Monthly Archives: June 2011

Lip Stinger

29 June 2011

I helped staff a booth at a local street festival this past weekend, and though I appreciate the work of the organization, I knew their cocktail selection would likely be suspect. So as not to be stuck with the cheap vodka and imitation lemonade of years past, I perused my wine collection for something inexpensive, bright and cheery (and not too alcoholic — it was barely noon).

I found just what I was looking for in a bottle of 2009 La Chapelle de la Bastide Picpoul de Pinet. After chilling it for 45 minutes in the freezer, I tossed it in my backpack and hopped on my bike.

The cocktail selection in the booth proved as dire as my predictions: Vodka and Sierra Mist. Hardly the worst mixture one could concoct, but it exuded a whiff of frathouse improvisation. I opened my Picpoul.

Picpoul de Pinet is quite an unusual cru in France, in that it’s named after a variety, Picpoul, as well as a place, Pinet (most French appellations refer only to geography). It’s no surprise this cru, just west of the canal-laced town of Sète, is set in the heart of the rather wild and wooly wine appellation of Coteaux du Languedoc, “France’s most anarchic wine region,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine. Perhaps only here could a variety work its name into the French AOC system.

Picpoul (also written as “Piquepoul,” which means “lip stinger,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine) dates back to at least the 17th Century, according to the Picpoul de Pinet website, when it was already recognized as a quality variety. It apparently waned in popularity due to its low yields and suceptibility to fungus, notes Wikipedia (without citing any sources), but it’s relatively easy to obtain now.

But enough of that — this is supposed to be a fun, festival wine. I cracked it open, poured a generous helping into a clear plastic cup and held it up to the sun. A beautiful yellow-green, this wine looked like summer. The back label claimed “wild roses” on the nose, but I detected only green apples. The wine tasted satisfyingly bright, with apples and juicy lemons, before closing with a pleasantly chalky finish. Sunny and fun, this wine surely reflected its terroir near the coast of southwestern France.

It certainly beat Vodka + Sierra Mist.

SUMMARY

2009 La Chapelle de la Bastide Picpoul de Pinet: Fun, bright and juicy, with a hint of minerality. A great value summer white.

Grade: B

Find It: This bottle was purchased on sale at Whole Foods Market Evanston South for $5.50, but $9.00 is a more representative price.

Honeysuckle and Tobacco

23 June 2011

Before some friends came over to dinner the other night, they thoughtfully called to offer to bring a bottle of wine. I planned on making some Southeast Asian-inspired dishes, which always seem to cry out for Gewürztraminer. I have a soft spot for floral, aromatic whites, and a good Gewürztraminer can work wonders with fresh herb-heavy Lao, Cambodian and Thai recipes.

My friends obliged with a 2009 Robertson Winery “Special Late Harvest” Gewurztraminer (they spell it without the umlaut) from South Africa, far from the varietal’s most well-known home of the Alsace. I’d sampled German, Australian, French, American and even Spanish Gewürztraminers, but never one from South Africa. I was intrigued, but concerned that “Special Late Harvest” might just be a fancy way of saying “cloyingly sweet.”

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North Bass, Middle Bass, South Bass

19 June 2011

“Bass,” whether North, South or Middle, is not a name commonly associated with wine. Nor is Lake Erie, for that matter, but it wasn’t always so.

I’ve recently been reading History in a Glass: Sixty Years of Wine Writing from Gourmet, a fascinating compendium of wine articles written between 1941 and 2004 for the now unfortunately defunct magazine. The early pieces, mostly written by Frank Schoonmaker, provide an eye-opening glimpse into the state of post-Prohibition wine in the United States.

The Napa and Sonoma Valleys ranked as the top wine-producing districts, along with some other familiar California names, but there was no mention of Washington or Oregon. Instead, I was surprised to see Mr. Schoonmaker list the Lake Erie Islands as a top wine region:

The important wine-producing districts of the East, the South, and the Middle West can all be numbered on the fingers of two hands. Outstanding in point of quality is, perhaps, the Finger Lakes region of Western New York State, closely followed by the Lake Erie Islands district, north of Sandusky, Ohio. —Gourmet, June 1941

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A New Frontier – Part 4

17 June 2011

Our explorations of Serbian drink were not confined to wine. Mr. Goran Sevic of importer Vino et Spiritus brings a number of spirits into the United States, including loza (Serbian grappa), brandy and slivovitz. (You can read a previous post about slivovitz here.)

I briefly felt concerned that hard alcohol might not agree with my stomach, still recovering from a bout of food poisoning, but after tasting six wines, some sremska sausage and a stalk of green garlic, I decided to just go for it.

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A New Frontier – Part 3

14 June 2011

In addition to the wines from Ivanović and Botunjac, which come from the Zapadna Morava region of Serbia, we tried two wines from the town of Vršac in Banat. This northeastern wine region (once the largest in Europe) has produced wine since at least the 15th Century, and likely much longer. Vineyards decorate the town’s 1804 coat of arms, as does a sword flinging a bleeding, severed head. Clearly this is a wine region to be reckoned with.

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