Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

So I'm sitting, drinking a bottle of wine, waiting for the kiddies to have those "visions of sugarplums". waiting... and waiting...

Might as well let you in on what 'Santa' is consuming... 'cause it's a pretty nice repertoire. 

Started with one of my favorite cheap bottles. Woop Woop Shiraz from Australia. This nice inexpensive bottle can be found for $8-9. And it's great. Some serious framboise flavor jumping out, heavy vanillan notes. Just can't beat it for the price. It's my "go to" bottle, when funds are short.

We drank the bottle with a pre-Santa prep dinner of filet and sauteed asparagus that my wife prepared.. and prepared well... with a little lemon juice and olive oil... yum!

As the kids eyes grew heavy, and the winter blankets beckoned. I received my annual gift from the wife. A Christmas eve tradition, a DVD to watch while we wait for the coming Claus. This year's selection was "Wanted". Apparently based on the comic book of the same name... but I'd have to say so loosely based, that the only familiarity laid in the name alone, and perhaps some VERY loose plot derivations.

Finally, the kids are in bed and it's time to set up the tree and gifts. I break out a bottle of Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish 12 year scotch. A bottle I'd been holding onto for the last 4 years. I restrain myself from chugging this good stuff down, and break it out for special occasions. This Scotch is discontinued now, and the distillers have changed their brewing process to non-chill filtered whiskey which the distillers felt gave the whiskey a more authentic flavor. And that may be true. I just happen to prefer the Glenmorangie port wood finish that I grew to love. The bastardized version, if you will... but I love it, and I cherish my last bottle.

So with a glass of scotch in hand, the wind blowing outside, and the toys set and displayed under the tree... I bid you all a very merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

iphone, ipod, itouch

Just got this new ipod (itouch... iphone minus the phone) and the greatest thing about it (well, maybe not the greatest... really happy to have all my music on one compact portable player) is the "Wine Guide" app. 

clicking on the app I can get just about every bottle of wine with a brief explanation with current vintage, cost and rating from Wine Enthusiast... after choosing the vineyard and then the proper bottle. 

I believe the app actually comes from Wine Enthusiast, and have already spotted some notable missing bottles; Orin Swift The Prisoner is a prime example. Basically, anything Wine Enthusiast has not rated will be missing from the app. But there're still thousands of choices to look up. This is gonna make my job much easier. Whether talking to vendors, shopping at the State Store or talking to tables... it'll be a nice utensil to have.

On another note... tried a bottle of Michael and David Vineyards Petite Petit, blend of petite sirah and petit verdot. Was a little disappointing. I usually like these guys wines. Often big, powerhouse bottles... this one was a little lacking, too soft... not much there. Some cranberry on the nose led to a tarter taste in the glass as well. It's odd though, because I recalled liking this wine at the Pittsburgh Wine Festival when I tasted it in May. It didn't taste off or oxidized however, maybe my recollections from May had been obscured by the hundreds of other glasses of wine I'd tasted leading up the the Petite Petit. For the same price, I'd rather drink the Earthquake Petite Sirah from the same company.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday party wines

Made a trip to the liquor store Saturday, with daughter in-tow. I'm getting more and more impressed with our current PLCB chairman's (Patrick J. Stapleton III) selections, and the Shadyside store director's (Ron Dreshman) purchases. Some great Holiday gift giving ideas... and some equally great value wines for all those office parties your wife may end up dragging you to.

If you're not familiar with Pennsylvania liquor laws, then you're one lucky summabitch. In PA, we are limited in what we can buy, by what the state agrees to bring in. We are beholden to the state to make the correct purchasing decisions and offering choice wines, which so very often they fail in their ability to provide. However, it's getting better. While we may never see the vast selection that other states offer, at least PA seems to be making a concerted effort to keep up with the current wine trends.

In my shopping experience I came across a few gems I was familiar with, from offering in one of the many restaurant I purchased for. I thought, maybe, to share some of these picks with you.

