Sunday, November 30, 2008
Sommelier Marcelo Rebole shared with us a great story of how chimichurri got its name. Chimichurri is a sauce made of herbs, spices, oil and sometimes garlic and if often used on grilled meats in Argentina. There are various versions of this story but the gauchos used to prepare the meals for the landowners who were mostly British at the time. The Englishmen would say, "Bring me curry!" which the non-English speaking gauchos eventually corrupted into "Chimichurri". If I don't learn anything else on this trip, that story is all I need. Fascinating.
What better way to start off a wine vacation in Argentina than to have perhaps one of Argentina's best sommeliers, Marcelo Rebole lead a discussion and tasting of some of the finest wines of his homeland which he personally selected for us to try. Marcelo is the charming sommelier for the Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau in Buenos Aires and a great ambassador for the wines of Argentina. It was a wonderful opportunity to get a perspective from a fellow sommelier and and learn how important wine is in Argentine culture. I would like to share some interesting tid bits that I learned from his presentation. Further below you will find a list of the wines we sampled along with my tasting notes.
Argentina has over 1800 wineries but only 300 wineries export to the United States. There are 145 wineries in the Argentine Wine Association and they are responsible for over 90% of what is sold in the US. The great majority of what is produced in Argentina stays in Argentina.
Argentine wine culture is born from an Italian ancestry. Per capita wine consumption in Argentina is 30 liters per year. The US consumption is approximately 11 liters per year - the same as Chile. I'm pretty sure my consumption is closer to Argentina.
Argentines drink 60% red wine since their diet consists mostly of red meat. The average Argentine consumes 150 lbs of red meat every year. The beef is often cheaper than tomatoes.
The most popular white wines include Torrontes and Chardonnay. Torrontes is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica (a local Mission grape). Torrontes used to be bottled in brown Riesling bottles to prevent it from oxidizing too quickly.
Chandon is a synonym for Champagne or Sparkling wine - sort of like Kleenex doubles for facial tissue. Moet Chandon own 85% of the sparkling wine market in Argentina. If you want bubbles, just ask for Chandon but this does not mean you will end up with a Moet product.
We tasted an exceptional group of diverse wines made from various varietals and blends. The selections were not your average everyday wines but some of them would blow $100 California Cabs right of the water. The tasting was very special but if I had one complaint, I would say that some of them were a little too high on the alcohol. A few of the wines registered at almost 16%. They reminded me a bit of Kathy Griffin - loud, brash, in your face, a little goes a long way but at the same time intelligent and entertaining.
Here is a list of the wines we tried (I will update with the vintages once we receive the formal list, this is from my personal notes). I have seen many of these wines in the US but am not 100% sure what the retail prices are. You can always Google them to learn more.
2008 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes - geraniums, apricot skin, green guava, tropical fruit burst, crisp with honeysuckle floral notes.
2008 Terrazas Unoaked Torrontes Reserva, La Salta - slight medicinal aroma, high acid but with a crisp, broad texture. Drier than the Crios but also seemingly higher in alcohol.
2006 Quara Oaked Torrontes, Salta, Cafayate Valley - touch of pink hue with brass tint, notes of nutmeg, spice. Reminds me of Alsace Pinot Gris or a white Rhone blend. Very impressive and would pair well with molecular gastronomy dishes.
Chacra Pinot Noir, Patagonia, Rio Negro - Patagonia is currently Argentina's most up and coming region and is known for the production of Pinot Noir. Smoky, Mezcal tequila like nose, rubber, fleshy, dry firm tannins, bacon, feral. Not exactly a pretty Pinot Noir. Reminds me of Alsace Pinot Noir.
Achaval-Ferrer Finca Altamira Malbec, La Consulta - smells and tastes like a cross between Italian Brunello and ripe, figgy Amarone della Valpolicella. Warm on the palate with notes of dried leaves, raisins and stewed fruits. Definitely more terroir driven.
