Category Archives: Wine Column

Wine pairings, dinner offer real value at popular New Bern restaurant

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Editor’s note: The following is not a full review of the entire operation at Persimmons on the Waterfront. Rather, wine columnist Justin Manjorin takes a look at one intriguing monthly feature.

NEW BERN — On the fourth Tuesday of every month — beginning this past March and continuing until October — Executive Chef Antonio Campolio of Persimmons on the Waterfront presents a five-course food and wine pairing.

The adventure starts at 6 and ends around 9. The cost is $75 per person, and includes taxes and gratuities. As seating is limited, reservations are required. I realize that $75 per person sounds a little expensive but this is a restaurant that has delivered good value for the money spent.

Each course is larger than an appetizer but smaller than a full meal. They are more like Tapas but I can assure you no one leaves hungry, and the wine pours are generous with seconds if you wish.

My wife (Pat) and I attended our first dinner in June and were so impressed that we immediately told our friends that we wanted to return in July. As you can see from the photo, the restaurant’s location on the Neuse River in downtown New Bern is stunning!

The dinner is held in a relatively small room upstairs, which I guess can hold a maximum of 50 guests. As it is the summer and many people are vacationing, there were only 32 attendees at the July dinner.

Kevin Owings of The Country Vintner was the moderator for the evening’s wines. As it turned out, all the wines were from South Africa. While I have been to a few wine tastings, which featured these wines, his knowledge was amazing. It turns out that he was in South Africa earlier this year and visited the estates, which produced the wines selected for our pairings. As an aside, he told us that wines in South Africa were fairly inexpensive, but getting to the remote country can cost a fortune.

The wines — in the order tasted – were:

• Secatuers Chenin Blanc 2015 a white wine. I am not a Chenin Blanc fan, but this wine was quite good with some citrus notes and a hint of vanilla.

• The next wine was Paul Cluver Gewurztraminer 2014 another white wine. I was not impressed with this wine but the Culver name is quite well known in the area.

• The third wine was a Kanonkop Kadette 2014 a red wine. This was a relatively soft blend and I found it enjoyable.

• The fourth wine was Klein Constantia Estate Blend 2013, which was my favorite! It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franca. Many of you will recognize this blend as archetypical Bordeaux.

• The last wine was Paul Culver Late Harvest Noble Riesling, which is a wine that could be compared to an Ice Wine or a French Sauterne.

The meal started with a glass of sparkling wine accompanied by an appetizer, which in this case was Chef Antonio’s fascinating interpretation of a grilled cheese sandwich. The sandwich was served open face and was grilled bread spread with onion jam topped with aged gruyere – in turn topped with sliced heirloom tomatoes and thinly sliced sautéed onion.

The courses served tended to have more complex flavors as the meal progressed!

The first course was North Carolina Grilled Amber Jack served with rice, Peri-Peri and Peach Salsa.

The second course was Lamb Sosaties (No, I didn’t know what these were either.) served with Green Curry, sweet onion and nectarine. (It turns out Sosaties are kebobs or skewered meats.)

Course three was Alligator Baby Back Rib served with potato and green beans BBQ style. The BBQ sauce was fairly aggressive and the Alligator meat was dense but tasty. Except for the shape of the bones it looked a lot like pork. The Kanonkop Red tamed the BBQ sauce and went well with the meat.

Course four was Smoked Eye of Ribeye, served with a Black Garlic Croquette and a Tomato and Peppercress salad. The wine, in my opinion, was the best of the evening and really brought out the flavor of the beef.

Course five – Dessert! This was a Carolina Peach Crème Brulee served with Salted Caramel and Citrus Marmalade. This is a very sweet dessert and the wine (when tasted on its own) had a sweet apricot honey flavor but became much less sweet tasting with the Crème Brulee.

As you can see, there is an amazing amount of preparation and thought that goes into this dinner before it ever gets to your plate. I was impressed by the level of sophistication in the presentation and how everything pretty much went off without any problems. I intend to attend the August dinner and, although the price is a little steep for many of us, the value is there.

If some of you attend, I would like to meet you — as most of my readers stop me in supermarkets or wine stores, and I seldom get a chance to interact over a delicious meal.

I can be reached via e-mail if you have any comments, questions or suggestions. My e-mail address is Justin@compassnews360.com

Columnist reveals personal recipe for tasty libation!

