Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

Questions Answered, and Things I’ve Learned

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“Do you like wines?”

I turned around, faced the source of the voice and answered, “I’m here, aren’t I?” with an admittedly wicked grin.

Pardon the snark, but questions like that at 10:30 in the morning in one of the biggest wine expositions in the world (I’m talking about Vinexpo 2016, of course) are just… Unnecessary.

The dude seemed to figure out his little faux pas, laughed, and with a heavy accent said, “Would you like to attend a seminar on Spanish white wines?”

Now THAT’S the best question to be asked. Wine tasting that early in the morning, featuring an unusual “genre” of wines?

I was THERE.

See, one of the top reasons to go to something as massive as Vinexpo is to learn about wines, especially hard to find ones.

Here are some of my favorite discoveries:

 

Spanish Whites

 

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Learning about Spanish White Wine at 10:30 in the morning? No problem!

The first things that come to mind when someone says “Spanish wine” are gorgeous, earthy Tempranillo-based reds; or crisp, bubbly Cava.

Nobody really talks about Spanish white wine, which is a shame… In fact, during the seminar, I’ve come across a few notable ones:

Roqueta Origen Abadal Picapoll 2015 – I have never heard of Picapoll before that morning. This grape, which thrives in Pla de Bages (North East of Spain close to Barcelona), makes slightly citric white wines that have notes of green apples and pears, with enough acidity to cut rich Asian food (think food with hoisin sauce).

Clos Pons Sisquella 2014 – Produced in Costers del Segre (a neighbor of the famous Spanish wine region of Priorat), this (pricey!) Garnacha and Alabriño blend is rustic with mineral notes, balanced out by hints of white flowers, stone fruits, and oranges. I’ve had Albariño before, but never as a minor blend for a white… This wine surprised me for its versatility: It can be drunk alone, but I could totally imagine it paired with some Panda Express Orange Chicken (I know it’s a bit blasphemous, but it’s something I’m willing to experiment on in the near future).

Viña Muriel Blanco 2010 – Confession: I hate writing about Viura. Viura is an alias used for Macabeo in Rioja… And frankly, apart from being a great complement for the Malvasia grape, it’s boring. The Viña Muriel, however, surprised me with its long finish, pronounced citrus notes offset by stony characteristics. Not. Boring. At. All.

 

East Coast Wines

Name me a supplier of East Coast wines in Manila, and I’ll be grateful.

Problems like these have an awful drawback on my end: I know about the wines in theory, but I couldn’t be fully committed when it comes to discussing them. Wines to me are a sensory experience… Reading about them just wouldn’t do.

Thankfully, there were more than enough east coast wines during the Vinexpo to merit an objective research (or a happy afternoon of drinking). In fact, I had the pleasure of being shown around by the president of the multi-awarded winery Thirsty Owl, Jonathan C. Cupp.

He taught me about the key differences of the major wine producing regions in the East Coast: Finger Lakes, and Hudson River Region.

Unsurprisingly (given the name), Finger Lakes is flanked by several large bodies of water (lakes, if you will), making that area cooler than its eastern counterpart.

What winemakers have discovered is that it’s the perfect area to cultivate grapes normally found in warmer parts of the world, making their wines incredibly well balanced and subtle.

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Yes, Dessert Wine can be made out of the normally powerful Cabernet Sauvignon!

My favorites included the Thirsty Owl Riesling (a Riesling with enough acidity to keep it from being cloying, and adding a certain elegance to the taste and structure), and one of the most unusual wines I’ve ever had to date: the startlingly red Thirsty Owl Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine. Ice wine is normally white, and the more common iterations would be incredibly saccharine. This one, despite being fruit-forward, has enough astringency from the raspberry notes (from the Cabernet Sauvignon) to keep the wine from being nauseatingly sweet.

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One of the most beautiful new world Merlots I’ve ever tried

 

Representing wines from the Hudson River is Brotherhood Winery, deemed America’s oldest winery (they’ve been making wines in the sleepy area of Washingtonville since 1839!). They have so much wine to choose from, but to compare: Their take on a Riesling is fruitier than their Finger Lakes counterparts, but without losing sophistication. Their very grounded version of a Merlot (from their Premium Selection line) blew me away with its lean, refined texture.