2004 Catena Alta Malbec, Argentina - 100% new French oak and it shows, toasted coconut shavings, kirsch liqueur, very ripe and concentrated yet silky. Fine firm tannins - definitely an exceptional wine.
Bodega Colome Reserva, Calchaqui, Salta - This is made by Hess Collection winemaker, Randle Johnson. Aromas of fresh turned soil, beets, cocoa nibs, glides down, very silky and smooth but still has nice acidity. A great bottle of wine.
Yacochuya, Salta - 90% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon - strange herbaceous nose - almost like thyme, rosemary or hemp. Palate is much different with tons of ripe extracted fruits, fleshy texture. Definitely interesting. A Michel Rolland project.
La Riojana Raza Syrah, Famatina, La Rioja - blueberry syrup cooked with thyme, high acid, very well extracted. Nice to try a Syrah from Argentina.
02 Bodega La Rural Felipe Rutini Apartado - Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/Shiraz - cassis, herbaceous, very Bordeaux like in the nose, cooler climate style, more traditional French like in nature - old school.
03 Enzo Bianchi Red Blend, San Rafael, Mendoza - grown at 600 meters above sea level. Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Malbec - elegant old school style. Riper than the Apartado.
Mendel Unus - 65% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon - full, fleshy style with notes of ripe figs, blackberries and almost a port wine like nose. Impressive.
Luigi Bosco Icono, Lujan de Cuyo - Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec - I don't know why I did not write something about this wine, I guess my palate got tired at this point.
Cobos Unico - 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Malbec - rich and full bodied. Made by Paul Hobbs, very concentrated yet super silky. Ripe raisins, figs, very warm but definitely enjoyable.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
An hour later, the drink cart finally came rolling around and I was happy to discover that my $6 would be well spent on a split of Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. I ordered two. The meal was a choice between bland and blander. I think I ended up with blander - thank goodness for my Fiesta Mexicana salad from earlier. I drained my two portion control bottles and watched a movie with Luke Wilson portraying a dramatic role in Henry Poole Was Here. His character has months to live so he moves back to his hometown to spend his final days and then mysteriously an image of a blood weeping Jesus appears on the back wall of his new home. His Hispanic neighbor thinks it's a miracle and consults with the priest who is played by George Lopez. Meanwhile, Luke falls in love with his pretty neighbor next door and her autistic daughter who does not speak but carries around a tape recorder. The little girl touches the wall and all of a sudden she is cured. It turns out anyone who touches the wall is cured from whatever ailment. Luke is all stoic about it and doesn't want to believe yet he doesn't want to die because he wants to play house with his neighbor and all he has to do is touch the stucco and everything will be fine. I won't give away the whole story but you can see where this is going.
Three hours down, I finally fell asleep on my truncated bed. At several points during the night I felt someone prodding me. No it wasn't Patrick Dempsey. Mrs. Taiwan must have been worried about my comfort as she kept me covered with blankets and stayed upright the entire night so I could stretch my feet across the row. I pulled my legs closer to give her more room but she kept grabbing my legs to pull them straight. Don't ask me why she was doing this but I certainly appreciated the grandmotherly like gesture. I felt like a jerk for for being so selfish earlier so I tried to make amends. In the morning, I asked her how to say Thank You in Taiwanese and she responded, "You India." Sure Patrick Dempsey was good looking but Mrs. Taiwan took the cake and offered me a slice. Welcome to Buenos Aires!
