Monthly Archives: January 2013

First Look: Temecula

30 January 2013

Ponte Vineyards' Tasting Room/Gift ShopYou probably won’t find a “Temecula” section in your wine shop, the way you might see “Napa/Sonoma” or even “Central Coast.” This wine country about an hour northeast of San Diego is just a baby, oenologically speaking, and it doesn’t have much of a reputation just yet. That might be a good thing. Because from what I’ve seen so far, if Napa is “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” Temecula is more “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

I’ve only been to one tasting room so far, that of Ponte Winery. I went on a Saturday, which is always a mistake in wine country, but my schedule allowed me little choice. The tasting room/gift shop was packed, but that wasn’t the problem — I expected a crowd. I did not expect the extortionate $20 tasting fee, however. I’ve never paid that much for a basic tasting anywhere, be it in Napa, Sonoma or BURGUNDY, for the love of Pete.

I suppose part of that fee pays for the glass I didn’t want to take with me, but most of it goes for the inexcusably large pours. I’m not usually one to complain about a slightly overfilled glass of wine, but if one drank all six “tastings” without spitting (no one in view spat a thing), one would be drunk. If the Ponte Winery tasting room were really interested in its patrons learning about the wines, portions would be much smaller and much cheaper. But perhaps Ponte Winery thinks its guests are just interested in getting a buzz before getting back in their cars? And perhaps they’re right.

Nor did the wines dazzle. Beyond a couple of standouts, most tasted just OK, and with most over $30 a bottle, they should have been pretty darn tasty. Here’s a quick rundown of what I sampled:

2011 Chardonnay: Aroma of burnt tire and wood. Light bodied, with watery fruit, limey acids, and a bit of stone and rubber at the end. $24

NV Vernaccia Nera: This one was really fun. A Lambrusco-like sparking red made with fruit from Italy’s Marche region, it tasted like red fruit, iron and jam. Weird, surprisingly complex and even addictive. I was tempted to buy a bottle to take home; it almost seemed worth it at $30.

2010 “Super T”: A Super Tuscan-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. It smelled like earth and plums, and it tasted like dark red fruit with a bit of iron and spice. Light bodied and tasty, but I want more than that for $38.

2010 Zinfandel: Not much nose on this one at all, oddly enough. It felt tight, with ungenerous fruit and a relatively tannic finish. $35

2009 Syrah: The chocolate/raspberry aroma got me all hot and bothered, but when I took a sip, it fell a little flat. It just didn’t go anywhere — it was medium bodied, and just not very memorable. What a disappointment after that sniff! $35

2008 Zinfandel Port: I love a well-made Port, and this was a well-made Port. It had a temptingly rich, raisiny nose, and this time the flavor lived up to the smell. It had lots of jammy, chocolatey fruit, balanced by zesty acids and some tannins on the finish. Delightful! It was nice to end the tasting on a high note. $46

I’m trying out a few more Temecula wineries before I leave… Here’s hoping!

Update: Later that evening, in the bar of the Ponte Vineyards Inn, the bartender offered me a taste of the 2009 Ponte Vineyards “Angry Wife, made from a blend of grapes which is “never disclosed so please don’t ask,” according to the label. Now why couldn’t they have presented more wines like this in the tasting room? It smelled irony and red, and it packed a flavor whallop: lots of fruit, hefty tannins and a final kick of spice. Tasty! Don’t keep wines like this a secret, Ponte!

The Hearty Reds Of Toro

26 January 2013

Toro paired with fusilli BologneseI remember the first time I had a wine from Spain’s small Toro region, which straddles the Duero River not too far from northwestern Portugal. My husband-to-be and I were in New York at a delightful tapas bar in the Village (the name of which is alas lost to history), and at the bottom of the extensive wines-by-the-glass list was a Toro. I asked the bartender about it, and he replied, “Oh, I love that one — if you like big reds, you should give it a try.” We each had a glass, and our memories are so fond of that evening and that wine that we served a Toro at our wedding reception.

This Denominación de Origen (DO) was established only recently, in 1987, and the Toro DO only gained international renown in the last 10 years or so. According to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, “The Alvarez family of Vega-Sicilia fame had been purchasing land [in Toro] since 1997, and after this was announced in 2002, the floodgates opened, so that at last count there were 40 bodegas.” Sotheby’s goes on to say that “the battle for Toro’s true quality has only just begun,” but I say it’s producing some pretty darn tasty stuff already.