 

Wines from Oregon

Die-hard fans of the film Sideways know that it’s actually adapted from a novel of the same name, and that there’s a sequel to the novel called Vertical. The second book involves the same loveable winos traveling to Oregon for a Pinot Noir festival.

Indeed, that is Oregon’s claim to fame: Amazing Pinot Noir that has placed them in the forefront of winemaking.

The thing is, as with my initial sentiment with East Coast wines, I couldn’t find one in Manila that would really qualify as “research material”.

This was, of course, remedied by the presence of Oregon exhibitors in Vinexpo.

I shyly approached a formidable-looking gentleman and requested for a little “wine education”.

 

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Howard Rossbach of Firesteed

The gentleman, Howard Rossbach of Firesteed, was exceedingly gracious to oblige. He helped me make a few discoveries: First, that Oregon wines are as beautifully sophisticated as I’ve read in books.

Second, that his wine Firesteed is a far cry from the explosion of fruits one would expect from a lot of new world winemakers. Sure, his take on the Pinot still has the expected notes of ripened raspberries and black cherries, but wonderfully anchored by notes of cinnamon and cocoa.

Third, that his wine Citation is his top of the line take on a Pinot Noir. This one is amazingly full-bodied, without losing the necessary fruit-forward characteristics needed from a proper Pinot Noir; or the supple, refined texture of the wine.

 

Greek Wines

I’ve endlessly been fascinated by wines from ancient regions. I’ve tried wines from places that have been making wine since biblical times: Macedonia, Georgia, and Lebanon (a personal favorite of mine, whose rosés blew me away).

During the Vinexpo, Thomas Kanstmann of Greek Wine Cellars treated me to a little journey on Greek wines.

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Going Greek! Greek wines from Greek Wine Cellars

 

I was surprised to learn that their white wines are so refreshing. I could easily imagine myself lounging in a terrace in Santorini with a bottle. For that purpose, I particularly loved Agean Islands and Rhoditis.

The reds were so rich and begged for food; they made me want to go out for lamb souvlaki. The Kouros is multi-awarded and breathtaking, and Black Swan is equally food-friendly.

They have fascinating dessert wines too, like their red Mavrodaphne of Patras (which reminded me of raisins), and the white Muscat of Samos (with notes of orange peel and honey).

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Thomas Kantsmann, with a bottle of Restina by Kourtaki

 

But here’s the ultimate Greek piece de resistance: Retsina has been around for centuries, and is legendary for tasting like pinewood. It doesn’t sound appetizing, but I personally appreciated the centuries of tradition that went into making the drink (and the fact that it makes the wine truly, uniquely Greek).


As always, the best way to learn about wine is to sample them from the source… If geography is an issue (though I’m totally up for traveling to Greece and Oregon ASAP), expos and seminars are a great way to go about it too. Most winemakers are very open about getting people to understand their wines.

Here’s to further exploration and more of my wine questions, answered. Cheers!

 

*Special thanks to Ms. Margaret Bray for giving me all the information I need regarding Oregon wines. I hope to see your lovely region soon. Cheers!

Homesick (A Pinoy Food and Wine Special)

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It’s probably evident from my blog posts (and occasional lack thereof) that Chad and I have come to call planes “home” for the past few months.

At the risk of sounding like I’m #humblebragging, I have to confess that as much as the prospect of spending time in different parts of the world seems fun, there are moments that I get homesick… It often manifests itself with a strong craving for Pinoy food.

Nothing in the world compares to Filipino cuisine, IMHO. The great Fil-Am comedian Rex Navarette brought up a couple of points regarding Pinoy cuisine that I find incredibly insightful: First, it looks better in the dark… Visually speaking, the concept of eating Adidas (charcoal grilled chicken feet), our legendary Balut, Monggo, Pinakbet, and even Kare-kare (saving the arguments about whose mom’s version is the best for later… But just to put it out there, my mom’s Kare-kare is DA BEST) can be a bit unappetising.

I must say though, our food is delicious. I can describe our food by saying it contains so many different but very subtle flavors in one dish, owing to the different spices we use. For example, Adobo is equal parts salty and sour with a touch of sweet, but none of these tastes is overpowering enough to cancel out the other, or be dominant.

