Sunday, March 26, 2006
This one we got through the Vineland Estates wine club. Best thing is, we have another bottle!
On December 30 we celebrated the 83rd birthday of Margaret Anne's mother, Dr. Alice Goodfellow-Hodges, and we did it in style, with a wine/cheese/chocolate tasting and dinner.
The wines were something very special: a Chateau Latour 1974, a Chateau Latour 1994, and a Chateau Palmer 2001. (We decanted all three just before serving; the Palmer might have benefited from longer decanting, but we didn't want to over-oxygenate the older Latour.)
We were saving the Latours for a special occasion, but in the once case, Margaret Anne had been saving it for a special occasion for at least 20 years, so we decided, well, what the heck. (She bought it at the liquor store when it was being discontinued; at the time, it probably cost her no more than $30 or $35.)
So, how did the 1974 Latour hold up, especially considering 1974 is not considered a great vintage?
Well, says Margaret Anne, "If this was a bad year, I'll take a bad year any day." She liked it the best of all three of these great Bordeaux. Although supposedly on the downhill slide, it was beautifully balanced, neither too sharp nor too bland. Our notes feature words like "smokey" "vegetal" and "barnyard" (but in a good way).
1994 was also considered a less-than-great vintage year. Ed bought this bottle of Latour as a birthday present for Margaret Anne. It cost about $250 a couple of years ago. Ed liked this one the best, finding it better balanced than the 1974, with much more berry left in it. Margaret Anne liked it, too, but she still preferred the '74.
We did try them with cheese, and although there have recently been stories about cheese killing the taste of any wine, we weren't disappointed in the pairings. We particularly liked a cheese called "Old Dutch Master Gouda" with them.
Finally we come to the Chateau Palmer 2001. We recently had the opportunity to taste a number of great wines at the Banff Springs International Wine and Food Festival (which we will blog about, even though it's now been five months since we were there) but we were most impressed with the Chateau Palmers that we had there. So we bought a bottle while we were in Banff, for something close to $100, specifically for Dr. Alice's birthday.
(We have another reason to like Palmers. Back in the 1980s, Dr. Alice won a bottle of 1978 Chateau Palmer at a bingo night at the Ontario Club. That bottle remained in the cellar--first in Toronto, then in Regina--awaiting another, yes, "special occasion," and since in more than 20 years that occasion had not yet arisen, we finally decided to drink it for Ed's 40-somethingth birthday. We liked it.)
The 2001 Palmer had an almost chocolate bouquet after the others. It was noticeably younger and more tannic and certainly would have benefited from aging.
Our guests seemed to prefer either the 1994 Latour or 2001 Palmer over the 1974 Latour.
We must have tried the wines with the chocolates we were tasting, but they must not have worked very well because we have no recollection of them.
All in all, a fabulous birthday party. Ed says "One we probably won't repeat very often" but Margaret Anne says "We should do this again next year." (To which Ed is amenable, provided he doesn't have to pay for all the wine!)
A strange mix of characteristics, perhaps, but we enjoyed the wine.
Our rating: 6/10.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Sunday, March 19, 2006
We're going to go through the evening’s food and wine first, then provide a full recounting of Lingenfelder's comments in a separate post.
The evening began, as such evenings are wont to do, with reception wines. The first was a 2001 Kirchheimer Schwarzerde Kabinett (Pfalz). Very nice, very typical, nothing remarkable, it made a pleasant reception beverage.
The second reception wine was a 2004 Gustav Adolf Schmitt Nierstiner Kabinett (Rheinhessen). We found this not quite as sweet as the Kirchheimer, and a bit more acidic. Margaret Anne suggested lychee as one of the flavours she detected. We liked this one a bit more than the first wine.
The food began to appear, starting with an "appetizer" that was almost big enough to be an entrée:
Rainer Lingenfelder commented that the Mosel Gold was richer than usual because there had been a very early flowering in 2003, which gave the grapes longer to ripen. In
The soup came next: Consommé Celestine with Brandy. It was delicious, but not as hot as it might have been. Served with it: 2002 Lingenfelder Riesling Spätlese (Pfalz), our first taste of our guest's wines (which are not--yet--available in
Lingenfelder commented that with the earlier flowering that has become the norm in the last 15 years, possibly due to global warming, wines are reaching Pradikett level "without even trying that hard."
