Toast Independence Day With A Bang

29 June 2013

Note: This is a repost from last year, with some modifications. I can’t think of a better drink for the 4th than this.

If I were to be perfectly honest, I would recommend cracking open a refreshing bottle of dry rosé with your July 4th barbeque. This is very likely what I’ll be drinking, but frankly, dry rosé seems too effete, too continental, for celebrating America’s Independence Day. We didn’t gain our independence by playing nice with the Brits, negotiating at endless length, relying on the hope of their essential good nature.

No longer able to bear, among other indignities, taxation without representation, our ancestors risked their lives and the well-being of their families so that we could live as a free people. They took up arms and kicked those colonial bastards out of the country by force, because force is the only language tyrants comprehend.

No, as delightful as dry rosé may be, it does not rise to the task of commemorating the wisdom, bravery and strength of our foremothers and forefathers. Independence Day calls for something unabashedly powerful and unashamedly American. Something with a bang. Something like Artillery Punch.

The first time I had Artillery Punch was at a friend’s holiday party. I remember consuming only about two glasses of the punch (along with, admittedly, a fistful of rum balls), before we all decided it would be a great idea to strip off our Christmas sweaters and take some topless group photos. It’s that kind of punch.

A number of recipes published in books and on the Internet purport to be Artillery Punch. Some, like this one, incorporate tea and cherries into the mix. This one goes further by adding pineapple as well, which to my mind dilutes the 18th-century revolutionary je ne sais quoi. Both recipes also make use of gin, an altogether too British spirit for this occasion.

I prefer to relate the simplest (and strongest) recipe I found, the dangerously delicious concoction described in David Wondrich’s Punch. Mr. Wondrich found this recipe in an 1885 copy of the Augusta Chronicle, which describes how Artillery Punch was created by a certain A.H. Luce in honor of Savannah’s Republican Blues visiting Macon’s Chatham Artillery sometime in the 1850s. It makes use of that very French spirit Cognac, but since the French were our allies, a bit of Cognac seems appropriate.

The original recipe calls for a horse bucket “of ordinary size” to be filled with crushed ice, whiskey, rum, bourbon, sugar and lemon, and then topped off with Champagne. Should you have a horse bucket of ordinary size at your disposal, I have no doubt it would be the hit of your barbeque, but failing that, an ordinary large punch bowl will do:

David Wondrich’s Artillery Punch (as adapted by Odd Bacchus):

12 lemons

2 cups raw sugar (the larger crystals of raw sugar are useful, but white sugar will also work)

1 bottle Cognac (Mr. Wondrich recommends VSOP, but the budget-conscious should opt for VS)

1 bottle Jamaican-style rum

1 bottle bourbon

3 bottles brut Champagne (or sparkling wine, for heaven’s sake)

1 bag of ice

Using a vegetable peeler, zest the twelve lemons, making the peels broad and long and as free of the white pith as possible. In a mixing bowl, muddle firmly with the sugar to extract the peels’ essential oils. Let the mixture stand in a warm place for 30 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, juice the 12 lemons. You’ll need about a pint of juice, so it’s wise to have a few extra lemons on hand. (Note that store-bought lemon juice will not be a good substitute.)

Add the lemon juice to the sugar/peel mixture and dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, pour the mixture through a strainer into another bowl in order to remove the peels. Using a funnel, empty the contents of the bowl into a clean wine bottle (or other 750-milliliter bottle) and top up with water. Cork, and refrigerate.

The above steps can all be done in advance of the party, and the sugar/lemon mixture will keep in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight.

Just before you want to serve the punch, fill a large punch bowl halfway with crushed ice (bash the bag of ice on the floor a few times to get smaller pieces, or hit it with a mallet). Add the bottle of sugar/lemon mixture and the bottles of Cognac, rum and bourbon. Top off with the three bottles of Champagne. As noted above, it need not be real French Champagne, but it should be a quality dry sparkling wine of some sort — don’t skimp too much here. A fine Cava could work, for example.

This thoroughly delicious punch goes down with surprising ease, so be sure to warn your guests of its strength. It’s enough to knock the socks off even the most self-confident of tyrants.

Recovering From The Ottomans

26 June 2013

Parparoussis Mavrodaphne de Patras ReserveDespite its noble history, Greek wine continues to have a terrible reputation. Partially this is due to Retsina, a pungent, pine-resinated wine common in Greece and “a potent catalyst of taverna nostalgia outside of it,” as The Oxford Companion to Wine notes. But mostly it’s due to the Ottoman Empire.