Friday, November 28, 2008
* Please note that prices on wines will vary depending on which store you purchase them from.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
My husband Chach, found a posting on Craig's List where someone in Roger's Park was selling a card catalog. Being a writer he felt it was his duty to preserve a piece of biblio history and he became obsessed with getting one for our house. I said, "What the heck are we going to do with a card catalog?" He said, "I want to keep it as a pet!" By the time I gave in, someone beat him to the punch and scooped the Rogers Park piece from under him. Defeated yes but Chach is not the type of person to just give up. He was soon trolling Ebay for other possibilities and he finally found a seller, Anderson University in Indiana. This piece was in their library for fifty years. When the catalog arrived, I was surprised by how beautiful it was and it is exceptionally heavy and large but the question remained, what are we going to do with it? I realized the drawers were long and wide enough to fit wine bottles so we turned it into a makeshift wine cellar. It is a bit of a challenge to figure out where we put what but this is part of the fun. Since we don't age wine and drink what we buy within a month of purchase, this type of storage serves us well. If you are looking to age wines long term (1 year plus) then I would suggest using a space where the temperature is close to 55 degrees as possible and does not suffer from huge temperature spikes like a basement or cool closet. Don't ever store your wines long term in or on top of the refrigerator or near a heat source like a window, stove or heating unit. Cork finished wines should also be stored on their sides to keep the cork moist. Wine specific refrigerators can now be purchased at reasonable prices and can be useful if you don't have ideal storage conditions in your home. Both whites and reds can be stored at 55 degrees.
I am absolutely obsessed with Sandra Lee and her Food Network show Semi-Homemade. When I first came across it, I thought the Food Network was doing an SNL like parody show on what not to do in the kitchen but Sandra is for real and she is my guilty pleasure. She uses 70% store bought items like frozen chopped onions, powdered hollandaise, cream of chicken soup, Jello pudding mixes and a crock pot to create culinary masterpieces. Don't get me wrong, I would never make this stuff - I just like tuning in for the train wreck. Each episode she will redecorate her kitchen to coordinate her outfit, cocktail and table setting which she likes to refer to as tablescapes. She must own 40 different colored Kitchen Aid mixers for this very purpose! The tablescapes are usually over the top as she suggests hanging a giant chandelier from a tree to add romance to an outdoor celebration or using a hot glue gun to stick poker cards to plants for a Vegas themed table. And then there is the best part of any day - Cocktail Time with Sandra Lee! She may not be a mixologist but she sure knows how to pour a strong drink. The ratio is usually 10 parts vodka - 1 part juice. We actually save episodes of Semi-Homemade in our DVR and entertain our friends when they come over by replaying the show. Check out the clip below with her dressed up like Cher to make a Halloween Dinner. Oh, Sandra Lee - we love you!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
On my way in, I also noticed a sign for their Monthly First Friday Wine Downs which is coming up next week. For $15 you get to try 20 different wines from all over the world - that's less than $1 per wine! Some wine tastings can be boring and clinical as they are frequented by wine snobs going on and on about the bouquet and aroma but the Foodlife tastings are different. The first time I attended one, I was immediately impressed with the young, professional and attractive crowd sipping and flirting with one another as they discussed the merits and attributes of each selection - I'm talking about wine here. If I was single and looking to taste and find a mate I would definitely be the first in line at these monthly events. I always tell my single and looking friends how wine tastings are a great place to meet someone as you are usually a little more relaxed with some wine in your system and you have the discussion of wine as a built in ice breaker. Not to mention, if someone is interested in wine then they are also likely to be interested in art, theater, traveling, cooking - you know the fun stuff! I also don't know why more men don't attend tastings as the attendance ratio is usually four women to one male. You can't get better odds of finding a nice lady. I for one, find men interested in wine quite attractive and that's without the wine goggles on.
This would also make a great gift or stocking stuffer for a budding or already bloomed wine lover. Call Foodlife for reservations and more information: 312-335-3663.