For those of you who went out and bought the Nouveau Beaujolais 2015 – after my pre-Thanksgiving column — it is the best in about five years with a great aroma and a ton of fruit.

The only big box store that had this wine was Harris Teeter and they sold about 600 bottles thru last week. The price for 750 ml was $10.99, which was in line with last year, but was a little higher than I had hoped for in light of the strength of the U.S. dollar.

There were still a few cases left last week in case you missed it. However, I would call before driving to the store.

My last column was all about the pairing of food and wine for Thanksgiving.

This time of year, with so many people visiting friends and neighbors, I thought it might be interesting to stray from the usual and offer a seasonal drink with a long history. This drink, with innumerable variations, was very popular in Colonial America and is still popular today all over Europe. It is well suited to the colder weather, which we are now “enjoying.” It is not meant to be fancy and is served with various types of cookies, such as sugar or gingersnaps. Pick your favorite cookie and sit back and relax.

The drink is Mulled Wine, also known as Gluhwein or Glogg, depending on what country you happen to be in. Mulled Wine is very popular in England during the Christmas season and often a host is judged on the quality of his Mulled Wine.

Although made predominately with red wine, there are non-alcoholic versions made with sweet (not hard) cider. Though often made with Cabernet Sauvignon or Port, Mulled Wine can be made with other wine varietals such as Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Syrah (which adds a spicier note!)

The basic recipe is much the same no matter what country you are in, with just a few minor changes in the spices. This recipe makes 10 servings and may be doubled.

MULLED WINE

PAGE-B-10-WP-Adrift-imageTwo 750 ml bottles of red wine. Choose something relatively inexpensive such as Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon, which is widely available for about $9 per bottle.

1-orange peeled and then juiced

2-large strips of lemon peel, say 1 by 3 inches

1-cinnamon stick

12- whole cloves

1 pinch of nutmeg (go easy) a little goes a long way.

1-cup of granulated sugar — more if you really like sweets

Take one cup of wine and put it in a saucepan. Add all the other ingredients and place on medium heat until hot but not boiling. Take off heat and let flavors infuse for about 30 minutes. Pour this mixture into a slow cooker, add the rest of the wine, and put it on the low setting.

Add some orange and lemon peel for garnish and you are done.Serve directly from the slow cooker. This is so popular I would make a double batch!

For the Glogg version, add 1 cup of good vodka or Aquavit. For non-alcoholic drinks, substitute apple cider for the wine and cut the sugar in half.

I will be writing with more regularity over the coming year! As there are now thousands more copies per week of the County Compass being distributed, I intend to write about the origins of wine, different wine varietals and various producing countries, and in our case about the up and coming North Carolina wineries. This should take the first half of the year or more.

I really want to have more interaction with my readers this year; so, please send in your questions as the basic reason for this column is to make the wine drinking experience more enjoyable. The more you know about wine the easier it is to order in a restaurant and to purchase for home consumption.

In addition, the County Compass editor and and I have been discussing how we might bring more attention to restaurants in the four counties around here: Pamlico, Carteret, Craven and Beaufort. More on this later.

As usual, I welcome thoughts, suggestions and questions. I can be reached via e-mail as follows Justin@compassnews360.com Happy New Year to all.

Columnist reveals tasty, affordable picks for the Holidays!

N1111P59001CAs I get older, the holidays seem to come by faster and faster. I can’t believe that Thanksgiving is almost upon us. I have mentioned my friend Terri in Georgia before and she has already started on her guest list. The menu gets done over several times as she checks what she has put up over the summer and fall. As her husband is an avid hunter, there will always be game on their table in addition to the more usual offerings that most of us serve.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and to some extent New Year’s Eve are the most difficult in terms of food and wine pairing. In addition, I have self-imposed monetary constraints regarding what I think should be spent on wine. For everyday drinking, no more than $10 or so for a standard bottle, and for special occasions and holidays around $20 for the same size.

A wide range of tastes present themselves this time of year! Sweet, salty, sour with different proteins — all of which call for different styles of wine.

When I was still having the entire family over for Thanksgiving, it wasn’t unusual to have 24 or so in for dinner. I would have shrimp cocktail, raw oysters, cheese and sausages as appetizers.

