(with suggested music)
|As per the first sets of featured wines, part of the plan with this web site has always been to interweave wine and music. By all means, take the recommendations with a pinch of salt - it's all done in good humor - but by even more all means, try the pairings. And let us know how they work.
Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA, $10
The sole red grape of the northern Rhône, where it reaches its zenith in such appelations as Hermitage, Côte-Rotie and Cornas, syrah is a favorite with fans of meaty, spicy red wines that offer lots of intense flavors when youthful yet settle into complex, subtle masterpieces after a decade or more in the bottle. Known as Shiraz in Australia (where it is much more effusive), Syrah is also making a healthy name for its QPR across southern France and through Italy. In the States, it is enjoying particular popularity in California and Washington, where the vines see enough sun to ensure the syrah grape ripens properly. Many a high-end Syrah is being touted as proof that the grape is well suited to west coast, but apart from cost conscious Cline, trying to find a bottle for everyday drinking can be hard work.
All the more reason to shout about Snoqualmie. Named for the mountain pass over the Cascade Mountains, those which separates the maritime coastal region of Washington from the dry warm climate of the Columbia Valley, Snoqualmie has been making wines in Washington State for two decades now. And like some other Columbia Valley producers (Hogue and Columbia Crest in particular), Snoqualmie likes to keep its prices down. The Syrah, which has 16% Grenache to help spice it up, is a ruby-red purple with a lovely sheen, and its nose offers a particularly fruity nose, with plum and currants and to my nostrils, some raspberry too. On the palate, that soft fruitiness offers a deliciously enticing and uncomplicated attack, and then the wine tightens up a little with some of that meaty lean-ness that distinguishes syrah. Drunk on its own, the exuberance of the fruit starts suggesting a Californian-style overextraction, but taken with food, the warm tannins and lively acid give the wine a nice balance and complexity, and offer a solid introduction to one of the world's better grapes at one of the west coast's better bargain prices.
MUSIC? It's a bold, exuberant, lively and fruity American, it tells it like it is, and it's intended for consumption by the common man. So is Green Velvet's 'Whatever.'
Potato Barn White, 1999
North Fork, Long Island, NY, $13
I've already enthused about Schneider's Cabernet Franc, which has become a benchmark for the varietal in the States as a whole and Long Island in particular. With success comes expansion, and Bruce and Christian Schneider now have a second label, Potato Barn, named for the formerly ubiquitous crop of northern Long Island, one that is rapidly being replaced by vineyards. The 1999 white is 95% Chardonnay, but the balance of 5% Pinot Blanc opens up a whole other level of texture. A warm yellowy-gold in color, the palate marries an oily nuttiness with a big dose of crisp acidity and a mineral-like finish. It's all the better for its lack of oak, and as a summer picnic wine that won't overpower your food or give you a headache it's hard to fault. Except for the price. I accept that Long Island producers are still recouping investments and produce limited quantities, but given that I can get a lovely Italian white like Mionetto's Pinot Grigio (with which the Potato Barn has more in common than a Californian Chardonnay) or Mas Carlot's Marsanne for two dollars less, and taking into account that the European wines have been imported across oceans to get to me, while the Schneider's has only been tricked up Long Island, I feel entitled to bitch. Pricing is a problem throughout Long Island, where everyday Chardonnays often break fifteen dollars, and it's something the region will have to tackle if it hopes to meet with real national, let alone international, acceptance. Having said all that, this is a fine example of a clean, solid, appetizing aperitif wine that gives the east coast a good name for quality. The 2000 vintage ups the Pinot Blanc content to 25%, and the price to $14.
MUSIC? Honest-to-goodness American wine deserves equally unpretentious music. 'Don't Breathe A Word' by Kevin Tihista's Red Terror fulfils that role.
MARSANNE Cuvee Prestige 2000
VIN DE PAYS D'OC, France, $11
Having enjoyed many bottles of French wine with the words 'Imported by Robert Kacher' on the label, I readily attended a tasting hosted by the man himself at Union Square Wines during the middle of last October's CMJ Music Marathon. All the wines were from southern France, all were close to or under the $10 mark, and all of them represented exceptional values, but this Marsanne was the surprise of the pack.
