2007 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico: Soft, smooth, berryish, good!

dec. 16, 2011: after busy work days -- and i've been having lots of those lately -- sometimes quick, microwaved meals really hit the spot. and tonight my quick meal of choice (i'd ordered it the night before) was papa john's pizza with three cheeses, spicy italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes.

it was probably a month ago that i had shopped at the schnucks on north green river and ran into a representative of a distributor stocking the wine shelves. he and i got to talking, and he recommended this ruffino. i was waiting to open it to have something to pair it with, but we hadn't had tomato-based dishes in a while. so the pizza was perfect -- though this particular pizza wasn't as tomato-ish as others we've had.

that said, i really liked this italian. i thought it was soft, smooth, definitely fruity and light. it also wasn't that tannic. i've had chianti (the 2004 tenuta santedame ruffino chianti classico comes to mind) that leaves such a drying feeling on your tongue that it's almost a distraction (though, to be fair, we liked that 2004 ruffino). this wasn't one of those chianti. in fact, this chianti really opened my eyes to how varied this varietal can be. not that i'm an expert on chianti, but i think it's the best one i've had ... so far. 13.5 percent alcohol. wine spectator ranked this 87 out of 100.

also, here's a neat link i found about this ruffino after i tried it (and after i realized i liked it): http://blogs.wsj.com/wine/2011/03/14/a-new-release-from-ruffino-brings-back-memories-of-elaines/


Wine column no. 22: A toast to the seasons

Talk about sunshine in a glass.

If you've ever dreamed of swapping Christmas gifts in the middle of a sandy, palm-tree lined island, then just pop open the 2010 Cameron Hughes Lot 259 blend of Riesling and Chenin Blanc and call it a day. That's because this wine will make you think you've reunited with summer even when you're covered with blankets near a crackling fire.

We've written about Riesling before, that type of (usually German) off-dry white wine that can -- but doesn't always -- produce a mixture of lemon and pineapple flavors. It makes up 70 percent of this Cameron Hughes, which we bought at Winetree on Washington Avenue. But the rest is Chenin Blanc, a white wine variety from the Loire Valley in France.

What? You've never heard of Chenin Blanc? Well, we haven't had much experience with it, either. But this grape that may produce dry, medium-sweet and sweet wines has a long history.

According to The New Frank Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine, Chenin Blanc is the predominant variety in the central Loire of France, in the Anjou and Touraine regions, and is responsible for, among other things, Vouvray (an example of which we'll get to soon).

In California, Chenin Blanc is common, and fruity versions of this varietal are sold as jug wines -- though it is possible to create an award-winning dry Chenin Blanc. Dave Stare's Dry Creek Vineyards, founded in 1972 in Healdsburg, has collected numerous awards for drier forms of this varietal, for instance.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, where there are extensive plantings of Chenin Blanc, the varietal goes by an entirely different name: Steen. We haven't been fortunate enough to taste any Steen, but we were very pleased with Cameron Hughes' latest effort.

According to the Cameron Hughes website, the wine that became Lot 259 started as a Riesling from Columbia Valley in Washington State. Winemaker Sam Spencer then added in about 30 percent Chenin Blanc "to round out an already killer Riesling." This, the site said, balanced the acid and sugar in the Riesling and filled the nose with "gorgeous fruit."

As for us, this blend is just sweet enough to get your attention but also crisp enough to keep you on your toes. Greg said it the nose reminded him of a Sauvignon Blanc without any of the grassy tones usually associated with the New Zealand styles of Sauvignon blanc. I liked how citrusy, slightly sweet and crisp it was. At 10.9 percent alcohol, it's an easy wine to pair with honeyed ham (and poultry). About $13.

Another good Chenin Blanc is the 2007 J. Moreau & Fils Vouvray from Winetree. This $16 purchase was light and refreshing, with inklings of apricot and peach. At 12 percent alcohol, it's just one more way to toast summer in the midst of winter.

Now here's a wine that'd be perfect once we finally do start to have a long spell of blustery cold days: The 2007 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico.

Some people swear by Chianti, saying this Italian Tuscan is a varietal they can drink by itself, no food required. We're just not that way. Dennis Bolin at Winetree really likes tannic Chianti, since the drying feeling tannins create in your mouth go a long way toward complementing very cheesy, fatty lasagna.

But the 2007 Ruffino (we got it at Schnucks on North Green River) is an example of how varied Chianti can be. This blend of Sangiovese plus Cabernet and Merlot was fruity and smooth, and it was almost light. Against a heavily spiced sausage-and-pepperoni infused pizza I had recently, it was a great foil. 13.5 percent alcohol. Also, if it matters, Wine Spectator rated it an 87 out of 100. Under $20.

