Welcome to our 2nd installment of The Friday Fermentable, Terra Sigillata’s Friday fun-blogging feature. You can read our mission statement at the original post last week, but the goal, briefly, is to celebrate the particular class of natural products that result from the yeast-based fermentation of sugars from grapes, malted barley, and any plant-based sugar source. Our target audience is the graduate student or postdoc who, in my day, was usually pretty poor but starving for culture and knowledge (Shelley Batts’ $25K graduate stipend at Michigan notwithstanding).
So, I spoke last week of my mentors who introduced me to the world of wine in the spirit of education and appreciation instead of one based in exclusion and snobbery. Believe it or not, the first post caught the eye and enthusiasm of one of my most influential mid-career mentors, a writer who shall go by the name, Erleichda. As he is my scientific senior (only slightly, mate!) in a very complementary research position, he is also an equally rich source of expertise and breadth in the area of wine apprecation. Earlier this week, Erleichda sent me a proposed guest post for The Friday Fermentable and it was really too good to simply put off for another day.
So, in only our second week, I hand it off to the legend – not just for the wine, but also for the cheese pairings (again, another natural product that usually employs some sort of microbiological assistance). And, to my grad student and postdoc readers, this is the kind of guy you want to train with:
Recent Wine Experiences – from another Enthusiast – by Erleichda
A few weeks ago I decided to invite the whole crew over to our place for a wine and cheese tasting/pool party. Can’t have them just discovering and characterizing new drugs; they needed some time off. Of course, there was my favorite assortment of easy- to- sample, summertime, wine -friendly foods, everything from smoked blue fish, grilled salmon, marinated Island pork tenderloin with mango salsa, humus, tabouleh, olives, fresh figs, dolmades, garden cucumbers and tomatoes in olive oil, spicy grilled sausages such as Andouille and homemade Milwaukee bratwurst, etc. The crowd was not what one might describe as “wine sophisticated” (which isn’t to say they don’t recognize something they like when they taste it!), and impressing them with expensive wines was never contemplated. Rather, affordable wines appropriate for a summer day’s outing was what I had aimed to provide.
Since we’re planning to go off to New Zealand’s South Island for a few weeks later this year, I thought “wines of New Zealand” might serve as a theme for the party. Predominantly white wines– and everyone should be introduced to the sauvignon blancs of NZ — but a proper sampling seemed called for, including chardonnay, a Riesling, and one pinot noir (red) as a closer. Now this was not intended as a comparison with other wines of the same grape varieties from different parts of the world. That approach would be the basis of a different type of tasting, and we’ve had an interesting day some years back doing just that with pinot gris/grigio from half dozen places around the world. Just NZ bottlings for this occasion, so as to introduce folk to NZ’s up and coming place in the world of wines.
The cheese too, is worth mentioning, since I’m continually searching for wonderful cheese accompaniments to the wines I imbibe and serve (are not these too, fermentation products, albeit not ethanol?). Ladotiri, an oil-cured Greek/Cretan sheep/goat cheese is a perennial favorite for wine tastings with its olive flavor, as is Kasseri, another sheep/goat blended Greek cheese, also with an olive tang. These were big hits at the tasting party and I really like both of them. Another standout was P’tit Basque, a sheep cheese from the French side of the Pyrenees (and discovered in the Lot Valley of France this Spring, but that’s for another wine escapade story) with a mild nutty essence, and Dorothea, the potato-skin flavored Dutch goat cheese. Receiving no particular accolades or disparaging comments were Chabichou du Poitou, a French goat cheese, and Ossau-Iraty, a French sheep cheese, also from the Pyrenees. Lastly, the one cheese few liked and many intensely disliked, La Yerbera, a goat cheese from the Murcian region of southeast Spain with an almond flavoring.
The first wine on the tasting list was a 2005 Babich sauvignon blanc. It had all the lively grapefruit and lime zest typical of how this grape variety has come to express itself in NZ. Similarly, a 2005 Monkey Bay sauvignon blanc had those citrus undertones with a more herbaceous character. Both these are, I think, typical NZ sauvignon blancs. Of the two, I favored the Monkey Bay. The 2005 Brancott chardonnay was fine, nothing special, but pleasant, with the same hints of citrus seen in the sauvignon blancs, but more rounded (not as acidic). The same general description could be given for the 2004 Governor’s Bay chardonnay, perhaps with slightly more oak to the tasting experience. The last white was a 2004 Spy Valley Riesling. Some partygoers said this was their favorite, but its off-dry sensations, also with a citrus undertone, were not to my liking. (I prefer dry Alsatian Rieslings, and this NZ version just wasn’t ‘my thing”.) But I had it among the wines to be sampled so that everyone could get a smattering of what NZ vintners were producing, and as mentioned, it was the standout offering according to several attendees. All of the white wines just mentioned were purchased at roughly $12/bottle. The one red in the tasting was a 2005 Kim Crawford pinot noir. It was a nice enough red table wine, with the expected cherry and other fruit undertones, along with a touch of oak. For the price paid ($16, although available for a few dollars less if you have time to hunt), I’d rather have had a California Castle Rock pinot noir, but this was a NZ tasting.
All in all, the wines were pleasant, went well with the foods served, and were affordable examples of NZ efforts in this industry. Could we have had much finer examples of NZ’s wines while keeping to the $12-16 range? The benefits of your own experiences would be appreciated so as to possibly enhance the next round of offerings at a future NZ wine tasting. And since we’re off to the South Island in a few months, examples of your own favorite NZ wines, and wineries particularly worthwhile visiting, will be welcomed.
Before the summer ends, another gathering is being planned for a different smorgasbord of a region’s wines, the wines of Virginia. At this year’s annual pilgrimage to that area, I visited some old favorite wineries, as well as a few new ones. I was hoping to find some more late 1990s “Hardscrabble” from Linden Vineyard (but couldn’t find any despite searching in a half-dozen wine shops), and Veritas’ Orthello from just a few years ago (all gone), my two favorites (both reds) from the state, but did carry away nearly two cases of assorted wines for this upcoming tasting. And special thanks to Afton Mtn’s Shinko and Tom for putting a label on the first of this year’s 2005 Gewurztraminer bottling so I could carry it home. I’ll let you know how the party turned out and what was thought about the array of Va. wines we taste.
Abel here again. Thanks again for sharing your experience with us, Erleichda – and that’s the beauty of Erleichda’s approach to wine: one of inclusiveness and education, just as he is as a scientist. Hey, is it time yet for me to have another sabbatical? I may have to at least make the trek to Erleichda-ville for the Virginia tasting – did you have a chance to try any of the organic wines yet from the Blenheim Vineyards owned by Dave Matthews?
Finally, if I may also add my own New Zealand suggestion because of its very wide American distribution, it would be Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc (Marlbourough), now in its 2004 release. I was first introduced to it at Legal Seafoods in Washington DC’s National Airport and found it goes fabulously with oysters and clams, or just by itself in this sweltering summer. It’s a beautiful, crisp wine full of citrus, and an aroma that takes my brain back to the grassy hillsides where the wine originates. Depending where you live, Nobilo can be had for as little as $7/bottle.
Go forth and enjoy…and, please, add your own thoughts and feedback in the comments.