10 villages, each village putting their stamp of terroir on their wines; from the structured Moulin a Vent, dense Morgons, to the elegant Fleuries - these wines can give more quality for the money than Burgundy.

So what makes these 2 wines so special? They are made by Jean Marc Burgaud, a conscientious, talented winemaker who makes extraordinary wine from his 19 hectares of land with the majority being in Morgon's famed Cotes du Py (13ha).  Jean Marc and his wife Christine, both from winemaking families,  have been purchasing very select, prime parcels since starting their winery in 1989 and have grown to 19 hectares with the other 6 in Regnie and Beaujolais Village.

Old vines in the Cote de Py

Old vines in the Cote de Py

The youngest of the vines are 50+ years old and the vineyards have not seen chemicals or non-organic inputs for 10+ years and all work is done by hand and horse.  Jean Marc does high density planting at 10,000 vines per hectare which he feels is extremely important in producing quality gamay.

In the cellar, vinification is by traditional semi-carbonic maceration with varied length – seven days for the Beaujolais Villages and up to 15 days for some of his Morgon parcels in the Côte du Py.  For the majority of his wines he uses cement vats to preserve the Gamay's fruit and florality, but uses 1/4 old barrique for the Côte du Py.

These wines are hard to beat for quality, craftsmanship, age-worthiness and affordability - 4 descriptors you don't always see together in the wine world these days.  When we tasted them in Paris with Thomas Calder last fall they were a "must have" for James, me and Michael and I am thrilled to have them in the store and in my home...

Jean Marc Burgaud

Jean Marc Burgaud

We have 2 of his reds in stock and his Beaujolais Blanc will be on the shelves next week.  All are under $25 and are truly a joy to drink.
-2015 Morgon Les Charmes: "Les Charmes" is an 85-year old vineyard west of Côte du Py in the Cru village of Morgon. Structure and complexity give this wine the ability to age nicely over the next decade. Les Charmes is fresh and alive and right away you notice the ripe, savory flavors that make you want to take another sip. 

Vinous Media, 93 points: 2015 Burgaud Les Charmes - Bright violet. Highly expressive, pure aromas of fresh dark berries, candied flowers and minerals. Sweet, seamless and expansive on the palate, offering concentrated blackberry, cherry and spicecake flavors that show surprising vivacity for their depth. Effortlessly plays power off finesse and finishes very long and sappy, revealing a lingering violet flourish and noteworthy clarity.

- 2015 Morgon Côte du Py: The  Côte du Py is known for producing the deepest, richest and most complex wines of all the 10 Crus in Beaujolais. These are 100 year old Gamay vines on the Côte du Py hill rising above the village of Morgon. Comprised of schist soils this acclaimed slope is known for producing Beaujolais Cru every bit as complex as top Burgundy. This wine is rich, but with that depth comes amazing balance and finesse. The texture is silky and soft showing plushy flavors of black cherry, plum and spice.

Vinous Media, 93 points: 2015 Burgaud Morgon Côte du Py  -Deep ruby. Heady, mineral-tinged blue fruit, spicecake and floral pastille aromas, along with hints of cola and licorice. Sappy, penetrating and sharply focused black raspberry and boysenberry flavors smoothly blend power and delicacy and pick up an allspice nuance as the wine opens up. Closes impressively long and sweet, displaying subtle tannins and echoes of exotic spices and smoky minerals. 

 

What is Grower Champagnes and Why Should I Try It?

Beth Ribblett

In general, those of you who drink Champagne are probably most familiar with the big house negociant names like Veuve Cliquot, Moet Chandon, Taittinger and Perrier Jouet, to name a few.  Those houses produce perfectly delicious wines with fruit that they mainly purchase from small growers throughout the region.  Historically, these Champagne houses have a defined style and flavor profile that they want to maintain year after, bottle after bottle, so that each time you pick up a Veuve Cliquot it tastes the same. Everytime - no matter what happened in the vineyard the year it was bottled.  And there is comfort in that knowledge that wines like Taittinger La Francais will taste as you know it, no matter when, where and how you purchase it.  

Think of grower Champagnes as you do from wine anywhere else in the world - they tend to express the place and the base vintage from where they came.  For instance, you expect a 2013 bottle of Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet to carry the signature of the soils and quality of the vintage; just as you know that purchasing a 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir may wear the signature of the unpredictable rains at harvest.  Grower Champagnes are made by those farmers who sell much of their grapes to the big houses. They keep a portion for themselves to make wine under their own label.  To qualify as a grower or recoltant (vs. a negotiant) they must use a minimum of 95% of fruit from their own vineyards.  Because their sparkling wines are crafted with grapes from specific parcels of land and blended in small lots, they tend to taste very distinct and different every year.

It is a personal choice but sometimes just a habitual one.  If a bottle of Mumm Grand Cru Cramant is sitting beside a bottle of Voirin-Jumel Grand Cru Cramant, chances are you'll go for the more familiar name - and miss out on a delicious grower Champagne.  The trend in the wine world today is moving toward growers and less big house bottlings with the notion that small is better, big is bad.  But as Michael Knisley always says, grower doesn't always mean good!  Eric Asimov did a great New York Times article addressing this issue last month and is an insightful look and this trend and consequences, Big Can be Beautiful.  

At Swirl, we recognize the value of both and carry a mix of big house negociants and small growers.  My personal preference tends toward grower Champagnes, but I thoroughly enjoy a well made, quality wine from any producer.

Winemaker Patrick Reuter's Active Imagination

Beth Ribblett

Patrick Reuter's "Imagination Series" label

Patrick Reuter's "Imagination Series" label

Each time I travel to Oregon there is always a long list of wineries to visit.  So much beautiful wine in such a compact area! But there is one guy (besides James Moises!) that I taste with every time I'm there - Patrick Reuter at Dominio IV. With so much talent in the Willamette Valley, what is it about Patrick and his wines that draw me in?  When you spend time with him in the winery, weaving your way through plastic bins full of fermenting grape juice, listening to him talk about his approach to making wine, you can't help but sense the philosophical entanglement of his work and life as he seems to do both with the same intensity creativity, and passion. His wines embody his spirit - bold, adventurous, uncompromising, unforgettable and sometimes a little crazy... 

Tank tasting Patrick's "Inverse", Viognier with a touch of Syrah

Tank tasting Patrick's "Inverse", Viognier with a touch of Syrah

Located in an old granary on the edge of McMinnville, Dominio IV was started in by Patrick and his wife Leigh Bartholomew, who was also the vineyard manager at Archery Summit for 13 years.  They bought land in Mosier Oregon (Columbia Gorge) with Leigh's parents in 2002, planting Viognier, Syrah and Tempranillo in their now certified biodynamic Three Sleeps Vineyard.  But knowing all of the Oregon wine jobs were in the Willamette Valley, they've based their operations in McMinnville where they source biodynamic and organic fruit from Moe and Flora Momtazi in McMinnville, the Stermer Vineyards, owned by the Lemelson family in Dundee and Bella Vida in Dundee.   