Part of the region’s success is no doubt due to what The Oxford Companion to Wine calls “severe” growing conditions, with dry, stony soils and high altitudes. Grapevines need to suffer to produce great wine, the common wisdom goes, and in this “wild and remote zone,” the vines surely suffer indeed. The local specialty, Tinta de Toro (a variant of Tempranillo), has adapted to the Toro terroir, and it produces wines of “exciting quality” according to Sotheby’s, and according to me as well for that matter.

It’s January in Chicago, and I was in the mood, as you might expect, for a big red wine. I browsed the Toro section at Binny’s and discovered that, as usual, most of the Toros were pretty pricey. I picked up a couple of bottles of the least expensive, a 2010 Telmo Rodríguez “Dehesa Gago,” recognizable by the big white “g” on its black label. It turned out $15 was quite a bargain for this beauty.

When I opened the bottle, I could immediately detect vanilla aromas, which intensified when I poured the deep-purple wine in a glass. Closer up, the wine smelled more like red fruit, iron and earth than vanilla. It felt focused up front — even a little tight — with flavors of vanilla and dark berries. At the back of the palate, however, it became almost rough, with hearty tannins, rustic power and some rowdy spice. It developed how I imagine a typical date in Las Vegas would. Paired with some Fusilli Bolognese, it became even more powerful and spicy.

This may not necessarily be the best Toro out there, but at $15, the Telmo Rodríguez “Dehesa Gago” took me on quite a ride. And if this Toro isn’t available at your local wine shop, try another one. I’ve yet to be disappointed by a wine from this newly discovered region.


2010 Telmo Rodríguez “Dehesa Gago”:This tasty Toro starts smooth and then gets a little rowdy. Big fruit and significant tannins. A fun ride and a fine value. Chill in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes before serving, and pair with red meat or strong cheese.

Grade: B+/A-

Find It: I purchased this wine for $15 at Binny’s on Clark Street.

Potentially Confusing Wine Terms

23 January 2013

Wine, like many fields, has its own vocabulary. For some, that’s part of its appeal, and for others, it can feel intimidating. I must admit I use winespeak on this blog not infrequently, with the goal of adding precision to my descriptions. But some of these terms, as my mother recently alerted me, can’t even be found in a typical dictionary.

I thought, therefore, that it would be handy to have a quick glossary of some potentially confusing terms you’re likely to encounter when reading about wine:

Acids: As in citrus fruit, acids can give wine a juicy, mouth-watering quality, and they’re usually very important for making a wine food-friendly. I find they can take on different shapes and colors, like pointy limey acids, or round orangey acids, or bright lemony acids.

Brut/Extra Dry: Ages ago, some marketing genius in deepest France decided it would be smart to use these terms counterintuitively. A brut Champagne (or other sparkling wine) will be dry, and an extra brut Champagne will be even drier. An extra dry Champagne, however, will be on the sweeter side. It’s France — they like to keep us barbarian Americans on our toes.

Cuvée: This word is thrown around willy-nilly these days, and it’s sometimes used just as a synonym for “wine” when wine writers don’t want to use “wine” too often in a single sentence about wine. It usually refers to some specific subset of a wine, perhaps indicating different blends, for example.

Noble Rot: I suppose even a true marketing genius would have trouble making the botrytis fungus sexy. Noble rot can be quite desirable because it creates little holes in the grape skins, drying out and even shriveling the grapes a bit. This concentrates the sugars and flavors in the remaining juice, resulting in (ideally) marvelously deep, rich, sweet and lively wines. Sauternes and Tokai Aszú are two classic examples.

Tannins: In contrast to mouth-watering acids, tannins tend to dry the mouth. If you drink a wine and it sucks the moisture off your tongue, or (in extreme cases) feels like a mouthful of cotton, those are the tannins at work. Wines aged in stainless steel typically have fewer tannins than wines aged in wood, though the amount of tannins tends to be determined more by the grape variety and how much the winery used the stems, skins and seeds in the winemaking process. In any case, tannins help add structure and balance, and help keep a wine intact as it ages in the bottle.

Terroir: More and more, wine drinkers are seeking out cuvées– er, wines, which are expressive of their terroir. This French term doesn’t just refer to the qualities of the soil in which a vineyard is planted. It encompasses the entire microclimate of the vineyard, from soil to sunlight to rainfall to temperatures. Basically, terroir can be anything that gives a wine a sense of place. A single-vineyard wine should theoretically be most expressive of its terroir, as compared to a wine made from grapes grown across an entire region. It matters less whether a wine is a varietal or a blend of different varieties.