Dinner would start with soup and proceed to the main course, which would be turkey with bread stuffing and fresh ham stuffed with sausage and served with apple cider gravy. Of course, there would be veggies ranging from asparagus to stuffed mushrooms with turnips, sweet and mashed potatoes

There would be several styles of bread and desserts, varying from homemade pies (Mom’s apple and minced) to store-bought Italian pastries. Cannoli were always a favorite! This feast would start around 2 pm continuing until 7 or 8, with many a break from the table.

So at best, wine presentations will require a compromise.

I suggest the following wines – two whites and two reds — as possibilities for your holiday table.

New Age from Argentina. This is the most popular white wine in Argentina. It is served in a pitcher with ice and a whole squeezed lime. Due to the acidity inherent in the wine and from the lime, this wine cuts through the fat and sweetness of many of the Thanksgiving offerings.

Jaume Serra Cristalino from Spain. This Cava (sparkling wine) is another white, which can pair with virtually anything. Sparkling wine has an appeal to many as it is perceived as elegant and festive and adds a great presence to the table. I recommend the Extra Dry, which has a nice balance of acid and sweetness while not being bone dry.

2015 Beaujolais Nouveau from France- This red is a young, fruity, low-in-tannins wine that pairs well with turkey, pork, ham and to a lesser extent venison and game. This wine‘s taste appeals to almost everyone and is served chilled. It is relatively low in alcohol and can be served with both the appetizer, soup and main courses. Probably will go well with chocolate desserts but not pies!

Meiomi Pinot Noir 2013from California-This red is among the best ‘under $20’ Pinot’s that I have found. Most Pinot’s are in the $30 and up category. This wine pairs with everything on the holiday table including the desserts. It has an elegant taste and a good aroma. A wine to be drunk early, as it isn’t suitable for prolonged aging — no more than three years in my opinion.

NEWS FLASH!

LE BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU EST ARRIVE

Beaujolais Nouveau will probably be the youngest, freshest wine you will ever drink. Six to eight weeks before you pick up your glass, this wine was bunches of grapes hanging in a French vineyard.

Celebrated in both Beaujolais and Lyons, the cult of Beaujolais Nouveau is attributed to Georges Debouf who came up with the idea of having a race to see who could get the Nouveau wine across the Atlantic the fastest.

This tradition started around 1985 and became wildly popular. Apparently, this wine has traveled by every mode of transportation from the Concorde to hot air balloons. Today, the wine is shipped early and released at 12:01 on the 3rd Thursday of November.

Made from the Gamay grape, the wine is produced by a process known as Carbonic Maceration where whole berry grapes are placed in an atmosphere containing no oxygen only carbon dioxide. The grapes at the bottom are crushed and fermentation begins releasing more carbon dioxide.

The remaining grapes are fermented from the inside of the berry and when the berry splits the juice is already wine. This method produces a wine with virtually no tannins and a very fruity taste with aromas of bananas and red berries.

This is a wine that is meant to be drunk chilled and drunk enthusiastically — not sipped! If pressed (no pun intended), this could be the only wine that you need to bring to your Thanksgiving feast.

Due to the strength of the dollar this year, I am hoping that the Nouveau will be offered at around $10-11 for 750 ml bottles. Almost every wine store will have some in stock. If you enjoy the wine, wait a while before buying more as some stores run specials to dispose of the unsold stock due to its shorter lifespan.

If you try any of the wines mentioned here, please send me an e-mail describing your thoughts and what you paired it with (if anything). I can be reached via e-mail at: justin@compassnews360.com

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!!

Columnist reveals a fondness for wines made from the Norton grape

For those of you who may have forgotten, an AVA is the acronym for ‘American Viticultural Area,’ defined as a grape-growing designated region in the United State having distinguishable geographic features with defined boundaries.

There are still only three AVA’s here in our state: Haw River Valley, Swan Creek and Yadkin Valley. I intend to research new wineries in North Carolina but for now I will concentrate on Virginia.
A new AVA must meet the following requirements:

  • Evidence that the name of the proposed new AVA is locally or nationally known as referring to this specific area
  • Historic or current evidence that the boundaries are legitimate
  • Evidence that growing conditions such as climate, soil, soil and other physical features are distinctive
  • Once AVA status is granted to a region, 85 percent of the grapes used to make a wine must be grown in the designated area, if the AVA is referenced on the label.

Although having a longer history of wine production than our state, Virginia is not the first state to produce wine. That honor goes to Florida where wine was produced as early as 1563.

