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Archive for September, 2010

[surdyk’s fall sale…(shoppinglist)]

Surdyk’s Fall Wine Sale starts next Wednesday the 29th and goes through October 16th.  The shopping list for a nice mixed case would look something like this:

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Alright, you ABC drinkers [Anything But Chardonnay] it’s time to stop your grapesism against this noble variety.  I admit it – I buy less Chardonnay than any other major white wine variety out there.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy its flavors – crisp apples and honey from California, chalky, steely Chablis, savory and nutty Burgundy.  It’s more that I don’t enjoy the heavy body and usual lack of acidity.  My preferred white wines [Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Vinho Verde] are all alike in that they are light and have [ideally] tongue-scraping acidity. It’s also that really nice Chablis and Burgundy cost a pretty penny. A lot of people believe with most budget-conscious Chardonnay they’re in for an over-oaked butter bomb.  Happily, if you know what to look for, that’s not the case.

The industry has responded to these complaints and un-oaked Chardonnay is everywhere.  In fact, these steel-tank fermented Chards can be so fresh and lively you’ll forget what grape you’re drinking.  It’s almost autumn, a season made for Chardonnay.  So many of the flavors of the season – turkey, squash, goose, veal, among others – go sublimely with Chardonnay.  Today, a taste-off between two un-oaked Chardonnays to ease you back from your prejudices.  Both are available at Surdyk’s for $12.99 and $13.99, respectively.

The 2009 Corvidae Mirth Chardonnay is from the Columbia Valley in Washington.  It’s a great transition from oaked Chardonnay because it still retains a fair amount of smooth natural creaminess while showing off pure expressions of the grape’s hallmark flavors – fresh apples, lemon citrus predominate.  The body is medium-heavy but still shows off a fair amount of structure.  The finish tends towards minerals and more apples – very clean, focused flavors.  Very smooth – thumbs up.

An even further deviation from the mean is the 2009 Clos LaChance Unoaked Chardonnay from Monterey County in California [Its moniker is the Glittering Throated Emerald from their Hummingbird Series].  If I were given a glass of this without knowing what it was, I think I would have guessed Viognier.  Monterey Bay funnels cold sea air into the region keeping the wines fresh in such an arid stretch of the northern Central Coast.  Chards are the main variety here – it’s known for Ridge Vineyards and David Bruce.  This wine offers pears and pineapple on the nose and a slightly vegetal component that many Monterey wines have.  Great tropical flavors on the sip, minerals, nectarines and a refreshing amount of acidity.  This is not lactic tasting at all.  This is a great gateway wine for the Chard-shy.

Just got my Surdyk’s Fall Wine Sale in the mail.  It says the Clos LaChance will be $8.99[!]  It’s going on September 29 through October 16.  My next post will be my top 5 values you need to pick up during that sale.

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Started two 1 gallon test batches of cider today.  Each is fermenting in the jugs I bought the juice in, sanitized while it was simmering, and fitted with an air-lock bubble stopper filled with sanitary solution.  I simmered each batch to kill off any ambient yeasts in the juice, but made sure not to let them boil to avoid the pectins setting.  Using two different sweeteners and two different yeasts.  I expect primary fermentation will last about two weeks.  Excited to see how these turn out.

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“We call that a good party when we spill wine on the ceiling” he says, recounting wine bottling efforts gone awry.  Fresh off his first blue ribbon win at the Minnesota State Fair, U of M Med Student Dean Langenfeld and his wife Robbie took some time over a few glasses of Amarone [while beginning fermentation on a batch of Amarone] in their South Minneapolis home to discuss amateur winemaking and his State Fair victory.

“My set up?” he laughs “I’ll show you my kitchen.”  His required equipment: a 5-gallon primary fermenter [plastic bucket] with an air-lock bubble stopper, a similarly sized carboy, a siphon and a Portuguese floor corker.  “Oh, and I have a piece of poly pipe to stir the wine while it’s in the carboy.  Robbie got me a kit from one of those Discovery or Science Channel stores about 10 years ago. It made two or two and a half gallons of wine, you didn’t need any other equipment than what they sent you.  It was made in a sturdy plastic bag.  It was a Chardonnay, it was okay, but it was a little watery.”  Since then they’ve been buying kits from Northern Brewer or Midwest Supplies, entering their wares in the Minnesota State Fair for the past three years.  He’s won 5 ribbons for 9 bottles entered, finally getting a top prize this year.

“[The blue ribbon] was for the Rosé.  I entered it last year and they didn’t like it – they didn’t give me anything.  So I reentered it this year and got the blue ribbon.  This was their commentary on the Rosé last year, so it will be interesting to compare [reading judges’ notes] ‘Has unusual apple essences.’ That’s it. [laughing]  The state fair, they have a little sweet tooth.  They seem to like the German style…Of the four ribbons for whites this year, two were Gewürztraminer and one was a Riesling.”  Dean is currently mulling these options for the white he’ll enter next year.

His winning Rosé was a blend of White Merlot and Symphony.  My tasting notes – it had a really pretty copper-salmon color to it, with strawberries on the nose, just off-dry.  Same kind of sweet berry on the sip, not much acidity, a little watery, but very light and berry-filled.  I haven’t tasted much homemade wine but I found it a very worthy effort.