*Please note that Foodlife is owned by Lettuce Entertain You.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
When you are ready to serve, pour mixture into a punch bowl or jug filled with ice, mix in lemon-lime soda to desired sweetness. If you want a drier sangria, you can use seltzer water. Let your guests serve themselves or pour into cups garnished with citrus wheels.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I wasn't in the mood for wine tonight (shocking but true) so I decided to brew up a new Amaretto flavored fruit tea that I purchased the other day from Tea Gschwendner. I am a tea addict and will soon need an intervention as I can't stop buying and trying new flavors. When I was first getting into wine, I had a difficult time pin pointing fruit descriptors in wine and someone suggested that I get into tea as the different flavors can be useful in helping you build a scent bank. Whenever we smell wine, our brain's job is to decode the various compounds based on our history of past smells. The more you pay attention to smells and access and build your scent bank - the better a wine taster you become. We don't actually taste blueberries, peaches and bananas on our tongue - it's all in our head. Don't believe me? Taste something and then pinch your nose closed. Chances are you won't be able to taste anything aside from sweet, salt, bitter, sour, temperature & texture. Smells also dredge up our memory as evidenced when you smell Eternity cologne for men and you are instantly reminded of the 90's.
I brewed the tea, added a little Stevia sweetener and poured it over some ice. The fruit tea is a mixture of apple pieces, raisins, rose hips, Rooibush tea and almond bits. It really tastes like Amaretto on ice (or Di Saronno on the rocks as they like to say in those cheesy TV commercials). We ordered Kung Pao Beef, Scallop & Shrimp Citrus Curry, Spareribs and a very spicy Green Curry with Tofu. The sweetness of the tea really helped in putting out the heat and I enjoyed the almond, apricot flavors along with the exotic Asian flavors in the entrees.
Wine is not the only thing you can pair with your food in order to heighten the flavors. Non alcoholic choices such as tea can also enhance your everyday meals. Think about this next time you are trying to figure out what to drink with that ham and cheese sandwich at lunch time.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I put on my Iron Chef hat and opened the refrigerator to see what I could concoct for brunch. I found some eggs, onions, chicken sausage and avocados and cilantro close to expiration. I did not have orange juice but I had my mind set on a mimosa so I went to the liquor pantry and found a bottle of orange liqueur that I could mix with citron honey - close enough. We try to always have something sparkling stocked in the house so I decided to retrieve a bottle of Marques de Gelida Cava from the card catalog that we use as a makeshift wine cellar. This Cava sells for around $13 a bottle which makes it perfect for mixing since you don't want to adulterate an expensive bottle of Champagne with syrups and juices.
I was rather impatient to get to my mimosa on so I put the Cava in the ice box to quickly chill it. Hey it works and I don't think my Kashi entree minded the extra company.
After about 20 minutes, the Cava was nice and cold. I mixed together 1 tablespoon each of Citron Honey and the orange liqueur in these adorable glasses that I found at IKEA and then topped it all off with the Cava. It wasn't quite like a Mimosa but I did not mind since it tasted more like Cava and not OJ for adults. I thought this shot of dripping honey came out very Check, Please! - like. I agree with David, the creator of the show, images of food in motion can be very sexy!
As for the eggs - I sliced two onions and caramelized them in two tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper on low-medium heat for approximately 20 minutes. I then added 4 links of chopped chicken sausage to brown along with the onion after which I added four scrambled eggs. I cooked this mixture low and slow until the eggs were done but still slightly runny then they were scooped on to a plate and finished with avocados and cilantro for freshness. Normally, I don't arrange my food in a restaurant perfect fashion but who wants to see a photo of a pile of messy eggs so I made it as pretty as I could.
The eggs came out well. They were creamy and the sweetness of the onions were a nice contrast against the savory sausage and the whole thing was lightened by the refreshing zing of the Cava. It looks like Chach enjoyed it as well and with my headache gone, I could now return to the couch to watch the rest of The Soup....spaghetti cat - where are you?
Friday, November 21, 2008
The label is really cool too. I can't figure out what building it is but the violinist reminds me of Florentino Ariza serenading the great love of his life, Fermina in Love in the Time of Cholera. I'm referring to the book and not the movie, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a little screen time with Javier Bardem.