Another excellent point that Navarette pointed out is that we Filipinos can do anything to every part of a pig (in one of his routines, he even said that if we can harness the ghost of the pig, we would probably capture it and deep fry that sh*t). We are legendary for having Lechon (whole roasted pig) in our traditional parties. Chicharon is available in varying degrees, from the cheap air-filled versions peddled by vendors along EDSA, to more upscale ones from Lapid’s (some of which still contain the fat), to my all-time favorite: freshly-popped ones from our family’s house in Pampanga. There is also the pulutan (barchow) staple: Sisig.

Had a heart attack yet? Not to worry. I’m moving on to the beverage bits of this piece.

Taking all this into consideration, add that to the recent wine phenomenon in the Philippines (yup, we are now aware that the best wines don’t necessarily have to be sugary-sweet), and I would end up with this frequently asked question:

What wine should I pair with Filipino food?

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Tuna Kinilaw in Café Ysabel

 

To further investigate, I decided to attend the Pinoy Food and Wine Pairing Dinner with the Chaine des Rotisseurs. We had a seemingly endless number of courses for dinner, all of which were fantastic representations of some of our food, done in an impeccably gourmet way (nope, our kinilaw doesn’t look like this too often).

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Just one of the wines we’ve had the good fortune of experimenting with

We were also invited to experiment on a few wines to pair with the food: An impossibly rich Prosecco (Zonin), a crisp and sweet Riesling (Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt), and a light Rhône (Laurus).

My personal finding is this: The Prosecco (a sparkling wine from Italy) has crisp, refreshing qualities that compliment some of our gentler but complex dishes. A mildly textured, not-so-sweet Riesling (some Rieslings can be too sweet, or too rich) is phenomenal with most of our food. Our bolder red meats, especially ones that we roast, go well with a gentler, less tannic red wine.

One of my all-time favorite Pinoy food and wine pairing combos (which was not part of the dinner) is a greasy lechon paired with a well-kept new world Pinot Noir (I highly recommend Casillero del Diablo’s take on the wine). The light red fruit flavors of the Pinot Noir go beautifully with the greasy, rich lechon, without overpowering its mild flavors, and extra points for wine being good for the heart (as with everything, moderation for both the lechon and wine is key).

What is your favorite Pinoy food and wine-pairing combo? Cheers!

The End of a Journey

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“Great wine is great art, my friend. I am, in effect, a shepherd… whose mission is to offer the public another form of great art and to guide its appreciation thereof.”

– Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier, Bottle Shock

 

I had a different idea on how I was going to begin this article, but the death of Alan Rickman really gutted me. Maybe it was the Potterhead in me, my newfound love of all things Austen (he had the most forlorn looking portrayal of Colonel Brandon that made me want to reach into the screen and give him a big fat hug), or more importantly, my disgust for anything relating to wine snobbery.

Let me explain the last bit.

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Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier in Bottle Shock (photo courtesy of IMDB.com)

One of my favorite wine films of all time is Bottle Shock (2008). The film was based on the 1976 Judgment of Paris, where Napa’s Chateau Montelena triumphed over several French powerhouses in the Chardonnay blind tasting category.

My favorite part of the film was Rickman’s portrayal of the British wine expert Steven Spurrier (the real Spurrier has stated that the film is an exaggerated take on himself and the events). The screen version of Spurrier was a wine snob whose predilection for French wines changed after the events of 1976. I have strongly held the lessons I’ve learned through this character in the course of my wine career: Never be a wine snob, and always be open to all forms of winemaking (it’s best way to learn about people and their wine, and potentially discover gems along the way).

Incidentally (and speaking of wine snobs), right before our trip to Napa, some of my wino friends have warned me that along with the multiple accolades that Napa winemakers have achieved over the years, there has been a rise of Napa wine snobs.

So, obviously, I had some apprehensions during the beautifully scenic and deliciously foggy car ride from San Francisco to Napa (placated only by our niece and I singing along to Adele in the car).

Would they be open to a nosy Filipina eager to learn about their winemaking? Is their patience enough to be able to tolerate my tendency to be like a child in a candy store when I’m in a vineyard?

Our first stop was Cakebread Cellars (Rutherford), which is renowned for their impeccable Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (with an inexplicable yet fitting pastry-tasting finish).

