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The Holiday Spirit is a Phantom: BOGLE PHANTOM 2015

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I’m not Jewish, but my husband is and, as is the case with holidays both secular and religious, it often falls upon the woman to create the traditions…which in my house means food.Potato-Latkes-300x257

So it has come to pass that I, the non-Jew, have become an expert at making latkes. I think that the crisp potato pancakes are the one thing that Hanukkah has over Christmas.

At our annual latke fry on Sunday, I grated both sweet and Yukon gold potatoes and served them with applesauce and sour cream, of course, but also with a hearty bowl of Portuguese kale soup and a romaine-free salad.

The soup is robust and smoky with chorizo and kielbasa, kidney beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and kale. But it cries out for a substantial red wine to elevate it from peasant food to festive holiday fare.

IMG_1318Bogle Phantom 2015 is just that wine.

 

Don’t be intimidated by the label that proclaims “mysterious and hauntingly seductive.” This is a very approachable blend  (44% Petite Sirah, 44% Zinfandel, 10% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon) that pairs well with comforting winter dishes like beef stew, pork loin and…my kale soup.

The girls and I opened it before dinner, let it breathe a bit and sampled it while pondering the New York Times crossword puzzle. Then we set the kitchen table and poured some for everyone.

It’s smooth but bodacious, yet it doesn’t overwhelm the tongue with tannins. This will become the winter house wine here on Bartlett Avenue.  Even my daughter (a millennial!) who tends to gravitate toward pinot noirs gave this wine high marks. It’s loaded with subtle flavors and it drinks like a high priced bottle. Good thing we had two.

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P.S. I made “Craft Beer Menorahs” for the “kids” and picked up some really interesting local brews to wish them all “Hoppy Holidays!”

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Appassimento

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Raisins are nature’s candy. The dried, sugary essence of a grape, concentrated into one little morsel. It seems hard to imagine a wine made from such a thing, but there are actually many. The most famous ones are from Italy, specifically the majestic Amarone, a blend of grapes used to make the very light and delicious Valpolicella wines and Vin Santo, the sweet, luscious desert wine the Italians eat with little biscotti called “cantucci.”

There are other wines made from shriveled grapes – mostly those affected by “noble rot” or botrytis and some “icewine,” made after the water has frozen in the grape so that you when you cold-press the grapes, you just get the sugars and acids and none of the frozen liquid. Excellent examples of these techniques come from Bordeaux in the form of Sauternes or Barsac and Germany, with their Trockenbeerenauslese (dry-berry harvest), but also in the Finger Lakes and the Niagara area where the grapes hang until they freeze before harvesting. I have an on-going love affair with all raisinated, botrytized and frozen wines, but they are all “special occasion” wines, so not on the regular rotation of every day wines.

But this wine is something new, that maybe you could drink more regularly. It is a raisinated wine from the Montepulciano grape, famous for the light, bright, fruity wines of Abruzzo. Most Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines are meant for drinking casually, a cheerful blend of plums and cherries, with high acidity and low tannins that also “cleanse” the palate when you have it with pasta in a rich sauce. But when you dry the grapes and then press that precious, concentrated liquid into juice that ferments slowly and carefully, you get a deeply colored, deeply flavored wine that will stand up to heavy sauces and red meats and spice! This is a wine that has the intensity of a California Cabernet with all the mouth-filling aromas of fruit and some herbs, but has the acid brightness of wild cherries and summer plum, like a much lighter wine. It is a wonderful, unusual combination that will have you taking just one more sip, just to see if it really does have all that complexity. And the texture will have keep you sipping once you are used to the unusual mix of flavors, it is smooth and viscous. At $14.99, it will give that Amarone you’ve been saving for a special occasion a definite run for its money.

We had it last night with roasted leg of lamb and a wonderful mint sauce – definitely a regular from now on!

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A to Z Oregon Riesling

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There are some wines that everyone loves. And there are wines that cater to the few. There are wines that grow on you and there are wines that just stand up and smack you in the face. So, which one is this?

The A to Z Oregon Riesling is a puzzle. I will come out and say it – I love it! It is lush and fragrant on the nose with a silky soft and smooth mouthfeel. It is full bodied and fruity, delicate and floral and mouthwatering with a hint of sweetness all at the same time. As a wine writer, I have been told over and over that when I am tasting a wine, it is not about whether I like it or not. It is about describing the attributes of that wine and making clear notes that so that customer can evaluate it on their own and so that I will be able to remember this particular wine – grape, soil / climate and year – when I retaste it. But sometimes, you just love a wine.