Someone asked if the riesling qualified as a halbtrocken ("half dry") to which the reply was no, because its residual sugar is too high.
Halbtrocken and trocken are defined by sugar and acidity levels, Lingenfelder explained.
For a wine to qualify as a halbtrocken the residual sugar can't be any higher than grams of acidity plus ten. For a wine to qualify as a trocken ("dry"), the residual sugar can't be more than the grams of acidity plus two.
Although in North America people think of German wines as inherently sweet, in
The Lingenfelder Riesling we tasted with the soup, which sells in Canada (where you can get it) for $20 to $25, doesn’t qualify as a halbtrocken, but it does have a nice acidity that keeps it from seeming too sweet, and that lingers on, leaving a fresh taste. Lingenfelder noted that the wine is beginning to develop secondary flavours.
Soup was followed by salad, which, of course, was not accompanied by wine. The salad, described on the menu as "Pea Shoot with Spring Greens," included a large doughnut-shaped crouton and a miso-flavoured dressing. Very nice!
The entrée, roast bison with a saskatoon berry reduction served on a wild rice croquette with root vegetables and butternut squash, was accompanied by two Lingenfelder wines: their 2002 Fox Label Dornfelder and their 2004 Hare Label Gewurztraminer Spätlese.
We found the Dornfelder to be very light and fruity, with not much bouquet. The Gewurztraminer was also very nice, and quite dry despite being a spätlese.
We felt the red went better with the bison, while the white went well with the wild rice and the squash but didn't quite work with the bison--making the pair of them, we guess, just about the perfect accompaniment.
Both of these wines, it's interesting to note, feature screw tops. Lingenfelder said that for wines intended for consumption within five years, and wines in which they want to preserve a fresh, young character, white or red, "the screw top is a sensible thing to do."
But, he went on, "With the estate-bottled wines, which can be aged 10 to 15 to 20 years, we've stayed with cork. You want a little oxygen to help with the aging of the wine."
All the Lingenfelder wines were relatively low alcohol, in the 10 to 12 percent range generally. Asked about alcohol levels, Lingenfelder said he felt winemakers have been going overboard with high alcohol levels because judges praise high-alcohol wines in competitions.
"We cannot compete in making high alcohol wine anyway, so we carved out a little niche for ourselves in offering something different, a lighter-style wine," Lingenfelder said. "Everyone is experiencing these hot, big monster red wines. There's a counter-current starting to happen. People are getting a little tired of being tired after drinking wine. Luckily the world of wine is so diverse and so interesting there's room for different shades and different colours and different flavours."
There are still plenty of people in North America who are surprised to find out the German reds like the Dornfelder even exist; but in fact, as Lingenfelder pointed out, a third of the wine produced in
Dornfelder is a relative newcomer to the wine world; the grape was only developed 50 years ago or so. A wine that has a much longer history in the Pfalz region, Lingenfelder said, is the Gewurztraminer.
"It's been in the Pfalz at least for 400 years, probably longer, as it is in
The Gewurztraminer served with the entrée is very interesting, Lingenfelder said. It's dry, with just a couple of grams of residual sugar, but it still comes across as round and soft. Because it is a Spatlese, despite its being so dry "you taste the ripeness," he said.
Lingenfelder also pointed out something else interesting about the Gewurztraminer grape: it's one of the few varieties you can recognize by flavour. "Riesling gets it flavor from the fermentation, but Gewurztraminer does have its natural spice flavor from the grape to some extent.”
Dessert was Poached Pears Victoria (pears poached with strawberries), accompanied by a 2003 Martinshof Kerner Spatlese (Pfalz). The wine was very nice by itself--we've liked every Martinshof wine we've tried--and surprisingly good with the dessert; the acidity was sufficient to cut through the cream.
According to the menu, that was the final wine we would be tasting--but Lingenfelder had a special surprise for us: a 2003 Trockenbeerenauslese that, at 240 oechsle (a German method of measuring specific gravity, and hence sugar content, in grape juice before fermentation, that’s similar to the Brix method used in the U.S.), was the highest the family has every achieved. Wines with that much sugar (it's around 40 percent!), even higher than in ice wine, can be too syrupy--but not this time.