When the Ottomans took over Greece in the late 15th century, the local population suffered from hefty taxation and discrimination as Christians, and many people were reduced to little better than serfdom. The wine industry didn’t even begin to recover from this period of stagnation until the 1960s, before which most Greek wine was sold in bulk (in barrels, not in bottles), according to the Oxford Companion.

The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia argues that “The speed with which the best boutique wineries… have turned around the reputation of Greek wines is nothing less than breathtaking,” but I’m afraid the author may be confusing reputation with quality. After all, just a couple of years ago, when I requested a Greek wine recommendation from a salesperson at Binny’s, he looked at me like I’d just loudly passed gas.

Whatever the current state of their reputation, Greek wines are some of the most exciting on the market today, as reconfirmed by a recent “Wines of Greece” tasting at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference. After tasting through eight whites, two rosés, nine reds and five dessert wines, it became crystal clear that Greek wines have officially arrived. In addition to the labels I’ve previously recommended, here are others to seek out:

Assyrtiko from Santorini: This white variety (also spelled Assyrtico) originated on the island of Santorini, a picturesque caldera in the heart of the Aegean Sea. Wines from this very dry, windy island tend to be sunny, minerally and zesty. The 2012 Santo Wines Assyrtiko impressed with lush fruit, refreshing acids and a slate finish, and the 2011 Koutsoyiannopoulos Assyrtiko also brought a smile to my face with appley fruit, zippy acids and some grapefruit peel at the end. I also sampled Assyrtiko in a blend — the 2012 Santo Wines Nykteri combines it with Athiri and Aidani, resulting in a cheery and citrusy wine with notes of exotic spices.

Agiorgitiko from Nemea: Sotheby’s calls the Nemea appellation “relatively reliable,” and certainly the two Agiorgitikos I tasted support that rather tepid assertion. The Oxford Companion also seems lukewarm about Agiorgitiko, noting that though grapes grown in the higher-elevation Nemea vineyards can produce long-lived wines, Agiorgitiko can often be fruity but lacking in acid. Well, the examples I tried both tasted memorably delicious. The 2007 Skouras Grand Cuvée Nemea had a beautiful aroma of tobacco and cherries, plenty of bright acids, ample fruit and luscious notes of mocha. Nor did the 2004 Nemeion Estate Hgemon Estate let me down, with an enticingly raisiny aroma, big fruit and big spice, and a surprising touch of Robitussin on the finish. “Yes!” I wrote in my notebook.

Xinomavro from Naoussa: The name of this variety translates, rather distressingly, as “acid black,” but don’t let that deter you, especially if you find an older example. The Oxford Companion notes that Xinomavro ages well, “as mature examples of Naoussa can demonstrate.” Sotheby’s almost gets excited about Naoussa, writing, “I cautiously suggest that almost any Naoussa could be worth the gamble.” I gambled on five examples from this Macedonian region north of Mount Olympus, and most proved delightful:

  • 2010 Thymiopoulos Uranos Naoussa: Lots of cherry and strawberry fruit, but tannic, with an astringent finish.
  • 2009 Kir Yianni Ramnista: Leathery aroma. An earthy and funky wine, also with broad tannins.
  • 2008 Alpha Estate Hedgehog: This single-vineyard wine had a nose of mocha and raisins. Ripely fruity, with something intriguingly green on the tannic finish.
  • 2008 Karydas Naoussa: A lush texture, with juicy red fruit, iron and earth. (In case you’re planning a little dinner party, this wine pairs well with grilled wild boar and goat in a pot, according to the website.)
  • 2007 Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa: This slightly older example had an almost figgy aroma, bright fruit, focused acids and comforting tannins. As predicted by the Oxford Companion, the oldest was indeed the best in this case.

