Friday, May 31, 2019

Picnicking with Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco #ItalianFWT

Stepping into June, it's time to line up some chilled wines for summer activities. Be it picnics in the park, outdoor concerts or BBQ gatherings by the beach, I sometimes struggle with what wine to bring. Cavas from Spain, Rosé from Provence and Proseccos from Italy are my safe go-to’s. As prompted by Jennifer Gentile Martin from Vino Travel Italy's invite for bloggers to share their experience with Lambrusco wines via #ItalianFWT, the fizzante Lambrusco wine is no doubt another brilliant summer wine option that most people forget. Thinking also a little bit outside the bottle, I planned to write this post with a picnic theme and wanted to find a canned wine
Effortlessly, I found Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco which may very well be the only canned Lambrusco in the US. Well as expected, I enjoyed the Frico Lambrusco as well as the convenience of a can in the picnic. Something unexpected did, however, result from the Instagram/Twitter I posted on this wine. Before I get into the little controversy, let's not be sidetracked and first focus on learning this wine region. 
Lambrusco wines come from the Emilia-Romagna region in north-central Italy. The region borders with Marche (at its east), Tuscany (south), Liguria (west), Lombardy (northwest), Veneto (northeast), and with the city of Modena in the center. The five most notable appellations that produce Lambrusco wines are:
•Lambrusco di Sobrara DOC
•Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC
•Lambrusco Reggiano DOC
•Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC
•Lambrusco Mantovano DOC

In addition to the DOCs, there is IGT Emilia where Lambrusco wines can also come from. Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) Emilia is a designation that was established officially in 1995. Under the Italian wine laws, wine producers in IGT Emilia have more freedom to innovate and can break loose from the tradition quite a bit to produce wines that particularly cater to international markets. Wine producers all over Emilia have joined the bandwagon and embraced IGT Emilia, which has provided an economically viable way for this region to develop beyond its traditional portfolio of wine styles. Having a bird’s eye view of IGTs - there are 118 IGTs all over Italy, forming an integral part of the wine domination system of the country. They bear significance in the wine industry especially in the context of exports to global markets and diversification in wine styles and help generate wine revenues to the Italian government. IGTs should not be generalized as areas for only inexpensive and mass-produced wines, as some of the wines like Super Tuscany from IGT Toscana are of superb quality and fetch top dollars from the customers.  The Frico Lambrusco is a wine that's from IGT Emilia. 
Lambrusco also refers to a collection of grape varieties indigenous to Emilia without any cloning. The most commonly found six Lambrusco varieties are Grasparossa, Maestri, Marani, Montericco, Salamino, and Sorbara. Most Lambrusco wines are made from a combination of these Lambrusco varieties with or without an additional blending as per the permission of applicable wine laws and the winemakers' styles. 

The Frico Lambrusco is made from three Lambrusco grapes: Grasparossa, Maestri, and Salamino. The color of the wine is a deep purplish ruby. It's frothy with tiny bubbles that doesn’t have a very lasting foaming effervescence. With an alc of 9.5%, it is light to medium body. While it has a butterfly touch of sweetness and a light hint of smokiness, this wine is dry like brut. The crushed red berry flavors are prominent as you sip, finishing with a long tart finish. It's lively, colorful, and refreshing, and after all, it dares you to take anything so seriously. In a 250ml can form, which retails for $3.99, this wine chills fast in the fridge and remains chilled in a thermal bag. 
To pair this wine, I grilled some home-made thick-cut pork belly/bacon on the BBQ, making a hearty BLT sandwich. I also added a bag of yuca chip and a huge slice watermelon to the picnic basket. It was a delicious and happy picnic basket that has the fizz and fun Frico Lambrusco and juicy bacon plus the warm sun and a picture-perfect scene that anyone wants to emulate!
Let's get to the controversial part of the story. I heard about the stigma associated with Lambrusco consumed in the US back in the '70s and '80s and stayed away from the brands that caused the bad rap. Having a thorough read-up on the tech sheet of the Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco, I decided this wine can reflect the fun spirit of a Lambrusco wine, especially in its casual yet effective form of a can for my picnic. Why not give it a try! 
@iLambrusco, probably a Lambrusco enthusiast/expert, saw my Twitter post of this wine and countered that a Lambrusco wine must be red, 10.5% alc or above, secco (bone dry or dry) with a maximum of 15 g/l sugar, and is never in a can. The Frico Lambrusco is what locals consider as an industrial grade wine as its alc is only 9.5%. I reached out to Scarpetta and got a reply from Bobby Stuckey M.S, one of the owners of the company, "Technically if you are one of the 8 DOC's of Lambrusco you must be a min of 10.5. With saying that there are many delicious Lambruscos that may be lighter and more refreshing and not looking for DOC status. As you noted, we are using a can and traditional varieties. I truly think a wine like Lambrusco does wonderful in a can and makes it perfect for Picnics, Hikes, or just using in a restaurant in a single serving size." Given the source of this wine is from the IGT Emilia where looser Italian wine rules apply, I think it is absolutely great that Scarpetta, a new brand of Lambrusco, taps into a new generation wine drinkers' needs by introducing a new wine packaging. Judging by the extensive distribution network this wine reaches in the US, Canada, and Mexico, it indicates that somehow something is working well for this wine. On the other hand, I also genuinely understand @iLambrusco's mission to safeguard the tradition of Lambrusco and appreciate the insight he or she presented that prompted me to research and learn more about IGTs and Lambrusco.

Let’s taste more Lambruscos from my blogger friends…

Friday, May 17, 2019

Exploring Languedoc-Roussillon with Chateau Millegrand Mourral Grand Reserve Minervois + Chinese Charcuterie Board #Winophiles

It’s an old bottle that has been tucked away at the back of the cellar. It’s long forgotten until I recently signed up to blog about wines from Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, and checked my "inventory". The beat-up label of this 2010 Château Millegrand Mourral Grande Reserve Minervois brought back the memory...excitement and a sense of intimidation of not knowing what these wines were, when I received this wine as part of my first case of wines from the WSJ Wine Club many years ago. This month’s #winophiles blog was kindly coordinated by L.M.Archer whose invite has a focus on Gérard Bertrand, a legendary producer in Languedoc-Roussillon. I detour a bit and explore Languedoc-Roussillon via the lens of the its subregion, Minervois and a taste of my forgotten bottle.
Minervois is an appellation in northwestern Languedoc-Roussillon and is famous for its red wines. Its terroir is not particularly complex. As part of the gently sloped vineyards around the Montagne Noire’s southern edge, the Clamoux, Argent Double, Ognon and the Cesse rivers all run down the Montagne Noire to the Aude, forming an amphitheater. Over time, a series of terraces are made from stones, clays, schiste (i.e., medium-grade metamorphic rock that has visible minerals) and limestone. The clay/stony soils make it prone to producing deep and powerful reds. 
Photo Credit: Benoit France
With an area of 5,000 hectares, around 1,300 producers in Minervois have been producing approximately 94% red, 2% white, 4% rosé. Minervois’s reds (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Lladoner Pelut, Carignan, Cinsault, Terret, Aspiran, Piquepoul) offer a variety of styles that make them excellent entry-level French wines, especially considering their relatively low retail price.

Looking at the larger picture, Languedoc-Roussillon is a large and diverse wine region in the south of France where the Mediterranean climate drives the long-standing heat and sun. It stretches from Nîmes and Montpellier in the east, around the Mediterranean to the Spanish border. Languedoc groups together various appellations including the all-encompassing Pays d’Oc, Languedoc AOPs (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) as well as the more geographically focused AOPs such as Corbières, Minervois, Coteaux du Languedoc and Côtes du Roussillon. 

With a continuous fame for reds, like Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault, the region does produce white wines that vary considerably in quality and style. 

Château Millegrand-Mourral in Minervois is owned by the Bonfils family, who spearheaded the recent quality revolution that transformed the region. Jean-Michel and his three sons undertook the renovation of the vineyard and cellar at this historic property, then brought in Olivier Bayle, from Bordeaux's legendary First Growth Château Lafite, to make the wine. Olivier sourced the barrels for oak ageing from another famous cru classé Bordeaux estate, Château Gruaud Larose.

The 2010 Château Millegrand Mourral Grande Reserve Minervois is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah with an ABV of 13.0%. As it’s poured into the decanter, the color is deep violet. Given the age of the bottle, initially the notes and taste of the wine didn’t come through as much of anything other than tart cherries. Two hours into the decanter though, the wine seemed to be revived and started to release notes of cherry, bright acidity, light tannin and subtle oak. The finish is short and pleasing. Decanting also helps remove the visible sediment. Compared to the online tasting notes that were written a few years back, this wine was much more intense than the current version of it. Ageing does smooth out this wine! 
To pair with this lean wine, I did a Chinese-style charcuterie board that showcases lean protein like the Chinese cold-cuts that are available in larger Chinese grocery stores which have hot buffet table as well as the pre-made food stored in the open fridge section. Before we dive right into the cold-cuts, one thing I must mention is the concept of “master sauce”. This is the braising concoction (滷水)that is deeply flavored with soya sauce, 5 spices, Chinese licorice root, ginger, molasses, anise, Sichuan peppercorns…whatever that secret family recipe calls for, and is the broth base where all the meat (e.g., all parts of beef, pork and chicken) and shell-less hard boiled eggs are cooked and sit in there for hours to allow maximum flavor to develop. 

Before savoring, let’s take a look at what’s on the charcuterie board:

Shopping List: 
  • Beef shank cold cuts
  • Pork tongue cold cuts

  • Chicken liver pâté: home cooked chicken liver and gizzards in the braising concoction that are coarsely chopped and creamed up with a 1 tablespoonful of butter.

  • Spiced small dry tofu: slice, heat up in microwave and spoon some of the braising sauce or BBQ sauce over.
  • Pork salami: pan-fry like a hot dog and serve
  • BBQ flavored Tofu pieces 
  • Pop-Pan scallion crackers
  • Sweet Soya Sauce pickled cucumber
  • Muscat grapes
    A long-lost friend resurfaces and has a complete change of character, like this Château Millegrand Mourral Grande Reserve. No drama queen or king…it’s still a pleasing fellow that we can cling to.  

    Check out our blogger friends' related posts!

    Friday, May 10, 2019

    Biodynamic Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Noir from Johan Vineyards Plus Surf ‘n’ Turf Dinner #WinePW

    by Pinny Tam
    Pinot Noir is near and dear to my heart as it was my first love in wines around seven years ago. Also, in the same year, I went to my first Wine Blogger Conference 2012 which was hosted in Portland, Oregon and showcased mostly Willamette Valley producers and wines. Without knowing anyone in the WBC#2012, all the Pinots poured in the conference kept me company for a day or two and made me friendly enough to make new friends for the rest of the trip. During that trip, I heard about biodynamic and organic farming, but didn’t pay too much attention as my focus was on the appreciation of the Pinots and mingling. Jade Helm of Tasting Pour recently sent out a #WinePW blog invite on biodynamic wines of Willamette Valley, which not only brought back some fond memory of the fantastic Pinots I tasted in Willamette Valley, but also opens a bigger-picture discussion - biodynamics and sustainability that wine lovers should really pay attention. 
    Photo Credit:

    Nevertheless, biodynamic farming is more than a new process of doing the old-school farming. It’s inherently a philosophy that vineyards need to buy in spiritually and actionably in order to be successful in it. Let’s see how Johan Vineyards does biodynamic farming in Wilamette Valley – their own way.

    Johan Vineyards resides on 85 acres of gently sloping estate vineyards in the heart of the Willamette Valley. Adjacent to the Van Duzer corridor, their vineyards are influenced by the daily temperature changes, contrasted between afternoon ocean breezes and cool evening temperatures - favorable to ripen the Burgundian grape varieties. The combined effects of the marine influence as well as the marine sedimentary soils craft the unique terroir of Johan Vineyards. 
    Photo Credit: Johan Vineyards
    While the terroir is “nature”, the vineyard management practices are “nurture” – to optimize the potential of the grapes. Johan's vineyard management is well-structured and methodical (click the Block number and "Back to the Map" to learn about what varieties are grown in the Block), breaking down into multiple blocks that feature 13 different varieties, with 10 clones of Pinot Noir and seven of Chardonnay, multiple rootstocks, across varying aspects and soil types. Overlaying the well-designed blocks are the biodynamic farming methods and accents of permaculture design that are implemented with discipline and an eye for sustainability, leading to Johan’s attainment of Demeter Certified biodynamic® and Stellar Certified Organic. Their biodynamic farming focuses on the entire farm as one living organism, which mimics the natural microbiological ecology of the soil. Healthy soil that is also cultivated through the assimilation of its own natural nutrients over time becomes the healthy base for more disease-resistant vines to grow. In short, the winning formula is: (good terroir + good farming practice) x (healthy soil + healthy vines + healthy grapes) + skillful but no overmanipulative winemaking techniques = good wines!

    I’m delighted to receive the 2016 Grüner Veltliner and 2015 Pinot Noir "Estate" as samples from Johan Vineyards via @wvwine. These wines are very different from the Austrian Grüner Veltliner and California Pinot Noir I recently tasted. In my Instagram post, I have used five words to describe each of these wines. 
    Grüner: rich, exotic, textured, earthy, medium-finish
    Pinot: refined oak, medium-bodied, nuanced, herbaceous, long-finish

    Johan Vineyards from Willamette Valley Oregon (US) practice Demeter Biodynamic, contributing to the impressive 47% of the Oregon vineyards that deploy BioD. Johan’s wines reflect their terroir and the focus they put into sustainable farming. Healthy soil yields healthy vines, bolstering a continuous cycle of quality grape harvests. 2016 Grüner Veltliner: rich, exotic, textured, earthy, medium finish 2015 Pinot Noir “Estate”: refined oak, medium-bodied, nuanced, herbaceous, long finish 🥢Recommended pairings: 🦐🦑seafood medley; 🐔curry ground chicken in phyllo dough puff; 🐷Chinese BBQ baby back ribs • • #chinesefoodandwinepairings #chinesefoodandwinepairing #johanvineyards #oreganwines #willamettevalleyvineyards #willamettevalley #wine #winelover #winelovers🍷 #winelover🍷 #biodynamicwine #stellarorganicwinery #biodynamicwines #biodynamicfarming #grünerveltliner #pinotnoir #pouringwine

    A post shared by Pinny Tam (@pairchifoodwine) on
    This 2016 Grüner Veltliner is rich and has nice chews to it and its acidity lingers and replays after each sip. It also has an unusually high ABV of 13.60% which is not typically seen in Grüner (for example, typically at 11.5% in Austrian Grüner). The grapes came entirely from their own estate and were crushed and destemmed before pressing. The richness of the wine is probably attributed to the knowledge in styling the wine with different type of oaks - barrel fermented with native yeasts in two 500-liter French oak puncheons and one 225-liter barrique, and aged sur lie for 10 months.