Dominio IV is housed in an old granary on the edge of McMinnville

Dominio IV is housed in an old granary on the edge of McMinnville

If you've ever picked up any bottle of wine made by Patrick, you figure out pretty quickly that this is no ordinary guy. The front of his beautifully stylized labels are accompanied by fantastical names like "Loves Lies Bleeding", "A Penny for a Lily" or "Rain on Leaves", and turning to the back label, you find Patrick's poetry. His "Sketches of Spain" Tempranillo grown in his biodynamic vineyard reads, “The summer winds blow like Miles’ across the vineyard’s face. In the beat of the long days, you can find the sun buried within the vineyard’s skin. It grows fresh and green. Rolling in the breeze, it grows Tempranillo. Beneath the soil the roots drum up jazz notes staccato and velvet while whispering memories of Spain.”  This is a guy who is obviously into what he does and how he does it.

Tank tasting with Patrick during our "Artisan Oregon" 2013 trip

Tank tasting with Patrick during our "Artisan Oregon" 2013 trip

His "Imagination Series" of wines and labels developed from Patrick's unique method of taking tasting notes. A system of wine observation and notation that he calls "shape tasting" is an artistic expression of what is happening on a sensory level as he tastes the wine.  Using watercolors and pencils, Reuter had a fully fledged system for sketching and painting his impressions of wines. Arrows signify acidity, while dots and rocky shapes represent tannins. Colorful circles are juicy fruit notes; half-moons are fruit that drops off at the finish; puddles are overripe fruit. Individual works of art, these labels truly express Patrick's interpretation of the wine's aromatics, flavors and textures.

We are excited to have Patrick join us on Wednesday, November 16 at 6pm for a tasting of his Imagination Series wines.  Seating is limited and reservations are highly recommended! The lineup will include the following and maybe a lagniappe Pinot!  Register here: Imagination Series

Dominio IV, Columbia Gorge Spellbound Imagination 7 Three Sleeps Vineyard 2013
Dominio IV, Chardonnay Imagination Series 9  2014
Dominio IV, Imagination Series 11 Inverse 2015
Dominio IV, Columbia Gorge Imagination No. 1 2012

Something to Crow About

Beth Ribblett

rooster2.jpg

Of course I first heard the story of the black rooster, the internationally known symbol of Chianti, from Antonio Molesini.  A native of Tuscany, Antonio's version is one I will never forget and those of you who know him understand the comical nature of his story telling.  The Black Rooster symbol is a huge source of pride for locals and it's origin is the stuff legends are made from.

It came down to a horse race.  In the Middle Ages, the constant feuding between Siena and Florence made the area between them (now Chianti Classico) a continual battle zone.  Finally coming to an agreement that the fighting over the land must end they decided to hold a horse race with a rider coming from each Florence and Siena and the spot where the two met would define the borders of each of the republics.

Well being the Middle Ages, there was no way of communicating over that 35 mile distance when the race would begin.   So they decided that the riders would set out at dawn and the signal for the race to begin would be the crowing of a rooster announcing the new day. The Senesi chose a white rooster while the Florentines a black one.  Of course, it wouldn't be a legend without a little trickery and those crafty Florentines decided to keep their bird hungry in a small covered cage. On the long-awaited day of the race, the famished rooster began to crow loudly as soon as it was removed from its pen, although it was still some time before dawn. The galloping rider from Florence got a big head start, covering  a lot of ground while the rider from Siena was still awaiting his rooster to crow at first light.  Needless to say, the Florentine rider met the horseman from Siena just 7 miles outside of the city near the castle of Fonterutoli and as a result, the majority of the territory came into the hands of the Republic of Florence.

After that legendary horse race, that starving Black Rooster became the symbol of the League of Chianti within the Republic of Florence and it has been immortalized on every bottle of Chianti Classico since!

Monday Morning Wine Briefing: August 14, 2016

Beth Ribblett

I asked the staff this morning for a quick answer on their favorite rosé in store right now. Answers are listed in the order they were received :)  Buy any 3 and get a 10% discount!

Casey:  Kir-Yianni Akakies Sparkling Rosé 2013 - "The 2013 Rose Akakies is 100% Xinomavro and dry. This has tons of great fruit this year, but in its youth it is the power and acidity that come to the foreground. xinomavro can be a great base for a pink, a grape that can add acidity and complexity. Kir-Yianni typically does it quite well. This is firing on all burners, right down to the crisp finish with tension, grip and some complexity of flavor. In its youth, it's a beauty and a very nice bargain, too. It may not be everyone's "typical" pink, though, if you're thinking "sweet and soft." It's time to give this fine pink some props. It has certainly shown its stuff." RP 90 points

Kimi: Domaines Bunan, Bandol Rosé 2015 - The Bunan family have quietly become the single largest proprietors in the increasingly well-regarded appellation of Bandol. The wines – across the board – show a respect for tradition but also an openness to change. Their vineyards are now certified organic and they have begun the process of bio-dynamic conversion.  Clean, luscious, with classic Côtes e Provence aromas of soft summer fruits and violets. The palate is elegantly fresh and tangy, with touches of mineral and citrus.

Erin: Bodegas Larchago Rioja Rosé 2015 - We had so much fun with owner/winemaker Javier Chavarri and his wife Maria when we did a tasting with them earlier in the year.  At that time his rosé was not yet released, but he was very excited about the 2015 vintage.  All you have to do is taste it to know why! Great aromatics of strawberry and raspberry, rich on the palate but with a clean, minerally finish.  

Clare:  Château Puech Haut, Coteaux du Languedoc Prestige Rosé 2015 - "The entry-level Rosé is the 2015 Languedoc Cuvee Prestige Rose, and it continues to be a sensational value. Made from 60% Grenache and 40% Cinsault, it’s light pink color is followed by perfumed notes of strawberries, orange blossom and spring flowers. Juicy, clean and refreshing, yet with texture, buy a case of this." RP 90-92 points

Kerry: Domaine François Millet Sancerre Pinot Noir Rosé 2015 - From a small family estate in the Loire.  100% Pinot Noir - Pure and clean (as a Sancerre should be!) with red berries and citrus. Precise and elegant; fresh and thirst-quenching. Delightful on a hot summer day!

Beth: Domaine de Fondrèche Ventoux Rosé 2015 - A store favorite for 3 years running!  "Very pale orange-pink. Powerful, mineral-tinged aromas of blood orange and red currant are complemented by a suave floral element. Concentrated red berry and orange zest flavors are sharpened by a white pepper note that adds back-end spiciness. Quite lithe for its depth of flavor; finishes stony, floral and long, carrying a subtle echo of bitter cherry." VM 90 points

90 + Rated Wines, You be the Judge!

Beth Ribblett

Tank Tasting Domaine Tempier, June 2016

Tank Tasting Domaine Tempier, June 2016

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, wine scores sell wine. They are used as marketing tools when the ratings are high and can kill a wine if they’re low. By their very nature, wine ratings are subjective. Really, what is the difference between a Wine Spectator score of 90 and a Wine Advocate score of 89? Or better yet, a Wine Spectator score of 82 and a Wine Advocate score of 90 on the same wine? A function of advertising dollars, perhaps? So how did this business, and a lucrative business it is, get started?