Variety/Varietal: Speaking of which, let’s talk about “varietal” versus “varieties.” I admit I confused these terms myself until relatively recently, and you’ll see them used incorrectly in all sorts of prestigious publications. Editors take note! A variety refers to the type of grape, such as Merlot, Chardonnay, or everyone’s favorite, Öküzgözü. A varietal wine is a wine made entirely (or almost entirely) from a single variety, and it should probably express the characteristics of that variety. Although “varietal” is technically an adjective, it’s also common these days to refer to a varietal wine as simply “a varietal.”

My goodness, well that’s enough vocabulary for me. Does anyone happen to have a glass of tannic terroir-focused extra-dry varietal something or other?

Non-Alcoholic Drinks For Alcoholic Guests

19 January 2013
Juniper & Tonic

Juniper & Tonic

Most of us have at least one friend who chooses, for whatever reason, not to drink alcohol. As a host, this presents a bit of a dilemma. Do you offer them something relatively wholesome but boring, like juice or sparkling water, or do you present them with a tasty but chemical-laden soda? A fancy soda, like those made by Fentiman’s, makes a good alternative, yet that still doesn’t exactly feel special.

I want my non-drinking friends to feel like they’re drinking something as fun as everybody else, and so I like to serve them perhaps the most unusual drink of all: The Non-Alcoholic Cocktail. These take a little extra creativity, because there isn’t all that much literature devoted to them, and restaurants only rarely include examples on their menus.

Over the years, I’ve come up with a few that I love and even drink myself from time to time. Here are five fabulous non-alcoholic drinks guaranteed to surprise and delight your most discerning teetotaling party guests:



–Juice of one lime

–One can of club soda

–1.5 ounces (about 1.5 shaker caps’ worth) cranberry juice

–Orange slice

Pour the club soda into a large tumbler over a sizeable hunk of ice (the larger the ice, the slower it will melt and dilute the drink). Add the lime juice and then the cranberry juice (make sure it’s not sugary cranberry juice cocktail, but a 100% juice blend of cranberry and apple). The garnish of the orange slice is important in this case. Besides making for an attractive drink, its orangey aroma stands in for the Triple Sec or Cointreau in a traditional Cosmopolitan.



–Juice of one lime

–20 Juniper berries

–One bottle of tonic

This drink approximates some of the flavors in a gin and tonic. Squeeze the lime into a cocktail shaker, add the juniper berries and three or four large cubes of ice. Shake vigorously for at least 30 seconds, breaking up the juniper berries and infusing the lime juice with their flavor. Take your finest metal strainer, or better yet a coffee filter, and strain out all the juniper berry particles. Pour some tonic over a little ice in a lowball glass (adding the tonic before the juice prevents too much fizzing), add the juniper-infused lime juice, and garnish, if you like, with a slice of lime.


APFELSCHORLE (I didn’t make this one up — this is a classic German refreshment)

–Unfiltered apple cider

–Club soda (or mineral water, if you want to be really authentic)

I prefer club soda in this cocktail because the larger bubbles stand up better to the apple cider, but Germans traditionally use mineral water, because they seem to be addicted to the stuff. Whichever way you go, fill up a tumbler about 2/3 full with club soda or mineral water, and top off with the apple cider. If you want to get really fancy, you can garnish with a long cinnamon stick.


Fancy Cherry Lemon StuffFANCY CHERRY LEMON STUFF (suggestions for alternative names are welcome)

–One can of club soda

–One lemon

–One ounce tart cherry juice

–Orange slice

Juice the lemon. Pour the can of club soda over a little ice in a large tumbler. Add in the lemon juice, and a full shaker cap (about one ounce) of 100% tart cherry juice (available at Whole Foods). This tastes complex and sweet, but not too sweet. Again, the orange garnish adds another layer, its aroma mixing beautifully with the flavors of the drink.



–High-quality ginger beer or ginger ale

–Juice of 1/2 a lime

–Sprig of fresh mint

In this drink, choosing a fine ginger beer is absolutely critical. Do not cut corners with some generic brand, or this will taste dreadful. I usually go for Reed’s. Stand a sprig of mint in a tumbler and add in a two or three large cubes of ice. Rattle the glass to bruise the mint and release its oils. Pour in the ginger beer followed by the lime, and garnish, if you like, with a slice of lime. Delicious.

Cheers, and happy not-drinking!