Lingenfelder made only two beer kegs of this wine (and as a result, it sells for $300 a half bottle). He has been trying to spread it among as many people as possible. We each got exactly five ml, distributed by pipette. That was just a few drops each, but it's so rich a few drops is sufficient (although all of us would have been happy to have a few more--Margaret Anne used her finger to get every last drop out of her glass!).
"It's unbelievable you can drink something like that," Lingenfelder said, and that it has "so much flavor, so much aroma, so much acidity."
It's only 6.5 percent alcohol and, in fact, Lingenfelder said, they had to really struggle to ferment it, especially since Lingenfelder takes an all-natural approach to winemaking, eschewing adding yeast or even yeast nutrients. "We stir the ferment and we warm it," he said. "We keep it above 25 C, so we usually take it into our kitchen. Quite often we put it in a water bath, and in the water bath we have a heater and a thermostat. We stir it. It was a struggle to get the alcohol in it, it took some time."
Such high sugar levels in the grape would be impossible if not for a happy accident of nature known as "noble rot."
"The grape itself or the vine itself cannot deposit that much sugar in the grape, the osmotic pressure would be far too high," Lingenfelder said. "So there have to be other factors which come into play. We have to somehow get the water out and concentrate everything else.
"There are two methods of doing that: a dry concentration process or a freeze concentration process. (In) a freeze concentration process, as happens in ice wine, you freeze the juice in the berry."
Not that the juice really freezes: instead, the water molecules form crystals, concentrating the remaining juice and sugar...and since sugar acts as an antifreeze, the more concentrated the sugar the lower the freezing point of the water it's dissolved in.
However, that wasn't how the Trockenbeerenauslese was made: for it, Lingenfelder used a dry concentration process, essentially turning the grapes into raisins. Instead of the water freezing out, it evaporated, leaving behind juice that was sweeter and more concentrated.
The resulting "raisins," however, were not like the familiar Sultana raisins which shrivel in the heat. "We need a little helper to permeate the skin, to make little holes in the skins of the berries, and then the sun shines on the berries and the water evaporates quickly. This little helper is called noble rot, or botrytis. It is a fungus. It grows in the skin and permeates it, makes little holes. It not only makes little holes so that the water evaporates, it also leave traces of its own aroma. The honey aromas you get in there are partially botrytis. This fungus grows on the berries, covers it all. It looks rotten, but the result, as you can see is liquid gold."
It's similar to truffles, he said. "Truffles look rotten, they come from the earth, but they are gold you can eat, and this is gold you can drink."
He was right about that. The wine had a gorgeous bouquet, absolutely beautiful, and a gorgeous flavour, too. The comment at our table was, "Better than any ice wine."
All in all, a fabulous evening of food and wine. We look forward to someday having Lingenfelder wines in
For more on what Rainer Lingenfelder had to say, read the next post!
On March 5 the German Wine Society held a very special dinner at the Seven Oaks in Regina--not special because of the venue, so much (though the food was very good!) but because we were honored by the presence of Rainer Karl Lingenfelder of Germany’s Lingenfelder Estate Winery, scion of a family that has been making wine in the Pfalz region of the Rhine Valley for 13 generations.
We've created two posts, this one providing a recounting of Lingenfelder’s formal speech, and the other providing our comments on the evening’s food and wine, with some additional comments by Lingenfelder.
The Lingenfelder vineyards are of medium size for the Pfalz region, Lingenfelder said, but that means that they're only about 15 ha.
"Our production is accordingly tiny," Lingenfelder said, adding, in an echo of something often heard in
Lingenfelder is already exporting to
Lingenfelder showed a slide of the family home, a 19th century house in which he was born and still lives. ("Pretty to look at, but not so comfortable to live in," as he put it.)
To understand the Lingenfelder wines, Lingenfelder said, it is first helpful to know where the Lingenfelder estate is. "Location, terroir, origin is very important," he said. "We are not making a produce without heritage, we are making a product that has a place in the world."