So why am I questioning whether others will love this wine as much as I do? To be honest, I am not sure why anyone would not like a riesling. It is called a “noble grape” in Alsace for a reason. It is one of the few white grapes that has a very distinct character and is age worthy regardless of where it might be grown. Chardonnay is the truly the wonder grape, yes. It grows almost anywhere, it takes on the characteristics of the climate and of wood aging very well. It is versatile and pairs with a wide range of foods. It is fairly neutral, so there is rarely a lingering aftertaste – you get the fruity or flinty character and if it is cleanly made, it tastes clean and crisp. And it blends with a variety of other grapes.

Riesling, by contrast, is not Chardonnay. It stands in bold contrast to the other white grapes. It is finicky about where it will grow. It does best in a cool climate with rocky, slate rich soils that absorb the sun’s rays and drain away the rain. It does well when it has long, molasses days that last until a 10pm sunset and cool nights that allows it’s rich acids to develop. It loves growing on steep slopes that require hand picking and careful selection and it is very susceptible to Botrytis. Botrytis, under favorable conditions, is called “nobel rot,” and is a gentle affliction that punctures the skin of the grape, allowing the water to evaporate from the grapes on the vine. This concentrates the flavors and leads to the “trockenbeerenauslese” (dry berry harvest) that is so prized in German Riesling.

Rieslings come in a variety of quality levels and sweetness levels. While I love the German language, having lived there for well over 2 years, I won’t go into the details. That is one of the nice things about buying Riesling from the Pacific Northwest. It is labeled simply and can be appreciated without any angst. This wine, I would call ‘soft’ because it has an wonderful balance of sour and sweet that is perfect if you are having scallops or lobster. It has enough body to stand up to spicy foods – think Indian or Thai. And it is complex and quite simply tasty enough to just drink on its own. I would recommend serving it very chilled with the bottle on ice. The tart, tangy richness will be enhanced by the cold temperature.

Cheers, Seema

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Black Ops

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Wine writers call wines like Black Ops by Hugh Hamilton a “rare red blend.” I would call it an “extremely rare red blend.” It is just luscious – deep, inky color paired with unmistakable notes of wild blueberries, dark blackberries, juicy red cherries and a slightly elusive savory/wild herb / ripe fruit note that soaks into every taste bud and makes your shoulders relax.

This wine is made of the unusual blend of Shiraz, Saperavi and Nero d’Avola. Shiraz, a mainstay of McLaren Vale, is the iconic grape of meaty, mighty and most especially tasty Australian wines. It is the same grape that is used in Rhône wines, notably Hermitage, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and Cornas, which is the only French wine made with 100% Syrah. The primary distinction between Shiraz and Syrah is stylistic. Most Australian Shiraz tends to have a riper, fruitier, more concentrated set of flavors, whereas the cooler climate Syrahs of the Rhône Valley in Southern France, then to be a bit more savory, a bit more structured and a bit more peppery. The trend these days in Australia is that Shiraz is planted in cooler microclimates and is producing a more restrained type of wine, closer in character to the Syrahs of France, while the French are dealing with warmer, longer summers and are producing much more alcoholic, powerful wines than in the past. But despite this climatic convergence, they are still very distinct.

To add to this distinction, Hugh Hamilton has lived up to his Black Sheep logo by introducing an extraordinary grape to Australia called Saperavi. It is an ancient grape variety from the Republic of Georgia. In my mind, it evokes romantic images of farmers thousands of years ago, plucking grapes by hand, stomping the grapes in celebratory fashion with their families, fermenting that must in clay amphorae and drinking it with joy at every hearty meal. It is a grape that deserves this image. It brings to this wine a sort of wild, gamey nature that the buttoned-down varieties of Western Europe lack. It is a teinturier grape, that rare grape whose flesh, not just the skin, has color. And it is known for its depth, acidity, and full body.

Another bold move was to blend in Nero d’Avola. Again, this is an ancient variety that has found its home in the southern parts of Sicily. Like its happy compatriots, it is a dark, full-bodied wine that exhibits bright cherry notes that when oak-aged, can become plummy and juicy.

Together, these three varieties make Black Ops a truly exceptional wine. It is fruity and fragrant while still being structured and powerful. The wine starts strong with aromas of black currants, plums and cherries and fills your mid-palate with wonderful roundness and the complexity of pepper, dark chocolate and a small hint of herbs that seems ingrained in Australian terroir. The mellow tannins are more textural than grippy, rolling over your tongue with very pleasing sensations. It finishes with a long, slow slide of lingering fruits and tobacco and perhaps a hint of smoke.