Finally, this particular wine would go perfectly with these rather warm December temperatures. The 2008 Beringer Stanly Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir from Carneros in Napa Valley, California, is fruity, light and smooth.

We had it with baked salmon with fish rub, dried cilantro, salt, pepper and lemon juice, and this Winetree purchase didn't disappoint. It tasted of strawberries and raspberries, with a bit of woodiness, and whatever minor acidity it had came at the tail end of the sip from the glass. 14.5 percent alcohol. About $36.


Wine column no. 21: Cabernet Sauvignon had to come from somewhere

California helped make it huge, and all steak did was enhance its likeability.

But Cabernet Sauvignon wasn't always a star. Like all big shots, it had to come from somewhere. And to John E. Bowers and Carole P. Meredith, the chances are very high it was from Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc.

Meredith is a professor emerita from the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis and also happens to run her own winery, Lagier Meredith Vineyard, with her husband in Napa, Calif. At the time of the publication of their small study, in the journal Nature Genetics in 1997, Bowers was a doctoral candidate in genetics.

We likely won't do the study justice, tasked as we are with explaining complicated DNA fingerprinting techniques in layman's terms. So we'll stay away from Bowers' and Meredith's discussion of the genetics, leaving that to the experts. But here, in a nutshell, is what the duo found after studying 51 grape varieties: First, there's greater than a 10 to the 14th power chance that Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc are the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon if that pairing is being compared to the pairing of two random grape varieties. So betting men take note. Second, when inbreeding occurs -- meaning Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are crossed with other Cabernet Sauvignon grapes -- the cross sometimes produces white berres. That, Meredith and Bowers say, is an indication that Cabernet Sauvignon (a red berry) had a white-berried parent (like Sauvignon blanc). And third, if you're wondering how Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc were able to meet in the first place, that, they say, was just a simple matter of geography. And oh yeah, their romantic interlude likely happened no later than the 17th century in France, because that's the era before the earliest reports of deliberate plant hybridization.

"It is more likely that the cross occurred spontaneously between vines in adjacent vineyards or perhaps the same vineyard, as vineyards containing mixtures of red and white cultivars were once common," Bowers and Meredith reasoned.

But science aside, no one really knows what happened between the vines. The more romantic of us may surmise that Cabernet Franc drew Sauvignon blanc in with his mellow style. Then again, Sauvignon blanc isn't the most muted wine out there. It's easy to imagine that this subdued grape was enchanted by Sauvignon blanc's liveliness, her ability to make even winter seem like summer again.

So this is why we're not going to talk about Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine world's Superman. Instead, we're dedicating this column to the grape varieties that, at least one study shows, could largely claim credit for his success.

If you want a wine that manages to be rather humble and controlled, a Cabernet Franc might be it. Take Steele Wines' 2007 from Lake County, Calif., that's sold for under $20 at Winetree on Washington Avenue. This wine won't muscle you to the floor, but it's got enough structure and spunk to keep you from even thinking about dumping your glass. Just breathe in this 2007's round red fruits, and then take a sip. You'll find it's smooth, earthy, light yet still full of body: The perfect wine to relax to, or to pair with chicken or fish. 13.5 percent alcohol.

Here's what we'd describe as a good food wine: The 2007 Sauvion Chinon, about $18 at Winetree, went well with an oven-poached salmon with lemons, shallots, peppercorns, chicken stock and parsley. This smooth, not-very-acidic Frenchman from the Loire Valley was definitely grassy. 12.5 percent alcohol.

Then there are the versions of Cabernet Franc that are a bit more, umm, difficult. We had the 2009 Reserve de Vignerons Saumur, from the Loire Valley in France, last year. Our first impression was how much it tasted like red berries, black pepper and green peppers. The green pepper is an imperfection, according to several wine purveyors we've talked to. Press them a bit more, and they'll tell you it's because the Cabernet Franc grapes weren't ripe enough and were harvested too early. Others say it's because stems were included in the grape crushing process. No one we've talked to about this subject knows for sure. But it could be why Cabernet Franc has never hit the big time and is instead considered a good wingman. Cabernet Franc, for instance, is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot because it typically has lower tannins (which produce that drying feeling in your mouth) and can be fruity.

Sauvignon blanc, however, is quite the star. Greg can't really stand it, which is why we don't have it that often unless it's part of a blend. But I happen to like this light, airy and flexible wine varietal, which goes just as well with chicken and fish as it does with goat cheese and salad.

