Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Marqués del Nevado 2011 Malbec Reserva

Producer: Inversiones Corta Hojas Ltda.
Name: Marqués del Nevado
Varietal: Malbec
Region: Valle del Lontué, Valle de Curicó, Valle Central, Chile
Vintage: 2011 Reserva
Tasted: November 16, 2012
ABV: 13%

Chile's rise in the world of winemaking is a wonderful story. European grapes were originally brought to South America by the Spanish colonists, and for many generations Chilean wine was mostly cheap quaffer made for the local yokels. But then an ironic blessing befell the region. When phylloxera struck Europe's vineyards in the late 1800s, scores of prestigious wine professionals found themselves looking for work. It did not take long for word to travel: Chilean (and Argentinian) vineyards were phylloxera-free. To this day, in fact, their vines, which have never been grafted onto North American roots (the cure/prevention which saved European oenology from oblivion), have not been touched by the dastardly vermin. Well, wine experts of all sorts made their way to South America post-haste: grape growers, wine makers, wine blenders, and of course, wine merchants. But through Chilean wine was turned into something respectable in relatively short order, it was still not great.

Then, a few decades ago, Chilean wine underwent a second revolution led by another influx of foreign interest, this one having more to do with capital and operations management than with human resources. The wineries, and the combination of foreign and domestic experts running them, turned their sights northwards. They bet that American consumers would go for an import from their own side of the Pond that was cheaper than even California wine, let alone European stuff. They bet right. Chile still shows the world year-in and year-out that its wines can compete quite handily. The finest Chilean wines command some of the highest prices, and the less pricey stuff, though more expensive than it used to be even in adjusted terms, still flies off of the shelf.

One reason for all of this success, of course, is that Chilean wine has become a high-quality product. The latitudes in Chile in which wine is produced correspond roughly to the Mediterranean, though the winemakers bringing their favorite grapes with them over a century ago came from more northerly places. The most productive winemaking region in Chile is the Valle Central, directly across the Andes Mountains from Argentina's esteemed Mendoza region. Within the Valle Central are a few sub-regions, including the Valle de Curicó. It is in there, finally, that we find the Valle del Lontué, where Inversiones Corta Hojas makes Marqués del Nevado.

The 2011 Malbec Reserva has a wonderful color, rather like a garnet version of red velvet. It looks like it could envelop one in, if not complete luxury, nothing less than head-to-toe comfort lacking nothing. (And heck if that is not luxury!) The wine opens with a mild nose of reds, mainly redcurrant and rhubarb, and also of cedar, though without the punch. The palate is also mild, of red grapes and other reds. It is sweet, not too tannic at all, and medium bodied. Perhaps this Malbec could be a little rounder and fuller; its youth does show sometimes, and I noted while sipping it that I look forward to trying this wine again after some years have passed, to compare and contrast.

But really, the flavors are held up just fine when all is said and done, and it has to do with their ease and lightness. The flavor is tender; it coats the palate gently. Just as a flower petal, no matter how vibrant the color or sophisticated the texture, can naught but brush ever so lightly against the skin as it floats by, this wine, though flavorful and complex, successfully resists the temptation to smack us in the face with sugar or tannins or any other conduit of tasting notes. Instead it maintains confidence it itself for what it is, which is a lively red with delightful flavors, and presents itself simply, honestly, as such.

Yet just like anything humble, the 2011 Reserva wonders of its faults - is its delicateness done to excess? After breathing for twenty minutes it steps its presence up a tad, not too much, not even very much, but enough to let us know that it is open to new ways of expressing itself - and given the flavors present, we can be grateful that it does. The nose is the same as earlier - redcurrant, rhubarb, cedar - but with a degree of pungency. The palate, a little bolder than before, is of strawberry and rhubarb, as is the finish. The body is rounder as well.

Wait years for a change? Silly me. This Malbec has us covered pretty much on the spot. Raise a glass in thanks, and drink it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Organic Jade Cloud Green Tea

Origin: China
Type: Green Tea
Style: Jade Cloud
Purveyor: The Spice & Tea Exchange
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for 2:30, sipped plain

I suppose it is only right to open with a disclaimer about labeling this tea as organic: the pouch in which my sample of this tea was packaged at The Spice & Tea Exchange's Newport, Rhode Island, store does not say anything about being organic. However, its website does declare that the Jade Cloud Green Tea is organic. While labels can be old or printed erroneously, websites are easily correctable and updateable. So, I tend to presume that in the event of a discrepancy, the website should be given the benefit of the doubt. But again, a disclaimer is only fair for my kind patrons.