You’d be a fool to pass up this wine at $19.99 a bottle!!!!

Your wine expert, Seema

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Manu Sauvignon Blanc 2018

2018 Manu Sauvignon Blanc

It’s like when you casually lean over to smell a rose, not expecting anything, and you can actually smell the rose! It transports you to your childhood in your grandmother’s beautiful garden with melon sized roses that you could smell from a yard away.

That is how the Manu Sauvignon Blanc is. You open it and pour, expecting to smell some Sauvignon Blanc, but then you smell it! It has a gorgeous nose that feels like a lungful of fresh air out on an alpine meadow. It is full of bright lime, grapefruit and green apple freshness balanced with tropical notes of guava and gooseberry. It is overlaid by a wonderful herbal grassiness that reminds you of lying on a hillside on a lush lawn watching the clouds drift across the sky. Even if you never actually taste the wine, you could breathe it in all day.

But then if you do taste it, it is tart and tangy, round and smooth and totally refreshing – from the first taste to the last lingering flavors, it is a wine to be tasted with your eyes closed.

Sauvignon Blanc is grown in many regions of the world. While the Loire and Bordeaux are undoubtedly the wellspring of classic Sauvignon Blanc wines, it has found one of its most popular expressions in New Zealand. Close to 95% of all wine exported form New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc, followed by very excellent Pinot Noir. What is it about this southern clime that makes this wine so special there? There are several factors. One is the ideal climate in the Marlborough region of the southern island. It is a maritime climate with warm, sunny days and cool nights with ocean breezes flowing off the Pacific to cool down the vines. The morning fogs protect the grapes from the worst of the sun’s ray until the sun is overhead and the leaves can protect them – after all, grapes can get sunburned too. It has combination of schist and sandstone mixed with clay (called Greywacke) that allows the roots of of the plant to penetrate deep, drain well and yet retain enough moisture to nourish the vines. And of course, the final factor is the winemaker. Steve Bird is a fabulous producer – dedicated, thoughtful and willing to think “outside the box.”

As our summer transitions into autumn, this wine will allow you to linger in that alpine meadow for a little longer and draw out the best of the season.

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Rocca delle Macie 2015 Chianti

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On Wednesday, I went to the farmer’s market in Arlington and there they were. Native tomatoes! I bought a carton of cherry tomatoes, a carton of sun gold tomatoes, a few Black Princes and six early Early Girls. I also bought a big bunch of basil because my daughter and her husband were coming for over and I was planning a simple, summery pasta for dinner.

Now I needed wine.

Although, since Sideways, we all drink Pinot Noir, pasta with tomatoes and garlic calls for something a bit bolder. Something Italian. I could have picked a Montepulciano, which I love, but my inner Anthony Hopkins prevailed.

Hello, Chianti.

I picked up two bottles of Rocca delle Macie’s 2015 Chianti which boasts a understated label that belies its reasonable price. Then I went home, unpacked the tomatoes and got cooking. This is my easy, go-to summer pasta sauce because frankly with fresh, ripe tomatoes, it’s hard to go wrong.

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I tossed some minced fresh garlic in a pan with good olive oil. My daughter, Perry, arrived. “Smells good in here!”
I handed her a corkscrew and she opened the Chianti. Yes, she’s over 21. And that’s just one of the great things about adult kids. You can drink with them. We poured the wine and noted its gorgeous ruby color. We sipped and knew that even though the first swallow was delicious (tart cherry, vanilla? cinnamon?) it would be even better by the time we ate. So we opened the second bottle to let it mellow out, too.

Then Perry showed me a hack to slice cherry tomatoes that she had seen on YouTube.

It worked!

So we tossed all the halved cherry tomatoes and one of each of the big tomatoes into the pan with some salt, pepper and basil chiffonade. While the sauce cooked down a bit, we started the water for pasta, put some hot Italian sausages onto a cast iron pan and made an arugula salad.

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By the time my son-in-law and husband arrived, it was time to eat. We brought our plates and the two bottles wine onto the porch so we wouldn’t have to get up mid-meal. The evening was getting cooler, the sky was turning grey, thunder rumbled in the distance. We filled our glasses and toasted to an ordinary Wednesday. The wine had opened up and was smooth as silk, the tagliatelle was al dente and the sauce captured the essence of summer.