Ratings were not really part of the wine world before 1978. If they used any scoring system at all, critics in both the United States and abroad tended to use a simple 5-point system. Enter Robert M. Parker Jr. a lawyer turned self-employed wine critic who introduced the 100-point system to the wine world in 1978 when he started a wine buying guide called The Wine Advocate, published every two months.

Easy to comprehend, consumers embraced the 100-point rating system immediately. Under his system, a 96 to 100 is an extraordinary wine, 90 to 95 is excellent, and 80 to 89 is above average to very good. To avoid being influenced by the name or reputation of a winery, Mr. Parker tasted batches of wine together, slipping the bottles into individual paper bags and then mixing them up and rating each one.

His system grew in popularity and “Parker Points” started being used as marketing tools by wine retailers. As others began to see the value of such a simple yet effective system, they adopted similar scales. Enter Wine Spectator who in the mid-1980’s introduced their own 100-point scale to market their publication, while others followed over the next 10 years as both Wine & Spirits and Wine Enthusiast adopted the 100-point systems in the mid-1990’s.

One of the most respected reviewers, Stephen Tanzer, began his International Wine Cellar publication in 1985.  While Tanzer used Parker's 100 point system, he had a reputation for choosing finesse over power; the opposite of Parker's palate which tended toward full bodied, warm climate wines. His reviews were precise and to the point, without all of Parker's flamboyant style, and over the years he developed a reputation for being stingy with big scores.  Tanzer has recently joined forces with Antonio Galloni, previously a wine reviewer for Robert Parker, and in my opinion, they have created one of the most dynamic platforms for in-depth information on the wine regions of the world, Vinous Media.  Vinous began in 2013 and offers its users an interactive experience using video, maps, photos, interviews, stories and of course, professional wine reviews.

All of these publications and websites can have a major influence on retail sales. On the positive side, ratings can give novice wine tasters an objective way to judge wines. On the negative side, ratings have become influential enough to cause wineries to rise and fall on the strength of their published ratings. A very high rating from a respected rating authority can result in a rapid sellout of a particular wine while leaving another high quality wine without a rating, collecting dust on the shelves.

What you need to keep in mind about all of this is that rating wine is absolutely subjective. The points (and even the tasting notes) written of a particular wine are the opinions of the reviewer and reflect the rater’s own tastes, biases, and preferences. In the end, it’s not my opinion or Mr. Parker’s or the Wine Spectator that matters, it’s how you feel about a wine and the enjoyment it brings you that really counts.

We are doing a 2-part tasting series of 90+ rated wines from various “respected” wine critics for our Wednesday flights over the next 2 weeks. This week we'll focus on Europe; a French rosé (92 points), a Greek white (94 points), a Brunello (92 points) and a Priorat (95 points) . Next week we'll feature 4 domestic 90+ wines.  We’d like you to be the judge and let us know what you think of the wines on the 100-point scale. The flight is $15 and no reservations are required, 6-8pm.  If you can't make it during that time, we will be happy to pour you the flight at any time on Wednesday. 

Your Monday Morning Wine Briefing

Beth Ribblett

Much better than a Monday morning news briefing!

Much better than a Monday morning news briefing!

Here's what you need to know:
I asked the staff this morning for a quick answer on their favorite wines in the store right now. 

Kimi - Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Blanc 2014: Take one of the Loire Valley's leading white varieties Chenin Blanc and plant it in the region's most exalted red appellation, Chinon (most commonly 100% Cabernet Franc) and you have a wine that is quite out of the ordinary; white Chinon. This variety accounts for no more than 2% of the appellation's production - about 16000 cases each year, divided between dozens of different domaines. These wines can be hard to find even when visiting Chinon, as good growers sell out quickly. $24.50 NYR

Clare - Castello di Pomino 2014 Chardonnay Pomino Bianco: "The 2014 Chardonnay Pomino Bianco is pretty, aromatic and nicely lifted in the glass, with plenty of bright citrus and white floral notes. This delicate, aromatic Chardonnay-based blend is easily one of the better 2014 Tuscan whites readers will find. Drink it over the next 2-3 years. Pomino Bianco is mostly Chardonnay, with a dollop of Pinot Bianco and a handful of other varieties." $16.99, VM 90 points

Casey - Roux Pere et Fils Gevrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes 2011:
"A juicy style, with cherry, raspberry, tea, and spice flavors and a mineral element lurking underneath. This is solid, turning more compact on the finish. Best from 2015 through 2016." $35.99, WS 91pts 

Erin - Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2010: "A ripe and juicy red with dried berry and green coffee bean character. Full body, fresh acidity and a juicy finish. A blend of corvina and rondinella." $20.99, RP 90 pts

Beth - Calabretta Nerello Mascalese Vigne Vecchie 2006 - Fantastic representation of an Etna red with a little age! The vines for this wine come from a seven-hectare vineyard on the slopes of Mount Etna. Average age of the vineyards is between 60-80 years with some plants over 100 years old, some ungrafted--on original root stock. This vintage is a blend of nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio. The winery practices organic farming in black volcanic, stony soil at an elevation of 750 meters. super! $29.99

Kerry - Eric Rodez NV Cuvée des Crayeres Ambonnay Grand Cru Brut: "Light yellow-gold. Aromas of Poire William, white flowers and honey are lifted by a zesty mineral topnote. Fleshy and dry on the palate, offering very good lift and clarity to its bitter quince and peach pit flavors. Closes on an emphatic, sharply focused mineral note, with firm grip and spicy persistence." $59.99, VM 91 pts

Gone Fishing! 5 Staff Picks, Seafood Pairing Suggestions & Recipes

Beth Ribblett

Fresh caught Dorade in Cassis - Provence Trip, June 2016

Fresh caught Dorade in Cassis - Provence Trip, June 2016

As much as I love our time in Tuscany each year, I have to say the meat-centric cuisine can be a bit much after a week of non-stop indulgences.  But who can turn down Bistecca Fiorentina, Ragu di Cinghiale, Prosciutto di Toscano or Salsiccia di Maiale when it is oh so fresh and placed in front of you by enthusiastic Italians shouting "mangia! mangia!"?  Needless to say, I was ready to lighten up my diet when we returned so I thought I'd check in with the staff and ask what they are eating and drinking lately.

Kimi's pick and a staff favorite!

Kimi's pick and a staff favorite!

Kimi has a secret source for an abundance of freshly caught fish through a guy known only to us as the "food fairy".  One of her favorite preparations is fish crudo.  Crudo, “raw” in Italian, is the way Italians eat their fresh, uncooked fish: thinly sliced and drizzled with olive oil, an acid (vinegar or citrus) and accented with seasonings.  The key is to good crudo is simple - use only high-quality, ultrafresh seafood and the best olive oil and produce available.  Her top pairing? One of our favorite Greek wines, the Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini 2015.  And here's a quick, simple classic crudo recipe:  Tuna Crudo with Lemon

When Erin does seafood she's does it right!

When Erin does seafood she's does it right!