The Pfalz is a grape growing region in the
That's a bit remarkable when you consider that the 50th parallel runs through the region--making it essentially as far north as Regina, and you can't grow (or at least ripen) grapes in Regina. The difference is that the Gulf Stream brings warm water, and hence warm weather, to the coast of
The geological and climatic conditions of Pfalz combine the advantages of cool climate viticulture with fully ripe fruit (unlike, say, the Champagne region of France, where they can't fully ripen fruit but have come up with an excellent way of making use of unripe grapes!)..
The Lingenfelder family has been growing grapes for 13 generations, since 1520, always in the same area, though not exactly in the same village.
He showed a picture of himself, his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather when he was a small boy, then showed a photo of his own three sons: the 14th generation.
"What do we do?" Lingenfelder asked rhetorically. "It is really quite simple: we grow grapes." They're not so much winemakers, he said. Instead, "wine almost happens by itself."
They have a modern cellar, where they use stainless steel tanks to preserve the natural fruit character of white wine. "Stainless steel does not interfere with the wine," Lingenfelder said. Oak, on the other hand, "gives off flavour and lets the wine breath." That's wanted for some styles, but not all.
The wine-making process is very natural. "We do control the temperature," Lingenfelder said, but "we do not stabilize or fine our estate bottled wines...we do not add yeast, we do not add bacteria."
This "completely hands off" approach makes the wine "a natural expression of the part of the soil where the grapes are growing," he said.
He also said that although it usually works well, there are sometimes "small disasters where the yeast don't do a proper job." Those wines are still "OK," he said, but are sold off in bulk. "You sometimes have to pay a price if you want to make very individual and very special wines."
"We're trying to combine the modern approach and the traditional approach," he said. "Both have their place. Both are good for specific reasons . . . We try to use modern technology to bring out the best of what we've got without too much interference."
Among the newest Lingenfelder wines are the various animal-label varietals. Lingenfelder showed off the Bird-Label Riesling. "It is a serious wine, yet it comes in an uncomplicated, consumer-friendly package."
The traditional German label contains a lot of information, Lingenfelder said, but in this fast-paced age not so many people can take the time to try to understand the small print. "Even some people who are trained in wine find it difficult to pronounce some German wines," he said. "We finally, and somewhat reluctantly, decided we should make it easier for everyone."
They hired a designer from
"We didn't give him any visual clues...more importantly, we gave him Riesling to drink--lots of Riesling." In fact, he said, since it took more than two years for the design process, "We marinated this guy in Riesling."
The result, he said, was a "very nice label" which speaks to the Lingenfelder terroir, soil, and vineyard, with a hint of light-heartedness.
The bird label was so successful the winery was asked to put other grape varieties under the same label. "People asked for ‘Bird Label,’ not ‘Lingenfelder reisling,’" he said.
However, every grape is a "different animal," so instead of using birds on every label, he said, there's Hare Label Gewurtrzminer, Fox Label Dornfelder, Bee Label Morio Muskat, Owl Label Pinot Grigio . . . "It's a whole zoo!"
Lingenfelder wrapped up his brief talk with his motto for this new age of wine: "The 21st century," he proclaimed, "is the age of Post-Chardonnism."
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Hard on the heels of the previous post comes a somewhat less-belated report on the Society for American Wines’ dinner at The Crushed Grape, one of
This evening featured the king of
Up first: Sterling Vineyard Napa Valley 1999. “Fruity!” says Ed. “Bitter!” says Alice (Margaret Anne’s mom, not our four-year-old daughter, who did not accompany us.) “Very dry, not much flavour!” says Margaret Anne. Take your pick.
Ah, but that was as a reception wine. With the appetizers (Tomato Anchovy and Asiago Cheese Crostinis and Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Tartlets)...
“It comes alive!” says Gran. “Anchovies are too salty for it!” says Ed. “It’s better with the onion!” says Margaret Anne.
Oops, we’re not done yet. Here come more appetizers: Cranberry, Walnut and Gorgonzola Cheese in Filo, and Parmesan Cheese Crisps.
Everyone agrees it goes pretty well with those, so the general consensus: it’s best drunk with food. Ed didn’t mind it by itself, but Margaret Anne says she probably wouldn’t buy it.
