Smooth & Supple
In honor of the Montalcino producer’s vote last week to maintain the integrity of the region’s Rosso wines (Baby Brunellos), we will review a wonderful bottle of Rosso from Banfi. The proposal put forward was to allow grapes other than Sangiovese into wines classified as Rosso di Montalcino which many, including myself, believe would defeat the entire purpose of having a Rosso wine at all. This Banfi Rosso is a firecracker with bright fresh cherries jumping out of the glass followed closely by plums and liquorish. It’s a bright, young wine that serves its purpose – to quench one’s thirst while its big brother is aging in the cellar. It’s a medium bodied wine with a medium finish, mild tannins and medium to high acid to compliment those tomatoes Kori talks about below. I would not hesitate to plop down $25 for this little guy any day of the week. It’s not particularly complex, but it’s well balanced and would be a great crowd pleaser at any gathering. Food Pairing Suggestions: I love Rosso di Montalcinos because many of them are affordable, high quality options to pour with one of my favorite ingredients – tomatoes. Sangiovese is really one of the only grapes that seem to have been created with tomatoes in mind. This Banfi is no exception and it cries out for a Classic Margherita Pizza. It’s not a fancy wine, so keep it simple. In fact, a slice from Sal and Carmine’s on the Upper West Side of Manhattan would fit the bill just fine. I love that place. In lieu of a visit to New York, any dish where tomatoes or tomato sauce is the key ingredient would work fine like lasagna or spaghetti marinara. Just be sure not to be too heavy handed with the spice. Keep it mild to medium and it will enhance the wine and the food.
Smooth & Supple
Tasting Notes: From the fantastic 2000 vintage, the Les Douves de La Tour Carnet is a real treat to crack open. Unlike many second labels, it receives remarkably similar care and attention as the Chateau’s grand vin. After 18 months in French oak, the Cabernet-dominated wine is quite complex with aromas of dried cranberry, black plum, green bell pepper, tobacco, vanilla and liquorish. A lot of the tannins have fallen out of this decade old wine, so there is considerable sediment in the bottle. I would suggest decanting it 20 to 30 minutes before serving. If you’re looking to try older Bordeaux without the sticker shock, this is a great option from a great harvest. Food Pairing Suggestions: Because the tannins are very mild on this older Bordeaux, I’d advise against fatty meats that you would typical pair with Cabernet-based wines. Instead I’d opt for leaner, sweeter meats. The first thought that comes to mind would be a stuffed pork loin with figs and nuts or a bread stuffing. A simple thick-cut pork chop might also do the trick. Just try to keep the fat level to a minimum or you will overshadow an otherwise lovely wine.
Tasting Notes: Not exactly a second label, Four Sisters is a winery started by Trevor Mast, who was the owner and winemaker at Mount Langi Ghiran for almost 20 years. This Shiraz is a simple, yet pleasant, wine that would be an excellent choice to take to a BBQ. It’s a big jammy wine, almost Zinfandel like, with tons of stewed fruit on the nose as well as all-spice, clove, vanilla and mulling spices. My biggest gripe is that it’s over-oaked, but otherwise I would have no problem putting a few glasses of this back at $11 a bottle. Food Pairing Suggestions: This is a straight up BBQ wine. Any kind of grilled meat will do, but I’m especially partial to BBQ brisket - the good stuff with the fat, not the dried out lean junk that passes for brisket these days. I’d also love to drink this wine with pulled pork or a juicy hamburger. I agree with Chad that it is over-oaked, but the beauty of BBQ is that the char on the meat will help offset the oak and bring out more of the fruit.
Light & Fruity
Tasting Notes: The Wallace Brook Pinot Noir was a surprising treat at a Second Label Wine dinner party earlier this year. It’s a very light bodied Pinot that is bursting with fresh cherries and figs as well as light plums, raspberries, clove and rose petal. The mild tannins make it an extremely versatile wine and for under $20, I find it to be an exceptional value. For a grape that can be fickle and a wine style that is prone to inconsistency in other parts of the world, I never cease to be impressed with the quality and reliability of the Pinot Noir coming out of Oregon. Food Pairing Suggestions: There are a lot of different dishes that would go with this Pinot Noir, including the usual suspects of duck, chicken or salmon. At our dinner party, however, I chose a dish of fresh Atlantic Cod on a Bacalao brandade with garlic chips, pickled eggs mimosa and fried parsley. Normally the dish would call for a rose wine, but this Wallace Brook Pinot was so light bodied that we thought it was worth a try. The results were magical – a truly perfect combination and another reason why sometimes it’s a good idea to take chances with your pairings. Yes, it could blow up in your face, but when all the stars align, you’ll see fireworks.