Erin admits that her rural Midwestern upbringing did not include much fish and it’s not something she cooks often.  However good char-grilled oysters can tempt even this meat and potatoes girl, especially when paired with a nice white Burgundy. And if she’s going to do it, Erin is going to splurge with her pairing – Chateau de Meursault 2013 Meursault.  And if you are going to make them, you can't go wrong with the recipe from Dragos! Drago's Charbroiled Oysters Recipe

Quintessential Mediterranean white at an amazing price!

Quintessential Mediterranean white at an amazing price!

Casey has a soft spot for sardines and loves doing a traditional pasta recipe with lemon, capers and breadcrumbs.  Good canned sardines will work but if you can get your hands on some fresh ones and put them on the grill, you’ll  push your food and wine experience up several notches!  He loves a good Mediterranean coastal white and the Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino 2015 is a top pick.  Chef/author Mark Bittman's recipe is southern Italian staple:  Pasta & Sardines

Cassis Blanc is hard to come by here in New Orleans, and we are very excited to have this in stock!

Cassis Blanc is hard to come by here in New Orleans, and we are very excited to have this in stock!

Kerry and I eat a lot of fish during the summer and each have our own go-to preparations.  My favorite of Kerry’s is a  lightly fried local drum with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a little parsley – about as simple as it gets.  I just picked up a few filets at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday and in anticipation of our Sunday dinner, there's a bottle of the 2013 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Blanc chilling in the fridge.  I’m hoping it will transport us back to that lovely lunch a few weeks ago on the coast in Provence… here's a link to her recipe, plus an almond butter sauce if you want something a bit more complex.  But if you do, I'd change the pairing to the La Scolca Gavi!  - 2 Pairings with Gulf Coast Drum

Clare gave us the most thoughtful answer when I posed the question and since many of you may not know her I thought I’d publish her complete response and share her excitement about food and wine pairing.

“Last week I had a friend over for dinner. Since we had so much to catch up on and it’s been so hot we wanted to keep it casual yet delicious and use what was in season. Shrimp are beautiful this time of year and pair perfectly with a crisp clean Chablis like the Willam Fevre Champs Royaux 2014. We made fresh boiled shrimp salad on a brioche bun with arugula and a side of cold root vegetable salad with fresh dill. 

The buttery shrimp on the sweet brioche bread and the slight spice of the arugula were a great combination with Chablis which brought out the richness and cut the fat without overpowering the delicate flavors of the sandwich. It also held its own and didn't get lost in the bold flavors of the root salad. The best part of this pairing for me was that the wine tasted different yet still paired well when
tasted separately with the sandwich and the salad, even on its own for that matter. It's such a fun adventure to explore wine and taste how they change with different foods.

Everything about this meal is made for the hot slow days of summer- not much time standing over the stove, everything is chilled, can be made ahead of time and can be served leisurely. I highly recommend. The meal is a bit of a splurge, but everything holds well and leftovers are great, so buy two bottles of Chablis to enjoy again the next night!”

So there you have it!  I hope you'll experiment for some new recipes and new wines to help get you through this hot, humid New Orleans summer!

Two Great Pairings with Fresh Gulf Coast Drum

Beth Ribblett

When thinking about food and wine pairing, the goal is for the subtle nuances of the wine to compliment the predominant flavors in the food. So as I was deciding what to pair the with La Scolca Gavi, I went with one of the distinct characteristics of the wine, which is an almond undertone, and decided to go for a simple Gulf Coast Drum with Almond and Butter Sauce. The richness of the butter and almonds with the light, tangy lemon is the perfect pairing with the medium, sometimes almost oily texture of Gavi. Add some delicious Gulf Coast fish and you have a quick easy recipe that can be pulled together in about 15 minutes.

If you want to keep things even more simple, just saute the fish and serve with a squeeze of lemon and some fresh parsley.  But we'll need to change the wine to something a bitter lighter but with enough body to hold up to fried food.  The Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Blanc is a favorite pairing of mine with freshly caught fried fish.

SERVES 6
The fish:

* 2 lbs of fresh Gulf Coast Drum
* 1/2 cup seasoned flour (1/2 t. mixed salt and pepper)
* olive oil or neutral frying oil

Dredge fish fillets in seasoned flour.

Pour olive oil into a large skillet until you have about 1/4 inch of oil in the pan. Heat on a medium flame; add fillets.

Saute quickly on both sides until lightly browned; do not over cook. Place fish on a heated platter.

The Sauce:
Makes 3/4 cup
Ingredients

* 1/2 cup butter
* 2/3 cup (2 ounces) sliced almonds
* 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preparation

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add almonds; sauté 2 to 4 minutes until golden brown. (Do not overcook or butter will burn.) Stir in lemon juice and parsley. Serve immediately.

Serve with a nicely chilled glass of La Scolca Gavi!

The Heart and Soul of Bandol, Domaine Tempier

Beth Ribblett

The impressive bottle lineup for our tasting.

The impressive bottle lineup for our tasting.

Today's tour and tasting at Domaine Tempier in Bandol gets put on our short list of truly special visits. Greeted by family member Véronique Peyraud Rougeot, we spent hours barrel and tank tasting the young wines, comparing all of the 2013 single vineyard reds, trying their Bandol Blanc and current vintage rosé, walking around the beautiful property while hearing stories of her famous mother Lulu, father Lucien, and the rest of her close knit family.

The original family home built in the 1800's

The original family home built in the 1800's

View at Domaine Tempier of the cinsault vineyards, looking towards the sea.

View at Domaine Tempier of the cinsault vineyards, looking towards the sea.

Lulu inherited Domaine Tempier from her father Alphonse Tempier in 1940. Originally the wine produced there was sold in bulk and the majority of the land was planted with peach orchards.  But when Lulu and husband Lucien took over the property  they wanted to focus on quality - Bandol had just received its AOC status in 1941 and there was much excitement about the future of the region. Soon after, in 1942, Lucien bottled his first wine, the Domaine Tempier AOC Rosé Bandol.

Over time their holdings grew with the purchase of remarkable vineyard sites around the region, most of which can be seen from the property; first with the purchase of la Migoua, followed by La Tourtine and Cabassaou.  From La Tourtine Lucien created his first red Bandol in 1951.  Their total acreage is now 38 hectares spread over several parcels facing the sea on steep, sun-drenched slopes and they produce roughly 10,000 total cases of wine per year.

An old pine tree on the property providing shade for many a meal and celebration.

An old pine tree on the property providing shade for many a meal and celebration.

Lucien and Lulu toasting under that beautiful pine tree.

Lucien and Lulu toasting under that beautiful pine tree.

The estate is known worldwide for producing some of the highest quality Bandol wines and the family is known for their hard work, generosity and high standards. Lucien helped to shape the production standards of the region and pushed hard for a higher inclusion of Mouvedre.  In 1945, he was elected chairman of the Bandol winegrowers’ syndicate, and in 1947 he became a member of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine), the French AOC regulatory body. Original documents stated only 10% of the blend needed to be in the mix but knowing the quality potential of the grape, he fought for more.  Lucien's persistence raised the percentages to 20, then 30 and now today's Bandol Rouge must contain at least 50% Mourvedre.