Virginia has seven AVA’s with the latest being granted that status in March of 2012. The latest AVA is Middleburg. The other six are: Monticello, North Fork of Roanoke, North End of George Washington Birthplace, Rocky Knob, Shenandoah Valley and Virginia Eastern Shore.

Middleburg is located in the Northern Piedmont area of Virginia about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. I have located several wineries/vineyards in this AVA and I am writing about two of them: Boxwood and Chrysalis. Both produce fine wines from different grape varietals and in different styles.

Boxwood Estate, started in 2006, makes Red wines and Rose at this time. Their wines are produced in the Bordeaux style with three Red variations produced from the five grape varieties certified by the French government for the Bordeaux region. These varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

Boxwood 2010 is made in the style of the Left Bank of Bordeaux. Comprised of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 43 percent Merlot and 7 percent Petit Verdot, the wine has a deep purple color with intense aromas of Blackberries. It pairs well with grilled meats and bitter vegetables such as Broccoli Rabe. This wine sells for around $29.

Boxwood Topiary 2011 is made in the style of the Right Bank of Bordeaux. Comprised of 68 percent Cabernet Franc and 32 percent Merlot, this wine has softer tannins and is more fruit forward with red berry accents. It pairs well with pork, duck, tuna and salmon. Also priced at around $29 per bottle.

Boxwood Trellis 2011 is a meritage of all the grape varietals grown on the estate and for this year it is comprised of 60 percent Merlot and 40 percent of a blend, consisting of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. With oak and cherry flavors, this wine pairs well with hard cheese, roasted meats. Again, around the $29 price point.

The exact proportions of the blends for each variety changes from year to year, depending on the quality and intensity of each varietal. These wines can be a little hard to find but the winery does ship to North Carolina.

Chrysalis Vineyard, which was started in 1997, produces an amazing variety of white and red wines. They grow and experiment with about 20 varieties of grapes and produce a dozen or so wines.

In my opinion, one of the most important grapes grown at this vineyard is the “Norton” grape, often described as the real American grape. First developed by Dr. Daniel N. Norton of Richmond, Va. in 1830, this grape dominated wine production in the Eastern and Midwestern part of the country.

Norton is a combination of an unknown European grape and a nativeAmerican grape, with very little of the “foxy” flavor of other native grapes. Made in a dry style, wine from this grape won a gold medal at the 1873 Vienna World Exposition. This wine was considered one of the best in the world. However, Prohibition ended its dominant position.

Chrysalis vineyards has the largest planting of this grape in the world and produces several styles of wine, ranging from a Rose called Sarah’s Patio Red with some sweetness and fruit flavors with a great balance of acidity, to a Locksly Reserve in a dry style, which proprietors consider to be their flagship wine.

The other styles are called Schitz & Giggles, Estate Bottled, and Barrel select. Prices range from $14 for the Sarah’s Patio to $35 for the Locksly with the others selling for $17 to $29. With high acidity and fruit forward flavor, this wine stands well on its own but is very food friendly.

The wine made from the Norton grape goes with fatty foods, red meats, BBQ, cream sauces and fried foods. I will be writing more about Virginia wines, with information as to where they can be purchased. Believe me, they are worth a try!

As usual, comments, suggestions or questions can be directed to me via e-mail justin@compassnews360.com

Columnist spends time in wine bar of huge cruise ship

royal-caribbean-liberty-of-the-seas

My first column of the year is usually an overview of what I will be writing about during the ensuing year. As my wife and I went on a cruise two weeks ago (which had been in the works for about six months) it seems appropriate to start there.

I have not taken many cruises in my life. This is my second, and the third for my wife. Virtually, all of my travel has been by air mostly thru the United States, Europe, Asia and South America. Almost all of these trips were for business purposes.

We sailed on a round trip aboard Royal Carribbean out of Fort Lauderdale to Belize and Cozumel. At eleven hundred feet long, the ship is huge, sufficient to accommodate 3,500 guests and 1,800 crew.

To give you an idea of the size, the Mayflower, which sailed in 1492, was just over a hundred feet long, and carried about 92 passengers. What an incredible difference!

It is your own fault if you cannot find something to do on board. There is an ice skating rink, a flow rider to surf and boogie board, miniature golf, basketball, shuffle board, game room, workout center, shows, movies, casino with contests and an art gallery.

A four-page paper is placed in your room each day outlining the activities. Interestingly enough, it is called CRUISE COMPASS. Please check out the publication, below.