Dessert Wine from Patras or Santorini: I mentioned how fantastic these dessert wines were to an acquaintance, who promptly cut me off, asserting, “Oh, I don’t like sweet wines.” Oh yes you do. You just don’t like insipid alcoholic sugar water, like Schwarze Katz or White Zinfandel. The five dessert wines I sampled at this tasting, on the other hand, were each lively, balanced and positively bursting with flavor:

  • 2004 Sigalas Vinsanto: This blend of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Aidani from Santorini is “my kind of dessert,” I wrote in my notebook. It starts with blast of caramel (“mega caramel attack” were the words I wrote), improbably leavened with appley fruit and fresh acids.
  • 2006 Samos Anthemis: A fortified Muscat-based wine also from Santorini, with rich chocolate-covered raisin fruit balanced by zesty green acids.
  • 2002 Samos Nectar: A non-fortified Muscat, with about half the alcohol content of the Anthemis. I wrote that it’s a “Heath Bar in a glass,” and yet somehow, again, the acids rise to the occasion and balance things out.
  • 2006 Parparoussis Muscat Rio Patras: This passito or vin de paille-style wine is made from Patras-grown grapes dried in the sun to concentrate their sugars. It smelled enticingly of orange blossom and dark honey, and though it  tasted richly sweet, it was lively too, with some intriguing herbal notes and a zing of spice.
  • 2003 Parparoussis Mavrodaphne Patras Reserve: The Mavrodaphne variety is a specialty of the Patras region, located in the north of the Peloponnese Peninsula. Almost opaque with sediment, this wine had an orangey, tawny port-like aroma, which was just a hint of the magic to come. It tasted raisiny but not at all syrupy, because the acids practically leapt right out of the wine. Indeed, the finish was almost tart — even dry.

If you pass on dessert wines like these, you deny yourself one of life’s great pleasures.

Devil Wine Of Yes Country

22 June 2013

Prix Fixe Diable RougeI don’t think of France as a particularly tumultuous country in terms of wine. Its AOC system is well-defined and strict, meaning that when you buy a Chablis or a Beaujolais, you can be relatively certain about how that wine will taste. But in the south, in the Languedoc region in particular, things get a lot more wild and wooly. In the manner of Italy’s Super Tuscan vintners, many important Languedoc producers “ignore the AOC system completely and put most of their effort into making high-quality vins de pays,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine.

Vins de pays, or country wines, were originally intended to be simple, tasty wines which have some basic hallmarks of the region from which they came. But according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, “This category of wine includes some of the most innovative and exciting wines being produced in the world today.” The lack of restrictions in this class of wines “encouraged the more creative winemakers to produce wines that best expressed their terroir without being hampered by an overregulated AOC system…” the Encyclopedia goes on to say.

The most successful of the vins de pays, according to the Encyclopedia, is the Vin de Pays d’Oc, which encompasses the entire southwest coast of France from Spain almost to Avignon. The refreshingly easy-to-pronounce name means, rather strangely, “wine of the yes country.” In the ancient local Occitan language, “oc” is used for “yes” instead of “oui,” so if you’re in oc country, you know you’re in the south (though you’ll be hard pressed to find an Occitan speaker nowadays, thanks to France’s policy of stamping out any language or dialect that wasn’t high French, which continues even now to a certain extent).

I’m very fond of this unruly region of France, and thus it was with pleasure that I received a complimentary sample of a Vin de Pays d’Oc, especially because it was made from a grape variety I’d never heard of: Marselan. Created in 1961 and authorized for Vin de Pays d’Oc use just 23 years ago, this crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache Noir was created specifically for the Languedoc terroir, and it “can offer respectable levels of both color and flavor,” according to the Oxford Companion.

I therefore opened the 2011 Prix Fixe “Diable Rouge” Marselan with high hopes (“respectable” in Oxford Companion terms usually means “quite good” to the rest of us). This wine from the Pays Cathare region of Languedoc is imported by a Napa winery called Spelletich Family Wine Co., and Barb Spelletich explained in an e-mail to me how a California winery became involved with a Marselan from Languedoc:

We were looking for a wine to import from France and a friend of ours, a broker in France who works for Scodex, Nicholas Reble introduced us to this grape. I was intrigued with the facts about Marselan… This Marselan is grown and produced by Cantalric co-op servicing the region of Pays Cathare. This region is bordering the Mediterranean Sea up to the Alaric mountain… I love the combination of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. The flavors are very intriguing.

Intriguing indeed. It has an aroma that’s both darkly fruity and earthy — one friend I tasted the wine with detected a note of barnyard in the nose, and another remarked, “It reminds me of Asian preserved plum, oh, but don’t write that down — no one will know what it means.” Maybe not, but it certainly sounds enticing to me.