The old vine Mourvedre , the signature grape of the region

The old vine Mourvedre , the signature grape of the region

While Lucien was gaining fame as a producer, Lula was known for her love of Provencal cuisine.  Any press you read about Domaine Tempier contains as much about Lulu's cooking as it does the famous wines.  I first read about her in a recent Saveur article where her food is described as "Simply put, Lulu's food embodies the best of French home cooking, marked by Provençal simplicity and elegant restraint."  We were happy to see the cookbooks for sale at the Domaine and Veronique asked if we wanted her mother, now 99 years old, to sign our books. Well of course!  What a special treat!  I've listed one of her recipes at the end of this post.

When we had finished our tasting Veronique asked me if we would like to taste an older vintage rosé. My eager "yes please!" sent her off to a back room and after some time she emerged with a dusty bottle of 1999 Rosé that was simply incredible. Vibrant acidity, the telltale salinity with the dusty, honeyed, rose petal aromatics - it was a fantastic example of the aging potential of a well made Bandol Rosé.

Tank tasting of 2014 Bandol rouge with Veronique.

Tank tasting of 2014 Bandol rouge with Veronique.

Tank tasting of 2014 Bandol Rouge "Tourtin", one of their 3 single vineyard reds.

Tank tasting of 2014 Bandol Rouge "Tourtin", one of their 3 single vineyard reds.

The barrel & foudre cellar.

The barrel & foudre cellar.

As we emerged from the cool cellar into the warm windy Provence day, we all felt like fast friends of Veronique and her family. The connection they have to the land of southern France, their passion for what they do and the warmhearted way in which they embrace and welcome outsiders makes for a touching and very special visit. Thank you Veronique, you've made us fans for life! And oh, yes we loved the wine as well! :)

The biggest treat of the afternoon!

The biggest treat of the afternoon!

Thank you Veronique!

Thank you Veronique!

Lulu's Tapenade Recipe

Most every restaurant we visit here in Provence brings you a small complimentary bowl of their house olive tapenade, spread on toasts it is lovely with the local rosé.  Here is Lulu's version that the book states is "one of the trademark Tempier appestisers".

Tapenade
from Lulu's Provencal Table

Ingredients

1 garlic clove, peeled and pounded to a paste with a pinch of coarse salt
Small pinch of cayenne
1⁄2 lb large Greek-style black olives, pitted
3 T. capers
1 tsp. chopped young fresh savory leaves or pinch or crumble dry savory leaves
4 salt anchovy fillets or 2 whole anchovies, well rinsed and chopped
4 T. extra-virgin olive oil

In a food processor, reduce the olives, anchovies, capers, garlic, cayenne and savory to a coarse purée.  Add the olive oil and process only until the mixture is homogeneous-a couple of rapid whirls. 

Bon Appetite!
 

Cacio e Pepe, A Roman Classic

Beth Ribblett

Every trip to Rome should include a plate of Cacio e Pepe!

Every trip to Rome should include a plate of Cacio e Pepe!

In anticipation of our upcoming trip to Rome, I cooked a simple, classic pasta dish last night for friends.  Inspired by Katie Parla's cookbook, Tasting Rome, I wanted to make something quick but unmistakably Roman and Cacio e Pepe was the perfect dish.

Loving the food culture and history of Rome, I bought this cookbook recently after reading a few reviews and was not disappointed!  Katie Parla and photographer Kristina Gill capture Rome's unique character and truly evolved food culture - a culmination of two thousand years of history!

Many recipes for Cacio e Pepe call for Parmigiano cheese, but really there is no substitute for freshly grated Pecorino Romano.  This sheep's milk cheese has been made in the region since ancient times and it is what gives this dish it's unique tangy bite!

From Katie Parla's "Tasting Rome":

Ingredient List
Sea salt
1 pound spaghetti or tonnarelli (I used Bucatini)
2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Instructions
SERVINGS: 4 to 6

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1½ cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a small ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste.

When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a juicy sauce that completely coats the pasta.

Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, close your eyes and picture yourself outside sitting around the Campo di Fiori in Rome...

 

 

 

Temperature Matters

Beth Ribblett

Serving wine at the proper temperature is something we all struggle with here in New Orleans.  It's really an issue in the US in general; we drink our reds too warm and our whites too cold.  Especially here in the sub tropics - our reds suffer severely from the idea that they are best served at "room temperature".

The crayeres, underground cellars at Taittinger that keep the wine at the perfect temperature

The crayeres, underground cellars at Taittinger that keep the wine at the perfect temperature

The whole room temperature red wine thing came out of Europe where those lovely stone castles and chateau, lacking in central heat,  remain a constant 60 some degrees. Then there are those cool underground cellars at where their whites rest at a perfect 55 degrees.  That is a far cry from our poorly insulated below sea level homes in our stifling humidity and 90+ degree temperatures!

So what's the big deal?  What does it really matter what temperature you serve your wines?  I guess that all depends on the drinking experience you are looking to have.  If your goal is to guzzle down a big high alcohol red so you can get a quick buzz to start your weekend, then chances are you don't really care how it's showing.  But if you really want to experience a wine at it's best, temperature matters.

When we pour a white wine directly from our frosty 35 degree refrigerators to our glass, the aromatics and flavors are suppressed. The cold brings out greater astringency, which means the wine can taste sharp and tart.  And our room temperature average of 72 degrees for reds?  They lose all their finesse and freshness to an overpowering sensation of alcohol and tannin.  They're flabby, out of balance and not as enjoyable as they could be with a little help.

But you don't need to have a fancy wine cellar to serve/drink your wines at the proper temperature, just practice the 20/20 rule.  If you store white wine in the refrigerator, take it out 20 minutes before you want to pour it. To cool down reds put them in the frig for 20 minutes before serving.  That’s all it takes.

Kerry is more of a stickler about the red wine thing than I am - I'm usually impatient and just want a glass of wine.  Sometimes I think she waits too long and the wine gets too cold!  With whites, I like them a bit warmer, Kerry- super cold! So to help us both out, I got these little wine bottle digital temperature cuffs. You put them on a bottle, give it a few minutes and it reads the temperature of the bottle.  

So I  put one of the digital thermometers ($16 at swirl) on a bottle that is down in the dark corner where we store our wine at home and got this: 72 degrees.  Upstairs in the kitchen while we are making dinner? Yikes! 75 degrees! In the fridge 20 minutes? A perfect 63!  

Here's what we should be shooting for:  Typical temperature for serving red wine ranges from 52ºF - 65ºF, and 45ºF- 50ºF for white wines.  If you really want to get picky about this, there are different temperature suggestions for different varieties (see chart above).  But I think if we just shoot for the averages for now, we'll all be happier wine drinkers!  

Cheers!

 

Tuscan Vin Santo, A Heavenly Wine

Beth Ribblett

Vin Santo or “holy wine” is produced in a few different Italian wine regions and in fact, Greece, but it’s most famous expression comes from Tuscany.  As with many things in Italy there are lots of tales around how it got its name but whatever the origin the wine dates back to the middle ages and is no doubt heavenly and the perfect end to a nice Italian meal.  

Vin Santo can range from being dry, off dry or on the sweeter side depending on the producer and the vintage. From large producers to small “fattoria” or farms, many people make it although much of it never gets exported but saved for special guests and holidays. The good stuff can be on the pricey side as it goes through a lengthy aging process before it ever literally sees the light of day, which is one of the reasons they are hard to come by.  