The first one, that can regularly be found across the country, and is one I often buy in New Hampshire when on vacation up there, is Big Tattoo Red from 2 Brothers. Big Tattoo Red is a Cab/Syrah blend (50/50) from Chile. It's a nice, value friendly, bottle of wine that I enjoy cracking after a fewer bigger bodied and bigger priced bottles. It's easy drinking and reliable... and it's only $9.99. This wine isn't gonna knock your socks off, but I think for the price you may be fairly impressed with the quality. I like this wine as a gift for the Holidays as every bottle sold donates 50 cents to the Arlington, Virginia Hospice and a breast cancer research foundation in the name of Liliana S. Bartholomaus. Introduced in the Winter of 2002, sales from BIg Tattoo Wines has raised over $850,000 for charity. It's my feel good wine!

For a bigger body, huge extracted fruit, and just plain delicious bottle... I recommend the Earthquake Petite Sirah from Michael & David Vineyards in Lodi, California. This is a wine to give to the unsuspecting host/hostess at the office Christmas party. It's a closet wine that will "wow" the receiver. I cracked one of these at the last Halloween supper club I hosted and the bottle was the house favorite... gone within the first ten minutes of attendees arriving. Where most wine descriptors will halt at "blueberry" or "coffee" Earthquake takes these flavor profiles a step further with "Up front blueberry syrup, black cherry and coffee bean shake up the senses, finishing with warm cigar box cedar and vanillan flavors." At $18.99 you're getting every penny's worth!

For a more classically styled wine I noticed the Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits Store is now offering Catena Malbec from Argentina at $23.99 a bottle. This is one of the finest expressions of malbec I have encountered (for the price) from Argentina. Malbec is THE varietal of Argentina, though some equally fine malbecs are being produced in Cahors, France... and of course, malbec is one of the blending grapes in the wine capitol of the world Bordeaux (so obviously, you'll also find malbec in most meritage blends). It has a distinct plum-like flavor, and less distinct hint of anise which is helpful in rounding out the highly tannic cabernet of Bordeaux blends and filling out the softer merlot. Argentina has perfected this grape and produced some of the best 100% malbecs in the world. Quickly gaining in popularity, this is a nice gift as a substitute for a cab or merlot offering.

My favorite selection, however, and the one I ended up bringing to my wife's office party, was/is Rumball Sparkling Shiraz from Coonawarra Australia!

You're saying to yourself "What! Sparkling shiraz? I've never heard of such a thing." Or, possibly, you're more sophisticated palate than I've given you credit for is saying "Waitaminnit! I've had sparkling shiraz and it's always insipidly sweet... you can't really recommend such a disgusting mutation of this beautiful Australian varietal?"

I have tried dozens of Sparkling shiraz, and only one has ever made the cut for my lists and my home, and that is Rumball. Inky black, earthy and grapey, Rumball does a magnificent job in creating a varietally correct sparkling shiraz. At Casbah we put it on our brunch menu as a "Black Mimosa". the mixture of citrus and dark, spicy chocolatey shiraz gives your mimosas a whole new depth of flavor. You'll shock and delight your gift receiving friends with this choice bubbly. It goes great with meat! The gamier the better. Also, highly recommended with a nice stinky blue cheese! YUM!

Hope this helps with Holiday shopping! May you and yours have a very Happy Holiday! Cheers!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Stan The Wine Man (Part 2)

Onto the reds... the lifeblood of Stan's list.

When Stan first came calling 10 years ago at Cafe Allegro, he was smart enough to bring me, what has since turned into one of my top ten favorite wines... Gli Occhi Blu Di Sabrina Amarone. I was hooked! After that, every wine he tasted me on was a "must-have", though often a "can't-afford." I mean I can only sell so many $100 Italian wines, right?

Coming to Soba, I was careful with my picks. The light, fresh, lively flavor profiles in Soba's food, and the subtle crisp flavors of Umi, do not lend themselves to big, hearty, tannic wines. So with that in mind I chose the best of the best that I had been familiar with from past vintages: Palari Faro & Rosso Del Soprano, Poderi La Collina Labbra Di Giada, Cecilia Monte Incognito, and San Rustico Gli Occhi Blu Di Sabrina Amarone.