In any event, the Jade Cloud green tea is exquisite. Whatever label the Spice & Tea Exchange puts on it, that soon becomes of quite little interest in the presence of such a charismatic beverage. The dry leaves are, aptly, of a dark jade color, withered down but without curling into the leaf equivalent of the fetal position, as many other teas are wont to do. These Jade Cloud leaves are long, elegant, curvy, almost supple looking from a slight distance. And when getting a sense of their aroma, I was greeted not with a statement but with a question: can an aroma be matte? I do not mean dampened; the fruity tones are wonderfully vibrant. But there is a certain quality to them, almost like a gloss-over except decidedly not glossy - perhaps we can call it a haze-over. It is slight, and gives the aroma (which also includes an undertone of nuttiness) great texture, and in my mind's eye, when I sniff these leaves, that texture is quite distinctly matte. There is no other way to explain it.

That would normally be plenty of character for a tea, but in the case of the Jade Cloud here, we are just warming up - literally, in fact, as the water was boiling to brew the tea as I pondered the dry leaves. When brewed, the tea emerges very light, almost delicate in color. It is pale yellow. The nuttiness comes out much more in the aroma when brewed, and in fact becomes the predominant note. There is also just a touch of maltiness and fruit beneath it all. Could that maltiness be the manifestation of the matte quality that I found in the dry leaves? Could it all really have been just what malt smells like before being brewed? How intriguing.

When sipped the tea immediately shows itself to be quite comforting and cozy, key qualities this time of year. The flavor is subtle; not too tannic, not too malty, just right. The package, which mentions a chestnut flavor, is proven correct on that count. The tea is full bodied, even, and evidently glad to please. There is a bit of fruitness to the finish.

The Jade Cloud Green Tea has plenty of personality, but unlike many beverages brimming with character, it does not heave it at us in a frantic effort to boast of glitz and glam. Rather, it welcomes in anyone who would enter, and explores its own depths with us, sharing the adventure at our own pace. Such keen reserve makes it most ideal as an afternoon tea. In fact, I look forward to another cup of it this afternoon, and encourage everyone else to partake as well.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Puroast Organic Dark French Roast

Name: Organic Dark French Roast 
Roaster: Puroast 
Preparation 1: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black 
Preparation 2: Freshly ground, 5 teaspoons combined with 1.75 cups water and 0.48 ounces (4 packets) of sugar, kept over medium-low flame until ready, sipped without further enhancement

The benefits of a low acid coffee are numerous, and quite as one might expect. Those with sensitive, shall we say, central processing can rest assured that Puroast's coffee will serve them quite well. This might seem like a rather mundane feature, but those coffee lovers who have had to cut back because of pain or health risk ought to take a definite interest. And after all, heartburn, indigestion, ulcers, and other related afflictions are hardly rare.

But the opportunity will not mean very much if the coffee is sub-par, will it? The good news is, while it may not be everyone's ideal coffee, it is quite tasty. And, while I have reviewed here the dark roast, Puroast has many varieties available to suit all preferences.

French pressing the coffee yields a dark, dark brown brew, somewhere between royal mahogany and ebony in hue. The aroma, much like everything else about this coffee, is smooth. There is earthiness in the scent, and did I detect some sweetness? It must be a hint of caramel flavor. In the palate, though, all semblance of sweetness is gone. The coffee is earthy, a little smoky, and exceedingly smooth. The body is medium. There is a mild finish, earthy and buttery; one appreciates how it is unpresumptuous.

I usually dislike acid in a coffee. All of the energy that it gives to the flavors and tannins is, rather than keen and spunky, more like astringent and bleaching. It becomes frustratingly difficult to get a hold of the flavors; they go bouncing off the walls of my tongue and palate in a chaotic rather than playful manner, and heck if I can discern a single tasting note on the first or second pass. Smooth, calm, and steady; that is my thing. Therefore, though my own central processing works just fine (for now; I can hardly wait for time to go on), I very much looked forward to this low-acid coffee. So, on the whole, how did it meet its promise?

On the one hand, it is a little bit as they say: one never appreciates something until one does not have it anymore. This coffee errs on the side of flat. It is smooth as can be, with flavors on wonderful display, but lacking a tad in personality. On the other hand, especially since I was not out looking for an adventure, it can hardly have been more pleasant to have the flavors of a splendidly roasted coffee flow across the taste buds without having to stop and wait for a harsh wave of acid to wash by every other nanosecond. On balance, it is well worthwhile.

And, the Turkish preparation was even better. The coffee comes out dark, dark, and darker: totally ebony. It proffers such strong roasting notes that the full complement of sugar hardly even comes through in the aroma. But one does pick up on some earthiness and florals from the coffee itself, which is very nice. In the palate, there is plenty of sweetness that comes through. It is smooth and full-bodied. Here, the lack of acid does a perfect job of fulfilling its aesthetic promise of letting the coffee round itself out an sprawl about the mouth in a mellow, but not lethargic, way, blanketing the tongue and palate in delight. There are a couple of coffee notes here and there – nuttiness, florals, smoke – but mostly it is earthiness and sugar. There is no doubt that if one were to add other spices to flavor the brew, they would shine wonderfully. This coffee is just right for holding them up without tossing them about, blending them seamlessly without shaking anything around.