And also as with many things Italian, the details are in the process.  In Tuscany Vin Santo is usually made with ripe grapes of the local Trebbiano or Malvasia as the usual suspects. Grapes are picked and left to dry on mats (or hung from the rafters) for a few months before being pressed—the sugar in the grapes concentrates as they slowly turn into raisins. The juice is then fermented and aged for up to ten years in small cigar-shaped small chestnut barrels called “caratelli,” with a starter or “madre” of residue from the previous year’s Vin Santo added to provide a yeast boost.  The barrels are not completely full which exposes the wine to air, giving it its oxidized character and color.

When ready, Vin Santo is rich and golden, sometimes more amber, and viscous, with a scent of apricots and a smooth taste of caramel and nuts. The nutty notes are what make the sweeter Vin Santo perfect with cantuccini - these Tuscan almond biscuits are dunked in the wine, which they soak up beautifully. 


We have 2 in the store right now and it’s hard for me to decide which I enjoy more.  But thankfully I don’t really need to choose :)  Here’s a little about each of them and we’ll be featuring one of these at the bar on February 24 if you’d like to finish with something a little sweet after our Northern Italian Flight with Linda Smith.

Castellare 2007 Vin Santo San Niccolò, Vinous Media 92 points
Readers who like traditional Vin Santo will adore Castellare's 2007 San Niccolo. Almonds, orange peel, cinnamon, mint and leather all meld together in a relatively mid-weight, dry Vin Santo loaded with personality. The 2007 possesses gorgeous inner perfume and texture, yet remains light on its feet and totally classy. When I think of great traditional Vin Santos, Castellare is among the very best. 

Badia a Coltibuono 2008 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, Vinous Media 91 points
Badia a Coltibuono's 2008 Vin Santo is laced with warm, nutty overtones typical of Vin Santo made with white grapes, in this case a blend of equal parts Trebbiano and Malvasia. High-toned aromatics develop in the glass, along with hints of apricot jam, candied orange peel and floral honey. Drink this bright Vin Santo over the next decade or so.

Message from Michael, Champagne Education Series Round 2!

Beth Ribblett

A heartfelt “Merci!” to all of you who attended my series of tastings at Swirl last year.  I hope you had even a fraction of the fun and enjoyment that I had spending those evenings with you, exploring the best wine in the world.  And, I hope you’re ready to do it again!  We’ll of course start at the very beginning - a refresher course (with different wines) for those who attended last year, in order to get new tasters up to speed with the complexity of champagne.  As the ongoing exploration of terroir by the champenois vignerons is what makes this a vital, dynamic wine region today, we will take a guided tour of the various sub-regions of the Champagne appellation.  By the end, I hope you will have a deeper understanding of how the climate, soil, and grapes, via the decisions and talents of the winemakers, give rise to the immensely intriguing and satisfying array of wines we call champagne.
-Michael

Each single class is limited to 20 people and will be accompanied by various cheeses and snacks, cost is $45/class.  You can guarantee your spot for all 5 classes and receive a 10% discount by prepaying, cost is $202 and you can do so here or register for the individual sessions:

Advance Payment Champagne Education Series, $202

Individual sessions:

Session 1:  “Champagne 101 v2.0”, February 16, 6:30pm, $45
Champagne is wine first and foremost.  But, it is also the most complex category out there.  Because of this, it is often misunderstood, overlooked, and “relegated” to celebratory occasions rather than being enjoyed on its own merits as a wine.  This overview of the basic styles of champagne will help you understand why this is such a special type of wine, make sense of the complexity of its production and styles, and appreciate why it shouldn’t just be served for special occasions.
  
Session 2: “Cotes des Blancs”, March 15, 6:30 pm, $45
Small but mighty.  Tonight we dive into a relatively compact sub-region within the Champagne appellation, one whose strength and importance is driven almost exclusively by Chardonnay.  The chalk is close to the surface yet goes very deep, and the wines derive a distinct power from this soil.  Even within this, there are differences in the expression of the grape from village to village.  We’ll explore a range of styles, to help you understand the region as well as the different tastes that Chardonnay gives us.  

Session 3: “Montagne de Reims”, May 19, 6:30 pm, $45
Not only will this Montagne redefine what one thinks of as a “mountain”, it will expand your understanding of Pinot Noir, which finds unique, superb expressions here in the heart of Champagne.  Though chalk underlies it all, as in the rest of Champagne, the vineyards face all directions of the compass and the wines accordingly offer varied examples of what is possible within the region.  It isn’t all Pinot Noir, though, and the Chardonnay here provides its own unique flavors.  Your thirst for knowledge will definitely be quenched after you climb the Montagne with us.

Session 4:  “Vallee de la Marne”, June 23, 6:30 pm, $45
An unassuming yet crucial part of Champagne, this is where the unheralded Pinot Meunier flourishes.  The varied landscape and soil types provide a very broad array of flavors and styles.  Though largely removed from the Grand Cru villages of the Cotes des Blancs and Montagne de Reims, the wines are nonetheless delicious and well-made.  It isn’t all Pinot Meunier, however - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir certainly appear, though show different sides in this region.  You’ve been drinking wine comprised in part from this region most any time you’ve opened a bottle from a larger producer.  This tasting will let you separate these wines out and appreciate the role they play in the classic blends of champagne.

Session 5: “The Aube Revolution”, July 14, 6:30 pm, $45
Though it is definitely not the case anymore, the southern reaches of the Champagne region were neglected for a long time.  There were very destructive riots in the early 1900s, staged by the growers from this region, in order to be made part of the official appellation.  This rebellious, independent spirit can still be found in the winemaking today.  Not as bound by the traditions of the rest of the region (yet still within the parameters of champagne production), and benefitting from soil that has more in common with Burgundy (immediately to the south), the winemakers here are exploring terroir and providing us with great new ways to experience what it is possible to produce within the larger appellation.  Pinot Noir does particularly well in these parts and these producers are giving us new ways of looking at its role in champagne.  And, as this tasting falls on Bastille Day, you might even get to see a little sabrage - “off with its head”, indeed.  

Each single class is limited to 20 people and will be accompanied by various cheeses and snacks, cost is $45/class.  You can guarantee your spot for all 5 classes and receive a 10% discount by prepaying, cost is $202 and you can do so here or register for the individual sessions:

Advance Payment Champagne Education Series, $202

 





 

The Somm's Pick Dining Club

Beth Ribblett

The Dryades Public Market, the first stop for our new series, The Somm's Pick Dining Club

The Dryades Public Market, the first stop for our new series, The Somm's Pick Dining Club

Our crazy popular Somm's Pick program last year introduced you to some of our city's hardworking somms while you learned a bit about what they do and how they do it.   You discovered that blind tasting can be fun and intimidating at the same time and you got to hone your personal skills with the Court of Master Sommeliers tasting grid.  You had the opportunity to taste with them and purchase exclusive wines that they felt were some of the most exciting in the market.  