Start off with the Labbra di Giada (Italian for "lips of Giada": read for a somewhat accurate portrayal of how this wine got it's name). This is a dolcetto di dogliani (dolcetto=grape, dogliani=region in Piedmont). Typically a dry, tannic wine with medium fruit and acid levels, Stan's dolcetto, however is a fruit driven, deep purple colored, easily drinking glass that pairs well with food, but stands well on it's own for those guests looking for an Italian glass that's not to tongue-drying. Retails for $29.42, which makes it a reasonably priced bottle on any restaurant list (mark-up would be anything from $69-$88... I sell it at Soba for $60)

Next up for the staff was the Cecilia Monte Incognito. Incognito is actually a Barbaresco, 100% nebbiolo grape as you'd find in a Barolo, as well as Barbaresco. The high price needed to call this wine a Barbaresco for exporting, persuaded Stan to find an alternate form of marketing this wine... hence "Incognito", so he could sell a Barbaresco at a 1/2 way reasonable price. This is a dynamite Barbaresco at $41.39. Typical flavor profiles of mint, licorice, blackberry and black cherry are all here in this steal of a Barbaresco. I would imagine, a Barbaresco of this quality, if it had the proper DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata: Italy's bureau of wine quality and regulation) designation of Barbaresco, it would fetch a price of anywhere from $70-90 bottle.

The last two we tasted were Palari's Rosso del Soprano (named after the popular HBO series... jus' kiddin') and Faro. The Rosso del Soprano is the poor man's Faro ($42.95) with the same grape sourcing of up to 8 different varietals from Sicily... it's the stepping stone to it's big brother. Dry and dusty, tannic (but not overbearingly so) with some light brick tones and balanced fruit it's a fine bottle... but can not compare with... FARO! When tasting wines with so many different palates as my staff demonstrated, it was no surprise that votes on the "best red" were divided between the Faro and it's contender, San Rustico Amarone. Faro is for the pinot noir lovers in our midst. Gambero Rosso compares it with a "...Chambolle Musigny or a Vosne Romanee from the Burgundy heartlands." The comparison is not lost on any of our palates however. A gentle, feminine red consisting of Sicilian varietals dominated by nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio, with smaller quantities of nocera, cappuccio tignolino, cor’e palumba, acitana, galatena, calabrese and more. Never heard of any of these varietal? Don't be embarrassed, most are unfamiliar to me as well... the important thing to know is that this wine is a stunner. Don't believe me, well Gambero Rosso (again, the Wine Spectator of Italian wine) named the Faro "Wine of the Year". If you're looking for a wine experience that is subtle & complex, graceful, artistic and elegant, than look no further. But it'll cost you at $92.25. Well worth it, when you consider other Italian wines, without the "Wine of the Year" title can fetch upwards of $200-$300 and much higher.

Time to end our little discussion on Italian red wine with my favorite wine in Stan's portfolio: San Rustico Gli Occhi Blu Di Sabrina Amarone, from Veneto. Gli Occhi Blu di Sabrina is Italian for "the blue eyes of Sabrina", who was the winemaker's daughter. This wine is not only my favorite in Stan's portfolio, but one of my top ten favorite red wines, year after year. This is THE wine experience. Every time I've recommended this wine to a guest, I relish the pure ecstasy they find in the bottle and gratitude they afford me for the excellent recommendation. Given time, I prefer to decant this bottle, pour the first glass, and return again and again to the table to revel in their excitement at how much the wine has changed and gotten better and better with each passing hour. Typically amarone is made from corvina, rodinella and molinara grapes which have been "raisinated" in the sun to concentrate the grapes natural sugars before going to press. It leads to a very sweet, prune or raisin fruit flavor that I adore, but in Stan's amarone the balance is perfected to give a great extracted fruit flavor without overly sweetening the wine. Great balance, hearty fruit... just a beauty of a wine. Springer Wine Review rated this wine 100 points (for what that's worth to ya). At $84.82 you can't afford not to have a six pack delivered to your front door immediately! This will forever be a favorite of mine. I hope you get the chance to try this masterpiece as well.

Now these wines are not your everyday bargain wines, but for the quality I'd certainly recommend every one for special occasion dining. Each has tremendous aging potential. As a gift, it will be one remembered for a long time. You can always write to me, anytime, for my home address when you decide to ship these bad boys out to me... until then, I'll keep waiting for new restaurants to work in, so I can hold another Stan "the Wine Man" staff training session, and linger on that last glass of amarone...

To order these wines, you may have to go straight to "the man" if you can't find them in your local wine and spirits distributor. Address to follow:
Stan "The Wine Man"® Lalic
1201 Woodbourne Avenue
Pittsburgh PA 15226-2315
TELEPHONE: (412) 341-9463
FAX: (412) 343-8466
CELL: (412) 736-7017