Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sauternes Chateau Le Mayne 2005 tasting notes

Château Le Mayne
AOC Sauternes
90% Semillon, + Sauvignon
13% ABV

Golden yellow, with orange-amber hues, crystal clear, beautiful transparency adding to its brilliance. Swirls heavily in the glass, viscous. Even tears quickly form on the outside of the glass.

Intense brandy- scent with a honey and beeswax, citrus and white spring flowers. This glass smells of orange blossoms, and honeysuckle. The brandy and honey sensations are predominant at first scent, but the citrus-flower freshness is what is making me look forward to those first few sips. Here goes.

Honey, honey, honey. It has some weight on the palate and is as smooth as silk. The initial tastes are exactly what awaits me in the glass. Honey, beautifully counterbalanced by a fresh acidity. Though 13% alcohol, the silkiness and sweetness of this wine, soften the heat that you would normally feel from the alcohol.

It is full-bodied, creamy-intense and of medium length on the palate. In my opinion it is a beautifully balanced, still developing wine. The acidity in this wine will offer it a long life in the bottle yet.

This is an elegant, captivating wine to enjoy with desserts, but the label on the back of the bottle also suggests it seals a nice marriage with foies gras. The wine is nice to drink on its own, as I am doing now, so would also make a nice aperitif. I’ve seen this bottle online for $12.00 USD.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bordeaux 2002 Chateau Desmirail tasting notes.

After decanting, this wine reveals itself as a pomegranate color with orange hues. The wine leaves some shades of brightness, though most of the color is intense. It is fairly viscous leaving slow even tears on the side of the glass.

The first scent makes me imagine myself sitting in the glass under a forest canopy after a rainfall. It’s a really beautiful, mushroomy fairly intense smell, which opens the door to its further complexities. The scents indicate that I might be in for a treat, that it might be the scent of a fine wine with aromas of deep black cherries, a hint of green pepper, and a finish of vanilla, followed by discreet suggestion of black pepper spiciness.

On the palate it is dry, fairly warm in its alcohol content and is smooth and silky in the mouth. The acidity is still fairly refreshing. It has soft tannins, and is slightly more minerally than acidic. It is medium-bodied, but only lingers a short time on the palate therefore only fairly intense but and fairly well-balanced. Overall this wine is good but not spectacular...I expected it to deliver a bit more from the wonderful scents in my glass; it was not unpleasant, but I found it disappointing in its length once swallowed and on the impact delivered. It is ready to drink, and perhaps will remain that way for years to come, but I have doubts as to whether it will improve.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Angelo's Limoncello Recipe

When most people think of limoncello, they are probably reminded of the Amalfi Coast,and its spectacular vistas of sheered cliffs, azure sea and sky, and the ubiquitous lemon trees which give birth to the liqueur. Limoncello, however will forever remind me of Angelo. Angelo is my neighbor here in Monte di Procida, near Naples, where I live. He quickly befriended the new “americani” who moved in next door to him. We are Canadian, but that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to Angelo, or anyone else for that matter. Europeans don’t seem to buy the distinction that we in North America insist exists. Angelo is elderly, has one married daughter who lives nearby, and a nephew who visit him often, making sure his needs are met. He walks with great difficulty as he is overweight and suffers from diabetes. In his one-bedroom ground floor apartment, he gets around with the help of two long-handled scrub brooms, with their bristles now flattened from the weight of his body.

In the dark entrance-way that leads first to his bedroom, then to the tiny kitchen and bathroom, he has a shrine to his deceased wife and his wife’s sister. There, on either side of a dresser sit bookend photographs of his wife and his sister-in-law. In the middle, there is a bouquet of artificial roses, atop a plastic lacy-looking tablecloth. On top of the table cloth is another cover of transparent plastic to protect it all from dust. On my first visit to his home, Angelo proudly showed the photos to me and his coin collection which he hides under the tablecloth, protected by the photos of his wife and sister-in-law standing guard like sentinels over his treasure. There on that dresser, are his most prized possessions.

