The glamour of the gamay

Like the ruby slippers of a young girl who, in the turn of a twister wasn’t in Kansas anymore, the colorful French gamay grape awaits in a bottle of Chateau de Nervers Brouilly and Domaine Des Quatri Vents Fleurie, both villages classified. Gamay grapes are a cross between pinot noir and the ancient white gouais, and grown in the most southern region of Burgundy, in Beaujolais…considered by many to be its own appellation. The timing of the new release of gamay wines have the precision known to Switzerland. Every third week of November, a new release of Beaujolais Nouveau is swiftly sold. Many buyers open the bottles for Thanksgiving dinner as a tradition, but almost nobody will put the bottle down in the cellar.

The idea of Beaujolais Nouveau is to taste the grape of the prior harvest, newly released, as a gateway to how a particular vintage will age. This is not a wine to elicit layers of character and perfumes. It is meant to be consumed immediately and offers a straightforward mouthfeel of straight fruit and fine tannins. Its aromatics are without the mask of oak, and for the Fleurie, you’ll get hints of fresh-picked violets; for the Brouilly, cherries and red currants dominate. Both gamay wines are fruit forward, inviting on the palate and pair well with aged cheeses, spicy dishes and tarragon chicken or roasted lamb. Okay, so they both work really well with pizza!

The biggest producer of Beaujolais Nouveau is Georges Duboeuf, who also produces Chardonnays such as Macon-Villages and Pouilly-Fuisse, the former grown in limestone and the latter in clay, chalk. My preference is Pouilly-Fuisse for its Burgundian character and aroma of roasted almonds mixed with verbena. This is a slightly oak-aged wine and expected to age well. The best pairing? Caesar salad topped with lobster, or any light pasta dish, seafood bisque or shellfish.

Finally, wines from Burgundy can be expensive, yet these wines are priced around $20 a bottle. Enjoy the youthful vibrance of these entry-level, Beaujolais wines. Especially at a picnic, and if you’d like…in a sangria.

 

 

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The drip on sipping cold brewed coffee

Without the bitter oils and acid finish in a sip of coffee, cold brewed coffee made in the Dutch or Japanese style… in a slow ice-drip, changes the taste to an almost caramel texture coffee experience. I recently tested a new product on the market, Dripo by gosh! and after my initial confusion in why I would want to wait 2-plus hours for a cup of cold coffee, I tasted it and get the idea….sort of. 

At first, the concept was lost on me. I opened the container that looked to be a carton of milk, and inside was a cylinder with three twist off parts. Fortunately, I had a guest staying with me who took charge of the initial testing. Unfortunately, the first go at making this brew took all day. I later realized that she had placed the thin coffee filter on the bottom instead of the top of the grounds, and this caused it to slow down considerably. In fact, I tried it twice and realized that its best to skip using the coffee filter on top since there is a metal filter built in.

The problem for me is that i don’t really like cold coffee, and that’s what I got. Delving deeper into this phenomenon of cold-brewed coffee, I was advised to simply add a bit more coffee grind and then add boiled water so I could taste a cup of hot, yet cold-brewed coffee. The result was a caramel-smooth texture of weak coffee I really didn’t want to continue brewing in this effort-heavy method. Oh, and the cap with the pour-out lid doesn’t work.

Come summertime, I will definitely make another attempt to enjoy this when the thought of drinking a cup of hot coffee is unfathomable. But for now, some like it cold, but I like my coffee hot and brewed in my traditional coffeemaker.

For those who have joined the craze of cold coffee, Dripo by gosh! is sold on Amazon.com at this time for about $30, and is patent-pending. Be sure to hashtag #howyoudripo to share your smooth tales of ice-drip coffee, or visit GetDripo.com, Facebook.com/GetDripo for more information.

Fairy tale of a French wine

In Monte Carlo, rosé is the preferred thirst-quencher for wine enthusiasts. I experienced this in 2015, while sipping on a 2014 Château Les Valentines Rosé and dining at a Michelin-star restaurant in Monaco, seaside at Elsa restaurant at Monte Carlo Beach Hotel.

