I Want To Be a Master Wine Blender...When I Grow Up
What does it take to be a master wine blender? A lot of patience and anxiety, it seems. USQ hosted winemaker Andy Erickson, known for his work at for Ovid, Arietta, Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Dancing Hares, and his own label, Favia, for an Art of Blending seminar. The interactive session, complete with five barrels samples of 2011 Napa Valley grapes, pitted three “teams” against one another to come up with unique red wine blends based on Erickson’s own Leviathan. Oh! And USQ made a blend too.
If you want to be a master blender, start off by perfecting your palate. Then gather a bunch of beakers and brush up on chemistry. Might want to learn the metric system. And math, you know, since the percentages of each grape in the blend should add up to 100 percent. After tasting through barrel samples (so fresh they haven’t even been RACKED yet) of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and two clones of Cabernet Sauvignon (191 and 337, for the record), Erickson discussed the attributes of each with the group. He mixed a blend on the spot, but assured us that the final percentages always change, as the wines each evolve in their French oak barrels.
On group wanted more Cab Franc and another pushed for Merlot, while the third group wanted a blend much like Erickson’s. USQ? We said toss in 45 percent Syrah (!) just to mix it up. We ended up with a selection of shockingly different wines, each with their own pros and cons. The key to balance is working with blending ideas throughout the aging time, so by the final round, you have some idea how each grape’s elements change over time. Our blend featured a bit too much Syrah for elegant balance, but hey, never know how the Syrah will taste in a few months!
Flowers in the Form of Drinks: Mother’s Day Cocktails
Who needs to give flowers on Mother’s Day when you can give floral cocktails?! Our friends over at Serious Eats agree that botanic-inspired drinks are definitely the way to go this Sunday and hence, have compiled a list of eight blossoming concoctionsand recipes. Instead of creating our own cocktails this week, we figured we’d share theirs, such as the lavender- and honey-laced H.K. Rose and the agave-tinged, bubbly punch, Jalisco Flower. We’ve also got all the spirits and wine ingredients handy, ready for you to hit “add to cart.”
After a few weeks of teasing and flirting, it’s almost that time of year. The sun is starting to shine a little brighter, the air is warm enough to send your coats and sweaters packing for the back of the closet, and before you know it, city-dwellers will be heading to their summer homes in the Hamptons and Jersey Shore. That’s right, Rosé season is upon us, and while you can’t beat a light crisp Provence rose on a hot summer day, sometimes you want a little more out of your blushing summer companion. Enter, 2000 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado.
Quite a mouthful, but once you get a taste, all you’ll want is another mouthful of this incredibly unique rosé. Drop all your expectations about what a rosé is and should be and enjoy the ride. Founded in 1877, López de Heredia is steeped in tradition and unlike many new producers, considers aging the wine both in barrel and bottle to be an essential step to creating a fine wine. (See a video of our recent tasting with the Heredia family here.) This particular wine is a blend of Tempranillo (20%), Garnacho (60%), and Viura (20%), all from the Heredia family vineyards. The wine saw four-and-a-half years in used American oak barrels, and six years in bottle before it was released. Bursting with flavors of dried red fruit, almonds, peach, and orange zest, while sporting a nice mineral backbone, this is definitely not your typical rose next door. It’s great paired with spicy dishes as well as more substantial summer meals like sausage and charcuterie.
At the time of harvest, the demand for the rosado was so low that López de Heredia stopped making it from 2000 until 2008. With such extensive ageing, we may not see another rosado from them until 2018! USQ snagged quite a few cases for this reason, but don’t wait too long—get your hands on this while it’s hot (and hot outside too). -Seth White
A 1978 Beaune Premier Cru changed winemaker Rudy Marchesi’s perspective on wine. Funny, then, that he would become one of the top producers of Oregon Pinot Noir today, at Montinore Estate. He made his first wine 40 years ago, a student of wine since youth thanks to a winemaker grandfather. He remains a student, though, constanting looking for new and innovative techniques, biodynamic practices, and different grape varieties to grow in the Willamette Valley climate. His fascination with native northern Italian grapes led to his white wine blend, Borealis. His love of food has him producing cheese, cured meats such as prosciutto and salami, and verjus, a pressed juice of unripe grapes that falls somewhere between wine and vinegar. Oh, and did we mention he’s a jazz pianist?
What sets your wines apart from other Oregon Pinot Noir producers? “We try to find that balance between elegance and concentration of flavor. We are more interested in our wines being seductive than big. And, consequently, I think that our wines are more European in style as opposed to new world.”
What is your favorite dish to pair with one of your wines. “It’s difficult to answer that question with just one dish because Pinot Noir by nature is so versatile. For example, I recently had a fluke ceviche at ABC Kitchen with our Red Cap Pinot Noir, and it was one of the most interesting and pleasurable pairings I have had in awhile. Likewise, the Red Cap was spectacular with a pork roast I recently had. But I think one of my favorite pairings, as the weather gets warmer, is our Almost Dry Riesling with any kind of grilled seafood.”
What is the most memorable bottle you have had? “It was a 1978 Beaune Premier Cru. It was the first time I experienced Pinot Noir at that level of quality. And it completely changed my perspective on wine.”