Food-Friendly Vernaccia Di San Gimignano

16 January 2013

Vernaccia di San GimignanoOver the holidays, I had the fortune to sample a wine hand-carried all the way from Tuscany to Kentucky: A 2011 “La Roccaia” Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Our host opened the wine with some ceremony, poured it, and gave it a sniff. “It’s different,” he noted, rather dubiously. He took a sip, and I asked him what he thought. He replied, quite undubiously, “Well, it goes to show Italians don’t know s— about white wine.”

It’s a shame that the wine he transported so carefully for thousands of miles was so disappointing, but I must admit I couldn’t wait to see what this apparent train wreck of a wine tasted like. The nose didn’t seem so bad: Green, citrusy, and minerally. But I could see why our host, a fan of fine Rieslings, would find this wine so unpalatable.

It tasted bracingly tart, with very focused, limey acids. The wine didn’t unclench until the very end, when it broadened a bit, finishing with a bit of stone. What distressed me was its watery underbelly. The tight acidity may have been what the winemakers were going for, but I doubt that they intended the wine to have such flabby fruit.

Making the fondueFortunately, we were having some classic cheese fondue for our main course, and the fondue saved the day. The pointy acids of the wine cut right through the richness of the cheese, clearing the way for the next bite. It was quite a fine pairing, in fact! I don’t necessarily relish the prospect of drinking this wine again on its own, but the acids made it undeniably food-friendly .

If you go out looking for some Vernaccia to pair with a rich cream sauce or some cheese, note that Vernaccia di San Gimignano is only one of several very different-tasting Vernaccias produced in Italy. And it’s not just a matter of terroir. The Vernaccia grown around San Gimignano isn’t even the same variety as the Vernaccias grown elsewhere. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona is a fizzy red, for example, and Vernaccia di Oristano is almost sherry-like. The name “Vernaccia,” it turns out, means essentially “indigenous,” and it can refer to the indigenous varieties found in a number of Italian localities.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano won’t please everyone, if this bottle is any indication, but if you’re planning on serving something like fondue, brie en croute, raclette or fettuccine alfredo, its crisp acids might just make it a perfect match.

January Escape

12 January 2013

It’s January in Chicago, and that means I’d rather be almost anywhere else. It’s unseasonably warm, but even so, that dreary wall of winter clouds out the window gets me hankering for a getaway.

Are you similarly trapped somewhere grey and cold? Well, we might not be able to meet up for a drink somewhere fabulous right now, but if we could, here are a few places I would love to do it:

Drinking a Mojito made with Flor de Caña rum in Nicaragua

Drinking a Mojito made with Flor de Caña rum in Nicaragua


Drinking Varichon & Clerc Champagne at Enchantment Resort in Sedona

Drinking Varichon & Clerc Champagne at Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona


Drinking Margaritas in Cuernavaca, Mexico

Drinking Margaritas in Cuernavaca, Mexico


Drinking Rosé d'Anjou in Dubai

Drinking Rosé d’Anjou in Dubai


Drinking a Singapore Sling in Singapore

Drinking a Singapore Sling in Singapore


Drinking Prosecco in Venice, Italy

Drinking Prosecco in Venice, Italy


Drinking Dark & Stormys at Bar Tonique in New Orleans

Drinking Dark & Stormys at Bar Tonique in New Orleans


And yes, even drinking snake wine in Vietnam.

And yes, even drinking snake wine in Vietnam. That’s how much I want out of here.



Unusual Pairings at Urban Union – Part 3

9 January 2013

MorgonI must admit no small amount of surprise at this three-part post — I had no intention of rambling on so about the wine I had at Urban Union. If you’re just joining us, you here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2, both of which are pregnant with tales of odd wines such as Jacquère from Savoie, Rkaciteli from Macedonia and rosé from Beaujolais.

Speaking of Beaujolais, we returned to that southern section of the Burgundy region with a 2010 Jean Foillard “Cuvée Corcelette” Morgon, which sommelier Andrew Algren praised as “a mind-numbingly beautiful Beaujolais.”

Now this, of course, is not to be confused with the infamous Beaujolais Nouveau, that sweet, light, and generally overpriced red released around Thanksgiving. And Beaujolais can be confusing. Beyond the Nouveau, there is basic Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages which comes from the more desirable hills in the north, and finally cru Beaujolais.

This last category comes from one of ten different communes, each of which produces wine considered to be of such character that it deserves its own appellation. A cru Beaujolais likely won’t even say “Beaujolais” on the bottle (see above right); it will simply say Fleurie, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Juliénas, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chiroubles, St-Amour, Regnié, or Morgon. Don’t worry about trying to memorize these names (not that you were). In a wine shop of any size, they’ll all be grouped together in the Beaujolais section. And cru Beaujolais wines are worth the hunt.