But Besides selecting and tasting interesting wines for their respective workplaces, one of a somms most important jobs is food and wine pairing.  Because for many of us,  the ultimate wine experience is that "ah ha" moment when a food and a wine work so well together that neither is as interesting or compelling without the other.  So, I thought it would add a different educational aspect to the program if I could bring you to them for a unique pairing and learning opportunity.

Enter "The Somm's Pick Dining Club", a way to take you far beyond the basic rules of red wine with red meat, white wine with fish and into another realm of the dining experience. We'll team up some of our favorite somms with our favorite chefs, offering 3-4 courses paired with interesting wines in an educational setting.  What makes one wine work and another not?  What reds can I pair with fish and why?  How can I use Champagne or sparkling wine as a compliment to food instead of just a celebratory beverage?  What foods can I serve with a highly tannic wine?  Is my favorite oaky chardonnay a the best choice for dinner?  We'll walk you through all of those answers and more.

So here's how it will work: we'll meet at a local restaurant where a somm and a chef have worked on creative pairings, 3-4 courses.  The somm will present the wines and discuss the how's and why's of pairing each course as the chef discusses the challenges presented with the selected wines.

I'm very excited to announce that our first dinner club meeting will be on Tuesday, January 26th at the newly opened Dryades Public Market with Chef Dan Esses and Sommelier Michelle Gueydan.  Dan and I have worked together countless times on events and dinners and he has generously offered to kick off our series with a 4-course pairing event for $65, all inclusive. As before, the members of the Somm's Pick Buyers Club gets first pick of the 25 spots that will be available for the event and the remaining spots will be offered to the general public.  

Invitations to the club will go out later this week and look for my link in next week's email for the remaining spots.  If you are interested in information on our Somm's Pick Buyers Club, email us at sommspick@gmail.com

Bubbles to Ponder for the New Year

Beth Ribblett

We adore bubbles here at Swirl!  And while we love our selection of Franciacorta and both small grower and select big house Champagnes, we carry 50+ different types of bubblies from all over the world, priced from $10 to $150.  Here are just a few of our fave's but I wish I could list them all!  

As a warning, if you are looking for those popular bottles with the bright orange labels or white stars, you won't find them here.  We focus on smaller production alternatives for those who want to venture out and drink unique, high-quality bubbles.  But never fear, if you are set on those recognizable bottles, we can send you right next door to the grocery store - Canseco's!  

Favorites from Around the World Under $25
2011 Argyle Brut, 91 points Wine Advocate
The 2011 Brut is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay undergoing a 5% malolactic fermentation and disgorged in September 2014. It was matured in 20% neutral oak and 80% stainless steel. It has a vibrant citrus-driven bouquet that is well defined and offers a little touch of peach with aeration. The palate is well balanced with crisp acidity, touches of brioche and pineapple with a fresh, vivacious finish. Excellent - and great value, too. 

Zardetto Conegliano, Prosecco Brut
One of our most popular dry Prosecco sparkling wines which comes from the classic Prosecco region of Veneto, Italy. The floral, peach aromas and crisp, refreshing palate makes this ideal for parties. This is everything you want a Prosecco to be!

NV Marie-Pierre Manciat Cremant de Bourgogne, 91 points, Wine Advocate
The dry, sparkling non-vintage Cremant de Bourgogne (100% Chardonnay) offers up notes of orange blossoms, tangerine oil and lemon rind. Fresh, lively, medium-bodied, penetrating and long, this is a sensational value in sparkling Chardonnay.  Some sensational values have emerged from Marie-Pierre Manciat.

Vallformosa Florinda Cava
From some of Vallformosa’s oldest vines planted over the first half of the 20th century and having spent 12 months on its lees, this is a stunning mouthful and a great expression of what is seductive about Cava de Penedés. Fragrant and fresh apricot pastry with candied flowers and a dry, chalk like minerality on the palate with a tangy finish

Jean Baptiste Audy Cremant de Bordeaux
Creamy Cremant de Bordeaux with a delicate mousse of bubbles. A Bordelaise speciality made in the same way as Champagne with flavors of lime, pear and quince underpinned by subtle hints of white cherry blossom, walnuts and caramel. Very aromatic and well balanced. A nice long frothy finish.

A Few Favorites from Franciacorta & Champagne, $30 - $50
Barone Pizzini Franciacorta Brut Animante, 90 points Wine Advocate
Made with organically-farmed fruit, the non-vintage Franciacorta Brut Animante is a plush and textured sparkling wine that peels back slowly to reveal aromas of peach, honeydew melon, pear and Golden Delicious apple. Crisp acidity helps to create a mouthfeel that is light, tonic and graced with a great sense of energy and brightness. The wine presents mild textural richness that suggests immediate or near-term drinking window. The blend is 78% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Nero and 4% Pinot Bianco. 

Champagne Voirin Jumel Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Bru, 91 points Vinous
Bright gold. Emphatically fruity on the nose and palate, offering fresh pear, nectarine and orange zest aromas and flavors. Juicy and open-knit, with suave floral and sweet butter qualities emerging on the back half, along with a hint of melon. This very expressive blanc de blancs finishes smoky and penetrating, with a suggestion of chalky minerality gaining power.

Montenisa Franciacorta Brut, 90 points Wine Advocate
Lightly toasted and yeasty, the non-vintage Franciacorta Brut shows rich layers of pear, dried apricots and preserved lemon. It delivers medium body with crisp freshness and detailed perlage that feels smooth and creamy on the palate. The blend is Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and a small part Pinot Nero for added aromatics.

Champagne Ayala Brut Majeur , 91 points Vinous
Light yellow. Lively, sharply focused lemon and green apple aromas pick up deeper melon and peach qualities with air. Spicy and precise on the palate, offering juicy citrus fruit and honeysuckle flavors and a touch of candied fig. Powerful yet lively, finishing with strong punch and building mineral and floral qualities. This suave Champagne has the heft to handle rich foods and the tension to work by itself.

Ca del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvee Prestige Brut, 91 points Robert Parker
The NV Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige Brut offers a sophisticated and stylish presentation with exotic fruit, baked bread, peach cobbler and Golden Delicious apple. This pretty Cuvée (made with 75% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Bianco and 15% Pinot Nero) offers a great sense of richness and creaminess that adds to the fine and silky nature of the perlage. It has the natural acidity and bright freshness to pair with raw seafood.

Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain, 91 points Vinous
Light gold. Lees-accented orchard and citrus fruit aromas are complicated by sweet butter, iodine and smoky minerals. Dry and expansive on the palate, offering lively pear and melon flavors and a refreshingly bitter touch of orange pith. Ample but lithe brut, with very good finishing punch and repeating smoke and pear qualities.

And Some Very Special Bottles, $50+
Champagne Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru V P Extra-Brut, 95 points Vinous
The NV Extra Brut Grand Cru V.P. (Vieillissement Prolongé), Egly -Ouriet's from Ambonnay, A towering, deeply expressive wine, the V.P. possesses stunning depth to match its spherical, textured personality. As is the custom here, the V.P. spent 76 months on its lees, yet it remains vibrant, poised and deeply refreshing. A host of chalk, white pepper, dried rose petal and red stone fruits wrap around the intense finish. Aging in oak shapes the wine beautifully here. What a gorgeous Champagne this is.