The ship boasts 11 bars of various types, ranging from poolside to a British Pub, and to our favorite, Vintages — a small wine bar located amidships, which makes it easy to find. Staffed by three very wine knowledgeable barmen, it was our favorite place to hangout play Cribbage and drink wine.

We tried 20 new wines over the course of five days and went to a Super -Tuscan wine tasting.

With regard to dining, we opted for the late (8:30 p.m.) seating and we had a table for six, just inside the entrance to the dining area (Michaelangelo). Consequently, in jest, many of our fellow passengers asked if we were the gatekeepers or if there was an admission charge.

There were many options to choose from each night and the grandchildren being conservative opted for Caesar salad and some kind of chicken most nights. However, I did get the grandson to change from well done to medium rare steak.

During the course of the cruise some of the entree options were: Steak every night if you wished; Osso Buco on a bed of Polenta with Asparagus; Rack of Lamb with rosemary potatoes; Prime Rib and Lobster.

There was always a vegetarian offering and appetizers and dessert courses. The food was uniformly good and our servers were friendly and efficient. I didn’t know that these people work seven days a week when they are on board and they sign up for several months at a time.

If you have questions about the cruise, please send me an e-mail (see below).

Those of you who have been following my articles know that I have been writing about Italian wines for the last year or so and that I have covered all of the major wine producing regions of Italy.

Jeff, the editor of The County Compass, and I are going to try and put together a large map of Italy highlighting the various wine regions and my best picks as to the quality and value in each region. The archive will have a list of foods to pair with these wines.

For the remainder of this year, I intend to revisit North Carolina wines as it has been about three years, and the state’s wine scene is constantly evolving. In addition, I will write about wine in Virginia, which has a wine history about as long as ours.

After Virginia, I thought it would be fun to examine the wines from Down Under (Australia and New Zealand). They have been producing good wine and plonk for a few hundred years. The good ones are great, and the plonk is drinkable but not memorable.

In addition, I will be visiting the individually owned wine stores to ascertain what is being sold and what is available in the various counties where this newspaper is distributed. Speaking with knowledgeable sellers is one of the best ways to explore new wines, as one person cannot cover all the wine being created these days.

I would appreciate your comments, suggestions, and thoughts regarding the content of future articles.I can be reached via e-mail at the following address justin@compassnews360.com



(Click on image to enlarge)

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Date set for release of popular Georges Duboeuf Beujolais Nouveau

The 2013 vintage sported a festive label, and sold quickly.

The 2013 vintage sported a festive label, and sold quickly.

It is hard to believe that I am sitting in front of my computer writing once again about Thanksgiving and the wines that can be associated with the feast. Since this is being written earlier than usual, I urge all of you readers to contact me via e-mail if you have any questions regarding what wines to serve. Find my e-mail address at the bottom of this column.

I recently called my friend Terri in Georgia to find out what she is making for the Holiday. To me, this woman represents the entire Thanksgiving tradition! As usual, she is having both family and friends over for dinner.

I don’t know how she selects the friends, but by the time dinner is served, it would not be unusual to have 24 or more adults along with an indeterminate number of children. As you might have guessed, she has a big old rambling farmhouse home and still grows and puts up a fair amount of food for the fall and winter.

Her lucky diners will find hot and cold appetizers, turkey with stuffing, ham and whatever wild game her husband has found, sweet and white potatoes, field peas, okra and other assorted veggies, plus corn bread and biscuits. All of this is followed by various desserts, including several types of pie — especially pecan!

Teri’s dinner is typically problematic in choosing what wine to go with the meal. The variety of tastes from sweet to savory to acidic makes the selection of wine difficult.

The wines that I most often turn to for Thanksgiving are: New Age, a white wine blend from Argentina, which has citrus undertones, allowing it to freshen the palate while eating. Pinot Noir, a red wine that pairs with a vast array of dishes, especially meats and desserts. Beaujolais Nouveau, made from the Gamay grape, and meant to be served young. This year I am adding a sparkling wine from Spain called Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava — which is the case with most relatively dry sparkling wines – this one pairs with everything from appetizers to dessert.

The Beaujolais Nouveau 2014 will be released for public sale on Nov. 20. From my sources, I have learned that the quality of the harvest was good thru mid-September. With the grape size being larger than last year, this foretells a well- balanced and aromatic wine.

