Rosé

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?

Teutonic Pink

7 November 2012

I know I claimed to be done with rosé for the season, but I had one on my shelf too tempting to leave unopened until the spring: A 2011 Reichsrat von Buhl Pinot Noir Rosé from Germany’s Pfalz region. I remember when I saw it on the shelf at Binny’s. A Pinot Noir from Germany would be odd enough on its own, but a Teutonic Pinot Noir rosé? That’s unusual and obscure gold.

According to The World Atlas of Wine, the Pfalz, a region between Saarbrücken and the Rhein, is “today arguably [Germany's] most exciting wine region… famous for an increasing number of seriously ambitious individual wine producers.” Von Buhl makes its wines in Deidesheim, a Pfalz town surrounded, if the Atlas is to be believed, by “excellent” and “exceptional” vineyards. This is the southern end of the Mittelhaardt, long known for producing some of Germany’s finest Rieslings, with “succulent honeyed richness and body, balanced with thrilling acidity.”

But Pinot Noir? This thin-skinned variety, notoriously susceptible to rot, does surprisingly well in the Pfalz, which is “Germany’s sunniest, driest region,” according to the Atlas. Since the vineyards receive only about 16 inches of rainfall a year, mildew and rot tend not to be a problem. And if you look at map, you’ll see that the Pfalz (also known as the Palatinate) is not too far from Burgundy, home to some of the best Pinot Noirs in the world.

I’m not sure the Pinots of the Pfalz quite reach those lofty heights — that’s for another blog post — but I can tell you that the Reichsrat Pinot Noir Rosé was no insipid White Zinfandel. It had a honeydew aroma mixed with something a little spicy, and the melon notes continued onto the palate. A blitz of sharp, limey acids blasted the fruit out of the way, leading to a spicy finish. There was a prickle on the tongue as well — a hint of bubbles. And indeed, the von Buhl website notes that this wine “is actually a product of [their] sparkling wine production.”

This rosé isn’t “fun,” exactly. It’s not a wine I would serve at a pool party. It demands attention. But paired with an Asian “salad” of wheat berries, beef, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, red peppers, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil, it worked beautifully. The acids rounded out, becoming more orangey than limey, and the wine felt bigger, rounder, and, most interestingly, smokier.

If you’re hankering for a rosé this autumn or winter, the von Buhl would be a great choice.

SUMMARY

2011 Reichsrat von Buhl Pinot Noir Rosé: Verging on sparkling, with melony fruit and sharp, racy acids. Excellent with food. Chill well in the refrigerator.

Grade: B+

Find It: I must admit I don’t recall what I spent on this bottle, and it’s not available on Binny’s website as of this posting. I did a quick search online and found a number of stores selling it; the lowest price I found was $18.

Time To Break Out The Pink

11 July 2012

When 90 degrees feels like relief, there’s nothing to do but break out a bottle of rosé. It’s almost never a mistake to turn to one of Provence’s renowned pinks, but fine dry rosé can come from any number of wine regions these days. While shopping at In Fine Spirits recently, I came across a bottle of rosé Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and since I didn’t even know rosé was allowed in the Abruzzo DOC, I couldn’t resist snapping it up.

But “Montepulciano” can be a confusing term in Italy. In this case, if refers to a late-ripening grape variety grown throughout much of central Italy, most notably in the southeastern province of Abruzzo along the Adriatic Sea. “Montepulciano” also refers to a celebrated wine town in Tuscany, but the wine there is made mostly from Sangiovese, not Montepulciano.

Now that we’ve got our Montepulcianos straight, let’s investigate further. Abruzzo, at least according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, seems to be a region of great but unrealized potential: “Despite the presence of one of Italy’s better grape varieties Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, despite the warm climate, and despite favorable vineyard sites where hills descend towards the Adriatic and enjoy the benefits of summer heat and solar radiation from the sea, most of the region’s production is undistinguished…” Why? Because Abruzzo has ill-conceived DOCs promoting quantity over quality.

And how does rosé fare in this potentially excellent terroir? Does it shine through in spite of the poorly designed regulations? Official opinion is split. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia notes that “A lighter style called cerasuolo exists for cherry-pink wine with fresh fruit, but it is seldom as exciting [as red Montepulciano d'Abruzzo].” But The World Atlas of Wine praises Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, calling it “satisfyingly full-blooded.”

I’m delighted to say that the one I found at In Fine Spirits, the 2011 Valle Reale “Vigne Nuove” Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, turned out to be satisfying indeed. The winery uses a “low-spurred cordon” vine training method, which is notable because it results in significantly lower yields (and therefore more concentrated flavors) than the overhead “tendone” system strongly encouraged by Abruzzo’s regulations back in the 1970s.

A beautiful deep salmon pink, this wine had an enticing strawberry nose and bright flavors of watermelon and bubble gum. On the palate, the wine moved from fruit to prickly acids to bracing minerals. It tasted especially zesty when paired with a simple dinner of beans, rice and fresh vegetables.

Once again, a risk on an unknown rosé pays off. I don’t have any hard evidence to back this theory up, but I suspect that because rosés tend to be less popular than reds or whites, they are often a labor of love for a winemaker. The pink sugar-water of White Zinfandel aside, you’ll be hard-pressed to go wrong with a rosé this summer.

SUMMARY

2011 Valle Reale “Vigne Nuove” Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo: Fruity, dry, juicy, minerally and beautifully pink. In short, just about everything a good rosé should be. Perfect for a picnic, a barbeque or a light summer dinner.

Grade: A-

Find It: I purchased this bottle for $13 at In Fine Spirits in Chicago. If you don’t mind abysmal service, you can also find it at Binny’s.

The Desert Vineyards Of Washington State

27 August 2011

A hurricane may be raging along the East Coast, but in Chicago we’re having some of the loveliest weather we’ve had all year. It was a perfect chance to relax outside with a glass of rosé, my favorite fun summer wine.

Although my wine rack currently overflows with bottles, only one rosé was left — a 2010 Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese. I couldn’t remember ever tasting a Sangiovese rosé, much less one from Washington State. It was an ideal choice (of course, the total lack of other options also contributed to the selection process).

Before settling down with a glass, I researched Sangiovese a bit, wondering what this common Italian varietal might be doing up in Washington State. It came as a surprise to read in The Oxford Companion to Wine that “Sangiovese’s principal characteristic in the vineyard is its slow and late ripening…” Washington isn’t known as the sunniest of states, leading me to wonder how this grape might get enough sun to fully develop.

I really became curious how on earth anyone could grow this varietal in Washington when I went on to read that “The grape’s rather thin skin creates a certain susceptibility to rot in cool and damp years…” Washington State would seem to be the epitome of cool and damp — who would be crazy enough to grow Sangiovese there, and how did they possibly make it work?

And here my lack of knowledge about the Columbia River Valley’s terroir became all too apparent. (more…)