Even though this video has nothing to do with wine, it's still hysterically funny to me because this is basically the scene that I make if the wine that I just opened ends up being corked or spoiled. Think about it, I make the effort to go to the wine store, I find a nice bottle, fork over my money, bring it home, make a nice dinner, light the candles and after all the anticipation has built up, the wine ends up tasting like moldy cardboard and wet newspapers.
The term "corked" or "cork taint" has nothing to do with bits of cork floating in the wine. If a wine is corked then it refers to the fact that there is presence of TCA or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole(TCA) if you wanted to get technical. Humans can detect TCA in very tiny amounts and wine containing TCA has a characteristic odor, variously described as resembling a moldy newspaper, wet dog, damp cloth, or damp basement. Mmmm...delicious, right? Industry standards put the amount of wine with detectable amounts of TCA at anywhere between 3-5%. The chief cause of cork taint is up to debate and far too complex for me to go into detail but you can check out a discussion on it here . I will tell you that price does not seem to be an indicator whether or not the wine will end up spoiled as I have had corked wine that cost anywhere between $5 to $500. One of the main ways wineries are dealing with this problem is by switching to screw caps or synthetic corks.
Now I could have taken the wine back to the wine store for a refund just as you can send a wine back in a restaurant if it smells like wet socks to you, but by the time I'm sitting nice and cozy in my jammies at home and I'm left without a wine for the night - the damage has been done. So...for the rest of the evening you will see me moaning and complaining like a 12 year old girl.
P.S. - The girl with the Aero Surf shirt totally wanted David Cook to win.
As you can see, the whole thing has turned into a great reason to party and I imagine there was a ton of hoop-la-ing taking place in bars and bistros around the world last night. So yes - cue Kool and the Gang - because there's a party goin' on right here a celebration to last throughout the years so bring your good times, and your laughter too, we gonna celebrate your party with you, celebrate good times, come on!
Thursday, November 20, 2008
This week I was particularly taken by the Nicolo from the Cosimo Maria Masini winery. The wine is based on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in the province of Pisa, Italy. It is in essence a Super Tuscan or IGT wine meaning it does not conform to the government prescribed recipe for making Chianti. The wine features flavors of black cherries, cocoa, coffee and black berries. It is ripe enough to work well for fans of California Cabernet Sauvignon. It's on the list for $65 which is a relative bargain compared to it's more illustrious Super Tuscan counterparts which often sell for hundreds of dollars. If you happen to make it down to OVS - tell them I said hello and keep up the good work!
The wine, by the way, was the Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino. It’s a tasty refreshing wine from the sun-drenched island of Sardinia. It’s a great alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. I enjoy this style of wine when I first get home in the evening, as I go through the mail, decide what to make for dinner, and exchange the happenings of my day with my husband. And if we're both drinking, I don't have to think about where to put the bottle when we're done. You can pick up this wine at Sam's Wine and Spirits or Binny's Beverage Depot for $11.99-$15.99 a bottle.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
For those who don't care what's being served just as long as it is wine
Light as a feather, slightly fruity and refreshing with flavors of lemon zest. Serve well chilled and it will go down nice and easy.
For Uncle Bob the Wine Snob - face it we all have one and he loves to brag about his wine cellar and repeats the same stories about his last trip to Napa!
For the folks who saw Sideways too many times and won't drink anything but Pinot Noir. Also good for people who want something lighter and not too heavy.
This is from my hometown so it has to be good! Bright flavors of ripe bing cherry fruits, on the lighter side but still satisfying with a slight spiciness. A great value! Pinot Noir has fewer tannins so it is not as chewy as Cab Sauv.
Great all purpose red
Something to bring as a host/hostess present or last minute gift
This was made by Francis Ford Coppola in honor of his daughter, the great Sofia Coppola (well, he didn't actually make it, some winemakers did but he told them what to do so this counts in my book). It comes wrapped in a pretty pink cellophane for an extra touch of class. You could also serve this to your guests when they first arrive.