My travel calexa-at-elsaompanion, Alexa (pictured), shared my joy in the life of a princess, sipping on elegant wines such as this Côtes de Provence rosé, with a cherry blossom aroma complemented by the drifting Mediterranean sea air mixed with the fresh floral breeze. Its notes gave way to a minerality typical of French wines, but this particular rosé was like pouring rose petals into a glass lined with drenched pebbles following a summer morning rain. Its color of pale pink/orange misled my palate into thinking this would be a fragile wine short on structure, but I was wrong. This rosé saturated my tongue with a tannin structure of royal character and elegance.

A year later, I found a 2015 bottle of Château Les Valentines Rosé online through a wine searcher app, and I ordered a few to re-introduce myself to this incredible rosé, a wine fit for a princess. Come summer, I will plan for a special dinner with friends to enjoy sips sure to send me back  in time to my time spent reveling in the good life of Monaco.

Pinots for pairing during the holidays

A Facebook friend posted it best: “This is the Mondayest Tuesday.” My sentiments, exactly during this short work week packed with meetings, resolving work issues and schmoozing with fellow journalists. It seems to have taken forever to get to the biggest meal of the year: Thanksgiving. And now we are well on our way to Christmas.

In the meantime, all I want to do is to curl up with my puppy in front of a roaring fire, sip an elegant wine and binge watch “Once Upon a Time.”

The opportunity to taste some Mendocino wines made by a small California producer with a big label did manage to present itself here and there over the last few weeks. I was happy to taste a series of pinot noirs to figure out and share the best pairing for Thanksgiving.

Everyone wants a new label to bring to the table, and if you can add some table talk about where the grapes were grown and about the producer, even better than gossiping about Aunt Dottie or that nasty ex-husband when the day is supposed to be a lesson in gratefulness and appreciation of abundance in the harvest, friends and family.

Lula Cellars 2013 Mendocino Pinot Noir is my top pick for pairing with a traditional holiday dinner. Only 200 cases were produced, and a bottle with cost $45. Lula wines avoids distribution to keep costs for its artisanal product reasonable, so these wines can only be purchased via the www.lulacellars.com website, in the Lula Cellars tasting room in Anderson Valley, California, or through the Lula Cellars Wine Club.

Whether you select the 2013 Costa Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2013 Peterson Vineyard Pinot Noir or the 2014 Mariah Vineyard Zinfandel, you’ll get a unique structure and taste with each one. For the 2013 Mendocino Pinot Noir, the grapes were harvested from Costa vineyards, which bring forth that earthiness in structure, and with grapes from Peterson vineyards, which give it that deep ruby tone. All around, this is a wine everyone at the table will be pleased to sip, as it is the most elegant, balanced wine that combines elements of the mountainous and coastal region of the Mendocino coast.

Winemaker Jeff Hansen deserves a round of applause. His 30 years as a winemaker/scientist-artist has paid off with a collection of pinots to talk about. Now, who is Lula, you ask? Here’s what you can bring to the table…with your bottle of Lula… Lula is the namesake of the winemaker’s grandmother who was born in 1879 and lived to the ripe age of 89.

Happy Holidays!

For more information on Lula Cellars, visit www.lulacellars.com

Digesting Dracula

Before me, a bevy of beautiful women dressed in second-skin skirts and crisp ironed blouses catch our group’s attention. But my eyes are drawn to those stiletto heels they magically maneuver, and to their perfectly made-up faces…. and those smoke-lined, piercing eyes. These are the eyes of lovely young women, but look deeper and you’ll see eyes that reflect the souls of a vicious past; in a moment’s notice these women could easily rip your carotid artery from your neck.

OK, so my imagination got the best of me in Romania, where all of my thoughts led to a vision of Dracula swooping in to drain the blood of unsuspecting souls.

The women, as it turned out, were gathering for Emirates airline hostess interviews; hence the outfits. We were all inside the historic Intercontinental Hotel where, during wartime, the restrooms were outfitted with secret audio devices for spying purposes. I had to assume these audio bugs were still in place. I didn’t speak until we left the building to browse through an artisan’s market of Transylvanian crafts.

The signature swirls of my cobalt blue Transylvanian ceramic bowl will forever remind me of Bucharest, the final destination we toured through on an AMAWaterways Black Sea voyage that began in Budapest and continued through Croatia, Bulgaria and Serbia, with a last stop in Bucharest. We didn’t make a stop in Transylvania, but neither did Bram Stoker, as it turns out.