Those who suffer from certain internal symptoms, those who dislike acidity in coffee, and really anyone in general, are all encouraged to get some Puroast coffee and make a pot. It is, truly, a delight.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sella & Mosca 2007 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva

Producer: Sella & Mosca
Name: Cannonau di Sardegna
Varietal: Cannonau
Region: Sardegna D.O.C., Italy
Vintage: 2007 Riserva
Tasted: October 17, 2012
ABV: 14%

In a recent newsletter, Kermit Lynch asks his esteemed readership to consider whether Corsica is really French. Yes, of course it is administered by the French government, Lynch explains, but that is a happenstance of history and politics, and a relatively recent one at that. Corsica has been subjected to many conquering nations, and their influences, over the centuries, and really it has more to do with Italy geographically, linguistically, culturally, and, of course, viticulturally, than with France.

Lynch's point, which is well-taken, is that one ought not to confuse political association with gastronomic association. Corsica's grapes, the wineries that grow and ferment them, and the wines that arise from them, are all quite patently Italian in nature, if not in bureaucracy.

What is one to make, though, of Sardinia? Sardinians speak an Italian language, are citizens of the Italian nation, and are proud to call themselves Italian. Yet their wines, or at least the grapes used to make them, can be traced back quite directly to Spanish grapes that Spaniards planted there a few short centuries ago. The Spaniards were at liberty to import these vines, furthermore, because for nearly four hundred years they owned the island, and we can be sure that they left behind plenty of Iberian customs and folklore to go along with all of that oenology that they had established. Cannonau, Sardinia's most important red, can be traced straight back to a strain of Garnacha. The wine made from it – the principle product of a proud Italian province's viticultural tradition – tastes rather Spanish. Again, what ought one make of this?

Let's leave that question for now, and turn to the wine itself. Sella & Mosca's 2007 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva is of a true garnet color. They say that red tones induce energy and agitation, but not this red. It is deep, smooth, relaxing. The aroma is pungent, mostly from the numerous tannins. The main notes are of red berries and plums; some cherries and cranberries make appearances here and there. The wine includes a healthy helping of plum in the palate. There are other miscellaneous reds as well, and plenty of tannins to go around. The level of oakiness is perfect for a wine like this: present, and seamlessly melded into the flavor profile, but so subtle that someone not looking for it will not likely stumble into it, while someone who is looking for it will find that it disappears as soon as a glimpse is caught. One does not need the label to tell that this wine is fourteen percent alcohol, but there is no specific bite to it; it is just a little sharp, is all. Medium bodied, the wine has good structure, quite ideally suited to the flavor profile. The finish is of strawberries, and reds generally.

After aerating for twenty minutes, the Cannonau is not much changed except that it is a little sweeter. The aroma is of plums. The palate, too, includes plums, as well as cherries and even some mild florals. The wine is smoother and boasts a body that, while pleasantly rounder, has no trouble keeping its structure. The finish remains strawberry.

Sometimes wine is a welcome accessory to a relaxing evening. Depending on the food with which it would be paired, this Cannonau may or may not be the right wine for such a context. But quite often, an evening over wine is part of a vivacious and exciting time, and that is really where this would be in its element. This is not to bring up loud or noisy demonstrations of modern collective hedonism, but rather a lively table and a festive event, the kind of atmosphere to set people right among each other. Christmas dinner, or a wedding celebration lasting into the wee hours, are examples that come readily to mind. The Cannonau is bold, fruity, spicy, and delicious, perfect for red meats and a variety of poultry and pasta preparations, and an excellent complement to a bustling congregation of close friends and good company.

Ah, what a beautiful side of life. Quite typical, really, of both Spanish and Italian ways. So, which of those is the most relevant here? We might step back a little, and find accuracy in the broad: the Cannonau is Mediterranean. Indeed, it is so. And yet, that does not really do the trick after all; our finger is not quite on it. The Mediterranean itself, being a bit more obvious of an example, acts as metaphor for why: It is neither European nor Levantine, Anatolian nor African; it is its own entity, greater than the sum of its parts. It would not, could not, be the same without any of them, and yet we do not merely play hopscotch among them in defining it. So, too, ought we take care not to catch ourselves in that paradigm with our Tyrrhenian province here. The Cannonau comes from a small island that entire nations waged war to own; an outpost where classical civilizations sought to build; a little place where emperors schemed big. There is no adjective to do the Cannonau justice, except to read the label right in front of us. It is Sardinian.