Due to the strength of the dollar versus the euro, I hope prices will be the same or a tad lower than last year. This wine will be available at most of the wine sellers in the New Bern area. I anticipate a bottle will sell for less than $12.

Here’s a sneak peek at the wine’s label for 2014.

Here’s a sneak peek at the wine’s label for 2014.

My favorite medium-priced Pinot Noir is Meiomi from California. It is a well-balanced wine with dark berry overtones and a good finish – excellent to pair with wild game, turkey and ham. Look for this one at $21.99 per bottle, although it is available once in a while on sale for about 20 percent less, but expect to buy 12 bottles. Do as I often do – get together with a friend or two and split the purchase.

The New Age, mentioned above, runs about $10 per bottle and works well with appetizers or the turkey. With a low (9 percent) alcohol content, this wine can be sipped all afternoon with no unfortunate results.

I have tried the Cristalino Brut Cava a number of times and I find that it has a pleasant taste, clean finish and just enough residual sweetness to pair with a wide variety of food. Sparkling wine, due to a 100 year campaign led by France, has achieved recognition as the ‘go to wine’ for celebrations. Although this is not Champagne, the same method is used in the production of the Cava and the end result is similar.

The main differentiation is price! French Champagne can range in price from $30 to $200 or more bottle. The Cristalino is available at Harris Teeter for less than $11. If you are buying just one wine this holiday, by all means give this one a try.

I will return to Italian wines for my next article and look forward to revisiting North Carolina wines again has it has been a few years since I have written about our state.  Wishing everyone a great Thanksgiving! Again, I will be happy to answer any questions. Just e-mail: justin@compassnews360.com

Umbrian wines from Italy on the ascendancy

TOWNSHIP OF ASSISI

TOWNSHIP OF ASSISI

It doesn’t matter how much you know about wine. If your computer is down, you can’t write about anything. I wish to thank a computer wizard, Mr. Miller, (who advertises in the County Compass) for coming to my house and getting everything running again. I can only urge you, if you have a problem, to contact this gentleman at 252-249-0394 and he will fix it.

For those of you who have been following my wine and food journey thru Italy, I am now leaving Tuscany and heading east to the area known as Umbria – the only region in Italy without a coastline or international border!

This is a wonderful region comprised of rolling hills and historic towns such as Assisi and Orvieto. The latter is where wine has been produced before Rome ever existed!

The climate of Umbria is much the same as its more famous neighbor Tuscany but with about a third of the wine production. The most notable grapes grown in Umbria are: Sangiovese, Sagrentino, and Procanico (known as Trebbiano every place else).

White wine accounts for about 80 percent of the output. It is called Orvieto, named for the town on the western edge of the region. For many years, Orvieto was the most well-known (and forgettable) white wine to come from Umbria.

In the last 15 years, efforts by local winemakers have begun to yield results. The general quality of the Orvieto has improved. Example of noteworthy wines being produced in this area:

  • Orvieto Classico Superiore Poggio Cavelli — a white blend comprised of 50 percent Grechetto (a grape brought from Greece more than 2000 years ago), 25 percent Chardonnay and 25 percent Procanico (Trebbiano).

With a short period (less than a year) of aging in French barrels, this is a much richer version of ordinary Orvieto and still this wine sells for only $16. It has a straw yellow color with aromas of ripe peaches, nuts, vanilla and honey. It has a pleasant after taste and a decent finish. This wine pairs well with grilled salmon, seafood and shellfish.

Although white wine dominates the production in this region, the term Denominazione di origine controllata (“Controlled designation of origin”), which is a quality assurance for Italian food products (especially wines and various cheeses), has been awarded to two red wines produced here. The native grape Sagrantino is used to make powerful wines in the Montefalco area and the second DOCG is Torgiano Rosso Riserva.

Again as in Tuscany, DOCG wines tend to be expensive but there are examples of secondary wines that carry many of the primary wine characteristics but will not bruise the wallet so severely.

As with other regions of Italy and other countries, the flagship wines tend to be expensive. By concentrating on the secondary wines, money is saved and the experience gives the taster a good idea of what the region can produce.

  • Castello Celle Regina Rosso di Padvernovo — a red blend comprised of 80 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Syrah and 10 percent Montepulciano. This wine sells for about $15, and has dark berry aromas and flavors combined with a medium body. It pairs well with grilled and roasted red meat.