While Darlene and I settled in our seats of our assigned tour bus, our imaginations, as well as our obnoxious nature, piqued with every Hungarian accented word spoken by our tour guide.

“Ask him to say it!” I pleaded.

Darlene and I egged each other on to request the tour guide recite, “I vant to suck your blood.”

Obnoxious, yes, but effective once we were overheard by the tour guide. And just like that, a truthful history lesson squelched our visions of Count Dracula, much like an eight-year-old child catching a parent stacking presents under a Christmas tree.

Vlad the Impaler, ruler during the 15th century Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, was also Prince of Wallachia and member of the House of Draculesti. He was known as the protector of the Romanians and Bulgarians north and south of the River Danube. As a fictional author, Stoker’s interest in Vlad the Impaler catapulted into an embellishment that will forever captivate audiences into a belief that vampires exist.

They do not.

Stoker didn’t actually visit Transylvania, or for that matter, Dracula’s castle. He did read his history on the subject, however, and with certain aspects transfused into fiction, Dracula came to life. And death.  And life. And so on.

The white face of Dracula was based on the fact that Vlad was a pale-toned man. The sucking of blood was fashioned after Vlad’s time spent imprisoned in a dungeon where he was tossed a live animal for dinner. The only way to kill it would be for him to use his teeth and severe the carotid artery, hence the image of Dracula sucking the blood from women’s necks.

The Hungarian Beef Goulash served onboard the AMAWaterways river cruise would have satiated Dracula’s hunger for iron-rich protein, with a splash of Schwaben Cabernet Sauvignon to wash it down.

***

Hungarian Beef Goulash

Courtesy AMAWaterways

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • ½ cup corn oil
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 lbs. boneless chuck roast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3 bay leaves

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet; add the onions and sauté lightly. Add the garlic and continue to sauté. Next add the meat, stir well with the other ingredients, and season with salt. Cover and let cook gently until meat browns. Add the sweet paprika, caraway seeds and bay leaves. Cover and cook on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until meat has picked up the flavor of the seasonings. Adjust heat so that the goulash simmers very gently and let it cook for approximately one hour, or until meat is fork tender. Serve over buttered noodles or rice.

Serves 6.

 

Merlot Month with Marilyn Merlot

Now that rose season has subsided, I opened a bottle of Merryvale merlot before realizing October is Merlot Month! I hadn’t known until I read (hashtag) #MerlotMe in a professional wine journal. California merlots are wonderful, fruit-forward wines that bring out my favorite, raspberry, as well as blackberry. Heavy notes of mocha delight my palate, and pouring this inky purple wine reminds me of Bordeaux wines. Merlot is famous for its part in Bordeaux blends, but in California, you get a less complex tannin structure and minerality. That is okay with me, because I opened a full-bodied (pun intended) Marilyn Merlot and became smitten with the Marilyn Monroe label. Each wine has an image of the former Norma Jean and the corks are sealed with her kiss!

With grapes from the historic Missouri Hopper Oakville appellation in Napa Valley, California, winemaker Bob Pepi had a running head start in the making of 2014 Marilyn Merlot, just as Bernard Bruno was considered the man who discovered the blonde bombshell. For the 2014 Marilyn Merlot, he blended in 3 percent petit verdot, which adds to the intense purple juice.

Open the bottle today to enjoy with hamburger, pizza and almost any meal. Keep for another 5-8 years and it’s best enjoyed with roasted duck or braised beef.

The 2015 merlot has a different label, called Norma Jeane. Grapes for this merlot hail from the “Estrella Triangle” in the heart of Paso Robles. When you’re ready, say hello to Norma Jeane, open her up and enjoy with pizza, panini or pasta.

Marilyn Monroe is known to have frequented Napa Valley wineries; in fact, if you visit the tasting room at Frank Family Wines in Calistoga, you’ll see a life-size cutout of the “Some Like it Hot” movie star for posing purposes. Can you imagine roaming tasting rooms to meet up with Marilyn?

Each varietal has a unique photographic label of Marilyn, including a 2015 Sauvignon Blonde made with Lake County grapes, and a 2014 Meritage with grapes grown Andy Beckstoffer’s Missouri Hopper Vineyard (like the Marilyn Merlot 2014 except blended with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and a touch of petit verdot.