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May every day be this ordinary. Ciao!

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It’s all about managing expectations

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I remember the first time I tasted a Soave in my wine class. I was expecting Riunite – a sweet fruity drink that would loosely be classified as wine. Boy, was I disappointed! My first taste – which went against every expectation I had – was tough. It was totally dry, dry as the Sahara dessert and therefore shocking to my palate.

Let me back up a step. Expectations are always a tricky thing. Sometimes, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy – you expect something to be bad, you make it bad in your mind by picking it apart. And vice versa, you expect something to be good, so you only see the upsides. But most of the time, expectations can mislead you. When someone hypes something to you and raises your expectations too high, you are bound to be disappointed. And again, vice versa, you hear only negative reviews of something, but then when you actually try it, it’s not so bad! My husband used to always tell me to spend about 20 percent of my time managing expectations. In order to get a job for example, you have to talk yourself up. But then when you actually get the job, you need to make sure people are going be realistic about what you can accomplish. So, walk the line of not being a complainer, but talk about the challenges, your problem solving strategies and so forth. Make sure people know what they are getting so then, they will be happy with the outcome!

Now, back to the shock to the palate. Soave is dry! Dry, dry, dry but also delicately floral with notes of peach and pear and a very refreshing, crisp, mineral-driven finish. In fact, it is one of the great wines of Italy. One would not necessarily know that because it is not as recognizable as Chianti or Prosecco. And furthermore, it is made from the terribly named Garganega (pronounced gar-GA-nega) grape. Sounds like mouthwash, but tastes sublime – it is fresh, lively and can pair with everything from white meats to shellfish.

wine photoSoave Classico is the heart of great wines made with the Garganega grape. It is in the extremely picturesque part of the Veneto that is just east of the gorgeous Lake Garda. The valleys are lush and beautiful dotted with castles and modern buildings alike. Rocca Sveva is made by the cooperative winery, the Cantina Di Soave, which having been established in 1898, is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. They use high-technology to analyze soils and ensure the quality of the grapes supplied by their growers as well the latest techniques to ensure quality but make wines that are extremely traditional and hark back to their origins.

The Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2016 is a wonderful, easy-to-drink, highly enjoyable wine. It’s beauty is in its simplicity. It doesn’t require any concentration to appreciate its depths like a white Burgundy might and it doesn’t lull you into a stupor like a big, high-alcohol, buttery Chardonnay might. In fact, at 12.5% alchohol, you can enjoy that second glass guilt free. And really prolong the enjoyment on a hot summer’s day. This wine has lovely notes of grapefruit and lemon zest with a hint of white peach on the nose. It has a nice, soft mouthfeel with some mineral notes and it leaves your palate with a fresh, dry snap.

Cheers! Seema

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It’s Summer: Think Pink

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Seems like just a few summers ago I showed up at a dinner party with a bottle of pink wine and my hosts were aghast. They remembered the sticky sweet white zinfandels we guzzled in high school and quickly whisked my bottle into the kitchen where it remained stashed behind the paper towels for the duration of the evening. Fools.

Because now, thanks to some good public relations and some really delicious rosés, pink is everyone’s favorite color.

IT’S SUMMER THINK PINKStill, when my neighbor Edith, who is from France, invited me and a few other women over for “aperitifs,” I fretted over what wine to bring. Frankly, the French thing is a little intimidating. I mean they practically invented wine. My first instinct was to buy a rosé from Provence, but then I saw the Elouan rosé with its distinctive vertical label. I am a big fan of wines from Oregon and Elouan’s pinot noir is practically my house wine—so I bought the rosé, iced it down and trotted next door for to join the gals.

The ladies were already in the backyard drinking Aperol spritzers and noshing on hummus, strawberries, and cheese.

I passed on the spritzer, grabbed a wine glass and was immediately grateful for the screwcap. I like a user-friendly wine. The Elouan isn’t just easy to open, it’s easy to like. When the spritzers were drained, I poured glasses for each of the ladies. Denise plopped some ice cubes in hers, Joanne garnished hers with raspberries and Edith, added a splash of seltzer. All delicious. We held our glasses up to the light, we asked Edith what kind of dishwashing liquid she used, we toasted and we sipped.

Pale pink and crisp, it’s perfect for summer evenings (okay, late afternoons) and we found that it pairs particularly well with berries, Trader Joe Thai spring rolls and with juicy neighborhood gossip.