More on Rudy Marchesi, and his Montinore bottlings here.
Sure, we know that this Saturday, May 5, is the infamous margarita-guzzling holiday of Cinco de Mayo. But for those southern folks among us, it’s Derby Day, as the first Saturday in May always hosts the Kentucky Derby. This year marks the 138th running of the horse race, which kicks of the Triple Crown. Time to don those big hats with floral accoutrements and seersucker suits as you sip bourbon-based cocktails and sweet tea!
The “holiday” basically calls for drinking of all sorts, as horse lovers place bets on the 22 horses ready to post on the track, and the who’s who of horse racing and Kentucky society post up in the grandstands. While we can’t always make it to the races, we can mix up the cocktails. Here are two to start your Derby Day celebration, the classic Mint Julep, the official drink of the Derby, and the Man O’ War, a signature Maker’s Mark cocktail inspired by the famous racehorse.
Classic Mint Julep According to the Kentucky Derby’s website, almost 120,000 mint juleps are served over the two-day period of the Derby events. It requires 1,000 pounds of fresh mint and 60,000 pounds of ice! While the official derby cocktail uses Early Times bourbon, we prefer Jim Beam, the everyman’s bourbon and the spirit Stephanie’s father, a Kentucky Colonel, uses in his drinks.
Chill down a silver derby cup or highball glass. Meanwhile, make a simple syrup by boiling the sugar and water together for a few minutes. Cool and place in a covered container, keep chilled. Fill the chilled cup or highball glass with crushed ice. Add one tablespoon of simple syrup and 2 oz. of Jim Beam bourbon. Stir rapidly. Garnish with a sprig or two of fresh mint
Man O’ War This cocktail was concocted by Maker’s Mark in honor of the horse of the same name. One of the winningest horses in history, Man O’ War only lost one race in his career! While he never ran the Derby, we can get behind this perfect afternoon tipple.
1 ½ oz. Maker’s Mark Bourbon 1 oz. orange curacao liqueur ½ oz. sweet vermouth ½ oz. orange juice Maraschino cherry, for garnish
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker and shake for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Are you ready to sing “My Old Kentucky Home” with a glass in hand?
Going Vertical: Kanonkop Pinotage From 1998 to 2009
What does a 1998 South African Pinotage taste like? Oddly enough, like a musty, saddle leather-driven Rioja—at least the bottling by Kanonkop.
This week, we tasted ten Kanonkop Pinotage bottlings spanning 11 years with winemaker Abrie Beeslaar. Kanonkop is a historic wine estate in the Stellenbosch region, run by the same family for four generations. They grow Pinotage (a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault developed in the 1920s), as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. But Pinotage and its attempt to overcome a negative stereotype in the eyes of the American consumer took precedent during the recent tasting led by Beeslaar. (That’s USQ’s Tom Smith tasting with Beeslaar above.) He noted that wine drinkers tend to judge the variety over the producer, when in fact, we should be judging the producer not the variety. And after tasting stellar examples, such as the 1998, the earthy and complex 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage and the juicy, red berry-focused 2009 Pinotage, his words hit a homerun.
We could bog you down with copious notes on each wine, but overall, the wines showed a variety of red wine descriptors, from tints of deep cherry to aromas of smoked meats to flavors reminiscent of classic Burgundies. The 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage, designed specifically for auction by winemakers invited to the guild, stood out with its 100 percent new oak aging, dark, earthy nose, and complex brown shoe leather and dark fruit notes on the palate. It seemed quite similar to the 1998, with its musty funk and still juicy fruit cocooned with strong earth and leather notes. One person even joked that it was like Chateau Musar, the infamously wine geek red wine blend from Lebanon. Yet even the young, but “will mature beautifully” 2009 had many fans, thanks to its powerful structure, red berry flavors, and balanced tannins. If we’re going to judge Pinotage, we’re going to rule in its favor, at least when we’re talking about Kanonkop. -Stephanie Cain
Jay McInerney Talks The Juice with Wine Critic Ray Isle: Book Reading & Wine Tasting
USQ and Strand Bookstore host Jay McInerney as he reads from his latest non-fiction book, The Juice: Vinous Veritas, followed by a chat with Ray Isle, executive editor of Food & Wine, and wine tasting. The Juice features more than 50 articles of McInerney’s adventures in oenology, hilarious anecdotes, and invaluable wine advice. Sip, listen, and talk vino during our Q&A session and wine tasting, featuring bottlings highlighted in the book. If you’re familiar with McInerney, you’ll know he’s currently a wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal and author of eight novels, including his heralded debut Bright Lights, Big City and previous wine publications, A Hedonist in the Cellar and Bacchus and Me. He describes Thomas Jefferson as “the founding wine geek,” writes that a Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay tastes like a “deconstructed margarita…wowsah,” and calls the Sonoma Pinot-craze “the bizzaro-world antithesis of planet Napa Cabernet.” Want more? We’ll see you on May 10!
Reservations are required to attend this event. Tickets are sold ONLY through Strand Bookstore. Cost: Buy The Juice book or a $25 ticket, which includes a $10 voucher toward purchases at USQ the night of the event. Buy tickets here.