Except our consensus is early. Here comes another appetizer: Paté with Icewine Jelly on
It’s time for the soup, specifically Parisian French Onion Soup. A tough match. Is the Kendall Jackson Vintner Reserve 1998 up to it?
Says Margaret Anne, “I love the soup, and I love the wine.” Put them together and...well, they match "well enough." She thinks the wine has a nice earthiness to it that matches the soup.
Just for drinking, Ed preferred the reception wine, but he’s alone in that opinion. Margaret Anne much preferred the Kendall Jackson, although
Entrée time. Let’s check the menu: Grilled Meat Trio of Venison, Beef Tenderloin and Rack of Lamb, Blue Cheese Polenta Cylinders, and Olive Oil and Sea Salt Oven Crisped Asparagus.
Notes on the J. Lohr: “Nice...berry...green vegetable nose...a bit more complex than the Kendall Jackson, more secondary flavours...goes really well with the polenta.”
Notes on the Mondavi: “Much darker than the J. Lohr, can't see through it ...nicer, too. Very, very nice. Rich, velvety nose, noticeably richer than the J. Lohr. Also velvety on the palate.”
Both wines match the meat dishes very well. Margaret Anne likes the J. Lohr more with the food.
And to wrap it all up, dessert: Bittersweet Chocolate Paté (okay, Margaret Anne admits, she’s not dead set against patés in general, just the livery ones) with Nuts and Dried Fruit. Matching it: Gallo Coastal Vineyard 1999.
Notes: “Kind of thin. Still rather tannic, hasn't really mellowed a lot. OK with the chocolate”
And then, to wrap the evening up nicely,
A good time, as they say, was had by all.
The reception wine was Beringer White Zinfandel 2004. It costs $11.95 here in Saskatchewan, and was paired with an amuse bouche of roasted garlic on a crostini. It wasn’t our favorite: light and fruity, sure, but essentially uninteresting. However, it went okay with the garlic.
The same wine was paired with the appetizer, a trio of roasted garlic, stilton and walnut tarte, garlic prawn and salt cod brandade on a bread point. (Why, yes, we are copying this from the menu. Why do you ask?)
The White Zinfandel went nicely with the prawn and the garlic, stilton and walnut tarte and wasn’t bad with the salt cod; it didn’t match the garlic prawn quite as well.
Next course: soup. Specifically, garlic-sage soup with olive tapenade. Matching it: Cline Oakley 2002, a blended white that went very well with soup, and on its own. Said Margaret Anne, “I love it. Full of flavour. Nice mouth feel. Lasts on the palate. Different flavour.”
Next came a palette cleanser: lime-garlic sorbet
The main course followed in due course: “duo of chicken breast with forty cloves and garlic-crusted pork tenderloin with garlic-shallot mash.” Another Cline product accompanied it, this time the Oakley Vin Rouge, again a blend of several varietals, from the familiar—Syrah—to the complete mysteries to us: Alicante? Bouschet?
In any event, it’s a nice light red, with notes of cherry and possibly red pepper—something more herbaceous than fruity, anyway. Comments from those at our table: “It reminds me of cough syrup.” “I get broccoli, especially in the aftertaste.” Ed, however, didn’t really taste the vegetableness (vegetality? vegetativeness?) others seemed to pick up on.
The principle behind the night’s pairing of wine and food, we were told, was simplicity/complexity: if the wine is complex, keep the meal simple. Since, instead, we had a complex meal, simple wines were chosen.
The dessert wine was Essensia California Orange Muscat 2004. We found this very nice, with a definite orange flavour. (Gee, you think maybe that’s why it’s called Orange Muscat? Duh...)
Dessert itself was roasted, yes, garlic ice cream with “petite pointe of (wait for it)...garlic fudge.”
And yes, it was good. And the wine actually went with it.
A very nice evening in one of our favorite restaurants. (We returned to it just a couple of weeks later for our traditional Valentine’s Day lunch.)
And if they ever put it on the menu, we’ll even order the garlic ice cream again.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
When either person picks up a glass, red LEDs on their partner's glass glow gently. And when either puts the glass to their lips, sensors make white LEDs on the rim of the other glass glow brightly, so you can tell when your other half takes a sip.
So even if you aren't all aglow, your glass will be!