Highlights of the cellar tour included:

  • Learning about the concept of Musqué attached to the name of another grape (in this case, the Sauvignon, making the proper name of the grape Sauvignon Musqué). It is a French term used for highly aromatic clones of grapes (in our particular example, a Sauvignon Musqué is a clone of a Sauvignon Blanc) used for making wine.
  • They have a top of the line Cabernet Sauvignon label called Dancing Bear Ranch (I admittedly loved the name).
  • I learned how to top up a barrel from a young guy working in their cellar, listening to Green Day.
  • I’ve seen my first frozen steel vat. The purpose of this is to get rid of the potassium bitartrate crystals that can potentially form in the bottom of the wine bottle. It’s not harmful, but some people find the crystals strange. Freezing the steel tanks allow the potassium bitartrate crystals to precipitate, and can be removed later on through filtration…
    Sounds complicated, but basically winemakers freeze the steel tank to get rid of any potential crystal-like substances in a consumer’s wine bottle (I promise this is about as complicated as I can get in this article).

 

After a hearty lunch in Yountville, we proceeded to the legendary Silver Oak Cellars. I was ecstatic and thrilled beyond words (and I may have annoyed our BFAM for thanking him over and over again).

When I was taking my WSET certification, Silver Oak was mentioned during the discussion of Napa Valley wines. It represents the best of California red wine making: big, mighty, robust, and elegantly grounded Cabernet Sauvignons that are meant to be paired with equally powerful food, or just to be savored… I swear I could drown in the rich aromas left in the glass.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me give you some tidbits on Silver Oak:

  • Flood and Fire. Sounds apocalyptic, but it’s worth mentioning, as the vineyard has faced both tragedies (while waiting for the plague of locusts to follow, I do believe). In a feat of unbelievable resilience and strength, however, the wine house is standing just as strong as ever before.
  • Silver Oak has made a mark by specializing on (and channeling all their resources on making) one divinely beautiful thing: some of the most superb, earth shattering Cabernet Sauvignon on earth. They do have fabulous Pinot Noir in another label, Twomey, but that is a story for another time.
  • Interestingly, Silver Oak prefers to use American oak (from Missouri) for their wines. It adds interesting, slightly more feminine characteristics (such as sweet vanilla and coconuts) to the wine. Their exacting standards in using these barrels have led them to solely own The Oak Cooperage (formerly A&K). To have been able to breathe in the rich aromas of the barrels in their barrel room was absolutely breathtaking (pardon the pun).
  • Silver Oak makes two Cabernet Sauvignons; a Napa version and an Alexander Valley. Alexander Valley is renowned for making soft-textured, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes of their gorgeous Napa wines come from their vineyards in Soda Canyon and Atlas Peak, and the outcome is a beautifully subtle, delightfully coy Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • I had my first, up close look at some wonderfully gnarled replacement-cane pruned vines (stuff I only saw in a drawing from my WSET book). This allows highly dense vines to be as well aerated and shade-free as possible.

After a tour in their wine library (housing all the house’s vintages dating back to 1972!), we couldn’t resist taking home a bottle of the 2011 Napa and 2008 Alexander Valley, which Chad and I are saving for a special occasion.

Going back to the film (which I watched again right before I got to rewriting the introduction to today’s entry), I have to say that Rickman has left such an indelible mark in my life with his brilliant performances. The Internet is ablaze with tributes of his portrayal of Professor Snape, and admittedly, I feel like one of my childhood heroes has died.

To me, however, he is Steven Spurrier, the anti-hero to all winos.

Always.

On Leaving Hearts and Holidays

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It takes nothing short of a huge miracle to get a severe introvert like myself out of the house (my friends are amazing for putting up with me… Thanks I and K). Severe introverts take so much comfort in silence and routines that the idea of spending the holidays in a place we’ve never been is petrifying.

This is exactly what I was thinking, as I struggled with a massive panic attack in the last couple of days leading up to our trip in San Francisco.

Normally, Chad and I have a tradition of counting down to Christmas by watching old holiday films (“It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Eloise at Christmastime” are some of our favorites). We would wait for midnight to open presents, eat a snack, drink some wine, and marvel at how I’ve transitioned from horror movies with my brother to proper Christmas flicks (Chad hates horror movies, but my brother and I shared a strange sense of macabre during Christmas).