Angelo loves food, and loves to cook and we’ve been summoned to his tiny table more than once for a feast that could have fed our family for a week. Most of it, comes home with us. He seems to know our comings and goings, as often the phone will ring about a minute after we walk through the door. His door is always open for us he tells me, time and time again. If we have company, I will immediately get a phone call, and he will invite us and my company over for dessert, coffee, and his delicious home-made limoncello -- the signature liqueur of the Gulf of Napoli, though I think that Sorrento claims it as its own. It can be bought anywhere in the region, but the best I have tasted is Angelo’s. The limoncellos I’ve had elsewhere are overpoweringly alcoholic. Angelo keeps his limoncello in the freezer. When it is served there are sometimes bits of slush in the frosted shot glass making it all the more refreshing.

Here is his recipe:
-2 liters of spirits (alcool)
-to this add the peel of 13 large lemons – no pith
-let sit in a dark place for 13 days
-after the 13th day (I’m not sure why it is always the number 13, but he seems quite emphatic about the fact that it is 13 days and 13 lemons.
-boil 2 liters of water and add 2 kg of sugar adding the sugar bit by bit to the water to be sure that it is dissolved
-let cool
-mix the sugared water with the drained spirit/lemon mixture
Let sit for 2 days…voila…Angelo’s limoncello.

Above is a photo of Angelo but the ones I have of him in my mind’s eye are the ones that paint the best picture of him. Angelo embodies the Neapolitan ideal of so many of his generation of making do with nothing. They know how to stretch their money, they eat well from the fruits of their own gardens, and take solace in the companionship friends and family. They share all they have with whoever happens by their door. Angelo knows that his coin collection would not be worth having if he had no one to show it to. The coin collection is only the bait to lure you in. It is obvious that what he treasures most is the pleasure of your company. If you come to visit me, you are sure to be his guest at some point during your visit. I gladly indulge in his gracious company and the best limoncello in the Gulf of Napoli.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Natalie MacLean's Free Drinks Matcher Widget

This is really cool and easy, and a fail safe method for picking the right wines. I've got to wonder what I'm doing studying to be a sommelier with tools like this.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Morellino di Scansano DOCG, Toscana

March 23rd, 2009
Morellino si Scansano DOCG
La Mora
Producer: Cecchi

The color of this wine is ruby red with purple hues. It seems intense at the bottom of the glass, yet is transparent enough to make out lettering where it lets the light pass through. It is viscous in body with slow even tears.
Rich red ripe berries emerge from the glass. The smell of luscious jams, like blackberry, a suggestion of fresh violets, followed by a faint woodsy, mushroom scent, and some black pepper spice. This is a fairly complex wine.
It is dry, and warm in the mouth, and fairly smooth. The balance between the acidity and the mineral content is almost perfect…the fresh acidity is at first noticeable, but then the spicy pepper kicks in and then the warmth of the alcohol, each bringing balance to this wine. It is a fairly tannic wine. The sensations last for over 7 seconds giving it length and persistence in the mouth. It is fairly intense and of very good quality. It is medium bodied –and ready to be appreciated paired with barbequed steak, pork chops with lots of salt and pepper. This is a really nice wine to bring to a barbeque and would be robust enough for a winter wine, and fresh enough to drink in the summer.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Asprinio di Aversa DOC, Italy

Date: March 22, 2009
Asprinio d’Aversa DOC
Min. 85% Asprinio grapes
Grotta del Sole

I found this wine difficult to assess. Perhaps some of you can help me with it. The wine is crystal clear in appearance and is a very young-looking greenish–yellow in the glass. I even hesitate to say greenish-yellow as it is more watery in color with greenish yellow hues. The color intensity is definitely pale. It is only barely viscous. It has a fairly intense uncomplex bouquet of fresh fruit such as apple-- almost cidery, and a hint of sweet floral scents. There are no undesirable qualities in the scents so I would award it acceptable as the scent is pleasant with some good nuances letting me know that something is there, but nothing really jumps out at me.
The wine is dry, offering a medium-warm feel from the alcohol content. It is smooth on the palate, but…..high acidity as expected from Asprinio. The name of the grape, Asprinio comes from the word “aspro” in Italian meaning “sour”. I cannot fault the acidity as it is a characteristic of the grape and the wine. This wine respects the tipicity of the grape. The beauty of this wine is that even though it is a very fresh young wine, it is also nice and smooth. Could it have spent some time in oak? I don’t smell any tasting notes that indicate as such. This wine also has a slightly minerally aftertaste that lingers for about 5 seconds causing it to be somewhat persistent in length.
I would rate it a good quality wine for its type. It is light-bodied, young or maybe even “ready” for it’s tipicity. I believe it should be consumed within the year after it has been made. It would be a good wine to combine with the frutti di mare fresh salads that are so often served in the restaurants around Napoli.