His tips for other amateur winemakers: don’t worry about the ‘integrity’ of the finished product or to try to be too professional about the process.  “I remember trying to use a hygrometer to measure the sugar content, that was dumb.  I don’t have any control over the sugar content, or the alcohol content at the end.  So who cares?  Why risk contaminating it?”  Dean’s preferred method of quality control: Tasting.  “People say ‘You’re making wine’ it has to be from grape juice!’  Look, I’m making it from kits, how pure can it be?  The goal is to make it taste good.  I’m after the final product, not the art of making it.  So, I can buy these organic fruit juices… if I’m making a Gewürztraminer that usually has apricot notes, instead of when I have to add a gallon of water, I’ll add [a mixture of] apricot juice and water.  It adds a little more sugar, a little higher alcohol content, and a little more flavor.”

As we talked, he mixed up his new batch of Amarone – intrigued by the inclusion of corn sugar in the kit, and laughing at the bag of sawdust-like mixture that will impart oak flavor.  Home winemaking is much easier than home brewing, and it’s a great hobby for those constantly on the go.  “It’s great for a medical student,” he says, “If you get busy or procrastinate…it rarely goes wrong.  It’s more likely to go wrong if you take a step too fast.”

Hopefully I can go back when the Amarone is ready to bottle.  Langenfeld’s enthusiasm makes me want to get going on my own home booze project – more on that in the weeks to come.

[Thanks to Sarah Jane Walter for the terrific photos – she’s available for photography and graphic design work – check out sarahjanedesigns.net]

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[cartoon from Toothpaste For Dinner]

I realized I haven’t posted a links round-up in about a month.  I was down in Iowa researching a story, then there was no real interesting news for a week or two, then I got busy on other projects…Well, enjoy these make-up links. 

I have lots of good content on the way for you all – A couple MN Winery visits, a wine tasting event, a good interview will be posted on Sunday, and of course, more reviews of the best bottles under $20 in the Twin Cities.  Thanks for reading – Stay Tuned!   

  • Is Gruner Veltliner the remedy for the struggling New Zealand wine industry? [via Cork’d]
  • Congrats to Fulton on their new brewery – Sweet Child of Vine is probably my beer of the year right now.
  • Star Trib Story on remodelers finding pre-Prohibition hooch in a crawl space.
  • Results from the MN State Fair’s International Cold Climate Wine Competition – I heard alot of good things about Tassel Ridge when I was down in Iowa, but I only got a chance to taste one of their wines.  Congrats to Indian Island and all the other MN Wineries for a good showing this year.
  • Charles Olken, the genius behind the Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine has started blogging – what a fantastic addition to the online vino-media.
  • A Bordeaux iPhone App?  Alright.

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“The seasons they are turnin’/and my sad heart is yearnin’/to hear again the songbird’s sweet melodious tone/

Won’t you, meet me, out in the moonlight alone?”

Yes, it’s that time again.  The hollow feeling breezes, the morning commute now flirting with the dawn, the eighteen year olds in their high-school letter jackets packing coffee shops on 4th Street – autumn is upon us.  August put up a mighty humid fight, but I’m resigned to it.  Sweatpants unearthed from the back of the closet and Sauvignon Blanc bid adieu until the spring.

But wait!  I suppose there’s still time for one more.  To me, it’s kind of like wearing white after Labor Day [though I hardly ever wear white anyway], that crisp, light, zingy Sauvignon Blanc flavor just doesn’t do it for me once the mercury starts backing up.  But today was on the sunny side and I still have a list to complete in 2010.  This is Part 4 of my efforts to track down the seven wines I noted as standouts from the MN Monthly Food and Wine Experience back in February [Read parts one, two and three].

The 2008 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc is a fairly common bottle out there.  I picked it up at France 44 on sale for $10.99, I think it’s usually $12.99.  I’ve also seen it at Surdyk’s and Trader Joe’s – I’m sure it’s available more widely than that.  It has a dirty blond color with a crisp nose of grass and grapefruit – spot on.  The sip picks up some more tropical fruit flavors with some nice lime citrus in the acidity.  It’s just the right amount of tart in a light body.  The finish is pretty short, but this is a clean, fruity, easy-drinking white that has value far beyond its sawbuck tag.  Great QPR on this one – definitely an overachiever.

But what to eat with my final Sauvignon of the season?  Well, if you’re one of those people that likes eating food, you should be checking out Hungry In Brooklyn.  Shea Hess, a New Yorker by way of Minneapolis, is the older sister of my good friend and her blog makes me salivate on a regular basis [and makes me jealous of her ridiculously good production value].  She recently posted an easy preparation for mussels and there’s no protein that goes much better with Sauv Blanc.  She made fries with her mussels, I just toasted some baguette to sop up the wine/butter brine – absolutely great.

Music pairing – Bob Dylan’s 2001 album “Love And Theft“.  No one quite elocutes time rolling on like Zimmy.

“The clouds are turnin’ crimson/the leaves fall from the limbs an’/ the branches cast their shadows over stone/

Won’t you, meet me, out in the moonlight alone?”

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[Loomis Dean, LIFE Magazine]

One of the best pieces of wine writing I’ve read all year – from the September 2010 GQ.

The Second Bottle: By Alan Richman

Richman deftly sifts through the options on the most important wine choice of the evening.  Also a helpful read – his selections are right on.

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