There are lots of New Zealand styles of Sauvignon Blanc available in Indiana. The 2008 Kim Crawford, I thought, tasted of honey and freshly cut grass. We found that at Big Red Liquors in Bloomington, Ind., for about $18. Then there's the 2007 Spy Valley, which I thought was both fruity and crisp. Schnucks on North Green River had that for about $13.50. Both were 13 percent alcohol.

But France also produces a Sancerre, which is a style of Sauvignon Blanc. We've had the 2007 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre from Winetree for about $27. Greg got deluged with grapefruit right away, but I liked how it tasted of green apples and lemon and was crisp and light. I liked this wine better younger, too, when it was more chalky. 12.5 percent alcohol.

Meanwhile, we may never know the exact details of the relationship between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc that produced one of the most famous red wines in the world. Under the sunset, or in the quiet passion of darkness, two disparate vines united to create an entirely new grape variety. And to that love, we raise three glasses: One filled with Cabernet Franc, another with Sauvignon blanc, and the last teeming with Cabernet Sauvignon. It's our way of honoring both the old and the new, with a toast to all three.


2006 Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d'Abruzzo: Supple, fruity, delicious!

towards the end of my trip, july 2011: i got this excellent montepulciano d'abruzzio from an italian wine shop around the corner on rue cherche midi in the 6th arr. in paris. it was fruity, supple, with great body, and was definitely a fun bottle to drink. this italian went very well with dried italian meats and cheese tortellini. by the way, the italian wine shop owner was very knowledgable and also asked me to sample some very aromatic olive oil. i could tell this was a man who really cared about his wares.
update: i tried to find this again, but could only get the 2007 here in the states. hint: it's not as good. i should have brought a bottle of the 2006 home with me. if you grabbed a bottle of the 2006 while it was for sale at astor wine and spirts in brooklyn, new york, and if, by chance, you still have it ... i'm envious.

Une Pecheresse: The best peach beer ever!

sometime in july 2011: as a surprise, katell brought out this pecheresse, which she first introduced me to years ago. i love this beer, which tastes like peaches. it's pretty hard to find, but katell managed to find it, and i appreciate it so much! i had a fantastic time visiting her and her family in dijon!

Creme de Cassis/Cremant de Bourgogne: Delicious!

sometime in july 2011: you don't go to burgundy and not have sausages with mustard and creme de cassis with cremant de bourgogne to drink with it. my old friend katell and her husband invited me to spend a couple of days with them at their home outside dijon, and bastien grilled up some delicious sausages with mustard. their children, enzo and oceane, were adorable and accepted me right away. it was a great time with a very valued old friend, and i only wish greg could have been there, too. he would have loved it.

2010 Bernard Goureau Quincy: Lemony and crisp

sometime in july 2011: this 2010 bernard goureau quincy we had to go with our entrees at my cousin philippe's restaurant. this quincy (a sauvignon blanc from the loire valley) had a lemon flavor and was a bit crisp.

and below: rillette de saumon (essentially a salmon pate). this restaurant is within the walls of st. malo, just across the street from where my mom (and my aunt, philippe's mom, francoise) grew up. this was delicious!

2009 Domaine des Sanzay Saumur-Champigny: Oaky and somewhat tannic

sometime in july 2011: this 2009 domaine des sanzay saumur-champigny was pretty good ... oaky so that it had some vanilla notes, and somewhat dry. it was also aromatic. at phillipe's restaurant within the walls of st. malo.

2009 Saint-Joseph Rhone Valley White: Round with some lemon

sometime in july 2011: this 2009 saint-joseph by vintner stephane montez is a northern rhone valley white wine. it was round with some lemon. not sure it went very well with the scallops and the carmelized tomatoes that were served with it. good on its own though. definitely. also at crouzil, in plancoet, france, outside of dinard.

Slate article from 2006

cabernet franc is just such a sentimental favorite of mine, and this slate column is all about it, so i just had to include this link. our own column is coming soon, to be published sunday, dec. 11.


2007 Saarstein Riesling: More tart than I remember

dec. 4, 2011: we've still got leftover ham from thanksgiving, and since i was sick with the flu during that holiday, we ended up having this mosel-saar-ruwer tonight. or, at least i did: this time, greg was not feeling well. the plan was to pair it with the honey ham that greg had prepared for thanksgiving, since we'd had this exact wine with the same ham entree last christmas, to great effect (and based on ron hull's recommendation.) but i think this wine's changed since then. it's now more tart, and the pineapple flavors that were so effusive last december are no longer there. but, on the plus side, this germanic creation is definitely smooth, and it leans -- a bit, as it warms in the glass -- toward honey. 9.5 percent alcohol. winetree.