Sunday, April 26, 2009

Of Siegerrebe, Cribbage, and Norsemen

Frank and I often talk about how sometimes a wine just tastes better because of where you are and who you’re with. It’s one of those marvelous, magical qualities of wine that continue to defy description. You won’t see it in a tasting note, because it’s even more ephemeral than the illusive terroir – but we’re both true believers in its reality.

Case in point was a recent bottle of 2007 Gray Monk Siegerrebe. The occasion was a cribbage contest with one of my favourite opponents. Phil’s wit is totally off-the-wall and endlessly entertaining, so these contests are always laughter filled. Plus we have a long-standing tradition of opening a bottle of wine – usually one that’s a bit out of the ordinary – and then simply playing till it’s empty. Although he claims to know virtually nothing about wine, Phil’s palate is actually quite good. Unfortunately for me, so is his luck with cards.

We pour the first two glasses and cut the deck. I lose – horribly. “That’s got a rather peachy nose doesn’t it?” Phil says. Since he’s not of the demographic who use the word peachy as an expression of enjoyment or approval, I take him literally and decide I’d better investigate the contents of my glass more closely as the content of my hand could in no way be described as peachy.

Yup, peach and apricot with some pear – I’m thinking it might work well with the apple-pear, blue cheese, and balsamic vinegar reduction salad I have in mind for dinner. We swirl, sip, and agree there’s lots of fruit going on. It also feels thick and I can taste it all the way from front to back of my tongue. “I’m not sure why, but I keep thinking grass,” Phil says as he pegs a couple more points.

After several more hands, I still don’t get the grass, but I do get just a hint of lavender. And somewhere in my mind is an echo of floral “stuff.” Okay, maybe – just maybe, you understand – I’m actually concentrating more on the 16-point hand I’ve just been dealt than on the experience of the wine.

“Hmmm. This really has a lingering finish,” Phil says turning up the Jack of Spades for two more points. “Guess that would be a deadbeat Norseman, right?”

Somehow I manage not to spit out my mouthful of wine.

“And I’ve got that damned, lazy Viking right in my sights,” Phil continues, not missing a beat as he lays down a seven giving him “31 for two” and moves confidently to within four points of the “Finish” line.

Sure, I’ve only had a couple of decent hands for the entire round. But I’m only 15 behind and… I count first. Since the wine is really starting to open pleasantly, I pause to inhale – the apricot notes are really coming out now. No, honest, I’m not taunting my opponent – well not much. Phil pegs three more points and is starting to look pretty chuff. Until I put down my last card – the one that gives away the fact I have a double run for eight points plus a 15-8 count in fifteens – and the realization dawns that with his single point for last card, Phil may be poised right next to the Norseman but I’m going to get to snuggle up to him first.

On this occasion, we play another two rounds ending up with two losses for me before we upend the bottle.

Was the wine outstanding? Not really. It was pleasant enough – a great patio sipper or something to take on a summer picnic. For $17 it was pretty good value and would go well with Thai or other spicy foods thanks to its 10.8% alcohol and fruity sweetness.

Was it a memorable wine? Definitely. But it was made so because it was blended liberally with good company, abundant laughter, and friendly competition. I tried another bottle, alone, several days later and although still pleasing enough, it wasn’t nearly as much to write home about.

Jancis Robinson doesn’t seem to be much of a Siegerrebe fan. “A modern German vine crossing grown, like certain giant vegetables, purely by exhibitionists… so rich and oppressively flavoured it’s usually a chore to drink,” she says in The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oz Clarke doesn’t even mention the grape in his Encyclopedia of Grapes or Grapes and Wines.

Still, Siegerrebe is one wine I will always think of fondly because it recalls a time and place. But next time, revenge will be mine. I’m going to get to the Norseman first every time!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

1982 Vignaveja: An Elegant Old Vintage

Old wines are always something of a mystery. Case in point, the bottle of 1982 Vignaveja we’re about to uncork. What is going to happen when I open this vintage? Will it be dead, oxidized, or will it be a wonderful old bottle full of life still?

This particular bottle is actually Susan’s – a semi bribe and pay back for some editing she did for me at very last minute. The “fee” was two older bottles of wine from my cellar preferable at least one of them a Gaja that she’s always wanted to try. However, she very graciously decided to share this bottle with me. Wonderful woman.

There where problems from the start. A very long cork that really didn’t want to allow itself to be removed from the bottle where it had rested for quite sometime – almost 27 years to be exact. With a lot of work, we finally managed to remove the cork although in many pieces – many, many very small pieces.