Parcels of Hautes Côtes des Nuits Vineyard Available for Under $10,000. USD

This is a rare opportunity to own a piece of a Burgundy vineyard. We happened upon an interesting add, by chance as we were looking on the internet for a vineyard to buy. We came across this innovative idea that allows for multiple owners of an already well-established Burgundy vineyard. I am talking about Burgundy, France...home of some of the most desired wines in the world.
About 3 km as the crow flies from Nuits St. Georges is the tiny hamlet of Villars Fontaine, where an historic vineyard is selling off plots of land for 6.100 euros/parcel. The parcels are 200 sq. metres each, defined by the average amount of grapes one person can pick in a day. As the owner of one such parcel, I would like to tell you about the wine, and the benefits of becoming involved in this unique partnership/co-ownership.
We have been co-owners for the past two years, have received a slight revenue for the rental of our land, and are able to bring home (we are Canadian, but we presently live in Italy), 100 bottles of AOC Burgundy wine, at cost + 20% once a year. This is a rare opportunity as Burgundy vineyards seldom change hands. Because of this wine's ability to age beyond 20 years (there are some Burgundy whites still on sale today dating back to the 1850's), we view this as an investment.

In 1973, Bernard Hudelot, a native of Villars Fontaine and professor of oenology at Université de Bourgogne, purchased and replanted the vineyard that had originally been planted in the 11 century by the monks of St-Denis, under the protection of the Sirs de Vergy family. While historically the vines planted at this elevation didn’t obtain the ripeness of other more favorable spots in the Côtes d’Or, Bernard Hudelot feels that climate change, as observed over the past 15 years, has now placed these vines at an optimum elevation. To illustrate this point, M. Hudelot’s literature on the state of his vineyard is filled with references from renowned climatologists and enologists on how climate change is affecting the state of the vines and wines in Burgundy. In an article written by Franck Bassoleil, a journalist for a local Burgundy newspaper, Le Bien Public, the author outlines that in 2003, vineyard owners harvested their grapes by the unprecedented date of 19th of August. He references the statistical work of Dr. Lavalle, published in 1855 that indicates that the earliest date ever for grape harvesting would have been 26 of August 1420. For the moment, these references are isolated and remain inconclusive as to whether or not climate change, in the near future will have a real impact on the quality of the vines and wines in Burgundy. It is clear that Bernard Hudelot would like to think so.