On the palate, the wine has ample fruit tempered by earthy undertones. It tasted meaty, hearty and spicy, with an aromatic finish of cherry pie. Some in the group thought the wine’s earthy character dominated, but I found the earth and fruit to be very well-balanced. It packs a lot of flavor, this red devil, making it a fine example of what wild and wooly Languedoc can produce, and very fine value at $18 per bottle.

SUMMARY

2011 Prix Fixe “Diable Rouge” Marselan: Darkly fruity, earthy and fun, ideal for a summer barbeque. Be sure to chill in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes to bring it down to cellar temperature.

Price: $18, and a fine value at that.

Find It: You might not see this wine in your local shop, since only 416 cases were produced, but you can purchase it on the Spelletich website.

Favorite Moments Of The Wine Blogger Conference (Part 2)

19 June 2013

Dessert wines from Greece

6. Wines of Greece Tasting: When I tell people that the Wines of Greece tasting was a real highlight of the Wine Bloggers Conference,  many people are taken aback, still traumatized by memories of Retsina. This tasting, however, left no doubt as to the potential of Greek wines today. Sunny whites from Santorini, rich reds made from barely pronounceable varieties like Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro, eye-poppingly vivacious dessert wines — taken together, they put to rest the notion that Greeks don’t make great wine. More specifics on this tasting to come.

 

Old Fairview town site

7. Ghost Town Tasting: One evening, we headed to the site of Fairview, a gold-mining boom town which was subsequently abandoned. Little remains today, but the site made for a spectacular progressive wine tasting. We meandered along gently rolling paths from tent to tent, tasting an array of delicious wines, the cloud-capped peak of Old Baldy (above) watching over us in the distance. Some favorites:

  • 2012 Gehringer Brothers Gewürztraminer-Schönburger: This 50/50 blend had a nose of caramel popcorn that made me positively shiver with anticipation. I was not disappointed. I wrote, “Dry, spicy, fruity, aromatic — yes. Yum.”
  • 2012 Oliver Twist “Oliver’s Choice” Kerner: I’ve written positively about Kerner before, and this example also proved delightful. It smelled of honeysuckle, rubber and funk, and it tasted fruity, savory, spicy and exotic. Unusual and great fun.
  • 2012 Tinhorn Creek 2Bench Rosé: This blend of 51% Cabernet Franc and 49% Syrah had a beautiful aroma which made me think of strawberry-topped crème brûlée. The flavor profile was exactly what I look for in a rosé: fruity, juicy, zesty and dry.
  •  2010 Stoneboat Vineyards Pinotage: I never thought a wine made from this South African variety would make my list of favorite anything, but this British Columbian Pinotage had a richly creamy red fruit aroma, a velvety texture, ample red fruit on the palate, rustic acids and a non-overpowering vegetal note. The best Pinotages I’ve had in recent memory.
  • 2005 Fairview Cellars “Two Hoots”: The winery currently sells the 2010 vintage of this Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend, and if that’s all you can find, buy it and lay it down for a couple more years. The 2005 sucked me right in with a very deep, jammy aroma, and despite the rich fruit, its structure managed to be tight and focused. Delicious, especially considering that this is a wine “priced for daily consumption.”

 

Jon and the Feet of God!

8. The Feet of God!: Jon makes a superlative Argentinean Malbec called “Hand of God,” which you should snap up immediately should you be fortunate enough to come across a bottle. It has a richly dark, plummy aroma, some zingy acids and powerful focus. But Jon’s bright-orange shoes stole the show, especially in the black light of the bus. “Those are the feet of God!” a gleefully stentorian Jon pronounced.

 

One bajillon grapes go into every bottle!!!

9. The Inniskillin Ice Wine Presentation: This presentation felt too salesy, but it proceeded smoothly enough until this PowerPoint slide hit the screen. Then there it was, in giant font, the biggest whopper I’d heard since Eric Holder denied being involved in the subpoena of news media phone records. One half a ton (please forgive the American spelling) of grapes in every bottle of ice wine. Zow.

Now I’m just guessing here, but I think that would mean the entire grape harvest of North America would have to be diverted to Inniskillin. A couple of alert audience members questioned the speaker, and I tweeted my incredulity about the numbers. Nk’Mip Cellars responded to my tweet, writing, “Our bad. Our winemaker Randy Picton advises its more like 500, 375ml bottles. Thanks for checking in.”