Lest not forget the magic of a coupe when held by Marilyn Monroe. Bubbles and Marilyn pair well together, and Blonde de Noirs Cuvee Ten North Coast Sparking Wine (pinot noir and chardonnay) also pairs well with smoked salmon, cheeses and hey, why not caviar?

Some like it merlot. I like Marilyn Merlot and especially like the price point of $29.98 for a bottle of 2014. With a price as reasonable as this (remember, this is Napa Valley), who needs to marry a millionaire to drink good wine?

A bottle of Marilyn Monroe makes a great gift for the holidays, especially because almost everyone loves Marilyn!

For more information on Marilyn Monroe wines, visit www.marilynwines.com

Best Holiday Gift: WineBuff

One side shows Napa Valley, another shows Sonoma, but whichever side of Wine Country in Northern California, the WineBuff works great to clean off water spots and leftover lipstick stains.

Created by innovative wine & bar-ware producer, soiréehome, the launch of WineBuff is just in time for the holiday season. This is the perfect gift — and affordable ($17.99) to give a friend or family member that enjoys an elegant glass of wine served in a perfectly polished glass.

This custom woven microfiber towel was designed specifically for glassware, but with the print of Napa Valley and Sonoma County winery maps, it’s even more of a treasure, if not a collectible! Utilizing it to buff glassware is awesome on its own, but to see the maps and understand what you’ll be tasting if you’re drinking a wine from either region… is only better because you understand the growing conditions and more facts written right on the towel by a sommelier. Basically, your polishing is two-fold.

With over 200 wineries on each map, er… side of towel, you can buff, study and sip your way to confidence and join in on a conversation you may have not felt so prepared if not for that buffing towel. WineBuff is one of those cool little things you see in a tasting room or wine bar and say, “That’s so cool and smart, I need that.”

For more information, visit www.soireehome.com.

To ship or not to ship?

I recently received a bottle of 2012 Estate Grown Holman Ranch Pinot Noir made with grapes grown from the Central Coast, specifically Heather’s Hill in Carmel Valley, California. The one-bottle box arrived end of day on a 90-degree Friday, as scheduled. As soon as I handled the very warm-to-the-touch box, however, I knew it might be tainted.

What to do, I wondered. Do I immediately put the bottle in my wine refrigerator or will that induce bottle-shock? The solution became clear once I tried to stash the bottle on the rack of my wine fridge; the bottle’s shape didn’t accommodate the space allocated on the rack. I placed the bottle in my living room wine rack to let it adjust gradually to a room temperature.

A few days later, I decided to open my bottle, but it tasted close to a cough syrup flavor. I air-locked the bottle and gave it another day before trying it again, this time in a proper pinot Reidel glass. I let it breathe for about 15 minutes and tried it again. This time, I did taste what was probably once a very good pinot noir but had since turned due to warm-weather shipping or perhaps improper storage before shipping. What I did get out of this was fruit forward, young wine that probably would have been great had it not been bottle shocked.

Pinot Noir grapes are difficult to cultivate and obviously difficult to ship in warm weather. There are many wineries that refuse to ship when the weather is too warm because these bottles are like their babies and they want to protect them from the elements. Priced at approximately $35 a bottle, the shock of weather is something to be considered when shipping, even if only from the Central Coast to Napa Valley. Cool packs are a great invention for short-term shipping, but many wineries hold off shipping until mid-fall, if only to avoid having to re-ship because the recipient complains the wine is bad.

To ship or not to ship? It would depend on the distance, the weather, the cool packs utilized and more factors, such as method of shipping.

3 Tastes at Limerick Lane Cellars

I once met a friend in Healdsburg. She arrived at Limerick Lane Cellars with 7 family members and was late. She was set to run a Sunday race, so picked up her pace and met me at a winery she hadn’t planned.

While I sat in wait, I sipped on a Hungarian blended white wine poured from a German-styled bottle, shaped slim and tall, with green tinted glass. I don’t know why I didn’t buy a bottle or two, but my friend will later sip on her purchased bottles to tell the tale.

OK, so enough of the limerick-ish fodder. Limerick Lane Cellars was off the beaten path from the cute little downtown square in Healdsburg, but only a 5-minute worthwhile drive down a country road of vineyards. I actually had to stop in the middle of the road to allow a segway tour group time to motor to the other lane.