The evidence that I would like to put forth to you that this is a good investment is in the quality of the wine itself. These are wines that will age 20 to 30 years without loosing their structure and freshness. The reds are aged from between 30 to 48 months in new oak. They are bottled without filtration using egg-whites as a fining agent. The wines begin to come into themselves after about 10 years for the reds. It is the Chardonnays at this point that are of exceptional quality. After spending 18 months in new oak they have a life that will see them through to at least 30 years. They are derived from excellent white marl soils and have recently won a blind taste test over Bâtard-Montrachet, Montrachet and Corton Charlemagne for the 1990 vintage. We brought home the 2002 vintage and so convinced am I of the quality of these wines, that I am willing to send you a bottle to try for yourself, should you be seriously interested in purchasing a plot of land, as long as it doesn't cost me an arm and a leg to get it to you(while my quantities last).
Bernard Hudelot has recently purchased the Château “Le Pré aux Dames” that was originally part of the estate. He has sold over 500 parcels and it is his intention to sell off all remaining 400 or so plots. A professional paid staff, who are also co-owners currently maintain the vines and create the wines of this estate. They are also co-managers. There is a meeting of all partner/owners once a year in May where we review the results of the previous year’s harvest. In principal each partner/owner has the opportunity to buy 100 bottles per parcels owned of Burgundy from that year’s harvest at cost + 20%. The 20% covers all the costs involved in operating this vineyard. Earlier years are also availabe for purchase at a reduced price to the co-owners. M. Hudelot also offers his cellars for the cellaring of your wine, should you wish to let them age on location. In 2010 all management of this vineyard will be relinquished in its entirety to the co/owner-partners.
M. Hudelot is hopeful that he will sell the remaining 400 parcels.
Such transactions are legal in Bourgogne and are done under the supervision of the law firm Nourissat et Misserey in Dijon. This type of ownership is called G.F.A or Groupement Foncier Agricole.
The Appelation Hautes Côtes des Nuits was awarded in 1961 over an area that covers about 2.500 hectares and I own a piece of it.
For my tasting notes on the 2002 Chardonnay from this estate, please see the first entry in this blog.
I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have regarding this wine or becoming a partner/co-owner.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hungarian Tokaji - 3 puttonyos

Date: March 21st, 2009
Crown Tokaji Aszú
3 puttonyos
Tokaj Kereskedohaz Zrt.

The wine I’m about to describe is one that I think illustrates harmony and balance in a wine. Two weeks ago at my sommelier course, I learned how Hungarian Tokaji is made. The following Sunday, as luck would have it, I was served this wine for the first time while having Sunday lunch at my friend’s home. I was thrilled to be able to use my fresh knowledge to enlighten my hosts whether they wanted it or not.
The color of this Tokaji in the glass was a brilliant, medium amber with golden yellow hues. The color itself was a beauty to behold. Its consistency was viscous with slow, thick tears. The nose is intense and complex with the first scent being alcohol, followed by peach, caramel and a fresh citrus smell. I did not expect the smell to be so fresh. I was curious as to what this wine would taste like, and I expected sweet because of the addition of 3 “puttonyos” of botrytised grapes.
The taste is sweet, but counterbalanced with an unexpected fresh acidity. Surprisingly it is not a wine that coats the palate with sweetness, but leaves it feeling clean. It is smooth and full-bodied, fairly intense in the mouth and somewhat persistent with the warmth of the alcohol, and the sweet/sour sensations. It was a wine in perfect balance, with a freshness that will allow it to age for some time.
We had this wine with a typical dessert from Sorrento – Le Delizie di Sorrento. The lemon in the dessert was also in perfect harmony with the wine, and the freshness of the wine cleansed the palate from the creaminess of the dessert.
Le Delizie di Sorrento and Crown Tokaji Aszú make a lovely couple.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A foreigner infiltrates Sommelier School in Napoli