Two bottles, 500 bottles… it’s just a rounding error, really.

 

Riunite, baby!

10. Lambrusco Tasting in the Riunite RV: There came a time on the last evening of the Wine Bloggers Conference when the pull of the Riunite RV finally became irresistible. I collected some of my favorite people at the conference, including noted Vancouver-based wine writer Kristof Gillese and Steve and Jane of the well-regarded 2 Hollywood Winos blog, pulled them out of a perfectly lovely Jordan Winery after party, and headed down to the hotel’s parking lot. The Riunite RV gleamed under the lot’s lights, and we climbed aboard.

Inside, we discovered two leather sofas and a distressingly red queen-size bed, along with plenty of swag such as red-and-white Riunite-emblazoned sunglasses. The Riunite rep encouraged me to try a Lambrusco and beef jerky pairing. And by God, if in that moment — in that wonderfully ridiculous RV, after days of carefully contemplating dozens and dozens of serious wines — that sweet/salty pairing wasn’t perfectly delicious, my name isn’t Odd Bacchus.

Favorite Moments Of The Wine Blogger Conference (Part 1)

15 June 2013

Lake Okanagan

1. Waking up each morning to this view of Lake Okanagan.

 

The view from Tsillan

2. Dinner with Tsillan Cellars‘ owners Mr. & Mrs. Bob Jankelson. The hillside setting of Tsillan presents panoramic views of Lake Chelan, and the well-crafted wines — available only in the tasting room or through the wine club — provide yet more incentive to visit. The Chardonnay tasted rich but balanced and focused; I enjoyed the tight and earthy Sinistra (a Sangiovese-based blend); and about the fruity and full-bodied Bellissima Rossa, I wrote “Yes.” The company was just as good as the wines. My favorite part of the evening came when Mrs. Jankelson asked, with disarming frankness, “So, can you tell me, what is wine blogging? And why is it important?”

 

Karma owner Julie Pittsinger and winemaker Craig Mitrakul

3. Sparkling Wine Brunch at Karma Vineyards. This winery convinced me, along with quite a few of my fellow bloggers, that Lake Chelan’s specialty might well be sparkling wines. Each of the wines we tasted had impressively small, pointy bubbles and bright acids, ensuring that they pair well with a range of foods. My favorites were the 2010 Karma Brut, which had rich apple fruit and balanced lemony acids, and (despite the unfortunate name) the 2011 Hard Row to Hoe “Good in Bed” Blanc de Noir, with its beautiful texture, pronounced berry flavor and juicy, orangey acids.

 

Sarah pouring Moon Curser

4. Bus Tastings. We spent a lot of time on buses at the Wine Blogger Conference this year, for better or worse, and the conference organizers had no intention of wasting that time. Why just sit there when you can be drinking wine? The best bus tasting culminated with a 2011 Moon Curser Petit Verdot, a variety which appears in Bordeaux-style blends far more often than in a varietal wine. It had a gorgeous mocha aroma, dark fruit, rustic tannins, a zing of acids and an aromatic finish. Delicious. The winery takes its name from local gold smugglers, who would curse the full moon as they tried to sneak their booty across the border at night.

 

Hainle Gewürztraminer Ice Wine

5. 2010 Hainle Vineyards Estate Winery Gewürztraminer Ice Wine. Kristof Gillese led a fascinating session about judging wine, selecting several delicious British Columbian wines for us to sample. I very much enjoyed the rich and lively 1996 Summerhill Pyramid Winery sparkling wine, the cheery and earthy 2008 Tinhorn Creek Old Field Series Pinot Noir, and the velvety and peppery 2009 Painted Rock Merlot.

But the Hainle Gewürztraminer Ice Wine was staggeringly delicious. It’s rare to see a Gewürztraminer ice wine, I learned, because the fruit usually falls off the vine before the first frost, or at the very least loses its acidity. Conditions have to be just right, and with this wine, Hainle hit a home run. It had a rich but fresh honeysuckle aroma, and such verve on the palate! It started lush and sweet, as you might expect, but then startlingly zesty acids kicked in, followed by a pop of white-pepper spice. On the finish, I got a touch of orange along with an aromatic tobacco note. It was sublime. If you can find a way to get to Hainle to taste this wine, for God’s sake, do it.

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