Monday, 24 November 2008

ANOTHER Turkey Day Wine

While looking at a few posts on Twitter, I saw a series of recommendations for Thanksgiving wines. I've already done that here but there's one wine that I forgot - and it's an unforgettable wine.

The grape variety is Zierfandler (also known as Spaetrot) and it comes from Gumpoldskirchen (GREAT name!) in the Thermenregion of Austria (that's just about a 40 minute drive southwest of Vienna). Zierfandler is grown almost exclusively in this tiny region of Austria and usually is blended with a related variety, Rotgipfler, also from the region. Whether separate or apart these wine grapes make some really delicious wine that pairs well with light and/or heavy flavors.

About a year ago I had a Zierer Zierfandler at Wallse (a terrific Austrian restaurant) in New York. It was a Friday night and I was dining alone so to keep tables free for larger groups, I was eating at the bar. While waiting for my meal, I had a glass of the Zierer which I also drank with my crab appetizer. I was going to order a Blaufrankisch to go with my duck main course, but the bartender suggested that I try a bit more Zierfandler to see how it went. Wow! It was wonderful - fragrant and spicy with crisp acidity, lovely minerality and some smooth creaminess on the palate but with enough backbone that it stood up to the duck yet didn't overwhelm the crab. A cameleon wine - and the perfect suggestion for the typically multi-flavored Thanksgiving meal.

It won't be easy to find a Zierfandler in your typical wine store but it's well worth searching for. I have some (of course) so UK consumers will be satisfied. And those of you in the US, especially in New York, should be able to find it at a number of stores ( lists at least 6 stores with Zierfandler and 1 with Spaetrot in New York, and quite a large number with Rotgipfler throughout the Northeast). If you're on the West Coast or the Mid-west, you'll probably have to order on-line. Make the effort to find this - it will make your Thanksgiving happy.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Turkey Day - wine suggestions

For someone living in the UK, I don't think about Thanksgiving very much (except in the generic sense of giving thanks). I'm always surprised when someone asks me this time of year "what are you doing for Thanksgiving?" I've lived in Europe for 23 years now and I don't think I've "celebrated" Thanksgiving with a traditional American turkey dinner in all that time.

So, why am I thinking about it now? Probably because I was thinking about wines to have with turkey because I'm in the process of preparing a Cajun-brined Smoked Turkey Breast (yum!) and was thinking about what to drink with it. So here are some ideas -

Zinfandel is particularly great with turkey. The bright, berry character of Zin seems to blend well with all the diverse flavors of a typical turkey dinner. If you're going to have a Zin, look for a Seghesio and, particularly, their Sonoma County Zin. It's good value and absolutely delicious.

Another great wine for turkey is a good rosé. The best rosé for this IMHO is one that tends to be closer to a red than a white (most rosés don't know what they want to be when they grow up). So look for some of the full-bodied Portuguese rosés like the Redoma Rosé from Dirk Niepoort or the CARM Rosé. Similarly, some of the Austrian rosés made from their indigenous grapes work very well with turkey. Here, look for the Brundlmayer or Jamek Zweigelt Rosé or, perhaps, a Schilcher Rosé from Franz Strohmeier.

All of these wines, except the CARM which is sold out, are available at

So, enjoy your Turkey day, and give thanks.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Trekking the Inca Trail with Classic FM Music Makers

As I'm sitting here on my backside recovering from the operation on my feet, I've set myself a goal of getting back into shape. What better way to do that than to trek the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu on behalf of a good cause. So I'll be raising money for Classic FM Music Makers and I've added a badge on this site to allow you to contribute, too. Please help me raise funds for this good cause.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

"Pre-installed" versus "Alternative" wines

Matt Kramer made a great point in his recent article in "Wine Spectator" (15 Nov 08 issue, page 38). He talked about "pre-installed" versus "alternative" wines. What he meant (and said far better than I) is that most wines are provided by a few HUGE wine mega-players (Constellation, Diageo and Gallo). These wines are the ones that we see in our supermarkets and High Street shops. Citing an analogy to "pre-installed" software on a computer, Matt calls these "pre-installed" wines. They are easy for us. They are right in front of us and no real effort is necessary to get them. Similarly, there are "alternative" wines like "alternative" software that you have to find and install yourself. These alternative wines aren't available from the big companies and, hence, aren't in the shops where most people do much of our wine buying.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with "pre-installed" wines but they do tend to be "safe" - made from well-known varietals, grown in well-known places by well-grown and usually very large producers. By their very nature, these wines receive less personal attention from the producers. If a winemaker is making millions of bottles of wine each year, much of the process is mechanized or the tasks are simplified and performed by many assistants. Less personal attention is focused on each barrel or each wine. There is also a tendancy, perhaps a necesscity, to make these wines in a formulaic way. Again, there's nothing wrong with that but some of the excitement and interest that makes me love wine so much is lost.

"Alternative" wines, on the other hand, are usually made by small producers, from unusual varietals grown in less-well-known parts of the wine world. There is excitement and mystery in every bottle. More attention has been paid to the wines by the producers. There is more love in the bottle.