In my naiveté, I decided that I wanted to learn more about wine. My father had always made homemade wine in our basement from imported California zinfandel grapes, for most of the Italian community where I grew up in Sudbury,Ontario. I had watched the process through my entire youth, and this is where I realized that winemaking is about creativity, science and decision-making each one having an impact on your final product. So wine appreciation seemed like a good place to start learning and savoring life in Italy.
I found that there were a variety of courses to be found, but I wanted an internationally recognized program. The Associazione Italiana di Sommelier is that organization. It offers sommelier courses in all of Italy’s 21 regions, they are recognized internationally and I eagerly signed up for the Napoli course.
Remember how I said I could speak Italian? Well, when one finds oneself in a classroom of Neapolitans, speaking at auctioneering speed, one quickly realizes that another level of Italian is required other than fluent, and that would be native. Still I remained in my seat, trying to look calm all the while thinking that above my head there was a neon sign flashing “foreigner” or worse still, “imposter”. During most of those first classes, I sat there like a deer in headlights, terrified that someone might speak to me. Even if I had had a better grasp of the language, there was a whole new “wine, viticulture” vocabulary that I had to learn. I decided I would just take notes, and write down what I think I heard, and then go home and look it up later. In one lesson they kept referring to what I thought was the word “piacca”. I had never heard this word before and quickly looked it up when I got home. No such word in any dictionary. Later on that week as I trudged through my reading I realized what they were referring to. The letter “P” which is pronounced “pi” in Italian and the letter “H” which is pronounced “acca” …it was pH that they were referring to. That’s how confused I was.
I continued to attend, and between classes I spent hours reading the textbook with my trusty dictionary by my side. By lesson 6, I had relaxed and was better able to follow in class, but I still didn’t talk or look anyone in the eye.
Everyone in the class seemed serious and much more knowledgeable than myself. There were about 50 of us, of all age ranges.
As I have previously mentioned, food and wine in Italy are sacred and must be handled with reverence. So if you are studying the nectar of the gods you must know what you are talking about and therefore rigorous training is essential. AIS courses are structured over 3 years, over 3 levels: Level 1 covers an introduction to viticulture, enological practices, the techniques and vocabulary associated with wine tasting, Italian law with regards to wine labelling and the role of the sommelier. Level 2, is an exhausting tour of the 21 regions of Italy, their DOCG and DOC wines and the grape varietals from which they are made. Level 3, and I just can’t wait to get there, is all about food pairing. At every class, at every level, the second part of the course is the tasting of 3 wines served by sommeliers in their black suits, white shirts, black bow ties and their Bling (tastevin on a chain) around their neck. Each wine requires that we complete the tasting chart and give a numerical evaluation to the wine.
After level 2, I can say that I am starting to get the hang of it…no …I’m hooked. I can’t get enough of it. I was even thinking of asking if I could sit through level 1 again, just for the heck of it. The final Level 3 exam is both written and oral. If successful one is awarded the title of Sommelier, and is honored with the tastevin on a chain placed around your neck as deserving and prized as any Olympic medal. This is the point at which I picture it all falling apart for me. My Italian has improved, but can I really converse about wine, at that level in Italian? Usually before I say something to someone in class, I carefully rehearse what I have to say in my head, so that I don’t make a fool of myself with any grammar mistakes or vocabulary errors. The exam will be impromptu questioning. Yes, soon the jig might be up for me. The foreigner in the ranks might be discovered for what I really am…a foreign Italian Sommelier wannabe. I will continue to do my best. I want that BLING!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bella Napoli

Two years ago, good fortune (my husband), brought me to live in Italy, and granted me a daily view of the Mediterranean islands of Procida and Ischia. Italy also just happens to be where all of my dna originated. Italian, just so happens to be one of the languages that I speak. Italy also happens to be the country that I would have given anything to live in since I was 21. And well, here I am. So what to do with my time? I decided this was a good time to take a break from teaching and really experience, and savor life in Italy for that’s what Italians do…they savor. They savor food, they savor wine, laughter, anger and even sadness.
To give you an idea of how much the meal means to an Italian, namely a Neapolitan, let me describe the following story that I happened to witness. It was noon and I was waiting for my sons to complete their stroll through the Posillipo market, which is situated near the Public Gardens of Parco Virgilliano. I watched a man open the trunk of his car and take out a small white tablecloth, the size of a place mat and place it on the hood of his car. He reached for his recently purchased bag of fresh vegetables. He took out a flat round dark bread that he split open with a pocketknife. From his trunk, he reached for the oil…not motor oil, but olive oil, which he proceeded to drizzle on his bread. The open-faced sandwich that he made had me watering at the mouth and I couldn’t take my eyes off the red tomatoes, the green peppers, the olives, the basil and the fresh, thin slices of parmesan cheese that he flaked on top of it all. Then into a small plastic cup, he poured his homemade wine, and began to eat his lunch. He talked to people passing by. I wondered who this man could be, and pondered the peculiarity of it all. I had never seen someone take so much care, and enjoy the process quite so much, when eating off the hood of a car. He noticed me gawking, and motioned me over. He offered me some of his feast, and as much as I wanted some, I refused. I apologized for staring, but explained that I was impressed that he could make something look so appetizing from the trunk of his car. He explained that he was the head gardener in the Parco. He insisted I have a bite and a drink of wine. It is the Neapolitan way he explained…that of hospitality. It is expressed by sharing food, drink and conversation under the sun, and before shimmering blue waters and so how could I refuse. This was my introduction to Napoli, bella Napoli and its reverence for food and drink. It is a scene I shall never forget and endeared me forever to Neapolitans.