As we decanted the wine – surprisingly there was just a little sediment in the bottom of the bottle – a wonderful smell of fruit and leather filled the room. The color was a deep dark red, also very surprising. But would it hold up? Sometimes with older wines, I’ve had them die as soon as soon as they get hit with air.

The colour, too, was amazing for its age – a deep red with a brick red rim and no hints of orange or brown at all. How long would the color last?

Mentally, I was trying to do a WSET tasting note – impossible. Each sip, every glass changed by the minute. The first glass started out as dried roses, dark cherry, and vanilla. Half way through, a little bit of smoky notes made an appearance. The second glass became all about leather and tar, truffles and forest floor. There where still some tannins, but with the corners rounded off, then pure silk. The acidity was present all the way through. Very long finish, quite amazingly long, in fact. The third and final glass started out all truffles, mushrooms, saddle leather, and earth. Then suddenly, with an ounce or so left in the glass, it died and became all sherry notes and acid.

Still, there’s no question this was an amazing wine – Nebbiolo (seen left) again showing remarkably well for its age. Apparently it originally sold for less than $30 although I could find very little about this vintage on the web. Wine Spectator rated the 1983 at 94 points. If any one has any information on this wine, we’d love to hear about it.

Susan’s Note:

Okay, sure I’ll often do Frank’s editing for free but this one was a bit “extreme” – half an hour to take care of some promotional material that should have been at least a four hour job – so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to snag the Gaja I’ve had my eye on for over a year. Success at last.

But I have to confess that somehow this wine would have been much diminished if drunk solo. Just like the older Barolo that will likely be the cost of his next extreme edit.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Kiwi Chocolate Time

Okay, we confess. We have an apology to make to all our faithful subscribers. Even though we posted on the correct day, cyber-gremlins ran amok to delay our critically timed info about the new Kiwi sensation: Pinot Chocolat. So you probably received our last post in your inbox a day late.

Still, you have to hand it to Kim and Erica Crawford owners of Kim Crawford Wines who had what it takes to pull off this worldwide event straight-faced with the same casual elegance and class you’ll find in their wines. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did – although we can’t quite figure out why they weren’t sending samples as well. Maybe the Easter Bunny got them all.

PS: The video is worth watching on any April day (or any day of the year for that matter). If you’re trying to find it, you now have to go to It was only up front and center on their website for April 1st. But then you knew that didn’t you?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Wine Meets Chocolate: Taste Sensation of the Year

Where on earth has almost a year gone. We’ve both been away and busier than ever. But thought we'd start getting back in touch with everyone by passing along something fun to get your day going. Hot off the wire!

The French use it to seduce, the English for comfort. Mexicans revel in its healing properties, and the Aztecs thought it more precious than gold. Just in time for Easter, trust the Kiwis to successfully combine chocolate and wine – a decadent marriage of quality and taste.

“We are very excited about this new varietal,” says Erica Crawford, co-founder of Kim Crawford Wines, via a news release. “The 09 Pinot Chocolat is unique and another world first for New Zealand.”

Apparently developed under a shroud of secrecy using only the finest Ghana cocoa beans, it took eight gooey months of testing before the essence of chocolate from cocoa beans could be extracted at the right acidity to successfully infuse with the pinot grapes.

“There was some controversy in the beginning,” Erica admits. “Although it tastes delicious, many stalwarts in the Kim Crawford Wines team wanted to veto the idea as they felt it would mar the integrity of the brand. However, in the interests of starting something new, we decided to emulate our forefathers who brought the first vines to this country. We threw caution to the wind and jumped in.”

Once poured, the difference between the colour of Pinot Chocolate and Pinot Noir is subtle. The wine retains the walnut plum of the red grape but, when held up to the light, you can see just a hint of russet. Consistency is a little more viscous but it appears to hang nicely on the glass with the weight adding an air of decadence.

Kim Crawford Wines has timed the release for Easter and is working on a limited edition, Easter-egg style foil wrapped packaging for the first 1,000 bottles. The remainder will look much like the rest of Kim Crawford wines, except for the quirky new foil lid.

Kim Crawford Wines indicates there are plans to add to the Vino Chocolat range with seasonal flavours: Sauvignon Blanc Chocolat with a distinctive winter white colour, Suisse Chardonnay for a clever balance of sweet and buttery notes, and an indulgent Merlot Lait Chocolat.

For a sneak preview go to: