Every now and again our Wine Council group goes wild – not dancing on the tables kind of wild, but wine selection wild. Rather than sample wines supplied by wineries or distributors, each member brings something of their own choosing.
It might be a new discovery, an old friend revisited or perhaps something chosen out of pure curiosity. The reasons are as varied as the selections themselves.
Here is the basic premise of the council – a small group of food and wine focused writers gather and one or two ‘citizen bloggers are also invited. Each attendee is assigned a wine and tasked with creating a ‘small bite’ food pairing. When their wine comes up for sampling, they share what they’ve learned about the wine and the rationale behind their food selection. Conversation and comments are encouraged, but must remain focused on topic at hand.
Wild card events are always eclectic and the latest gathering was no exception.
What better way to begin than with bubbles! Moët Rosé Imperial Brut is a delight for all the senses and a great way to get the creative tasting ‘juices’ going. The appealing salmon-pink hue reflects the aromas of raspberry, cherry and freshly cut watermelon. The fine mousse mixes with flavors of red berries, pomegranate and a touch of light cassis, making this a delightful aperitif wine that could certainly take you through to dessert. With that in mind, the food pairings were Chicken McNuggets, which proved a great example of how the cleansing acidity of a wine can cut through the oiliness of any food and shortbread cookies with raspberry jam that reflected the bounty of red berries in this blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Munier and Chardonnay.
Next stop was Washington State. Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Vineyard 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. The Horse Heaven Hills AVA is home to some splendid vineyards, planted in the thin layers of sandy loam soil atop a base of volcanic basalt. Classic Sauvignon Blanc notes of citrus, dried lemon peel and green apple are joined by dried grasses and light sage. The wine is refreshing on the palate with hints of light pineapple and paired well with fresh chevre and crackers made from almond flour and Herbes de Provence.
Staying in the Northwest, we moved on to reds and the first of two selections from Tertulia Cellars of Walla Walla. The winery is named from the Spanish word meaning ‘a social gathering of friends’. While this is intended to express the philosophy of the owners, its’ also an appropriate choice for this tasting event!
The 2013 Carménere proved exceedingly popular as it really expressed the character of both the variety and terroir of Eastern Washington. The deep magenta color allies with the blue-black fruit found on nose and palate. Touches of light anise, sage, bay and white pepper, are kept bright and refreshing by an undercurrent of stony minerality. The antipasto platter proved a perfect foil.
We travelled on to Sicily for our next red wine – Tasca d’Almerita Lamùri 2013. This producer has been a presence in the Sicilian wine scene for 200 years, with over 600 hectares and 5 wine estates in their portfolio. Nero d’Avola is one the more familiar varieties from the island and is grown in the higher elevation vineyards allowing the fruit to attain peak maturity and character. The wine is aged in a combination of new (20%) and older French oak barrels for 12 months and offers up a deep ruby color to compliment the aromas of clean black fruit, cassis, licorice, and forest floor. The oak is well integrated, as are the tannins, and the wine cried out for food, pairing well with several selections; eggplant and sweet pepper tapenade, plus many of the meats and roasted veg from the antipasti platter.
La Rebelde Winery is a small enterprise in the Southern California town of Lake Elsinore. Their quest is to produce natural wines in a ‘minimalist’ fashion with no animal products, no fining or filtering, and avoiding added sulfites or synthetic additives. As of May 2015, all La Rebelde wines were certified Vegan by veganaction.org.
The non-vintage Big Red #11 (named after the winemaker’s daughter, a tall, ginger-haired basketball player with the nickname ‘Big Red’) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Abundant red cherry and black peppercorn mingled with herbaceous fresh sage leaf, dried ginger and sweet vanilla. The wine has a rustic quality and went well with its intended pairing of eggplant & sweet pepper tapenade and especially the dried tomato crackers served alongside.
Our second selection from Tertulia Winery, the 2013 Walla Walla Syrah, proved extremely approachable and could easily take you from meal-prep sipping to desert – especially with something chocolate! There are lashings of vanilla and blackberry, cassis and mocha held together with gentle whiffs of cardamom seeds, light oak and a mild earthiness. The mineral finish keeps things fresh.
And while ‘fresh’ may not be the first adjective you’d think to use when describing a dessert wine, it would be perfectly appropriate in the case of our final sipper, R. A, Harrison Family Cellars 2013 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Winemaker Roger Harrison guided the dessert wine program for Beringer Winery from 1983 until launching his own enterprise in 2006.
This silky, sensuous Late Harvest does not disappoint. The deep, golden color attracts the eye while sweet aromas of peach, apricot, kumquat and French vanilla emanate from the glass. The mouth-feel is sinfully silky and, while very sweet, the finish is clean and appealing due to the masterful balance of acidity. Well crafted and classic, the wine was a perfect pairing with puff pastry bites topped with blue cheese, chevre and a drop of honey.
This Wild Card tasting provided an eclectic array of wines that took our taste buds on a journey from California to Washington State onwards to Sicily and back. Travel by wineglass is always a great adventure.
Hilarie Larson is a wine writer, and educator, who loves nothing more than traveling to vineyard and food destinations. Join her as she shares some of her experiences on the wine roads.