Ask someone from Napa what they think of Lodi, and you’ll get a snicker. “Oh, do they make wine up there?”
Which is one reason why the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys wine from Lodi so much, and especially wine from Peirano Estate. Regular visitors might know Peirano from The Other, the winery’s red and white blends.
Peirano, and Lodi wines in general, are well-made, offer value, and aren’t pretentious. Case in point is the petite sirah ($15). Petite sirah is related to syrah, but has its own character and flavor. It’s a little deeper and the fruit flavors aren’t quite as jammy. The Peirano has lots of deep, dark rich plummy flavor, but it’s not as overwhelming as a shiraz. You can even drink on its own, though it’s better with food. Serve this with pizza with tomato sauce and sausage, for example, or grilled hamburgers with lots grilled onions and mushrooms.
? Cheap Chilean wine: Spend any time with Chilean winemakers, and you notice two things. First, how young everyone in the business is, and second, that the inexpensive wines are so well made. Case in point: Calina, some very nice $8 wine from a company affiliated with Kendall-Jackson, made by winemaker Marcela Chandia. I didn’t ask (politeness, of course), but she graduated from college in 1999, which means she probably isn’t 30 yet. I was especially impressed by the chardonnay, with more fruit than oak, and the carmenere.
? Paul Newman wines: Yes, that Paul Newman. His Newman’s Own food company has released a California cabernet and chardonnay, about $16 each. The project is a joint venture with Rebel Wine, which is affiliated with Three Thieves, best known for the quality wine it sells in jugs and juice boxes.
And, literally, that’s what happens. I take a sip, and I know. The quality of the wine does all the work. That was the case with this $8 red, a tempranillo from the Utiel-Requena region of Valencia, which is hardly Spain’s best known wine area. But this is one of the best cheap wines I’ve had in a long time. It’s not as sophisticated as a Rioja, even an inexpensive one. And the cherry fruit was a bit muted and it was a little too vanilla-y. But this is nitpicking. I paired it with grilled Cornish hen, and it worked like a charm. This wine is a terrific value, and is almost certain to enter the $10 Hall of Fame in 2009.
One of the things that I always tell my students (or anyone else, for that matter) is never to judge wine before you’ve tasted it. There might be many reasons to be skeptical — price, alcohol content, the grapes it’s made with, producer — but none of that matters until you take the first sip.
So what did I do when I received samples of BV’s Century Cellars line? Stuck it in the back of the wine closet, figuring it couldn’t be any good because it only cost $6 a bottle.
Regular visitors to this space know that the Wine Curmudgeon hates overpriced wine — and that way too many wines that cost more than $10 are overpriced. So when he finds something that is expensive and fabulous, he swoons. Or as close as he can come to swooning.
The Sanford is among the best pinots made in California, and Sanford makes some of the best pinot noirs in the world. Hence, $45 is not a stretch. The wine has a bit of a red Burgundy nose and flavor, which is more rustic than those from California and Oregon. But it also has terrific California-style fruit (think cherry and raspberry), without any of the candied flavors of too many other U.S. pinots.
Drink this by itself (I shared it on a Sunday with several people who came over to talk away the afternoon) or with any classic pinot food, be it duck or beef braised in red wine.
Carmenere is the national grape of Chile, but unlike tempranillo (Spain) and malbec (Argentina), you don’t see much of it, even in Chile. This is too bad, because in the right hands, it makes top-flight wine.
Such as this one. I had my doubts before I tasted it, despite Vii Manent’s reputation for producing top-notch quality, inexpensive wine. Carmenere can be that difficult to work with. But I should have trusted the winery, because this wine is not only amazingly well-made, but quite a value at $14. It’s rich and dark, with more plummy and mocha flavors than the dark fruits of merlot or cabernet. Plus, the tannins — that harshness in the back — were so smooth that I almost missed them. It’s a welcome respite from much of the too jammy, over the top New World red wine that I have to taste.
How much did I like it? I’d not only buy it, but I’d buy more than one bottle at a time.
My introductory wine students at the Cordon Bleu in Dallas did their in-class tasting on Friday. This is not only an important part of the class, but a big deal for the students. Many of them had never drunk wine before, let alone tasted it in a serious, professional manner.
And, apparently, they learned something.
At some point during the class, maybe around the third red wine, I started to get the sense that the past two weeks were sinking in. Teachers with more experience can probably describe this sensation better — the light bulb going on over the head moment, when everything I had lectured, cajoled, threatened, and discussed with them in class was finally making an impression.
They realized that the tannins in the merlot were bigger than the tannins in the pinot noir, and that the tannins in the cabernet were bigger than those in the merlot. They tasted — and could explain — the fruit difference between the shiraz, merlot and the two pinots. They even seemed to understand the difference between the two cabernets, a youngish one from Sonoma and an older one from Napa.
Most importantly, when we talked about food pairings for each wine, most didn’t have the blank look that had been on their faces since the first day of class. White zinfandel, which had been their stock answer for any pairing, never came up. Someone suggested pot roast for the Oregon pinot; someone else said absolutely not. The wine wasn’t big enough. I was almost giddy.
I even got a compliment. I had warned them that this wasn’t going to be an afternoon at the beach, where everyone would get a pleasant glow. I told them this was a serious, professional tasting, doing 10 wines in a little less than two hours. It was swirling, smelling, discussing, and then tasting, spitting, and more discussing. What did the wine smell like? What did it taste like? How was it different from the others? What do you think it costs? Is it a value? What would you pair it with? Of course, they didn’t believe me. No one ever does when I tell them tasting wine is hard work.
Anyway, about three-quarters of the way through, one of the students (whose test grades reflect how much attention he pays in class) said: “Mr. Siegel, you’re right. This is work. I couldn’t do what you do. I wouldn’t want to do it.”
It’s the small victories in teaching, right?
The wines we tasted:
1. Pikes Riesling 2006. A dry Australian — OK, but nothing spectacular.
2. Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Good example of the California style, with some grapefruit mixed with tropical fruit.
3. Joullian Chardonnay 2006. Not as oaky as some from California, but oaky enough so that the students got the point.
4. Lange Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2006. A good wine, but not as good as I have had from Oregon.
5. X Winery Pinot Noir Los Carneros Truchard Vineyard 2006. To my mind, one of the two best wines we had, with wonderful fruit and soft yet sturdy tannins.
6. Dusted Valley Stomp Merlot 2004. Very ordinary New World style merlot. The least favorite of most of the class.
7. Teira Zinfandel 2005. A stunner — low alcohol, with spice and blueberry. I was ready to go buy a case and make a pot of red sauce for spaghetti and meatballs for the class.
8. Wishing Tree Shiraz 2005. The students who had tasted lesser shirazes, like Yellow Tail and Rosemount, were excited they could tell the difference between those and this one.
9. Liparita Enlace Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. A nice Napa cabernet, with the requisite zingy tannins and dark fruit.
10. Mantra Revelations Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This Sonoma cabernet was, as the class noted, younger and easier to drink, though not as complex, than the Enlace.