After two weeks of finding our footing here at The Food, Drink & Travel Report, we’re ready to start tasting wines and reporting on them in earnest. We’ll start today, then, with half a dozen standout whites--perfect for the heatwave so many of us are simmering through.
Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay “Reserve” 2007, Napa Valley
The nose jumps with hazelnut cream and pears, with underpinnings of brown spice and a touch of flowers. There’s also something that reminds me of warm hay on a sunny day: Very evocative of summertime in this regard. For all that richness and bass-note heft of the nose, however, this is a wine with ample acid to back it up, and its flavors are more in the crunchy apple and almond skin end of the spectrum, with hints of cinnamon, vanilla, and caramel. Very good wine, refreshing and rich, and capable of aging and evolving for another 5+ years.
Food pairing: Roasted lobster with preserved lemon.
The nose here is evocative of white Burgundy via California; call it Chassagne-Montrachet with a green card: The 16 months in French oak have brought a spicy hit to this wine’s aromatics, as well as vanilla, but it still smells as if it has the structure to stand up to it and not be overwhelmed. Wax and white-blossom flowers and a certain sense of salinity find their way in there, too. On the palate, buttered popcorn and high-toned acidity still need to resolve themselves, but it’s seriously gulpable right now, calling out for food, perhaps pasta with sauteed wild mushrooms or, even better, simply seared scallops. It finishes with butterscotch and preserved lemon, notes that are preceded by a palate of gently warmed honey, orange blossom, and sun-warmed slate with a hint of smoky minerality. Chewy and rich. Drink with food right now, or let it continue to evolve and resolve itself for 3 - 7+ years.
Food pairing: Seared scallops with a beurre blanc sauce
Very appealing nose with plenty of balance and mystery to spare: If this wine were a musician, it would be more Paolo Conte than Britney Spears. There’s oak here, yes, but also lemon, lemon curd and oil, and a hint of tarragon, as well as a lightly worn smokiness and minerality that emerge when the chill of the bottle subsides a bit. The palate follows in much the same manner: More lithe, more filigreed, and less glycerine on the tongue than you might expect. This is a decidedly well-crafted chardonnay, and tastes of creme brulee crust, homemade caramel and butterscotch, apricot, and toasted rice on the finish, this last one a fascinating, unexpected note.
Food pairing: Play up those lemon and tarragon notes with a simple veal piccata.
What a pretty nose, with appealing notes of ripe tropical fruit, yes, but also sweet grapefruit and white peppercorn spice. It’s unexpectedly complex aromatically, and gives a lot more than you’d likely expect. If you really get your nose in there and if it’s not too cold, you’ll also pick up a touch of tarragon or shiso. On the palate, its acidity keeps it fresh, but there’s a weight to this wine, a ripeness to the fruit that really makes it pretty alongside its complex flavors of white grapefruit, lime, tarragon, and grapefruit pith. There’s a sense of minerality here, too, but this is balanced out by the tropical flavors. The finish shows hints of licorice that turn sweet and then aromatic before fading out. This is serious sauvignon blanc, and an excellent example of what it can do in Sonoma County with enough love and attention in the vineyard and winery.
Food pairing: Spaghetti with ricotta, lemon zest, and fresh herbs. (I made this with the excellent homemade ricotta from Talula’s Table and it was astounding.)
Xavier Flouret Torrontes “Flaca” 2009, Valle de Cafayate - Salta, Argentina
On the nose, this is wildly evocative with a high-toned, sweet rose-petal perfume, as well as aromatic white peaches that just burst their skins in the summer’s heat. There’s also a lychee note limned with spice, and in this it reminds me, aromatically, at least, of some sort of relative of gewurztraminer. There's an almost glycerine slipperiness to the wine on the tongue, but this disappears when it’s swallowed and it leaves a just-as-unexpected sense of dryness, which then turns to some sort of cream: Fascinating. There are flavors of peach skin and grapefruit and orange pith, with a sweet fruitiness in delicate harmony with the more bitter and savory notes; it’s almost like finding an edible flower in your salad: You expect sweet but end up with a touch bitter. Intriguing and delicious as a result. This is complex and idiosyncratic, and demands a lot more thought than you might be used to from affordably priced torrontes. It’s yet another example of how exciting Salta and Cafayate are for this grape variety. Drink now.
Food pairing: Quickly grilled shrimp with a peach salsa.
This past week, I’ve been fortunate to taste a handful of older bottlings that provided a fascinating glimpse into the maturation of wines from France in particular. First was the Domaine Bachelet-Ramonnet Chassagne-Montrachet “La Romanee” 1978 from my friend Scot “Zippy” Ziskind’s collection. It was the color of apple cider, with flavors to match. The nose spoke of creamed pears and toffee, and led to a palate of apple cider, caramel, hazelnuts, creme brulee, and green apples. Very complex and silky in texture, with bright acidity that expressed itself in a Madeira-like vein, though with hints of white licorice and fennel seed added to the equation. The lingering, smoky-mineral finish put me in mind of caramel-covered green apples in the fall. Amazing on its own and with the bacon - parsnip - gruyere frittata I ordered at lunch to pair with it.
Then, this past Saturday night, my friend Ryan celebrated his birthday with a few friends and some remarkable wine. Most notable were the Dom Perignon 1992, a supremely elegant bottle with gentle acidity, flavors of almond and spice, and a touch of apricot skin on the finish. Spectacular bottle, and a perfect partner for the 30-month-aged Parmigiano Reggiano on the cheese board. That was followed by the Huet Vouvray “Clos du Bourg” 1985, a fruit-driven, sneakily bright and gorgeously mature wine whose nut and spun sugar notes demonstrated exactly why older Vouvray is still some of the best value in the world of wine. And then, before heading out to dinner, we drank the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-St.-Vivant 2004, a subtle blockbuster of a pinot noir with smoke, flowers, a red cherry fruit in utterly astounding harmony. The finish lasted nearly a minute, and the concentration, set against the wine's delicacy, was remarkable. I asked Ryan if he’d tasted any other producers’ bottlings from this Grand Cru vineyard before, and how this one compared. He said he had, and that this DRC bottling was, quite simply, “just better.” I second that assessment: Sometimes, an outrageously expensive bottle of wine justifies itself many times over. This was most definitely one of them.