  • Another secondary wine is Montefalco Rosso — a blend of Sangiovese, Sagrantino and Merlot grapes. The Sagrantino grape, which is rarely grown outside this region, gives a measure of depth and richness to this blend. The aroma and flavor of this wine is at odds with the relatively low price of around $17. This wine pairs well with game, grilled and roasted meat and aged cheese such as Parmigianino Reggiano. Due to the geography of this region, there is an abundance of wild game including wild boar, often offered on restaurant menus. This wine goes well with this meat.

  • Vitiano Rosso, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Merlot and Sangiovese give an intense fruit flavor to the wine while the tannins in the cabernet provide structure. This wine would be great to drink on the back or front porch when the weather gets cooler. Like the other wines mentioned here, this wine would pair well with the food mentioned above, but would also be great with fruit such as pears, cantaloupe and cherries.

Umbrian wines are becoming more available and you should be able to find them with some searching. Send me an e-mail if you are having problems locating them and I will search also.

This region has not yet hit its peak. So this is a good time to explore these wines before the prices go up.

As usual, comments, suggestions or questions can be directed to me via e-mail justin@compassnews360.com

From $200 to $90 to $10, there’s a Tuscan wine for every pocketbook

Wine has been produced in various parts of Italy for thousands of years.

An interesting trend, known as the Super-Tuscan wine movement began after World War II when the marchase Mario della Rochetta developed what became the area’s first cult wine, known as Sassicaia.

This wine was developed to be a direct competitor of French Bordeaux, which was then considered to be the best wine in the world.

Sassicaia (Tenuta San Guido) is comprised of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Cabernet Franc — a blend much like those produced in Bordeaux. It is an intense long-lived wine, which benefits from several years of bottle aging.

Recently, the wine has been somewhat eclipsed by a wine produced next door by one of the Atinori brothers, who is producing a California style of wine comprised of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This wine is called Ornellaia and another variation is called Massato (Merlot).

Both of these wines are spectacular with incredible taste and a long finish. The drawback is the both of these wines sell for more than $200 per bottle. This leaves them out of my price range. As with other areas in Tuscany, where very expensive wine is produced, there is a second wine which — while not as intense — is around $90 per bottle. Known as Guado al Tasso, this wine is comprised of 65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Franc. Still expensive but heading in the right direction!

I am aware that the above wines are out of reach for almost all of us but I am writing about them because they are an integral part of the Tuscan wine evolution, which bring us back to affordable.

Now is time to get back to reality and discuss Tuscan wines that are affordable, and while not on the level of the aforementioned wines, still provide value and great taste.

The following wines represent the low price points of Tuscan wines. All of the wines mentioned pair well with grilled meats, grilled veggies, and hard cheese such as Grana Padua and pizza.

  • Pietro Sangiovese- a red wine with red berry flavors and a light to medium body. Around $10 per bottle.

  • Andrea il Rosso Toscana 2011- a medium bodied, slightly acidic wine with red fruit and cherry flavor. Again around $10 per bottle.

  • Monte Antico Rosso 2009 (or whatever year is being offered). This wine is one of the best values to come out of the Tuscan region. It is fruit flavored with an emphasis on cheery and plum. There is enough tannin to give it a good finish and best of all it is around $11 per 750ml bottle. This is one of the wines that I serve with my Italian food and have been drinking for years.

There are hundreds more wines available from the Tuscan Region and half the fun is discovering them yourself. Send me an e-mail if you find something interesting.

If you are interested in these wines, a good place to start would be some of the specialty wine stores such as Cravin Wine in James City, or the Galley Store (Priscilla) located in front of Persimmons on the waterfront in New Bern.

I realize there are other wine stores and I will talk about them in the future. The reason I suggest independents is that they often have more expertise and flexibility than the “big box” stores. Plus, if they don’t carry a wine you want, they might special order it and will have additional suggestions of their own.

As usual, comments, suggestions or questions can be directed to me via e-mail-justin@compassnews360.com

Earthquake near wine producers expected to have minimal effect

By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor

TCC082814001NAPA VALLEY, CALIF. This week the Napa Valley Vintners Association issued the following statement: “While some individual wineries may experience inventory shortages as a result of the earthquake, it is not expected to have a significant impact on the Napa Valley wine inventory in general.”