Marsanne can easily be confused with Rousanne, given that both claim the northern Rhône as their home, and are often blended together there. More and more though, Marsanne is striking out on ts own, and it's my feeling that as the third northern Rhône varietal, Viognier, gains public awareness, the distinctive and attractive Marsanne will follow in its slipstream. (There are 100-year old Marsanne vines in Australia, and producers like Cline in California are doing a great job with it too.) Good Marsanne can be quite heavy, with a marzipan-like, sticky taste to match, but if you want an attractive entry level bottle, this Vins de Pays from just south of Châteauneuf du Pape is the one to look for. A yellowy-green in the glass - think of a pleasant ripe apple color - it offers abundant orange musk on both the nose and palate; in fact, this is one of the most orange scented wines I think I've ever tasted. It's also vibrant, fleshy, a little steely, ever so slightly marzipan-like and yet intensely refreshing. Tank-fermented, it's entirely free of oak influence, a wise decision considering its intense youthful fruit. Given its attractive price, I would recommend purchasing it on sight. It's hard to imagine you being disappointed - and you might just discover another great grape in the process.
MUSIC? The production is simple, allowing the vibrant content to shine through. But it's also sensual and stylish. Sounds like a perfect accompaniment to 'Kittenz and Thee Glitz' by FELIX DA HOUSECAT, especially with Miss Kittin's French vocals.
PINOT GRIGIO 2000
Piave, Italy, $11
Italian white wines are often disparaged because they don't "aspire to greatness" in the form of great Burgundian or Californian Chardonnays, Loire Chenin Blancs or Rhône Marsannes and Roussannes. But so what? Much of the time all we want from a white wine is freshness and fruitiness at a friendly price - which the rapidly improving Italian industry is delivering in droves. This Pinot Grigio from the Piave region north of Venice costs just over ten dollars, and delivers that almond nuttiness I get from most Italian whites, with lower acidity than you might expect from such a young wine, and a healthy degree of complexity for what is essentially a light-to-medium-bodied quaffer with a mere 11.5% alcohol. I don't normally make a point of specific food recommendations, but Robin Garr's 30-Second Wine Advisor pointed out how well the wines of Veneto match a simple Italian dish like spaghetti tossed with margarine/butter and fresh chopped sage, and he was right. A textbook example of matching a region's wine with its food. Like many of the whites I've been writing about recently, this won't win any gold medals, but for cheerful value and food friendliness, it comes in ahead of far more expensive competition.
MUSIC? This is a simple, refreshing, fruity and a little bit nutty European classic; it requires music to match. Totally Blind Drunk Drivers' 'The Breast Off' should do just fine.
NAPA VALLEY, California, USA,
A true American individual, this wine. With over 100 years experience in the heart of the Napa Valley, Château Montelana rightly claims "first-growth" status for its highly-rated (and highly-priced) Cabernet Sauvigons and Chardonnays. But like many an older winery, Montelana has extensive plantings of "America's grape," zinfandel - and it has also experimented with the Italian varietals Primitivo and Sangiovese. For the Saint Vincent, named after the specific vineyard where these grapes grow, they have mixed all three together in a way that makes sense: Zinfandel (which forms 60% of this wine) is widely believed to be a bastard child of Primitivo cuttings brought over by Italian immigrants in the 19th century; the inclusion of 10% sangiovese, the dominant grape of Chianti, then enhances the Italian flavor of this wine.
Whichever way you shake it or describe it, the blend is unique. So is the wine. A seriously dark ruby color, its nose is all dark fruits accented by that really heavy saddle leather/earthy flavor you get off some of the more international-styled Chiantis, along with some tell-tale zin fruit, giving way on the mouth to a gamey, dark cherry, spritzy, tangy wine, full of flavor, character, an absolute boatload of tannin and a long, long spicy finish. A big wine in every sense of the word, I felt it had several more years in it - surprising given the usual life span of a zin, but perhaps evidence of Montelana's wines' renowned staying power. Interestingly, it only weighed in at 13.5% alcohol - low for the Napa in general, zinfandel in particular - yet while it was big, big, big, it was well-balanced, neither hot nor unnecessarily heady. Though the wrong side of $20, it was a bargain compared to other Napa reds, an ideal wine for a special occasion with some serious food to match. Given that the less successful California vintage of 1998 is just hitting the shelves, you should snap up a '97 Saint Vincent if see one, or perhaps wait for the '99s. The 2000 Vintage will apparently contain some viognier for additional aromatic flavor; I can hardly wait.
MUSIC? American through and through, a wine with this much character, flair and flavor deserves music to match. Lava Baby's 'Big Muff' will do the trick.
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