Every town in Italy has their own specialty food, and an Italian wouldn’t be caught buying a gift other than the specialty from that area. Not only should you buy “Le Delizie di Sorrento” the specialty dessert of Sorrento when you’re in Sorrento, but there is also a specific shop that you should buy it from. As a friend recently said to me, “Well, other people make it, but it’s not real.” In Italy, food and drink are art. The meal is sacred and therefore anything that has to do with the meal is also sacred. This includes the time it takes to eat the meal, the way it is prepared, and the drink that is carefully planned to compliment the food. In order for this to happen day in and day out, meal after meal, requires that people have a level of knowledge of food and wine uncommon in other parts of the world. It also requires that they have strong opinions about it, and it requires that they let you know about them. In my dealings with Italians since I have been here, I have come to realize that many people, average every day people, can tell you the specialty wines and food of Italy’s 21 regions, as well as the prominent grape varieties in those areas. This is no small feat. In the past two years since I began my study of Italian wine, I have learned that there are hundreds of grape varieties that make up all of Italy’s wines. Campania alone has over 100 identified common grape varieties. When you compare this with the fact that the great wines of France are derived from only 30 different varieties you get the idea how complicated learning about Italian wine can be. Still, Italians remain undaunted and discuss wine as candidly and casually as they discuss football. I decided that food and wine would be my quest while I sojourn in Italy so I set out to find a school for Sommeliers.

Two French wines.

Date: March 18th, 2009
Cotes du Rhone
Jean Bichier et Fils 2004
Grenache Noir and Syrah
Ruby red with orange tint, nice transparency and lovely reflections of bright red light through the wine, slow regular tears along the sides of the glass. Viscous.
Fairly intense on the nose and gradually revealing more complexity to the wine over time. The first scent is herbal, though I couldn’t recognize the smell, I have read that syrah can have sandlewood and or cedar smell. In this bottle, it is somewhat of a medicinal smell. I smell damp woods, followed by alcohol infused red berry fruit with a spicy, peppery finish. On the palate it is dry, with a pleasant warm alcohol sensation that you continue to feel down to your stomach. It is smooth and silky in the mouth. It is still fresh and only slightly tannic, with a sapidity slightly higher than the acids. It is full-bodied, well-balanced, with a medium persistence. Overall, it is a good quality wine that is at this point mature and harmonious. After a while in the glass, some caramel notes emerge.

Date: March 19th, 2009
Chateau de Villars Fontaine
Hautes Cotes des Nuits
I’ve just poured it in the glass and already I smell caramel. In the glass it is a crystal clear, straw yellow with golden hues. In the bottle, some particles are evident as this wine has been fined with eggs whites. Upon closer examination, I see the fine particles in the glass, but they in no way take away from its brightness. This wine looks every bit healthy, clean and young. It swirls in the glass with some consistency. The intense scent of yellow and tropical fruit assails me first, followed by still fresh spring flowers. As it warms in the glass the smell of flowers becomes stronger.The final note is definitely caramel, and maybe a touch of mineral/slate on the finish. It is dry, warm and smooth going down, complemented by fresh bright acidity and underlined by that somewhat paler nonetheless present mineral note. It is medium – bodied, well-balanced, fairly intense tasting wine with lingering vanilla, and a mouth-cleansing freshness that persists. This wine is ready to drink but still has lots of room to age. Now, I will admit my partiality….I’m one of 400 co-owners of this vineyard in Hautes Cotes des Nuits. More on that later.

Sommelier School in Napoli

I have had the good fortune of being able to live in Napoli over the past couple of years. I am also fortunate in that I understand Italian very well, and can speak it well enough to be understood. As I am a teacher, I saw this as the perfect learning opportunity.