Duck and ParsnipsThe Jean Foillard Morgon, imported by Kermit Lynch (a sign of quality), lived up to its cru designation. The nose had exciting dark fruit, black pepper and tobacco notes. The rich fruit continued through on the palate, where the wine exhibited significant but very controlled, focused power, like a semi-truck on a well-paved highway. Paired with a course of rich and tender duck breast with parsnip purée, crispy parsnip strips and cranberry gelée, the wine became even bigger, with black pepper and green peppercorn notes zinging to the fore.

While many start dinners with a glass of sparkling wine, Algren chose to finish this feast with one. He poured us each a glass of NV Bortolotti Lagrein, a brut rosé spumante from Valdobbiadene, that town in the Alpine foothills north of Venice famous for its Prosecco. Lagrein is the variety, which is grown on only about 750 acres nowadays, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine. It produces “fragrant yet sturdy” sparkling rosé (or “rosato” in Italian), the Companion notes, and the Bortolotti certainly had an aroma. It reminded me of cherry Robitussin. But it tasted bright and fun, with lots of red fruit and zippy acids.

DessertPaired with a delectable dessert of apple cake with quince, cinnamon chips, cinnamon ice cream and a square of flourless mint-chocolate cake, the Bortolotti was “great.” Sorry. By this point, my writing had degenerated into the shaky scrawl my notebook has come to expect towards the end of these sorts of dinners: “Salty, min-t (sic), choc (sic) — geat (sic) w/Lagrein” is all I’ve got for you.

Algren also gave us a second dessert pairing, a small glass of Carpano Antica, a sweet vermouth with an almost cult-like following among many bartenders. You can drink this vermouth straight, certainly. It tasted “Sweet, biter (sic), warming — fun!” And with that, Algren wisely cut me off.

It’s a shame Algren has departed Urban Union, but I have no doubt that the restaurant’s adventurous wine program will remain intact. Chef de Cuisine Joshua Marrell continues, as of this posting, to helm the kitchen, and if this dinner was any indication, he’s a talent worth watching.

Note: The Urban Union staff was aware that my dining companions and I were food/wine bloggers, and we did not pay for our meal.

Unusual Pairings At Urban Union – Part 2

5 January 2013

We drank so many tasty and unusual things at our dinner at Urban Union, I couldn’t possibly fit them all into one post. To read about some fine unfiltered/unpasteurized sake, a bright wine from France’s Savoie and a truly odd selection from Macedonia, follow this link.

To venture yet further into the obscure, read on!

Mushrooms and Domaine FilliatreauWhen most people think of wines from France’s Loire Valley — if they think of them at all — they think of crisp, minerally whites like Sancerre. But the Loire produces robust reds as well, most notably from the Cabernet Franc variety. Ex-Sommelier Andrew Algren (he left Urban Union just days after our dinner) selected a wine from the Saumur-Champigny section of the Loire, which produces “one of Cabernet Franc’s most refreshing expressions,” according to The World Atlas to Wine. According to Algren, it’s “like grabbing a handful of French forest floor and chowing down.” I was intrigued.

To me, the 2010 Domaine Filliatreau “La Grande Vignolle” tasted eye-poppingly tight, especially after smelling its deep, enticing, meaty aroma. It was very acidic and tannic, with a finish of black pepper. It screamed for food. In keeping with the French forest floor theme, Chef de Cuisine Joshua Marrell presented a course of trumpet, chanterelle and maitake mushrooms foraged, reportedly, by a local comedian. This rather daringly simple dish smelled appealingly like mushroom-topped pizza. Its earthy flavors tamed the punchy acids in the wine, resulting in positively delightful combination.

Domaine RomyBucking convention, Algren moved from a red to pink, pouring a highly unusual Beaujolais rosé (not to be confused with Beaujolais Nouveau, that fruity but usually over-sweet red released around Thanksgiving). Made from Gamay, the variety used in all red Beaujolais wines, the orangey-pink 2010 Domaine Romy Beaujolais Rosé tasted of juicy strawberries, with a firm structure and ample minerals and acids. Delicious. Served with a wonderfully garlicky dish of tender charred octopus, confit of potatoes in beef fat and scallion purée, the wine’s flavor didn’t seem to change all that much. Instead, the wine enhanced the flavor of the food, bringing its savory richness to new heights.