As devastating as an earthquake may be, the timing of this one was good. The quake, which occurred around 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, did not result in the loss of any life. This would have been quite different if the event had occurred 24 hours later as the 2014 wine harvest was scheduled to begin. There would have been many workers around the wine barrels, which can weigh up to 900 pounds when filled.

While it is too early to assess the total loss, the growers have to concentrate on the harvest for now. The damage is done but the grapes won’t wait.

I have been to Napa many times and I called some of my friends there. They tell me that the Southern end of the valley was more affected than the Northern side. It appears the damage ranged from nothing or minimal to half or more of the current inventory from the 2012 and 2013 vintages. The 2014 harvest is expected to be as good as if not better than that of last year.

Mario Andretti of NASCAR fame owns Andretti Vineyards in Napa. He lost about 30 cases of wine.

Wine drinkers recognize the Napa name but many don’t realize that Napa only produces about 4 percent of the wine made in the United States. So there should be no wine shortage, although some limited production (expensive) wines might be more difficult to find.

In closing, while there has been significant property damage (estimated at $1 billion) the vast majority of the wineries in the Napa Valley region will be open for business by the weekend.

Holy Wine, biscotti welcome visitors to Tuscany

By Justin Manjorin | Wine & Food Editor
Drying grapes in Tuscany to make Vin Santo.

Drying grapes in Tuscany to make Vin Santo.

Vin Santo or Holy Wine is the name for Italy’s famous sweet or Sherry-like dessert wine. Although produced in several areas of Italy, this wine is most often associated with Tuscany.

Made primarily from two varieties of white grapes, Trebbiano and Malvasia, the wine can be straw colored to amber and when it is made with the addition of red wine grapes this style is called “eye of the partridge.” It is a rare style and I have never seen it. The wine can also range in taste from fairly dry (like Fino Sherry) to a sweet variety more akin to a French Sauterne.

Lost in the mists of time is the origin of why this style of wine is called Vin Santo or Holy Wine. There are two theories.

The first is that since the grapes of this wine are dried from the previous harvest and usually pressed around Easter, thus the name Holy Wine. The second theory is that back in the Middle Ages the Catholic Mass was celebrated with both wine and bread and the priest would use the leftover consecrated wine as a cure for the sick in the parish.

Although mostly used as a dessert wine after dinner, in Tuscany it is traditional to offer a guest a small glass of Vin Santo and a hard cookie known as “biscotti” (twice baked) as a way of welcoming a visitor.

In the technique of making Vin Santo, grapes are harvested and placed in the warmest, driest area that can be found. In older times, they rested on straw but you can see from the picture above that they now rest on wooden slats.

The grapes are dried until they are almost raisins and are then gently pressed. The juice is put into small barrels called Caratelli. They are small because they were stored in the attic and large barrels would probably crash through the ceiling. The barrels are sealed and due to the presence of yeast from prior years, fermentation begins. The barrels are left for a minimum of three years. Many producers leave the barrels for six years and a few for as long as 10.

When the wine is taken from the barrel, as much as 70 percent of the original juice has evaporated. Due to the residual sugar in the grapes prior to fermentation, Vin Santo can reach 16 percent alcohol by volume. The hot/cold cycle also causes the wine to become slightly oxidized. In this respect, it resembles Madeira. The oxidation produces a complex, nutty flavor that stops the sweetness from becoming overpowering.

Aside from the obvious biscotti pairing, what goes well with Vin Santo? The first thought that comes to mind would be desserts such as Pecan Pie or a Walnut Tart. Surprisingly, Spanish and Portuguese cuisine go well probably because of the Sherry taste of the dry Vin Santo variety. As Stilton goes with Port, Vin Santo pairs very well with Gorgonzola. Of course, if you can’t stand Gorgonzola, just drink the Vin Santo as Dessert.

Although there are many producers of Vin Santo in Tuscany, little finds its way to the U.S. Due to the production methods, this wine isn’t cheap but with some careful searching $25 bottles can be found. Bear in mind, this wine often comes in 500 ml as opposed to the 750 ml, which is the most common size bottle.

Two examples available in this country are Castella di Castellini VIN Santo del Chianti Classico S. Niccolo, and San Felice VIN Santo del Chianti Classico. Both of these wines should cost less than $25, and are typically served in small three-ounce portions.

As usual, I can be reached via e-mail with comments, questions or suggestions. E-mail justin@compassnews360.com