The zinfandel was elegant, missing the spice I love, but balanced and quite a lovely craft of Russian River Valley grapes. Finally, the blend of syrah-grenache was a nice change of pace, as were the other two tastes, making a trip to this obscure winery worth the drive.

Following our excursion, lunch downtown at HBG (Healdsburg Bar & Grill) was inexpensive and delicious. Might I suggest the burger or cubano with a cold Lagunitas?

History of Limerick Lane Cellars, as told on the website:

Once known as The Boreen, an old Irish word meaning a small, unpaved country road, Limerick Lane has been home to small farms and vineyards for more than a century.

The Del Fava family planted our oldest currently producing vineyard in 1910. Without the benefit of modern scientific methods now used to determine the best soils and sites, the Del Favas were the first to recognize the rare potential of this small, enclosed microclimate just south of Healdsburg.

In the mid-1970’s, the Del Fava family sold to brothers Michael and Tom Collins. Like the Del Favas, the Collins brothers saw the potential inherent at Limerick Lane. They brought tremendous passion and enthusiasm to the property, overseeing the planting of twenty-five acres of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Grenache–the iconic Collins Vineyard. In addition the Collins brothers replanted and improved the existing vineyards, creating demand for their grapes at preeminent wineries De Loach, Chateau Souverain, Ravenswood, Davis Bynum and Gary Farrell.

By 2009, Mike Collins was ready to sell, but was unwilling to see the beautiful old vines and all his hard work absorbed into a corporation or fall into the hands of investors just out to make a quick buck. Instead, he approached Jake Bilbro and asked if Jake would like to buy Limerick Lane Cellars and the Collins Vineyard. Jake, a member of a family renowned for principled vineyard stewardship and sustainable winemaking, grew up in the business at Marietta Cellars, founded by his father Chris in 1978. The chance to own Limerick Lane–a place from which his father, among others, had sourced exceptional fruit–was so exciting Jake spent two years pitching nearly every bank in California. One day before harvest began in 2011, a local bank in Healdsburg finally agreed to give him the loan.

Only the third owner in the estate’s 106-year history, Jake brings modern farming and winemaking techniques to the inimitable fruit that only the historic Collins Vineyard can produce and creates wines that live up to the heritage that preceded him–wines noted not only for their exceptional balance and elegance, but with a specific sense of history and place as well.

First sips of Belgrade

 

On an AMA Waterways River Cruise from Budapest to Bucharest, I find myself in Belgrade, Serbia, learning about plum brandy at the Quburich distillery. As we drive the bus to the quaint neighborhood location of a family-owned plum brandy tasting room, we pass by lawns covered in Syrians camping out while awaiting a bus to illegally cross from Hungary to France, Switzerland or Sweden. It is heartbreaking, and we are told that 5,000 people from Syria come to Belgrade daily.

The neighborhood’s pyramid-shaped roofs were fashioned from the Nazi bunkers of WWII in order to allow the bombs to slide off.

Yes, this is a destination of disarray, but there is much beauty among the ruins, such as the Avala Mountain to the south, and the rolling hills and fruit growing region of along the Balkan peninsula. The fruits include raspberries, blueberries, pears and apricots for exportation. The most popular fruit is the plum, which is the key ingredient to a brandy. Second only to this plum brandy is apricot brandy schnapps.

 

Before I sip on a series of brandy’s, some 30 years old, I enjoy a glass of elderberry juice.

#1 – We begin with a brandy-soaked cherry, which tastes refreshing as we begin our tasting education. We learn that fermentation begins with a 12% distillation. The secret is in the fire and wood is chopped and added to the fire every 7-11 minutes to keep the temperatures high.

The final product is bottled in hand-blown glass referred to as Chockanchi, so each is unique. The shape of the glass is said to enable you to drink from the bottle while rocking out on the dance floor. The amber color of the plum brandy is colored only by the fruit.

Geevoleel! (long live!) We toast and sip.

That first sip burns all the way down, but is easier with the following sip. We nosh on sausage, hams and cheeses, cheese pie… in what is referred to as a Greek mezza (a mess), with Turkish caviar of vegetables.