    While the Grüner has a big and great personality, the 2015 Pinot Noir “Estate” is reminiscent of a well-grounded person who has a strong track record of delivering good work and won’t disappoint! The goal behind the estate bottling is to make a wine that is representative of the entire farm. The grapes selection process is as rigorous as a college admission process that emphasizes on diversity, representation in all aspects, but also quality. Johan picked small parcels of grapes from every combination of rootstock/scion, slope, soil profile, and vine age throughout the property. They keep all lots separate through vinification and aging to evaluate and learn how each parcel performs over the different vintages, and then bring them together for a harmonious blend in the bottle. This Pinot is the most representative of the growing year and is the most accurate representation of Johan’s true terroir. For the 2015 Pinot Noir, it was made from all ten clones of Pinot Noir grown in their estate vineyards. The grapes were fermented using native yeasts. The wine was aged for 10 months in French oak barrels, 30% of which were new.

    While the wines may not complete me, they certainly inspire me to cook dishes that I usually don’t do at home. In light of the rich Grüner and the delicacy of the Pinot, I've devised three dishes, Surf ‘n’ Turf style, that can pair well with each of the wines and embrace its characters.
    The “Bird Nest’ is a Cantonese banquet dish. It is an intimidating dish to make specifically the “nest” part. I used a food processor to julienne a taro (a root vegetable that resembles the taste of potato but it’s starchier). I laid the julienned taro to cover a larger strainer and pressed it with another one down to the hot oil for a deep-fry. Well, the first trial was not a success as the shredded taro was stuck to the strainer and didn’t come out as a nest. It certain tasted good as taro fries though. I then used a smaller strainer and finally it came out like a smaller nest for baby birds. Atop the nest, I sautéed scallop, shrimp and latticed squid with vegetables like snap peas, carrots, bamboo shoots, baby corn and straw mushrooms. The “Bird Nest” works well with both wines as the Grüner complements the seafood while the Pinot cuts out the grease of the fried taro.

    The Curry Ground Turkey and Onion in Phyllo Dough Puff is a relatively simple dish. It doesn’t take too long to make but gets the best presentation on the plate. The Grüner enhances the exotic curry flavor of the turkey fillings, while the Pinot tames the buttery richness of the phyllo dough. See how it is made: 

    Curry Ground Turkey and Onion in Phyllo Dough 
    • 10 sheets of Phyllo dough 
    • Panko bread crumb
    • ½ pound ground turkey
    • 1 medium onion
    • 1 teaspoon curry powder
    • 1 tablespoon of Hoisin Sauce
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
    • 1 egg
    • Melted butter
    • Lemon juice
    • Pan fry the ground turkey and julienned onion with curry powder, Hoisin sauce and salt. Sprinkle the chopped parsley at the very end and dashes of lemon juice.
    • Cool the cooked turkey down completely before applying it into the phyllo dough.
    • Turn the oven on to 350 degree. Or follow the instructions on the package.
    • Roll out the phyllo dough carefully and lay two sheets of the dough on a clean surface. Apply melted butter on the dough - 2 sheets at a time, lightly sprinkle Panko bread crumb evenly onto the dough, and repeat four more times. Using 8 to 10 sheets in total is about right.
    • Arrange the ground chicken onto the long side of the retangular dough and fold it carefully until it meets the other end.
    • Egg-wash the dough and put it in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until it’s golden brown.
    • Cut stuffed phyllo dough in servable size and enjoy.

    The last dish that I prepared for the wines is Chinese baby back ribs. I marinated the ribs in soya sauce, rice vinegar and Hoisin sauce and roasted the ribs at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. I reduced the marinating sauce in a sauce pan for basting purpose and to a dipping sauce. The baby back ribs are fall-off-the-bone and finger-licking good, which also pairs really well with the Grüner. The sweet Hoisin taste mingles with the exotic smell of the wine and the acidity of the white makes the ribs less heavy. The Pinot has enough complexity, which interacts amazingly with the soya sauce and rice vinegar baked into the mild BBQ ribs.

    A memorable pairing indeed…a surf ‘n’ turf dinner and two different wines that are very different and yet converge to complement the dishes. Thanks to Johan Vineyards and thanks to Willamette Valley!

    Disclosure: The wines in this post are samples. All opinions are my own.

    Check out our fellow bloggers' posts on their biodynamic Willamette Valley wines and food pairings!