Big & Bold
Tasting Notes: Even though a lot of people might cringe at a $47 second label wine, let me be the first to say that the 2007 Napanook is worth every penny. Consider it a special occasion wine, but just be sure to consider it. From Christian Moueix of Chateau Petrus fame in Bordeaux, this single-vineyard wine is bursting with freshness. The nose is heavenly with aromas of cherries, strawberries and blackberries that are still on the vine. There are also undertones of vanilla bean, caramel and liquorish. The taste is equally as impressive with more of the rich, concentrated vine-ripened qualities that make the wine seem incredibly alive. It’s got big, ripe tannins and needs at least an hour to decant, but it really shows what is possible with California Cabernet when it’s not manhandled in the winery. Food Pairing Suggestions: The Napanook is a very versatile wine that would go with a wide range of meats, but don’t complicate the seasoning. Just use salt and pepper, as any rubs or marinades run the risk of overpowering the wine. I could see this being a perfect pairing with short ribs braised in red wine. Also a rib eye steak cooked medium rare would be a great accompaniment. Even leaner meats would work well because of the wine’s balanced tannins. I would caution against excessive use of smoke as it will detract, but browning with a sear or crust would be just right.
Big & Bold
Tasting Notes: The Trumpeter Malbec is a huge fruit bomb of a wine that is thoroughly pleasing for $10 a bottle. It is deep purple in color with strawberry, raspberry, plum and ripe figs screaming from the glass. I also found a substantial amount of cinnamon and vanilla. There’s a lot of oak and the big, chewy tannins give it a long finish. It’s a pretty straightforward wine, so I wouldn’t serve it at a state dinner, but in the proper context it’s an excellent value. Food Pairing Suggestions: If you’re going to drink an Argentine wine, then you might as well do it with Argentine food. They go perfectly together. These big Malbecs need fatty grilled meat, and there’s nothing better for that than an Argentine street food classic – the choripan (sausage “chorizo” + bread “pan”). If you’ve ever been to Argentina and didn’t eat one, then you’ve never been to Argentina. In essence it’s a grilled sausage on a baguette topped with chimichurri, a type of salsa consisting of parsley, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and any number of other herbs and spices. You can easily make these on the grill in the backyard, and if you want to take it to the next level substitute morcilla (blood sausage) for traditional sausage. That will step up the richness and really compliment the wine. You can also serve this Trumpeter with just about any sort of grilled meat, assuming it is well seasoned (but not too spicy because of the tannins) and fairly fatty. Finally, while not a perfect pairing on the palate, beef empanadas and Malbec are never a bad idea.
Big & Bold
If you want to drink a wine that makes you think, then pick up the Pargua II. Rarely have I seen a wine that changes so much in the glass as it opens up. I would suggest opening the bottle and drinking it slowly over a few hours. The fruit is there immediately with scents of plum, strawberry and raspberry. Next comes the green bell pepper and vanilla, and finally after it’s been open for some time, you get hit with loads of chocolate and eucalyptus as though the wine got a second wind. There is also ample oak on this wine, but it’s well integrated and not overpowering. It’s a big wine with chewy tannins and a long finish, but I think it’s very unique and a great value. Food Pairing Suggestions: Just about any steak will do with this wine, lean or fatty, as long as it’s not cooked beyond medium rare. If it’s overcooked, especially a lean steak, it will be a disaster of a pairing. Along with the steak, I’d serve any number of well-seasoned wilted dark greens such as spinach, kale or collard greens. My final choice for a food with the Pargua II is braised pork belly. I think that would be a lovely match.
Big & Bold
Tasting Notes: One of my favorite wines in the world is a well-made Amarone. They are produced using a technique that essentially involves drying the grapes until they are raisins before pressing them, which creates incredibly concentrated, rich flavors. The problem is that Amarone is a very expensive wine and the cheaper ones are of poor quality. That’s why I love the Ripasso. Literally meaning “re-pass,” it is a Valpolicella that is fermented a second time on the leftover skins of the Amarone. I like to call it a poor man’s Amarone, but the truth is that a Ripasso from a reputable winery is of much higher quality than some of the lower-end Amarones. This Zenato Ripassa (Zenato is the only winery to call a Ripasso a Ripassa) is a deep ruby red and offers rich, elegant aromas that linger far longer than I would expect. The dried fruit is predominant, such as raisins, prunes, cherries and dark berries like blackberries and raspberries. There is also a scent of vanilla and steamed banana leaf. The wine is so concentrated in flavor it almost has a balsamic quality to it. It has a velvety texture and a long, long, long finish. I love this wine. Food Pairing Suggestions: This wine would be a perfect pairing with game meats like elk and antelope. In fact, we did a dinner party recently with a dish that would have worked well; a Braised Antelope Hind Quarter on Blue Cheese Cauliflower Mash and Shaved Brussel Sprouts. This could also go really well with mushroom-based dishes or aged dried meats. You could also just drink it alone with a loaf of rich bread like a roasted garlic focaccia dipped in olive oil. The bottom line with a wine of this intensity is that you need to double down on the flavor of your food. Whatever you’re cooking, it needs a reduction sauce or other strong, concentrated flavors to stand up to the wine.