This is followed by yet another countdown for the New Year in front of our window. Our high-rise faces the fancy subdivisions a few blocks away (they try to outdo one another with fancy fireworks on new year’s eve). We would toast at midnight, eat 12 grapes (a tradition from Chad’s family), laugh at the thought of people inhaling firework residue in some crowded place (we’re quite antisocial that way), then brave the streets (which by 1 am would resemble a warzone) to meet up with friends in Chihuahua Makati Avenue (now Woody’s).

I was comfortable with the routine. I loved it.

Fast forward to Christmas of 2015. I was mentally kicking and screaming in NAIA as I waited to board the plane (then again, maybe the fact that NAIA is consistently one of the worst airports on the planet had something to do with my anxieties). I proceeded to do what any wino would do: knock myself out with the free wine on board Philippine Airlines (not the best stuff, but it had to do) and hoped my apprehensions would not transform into some form of rebellious angst.

Luckily, things totally turned around when we touched down in chilly San Francisco.

Maybe the efficient airport did it? The lack of traffic or pollution? The fact that my in laws were feeling the festivities and the massive post-holiday sales? Whatever it was, the festive mood was both intoxicating and infectious, like a delicious virus spread through lethal cocktails (I had to relate it to something intoxicating and infectious, so humor me).

When we got to my in laws’ house, we were greeted by some of the best things in the planet: a wonderful cold that a person who grew up in the tropics (me!!!) needed to get accustomed to (yay for fashionable layering!), an 80-something pound Golden Retriever (who needed to reconcile his actual size with how small he thought he was), and… Wine.

Our (adoptive) BFAM (Brother From Another Mother) gifted us with two bottles of wine: a Duckhorn Chardonnay from Napa and a Decoy Pinot Noir from Sonoma. Equally sublime, the wines represented some of the best in California winemaking… I particularly adored the Pinot Noir for its elegance and complexity.

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Beautiful Wine on a Beautiful Christmas Morning

From this point, we basically ate, drank, and shopped our way through San Francisco.

 

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Best Non-Alcoholic Drink Finds Near The Wharf!

Must Drink: Hot Chocolate from Ghirardelli (richest, creamiest, thickest hot chocolate ever!), and Irish Coffee from Buena Vista (where the first Irish Coffee in America was made… Guests can buy ingredients from their gift shop, too). There’s a Peet’s Coffee wherever we looked… It’s heavenly (especially during chilly days), and my brother in law swears it’s best when it’s freshly ground (totally agree).

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Fancy Ambiance for an Equally Fancy Brunch!

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Ferry Building Food and Beverage Finds

Foodie/Wino Restaurants to Visit: Have brunch in Fairmont and The Palace Hotel (brunch is apparently a big deal in San Francisco… Expect free flowing Champagne or Mimosas!), then have a gastronomic feast in Michael Mina (seems pricey, but the food is absolutely worth it and the wine pairings were on point… Look for Claude for the most concise food and wine pairing explanation). Go to The Slanted Door for a delicious modern take on Vietnamese food, then go around the Ferry Building for foodie finds (Blue Bottle Coffee is a must try!).

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What A Haul!*

Must Buy: Chic insulated wine shoulder bag from Bed Bath & Beyond (for your fasyon BYOB needs), huge frou-frou coffee cups (Anthropologie), manual ceramic coffee drip (Sur la Table), spices (I loved the Pumpkin Pie Spice from Trader Joe’s, which is now a necessary addition to my morning coffee), and metal ice that wouldn’t water down a glass of whiskey (Brookstone). Look for funky-girly bar stuff (from sparkling wine inspired wallets to cute mugs) in Kate Spade.

Since San Francisco is a hop skip and a jump away from Napa, our BFAM one-upped his presents by taking us to Napa for a wine tour…

…which I will save for another article. 😉

So. Did I leave my heart in San Francisco? Surprisingly, I did.

Being the introvert that I am, however, I need to recharge (and get over my jetlag) for a week.

Coming up: Adventures in Napa.

Cheers!

Special shoutout to our family in San Francisco, thank you so much for having us in your home and showing us around your side of the world. You are infinitely amazing. Thank you to our BFAM for everything. To the P family, you were so wonderful to host us for a dinner; You are also welcome in our home whenever you’re in town. My home office smells divine, thanks to your Christmas present. 🙂

*Thanks S for the Kate Spade Stuff! You’re right, it’s totally us! Missing you from across the ocean!