Algren pouring UlaciaAnd then we were back, oddly enough, to a white. Poured theatrically from overhead, as is traditional in Spain’s Basque country, Algren presented a 2011 Ulacia Getariako Txakolina. This tart, apply, slightly fizzy wine comes from near the town of Getaria, a region of cool, rainy summers which The Oxford Companion to Wine calls “hardly ideal grape-growing country.” Nevertheless, the whites, mostly made from the Hondarribi Zuri variety, have “noticeably improved” in the last couple of decades. (Incidentally, there’s a nasty rumor going around that Hondarribi Zuri is a hybrid of a Vitis vinifera variety and some other species of Vitis. Scandal!)

Algren paired the Ulacia with a dish of prosciutto from black-skinned pigs, pickled mustard seeds and crunchy celery root, to marvelous effect. The tart wine cut right through the fat of the prosciutto and became a bit sweeter in the process. A hearty, zesty combination I wouldn’t hesitate to order again. (Marrell graciously credited the inspiration for this dish to Marco Pierre White’s cookbook “White Heat.”)

Good heavens, there’s yet more to come? Loosen your belts, ladies and gentlemen; we’ve got three courses left to go.

Up Next: A stellar cru Beaujolais, a Lagrein from Italy, and for dessert… vermouth. Hey, this is Odd Bacchus, folks. Were you expecting Port?

Unusual Pairings At Urban Union – Part 1

2 January 2013

Chef de Cuisine Joshua MarrellEvery now and then, an invitation to attend a special dinner will waft my way, and though I do my best to avoid overindulgence (ahem), I feel it is my bloggerly duty to accept whenever possible. And so,  immediately following my office’s Christmas party, at which much pasta and red wine was consumed, I headed to Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood, home to cozy and stylish Urban Union.

A handful of other food/wine bloggers gathered at the communal Chef’s Table, “where diners are served customized and unique creations, along with expertly selected wine pairings by the two sommeliers on staff,” according to the invitation. I felt a bit apprehensive, hoping that the pairings would be unusual enough to suit this blog, but as soon as I walked in, I knew it would work out just fine. A large chalkboard listed the “Wines on Tap,” starting with a Greek Moschofilero and a Californian Arneis. Yeah!

We started with a relatively conventional but undeniably delicious pairing of sake and ahi tuna sashimi with ponzu, basil and almonds. The Narutotai Ginjo Namagenshu, an unpasturized, unfiltered sake that continues to condition in its can, tasted fruity and a bit yeasty before driving to a clean, spicy finish. Paired with the sashimi, it seemed surprisingly less spicy; it became smoother, duskier. (You can read more about sake here.)

Domaine GiachinoThings started to get more unusual and exciting when General Manager and Sommelier Andrew Algren brought out the next bottle, a 2009 Domaine Giachino Abymes “Monfarina”.Very little wine escapes from France’s Alpine Savoie region, so I always feel delighted when I have the chance to taste one. This wine comes from the Abymes cru, about 100 kilometers south of Geneva, Switzerland, and it’s made with Jacquère, a white variety obscure to us but relatively common in Savoie. The wine smelled of rich green apples, and it tasted light-bodied and rather tart. The acids cried out for food, and a delightful winter beet salad with pancetta chips mellowed them nicely.

Chef de Cuisine Joshua Marrell kept things seasonal with his next course, a lush sunchoke purée topped with roasted sunchokes and sunchoke chips. Its deeply satisfying flavor worked marvelously with Algren’s most daring pairing yet: A 2011 Tikveš Rkaciteli from theSunchokes pureed, roasted and in chip form Republic of Macedonia (not to be confused with the Greek region of the same name). If you’ve encountered the incredibly ancient Rkaciteli variety at all, it was probably spelled “Rkatsiteli” and it probably came from Georgia (the country) or perhaps New York. It’s the most widely planted variety in the ex-Soviet republics, which isn’t necessarily a ringing endorsement, but it can make some excellent wines.

Macedonia, for its part, has a climate “extremely favorable to vine cultivation,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, and I was excited to see what this little country would do with one of the world’s oldest wine varieties. The Tikveš Rkaciteli fascinated me with aromas of bright pear and a bit of tar. It proved to be very acidic, oily and minerally, which sounds terrible, but I found it oddly enticing. The rich sunchoke dish balanced out the acids, making the wine rounder and fuller.

Up Next: The meal continues with an unexpected rosé and a wine that tastes like “grabbing a handful of the French forest floor and chowing down.”

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