2011 Ferghettina Franciacorta Rose Brut, 90 points Wine Advocate
The 2011 Franciacorta Rosé Brut (100% Pinot Nero) is on the informal side of the Franciacorta sparkling wine spectrum, but it also delivers loads of delicious fruit freshness. This attractive rosé sparkler offers a food-friendly personality that would pair with seafood, grilled tuna or sushi. The wine is fresh, forthcoming and versatile. Crisp acidity and silky perlage appears on the close. This wine sees 36 months of sur lies aging. 

Champagne J. Lassalle Brut Rose, 92 points Vinous
The NV Brut Rosé Premier Cru is wonderfully complex in the glass. Sweet red cherry, stone fruits, flowers, mint  nd spices inform a supple, expressive Rosé endowed with considerable appeal. The nuanced, refined finish only adds to the wine approachability and pure pleasure. Bouzy and Verzenay, is stellar. 

Champagne H Goutorbe Special Club Millésime Grand Cru Brut 2005, 93 points Robert Parker
The H Goutorbe Special Club Millésime Grand Cru Brut is made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay picked from fairly old vines cultivated in Aÿ. My sample (which I tasted at the Trésor Club degustation in Reims earlier this year) was disgorged in March 2014. It is a full-bodied, rich and well-structured champagne with intensity but also purity, freshness, finesse and elegance of fruit. The finish is impressive and powerful, and indicates a good aging potential. 

Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Extra-Brut Cuvée Oenophile 2005, 93 points Vinous
The 2005 Extra-Brut Cuvée Oenophile is striking in its beauty. Honey, almonds, tangerine and wild flowers inform the 2005 Cuvée Oenophile. A deep, rich, resonant wine, the 2005 impresses for its intensity and purity. The 2005 spent 84 months on the lees, which gives the wine great richness and intensity. Dosage was only 1 gram per liter. Oenophile is a blend of parcels in Chouilly, Cramant, Cuis and Oger. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 12 Wines of Christmas, 2013 Descendientes de Jose Palacios Petalos

Beth Ribblett

A fun way to introduce you some of our favorite wines in the store that we believe would make great gifts!

Old vine Mencia in Bierzo, Spain

Old vine Mencia in Bierzo, Spain

Our next wine of Christmas  is made by a passionate winemaker who brought a grape and a region back from near extinction...

It's always a great story when some obscure, indigenous grape variety is coaxed back from near extinction by a passionate winemaker.  It is a story that happens only in the ancient wine producing regions of the world, places where historically wine has been made for centuries.  Our story for this post is about Spain and a region in the Northwest quadrant called Bierzo.  

The first written record of wine making in the region was some 2000 years ago by Pliny the Elder and it is continually mentioned throughout history as an important area where grapes were cultivated by the Romans and later by the Christian monks who set up monasteries and hospices to help the pilgrims on their journeys to Santiago de Compostela. Then phylloxera arrived and nearly wiped out Bierzo and it was a very long, slow process to breathe life back into this obscure little region.

But in the 1990's a famous winemaker, Alvaro Palacios, visited Bierzo and saw the potential in the region with its incredibly steep hillside vineyards, distinctive terroirs, and most importantly, ancient vineyards of Mencía—a unique red grape believed brought by French pilgrims during the Middle Ages.  He got distracted by another promising region, Priorato, for a time but he never let go of his dream to make wine from old vine Mencia in Bierzo.

Alvaro and his nephew Ricardo Perez, another up and coming winemaker, came back to the region in 1998 and decided to base their operations in a  little town on Bierzo’s western border named Corullón.   Alvaro and Ricardo's vision was to make great wines from old vineyards in the region. They now make seven wines, including five single-vineyard wines from exceptional terroirs, all made with the once obscure Mencia grape

Our featured wine, the Pétalos del Bierzo, is the entry level, but it’s always a serious effort. Produced from biodynamically farmed small hillside parcels of 60-100 year old vine Mencia grown in rocky slate soil around Corrullón, the wines are bottled without fining or filtration. Petalos has been a long time favorite of the store since I tasted it with Matt Lirette more than 8 years ago and it just seems to get better and better with each year.  Beautiful nose of lavender, incense, spice box, black cherry, and cranberry, with nice weight on the palate, intensity, and layered fruit, it would make a great gift for anyone who can appreciate a well made, balanced with with a great history.

2013 Descendientes de Jose Palacios Petalos
91 pts - Wine Spectator
"Expressive black cherry, currant, licorice, mineral and smoke flavors mingle in this focused red. The texture is gentle but firm, with well-integrated tannins and racy acidity providing structure. A compact wine that shows good intensity. Drink now through 2023. 

 

 

The 12 Wines of Christmas, Ca' Del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvee Prestige

Beth Ribblett

A fun way to introduce you some of our favorite wines in the store that we believe would make great gifts!

The beautiful property of Ca' Del Bosco in Franciacorta, Italy

The beautiful property of Ca' Del Bosco in Franciacorta, Italy

Our next wine of Christmas  is a high-quality sparkling that can rival Champagne but from my favorite place in the world!

I'll admit, it took me a long time to appreciate Franciacorta.  As a women obsessed with Italian wine who is in the business, you wouldn't think it would take almost 8 years to get "it".  But in my defense, the problem with Franciacorta was that its availability in the US had been scarce and with only 11% of its production sold abroad, it was something I rarely got to taste. Then I went to northern Italy for the first time and Franciacorta was everywhere!  And affordable - and made by producers I'd never heard of - and I could drink a different one everyday to start my meal.  I became obsessed with tasting every Franciacorta I could find!  And I finally got "it".  High quality bubbles that could rival Champagne from my favorite place in the world?  What a no brainer!

So after that visit in 2014, I came back home and started asking our wholesalers about Franciacorta and excitedly they have been trickling  into the market.  Berlucchi, Ferghettina, Bellavista, Ca del Bosco, Cantadi Castaldi, Montenisa, Barone Pizzini...I'm was so excited that we bought a new shelf just to accommodate all of the Franciacorta (as well as the 50+ different bottles of sparkling from all over the world! ) I want to buy!  

Tasting at Ca' Del Bosco, April 2015

Tasting at Ca' Del Bosco, April 2015

Which brings us to my next in the lineup of 12 wines of Christmas, the Ca' Del Bosco Cuvee Prestige, the elegant wine in the elegant package that has been a staple on our shelves and at the bar since I returned from that trip. It is a great way to introduce people to the quality bubbles from the region.  We were able to visit there this year and the property is as stunning as their wine!

The Cuvee Prestige, a staple on our shelves and at the bar.

The Cuvee Prestige, a staple on our shelves and at the bar.

NV  Ca del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvee Prestige Brut
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 91 points
The NV Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige Brut offers a sophisticated and stylish presentation with exotic fruit, baked bread, peach cobbler and Golden Delicious apple. This pretty Cuvée (made with 75% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Bianco and 15% Pinot Nero) offers a great sense of richness and creaminess that adds to the fine and silky nature of the perlage. It has the natural acidity and bright freshness to pair with raw seafood.