This is scary for most wine drinkers. They might not like the wine. It might taste "different". There is the fear of making a wrong decision. And yet, there is so much upside to these wines. They ARE different. It's not the same old, same old. And often, these alternative wines really like food - they enhance the dining experience by matching very well with what we eat.

We need more intrepid wine explorers.

How do we get wine drinkers to expand their horizons and become wine explorers? I'm not really sure. The best I've been able to do is to offer lots of tutored tastings to introduce consumers to these wines. I would be grateful for any suggestions.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Supermarket wines - they're not really bad, they're just boring

I read a recent blog yesterday from Jamie Goode, the Wine Anorak, in which he commented and reviewed one of Jancis Robinson's "Wines of the Week", a supermarket Chardonnay. Some of his comments reminded me of some issues raised at an Italian tasting I did on Monday night.

The issue was "what about supermarket wines?" in relation to quality. Given modern winemaking techniques, it is pretty difficult to make a bad wine today. Perhaps it will be thin, one-dimensional, out-of-balance (fruits, alcohol and/or tannins fighting with each other), or simply not to your taste, but there are very few BAD wines made today, provided basic good hygiene is observed in the vineyard and the cellar.

So why don't I like supermarket wines? Because they are BORING! To me they are the Coca Cola of wines. They taste the same today and they did last week as they will next year. They are made to a formula and you get no sense of place from the wines.

So celebrate diversity - drink wines from small producers made from unusual varieties in places you don't know well. But you won't find these at the supermarket or in the High Street shops. You'll have to look for them from specialists. But I can assure you that the search for them will be worthwhile.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Cafe Strudel Wine Dinner, 11 Sept 08

Cafe Strudel is a new Viennese restaurant in Richmond (a suburb of London). With the atmosphere of an elegant Viennese coffee house, excellent pastries and a variety of coffees and teas during the day, a short but satisfying lunch menu, a changing dinner menu offering highlights of Austrian cuisine, and the BEST Austrian winelist I've seen in the UK, this is a peach of a place in normal circumstances. Last night was far from ordinary.

Last night Cafe Strudel had their first "event" - a Viennese Food & Austrian Wine Tasting Dinner. The place was completely sold out and from the comments received during and after the dinner, it was a rousing success!

We opened with a glass of Stift Klosterneuberg 2006 Mathäi Brut - 100% Chardonnay and comparable to a Blanc de Blanc Champagne. Lovely and refreshing, with a biscuity nose and creamy mousse. It was particularly fitting to start with a wine from Stift Klosterneuberg because that is where commercial winemaking really began in Austria nearly 1,000 years ago.

The starter was Seared King Scallops with Coral Sauce. This was accompanied by a glass of Josef Hirsch 2005 Grüner Veltliner Heiligenstein. The scallops were delicate and savoury and the wine was quintessentially Austrian - refreshing with zippy acidity, with citrus, melon and pepper on the nose and lovely minerality. Like most Grüner Veltliner, this is a wine that will match very well with a variety of dishes.

This sequed into Saddle of Rabbit with Butternet Squash Dumpling and Stuffed Cabbage with a glass of Jamek 2005 Zweigelt Jochinger Rosé. The rabbit was sadly pretty bony as it often can be and it could have been just a bit more strongly spiced, but the squash dumpling was excellent and offered a nice contrast. The stuffed cabbage added to the fine presentation but wasn't particularly notable. However, the Jamek Rosé was inspirational - great varietal character and richness in a wine that is actually very light. This wasn't some insipid rosé that could come from anywhere, it spoke of its origins and offered real flavour even for people who don't normally like rosé. In fact, it was the favourite wine of the night for many of the diners. This would pair well with many different dishes like the Hirsch Grüner Veltliner.

The main course was Rostbraten Rump Steak with Mushrooms, Mustard Marmalade and Tender Swiss Chard Ribs. Again, I would have seasoned the beef a bit more strongly and it really needed just a bit of salt to brighten its flavours. The mustard marmalade really added zip to the dish. Overall quite good but it needed a bit more work. The wine was Netzl 2005 Rubin Carnuntum Zweigelt Selection and, again, was extremely good, spicy with rich, dark berry fruit and soft, smooth tannins. The red wine drinkers in the crowd were very impressed.

The finish was a real hit - Cherry Strudel with Kirsch Ice Cream served with a glass of Spaetrot-Gebeshuber 2006 Zierfandler/Rotgipfler. The strudel was tart/sweet with a rich accompaniment of ice cream and was perfectly matched with the Zierfandler/Rotgipfler (a blend of unusual Austrian varieties from the Thermenregion southwest of Vienna). The wine was just barely sweet so it didn't fight with the dessert and, in fact, both the strudel and the wine became richer in each others' company.

This was a fabulous introduction to events for Cafe Strudel. There's an opera night coming up and a goose dinner and much more. Everyday dining is also excellent with a delightful host in Orly Kritzman-Kadron, attentive and efficient wait-staff, and a kitchen that is inventive and coming into its own. And the winelist - gems from top to bottom and they are very fairly priced.