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I rarely miss a chance for dessert. Possessing a sweet tooth that demands a dental sacrifice, I generally love to cap off a dinner with a Sauterne or vanilla ice cream which is just what I did (kind of, with minor alterations) after having a hearty bowl of fettuccini with Bolognese sauce (from scratch, not jar) the other night.

I decided to simplify the theme; the wines of Northwest Italy—Piemonte—would accompany my Emilia-Romagna region inspired grub. Particularly, two wines under the jurisdiction of the Dalla Terra importing group, hailing from Asti. I had a bottle of Saracco Moscato d’Asti (#153) chilling in the fridge while the 2008 Vietti Barbera d’Asti “Tre Vigne” (#152) was breathing on the countertop as the meat sauce simmered.

After another hour of stewing in its juices the sauce was nearing completion, I prepped the fettuccini, cooking until al dente and at this point I was minutes from eating. I poured the Barbera into my glass and plated the pasta, ladling copious amounts of sauce.

The journeyman Barbera had a nice core of darker fruits, herbs and underbrush on the first collective whiff. On the palate the wine had the components (acidity, tannin and body) to marry with the meal.

After dinner, I gave myself a breather, taking in some programming on Hulu before moving onto dessert. After the show (to remain nameless), I cut through the green capsule and removed the cork, pulling another glass to have the straw, golden-colored wine beam and bubble (frizzante) lustrously. On the nose that wine made me salivate, varied fragrances of pear, lychees, apple and spices all at different levels. It was enticing and much more complex than other Moscato I’d imbibed. My tongue was treated to a far greater treat than a bowl of Vanilla Ice Cream, no matter how tasty the Three Twins brand might be. The wine was equally attractive on the taste buds, weaving delicate traces of fruits and spices together in a masterful fashion. I was happy with my choice to forgo the sweet treat for a charmingly sweet drink.

The Saracco Moscato d’Asti was more than I bargained for—a showstopper—that I would look forward to drinking again. Vietti hasn’t disappointed me yet and one day I might swing for the fences, drinking their Barolos with regularity, but I am far from that day now, content to drink their everyday wine wares. My night was made a success, an infinite amount of riches bestowed on my palate from the affordable treasure troves of Dalla Terra. Grazie a mille.

Bacon fat, olive brine, truffle and any number of other complementary flavors make Syrah a pairing fascination of mine. It’s got spunk and has always been high on my list of wines to probe; less esoteric than some of my other highly ranked wines but more charming than most, with unabashedly out-there odors and its ability to pair with such a wide variety of food, there is little to dislike about this genuine varietal. I love the grape so much that I decided to make it the focus of my first group tasting (a new group) last week, to explore further terroir and the producer’s techniques—a scholastic approach to each wine than regularly figures in my other tasting group.

There were three of us—a manageable cadre—with no distractions, just three separate bottles of wine, glassware and our notes. Three bottles from three different continents (Australia, North America and Europe) between us: 2009 Tyrell’s Single Vineyard Steven’s Shiraz (#158), 2008 Moulin de la Gardette Gigondas (#157) and K Vintner’s “Cougar Hills” Syrah (#156). Though the Gigondas was primarily Grenache—as mandated by the AOC—we thought it would be fun to see how Syrah behaved when asked to play a supporting role.

We began the night with the Gigondas, listening to a succinct presentation about the wine and the region before dissecting the bottle before us. The coloring was ruby with light to medium depth in the glass. The complex bouquet of white pepper, mushroom, leather, red berries and Gorgonzola cheese had my mouth watering before I brought the Grenache-heavy blend to my lips and dabbed a tongue. I took my first sip, swooshing vigorously and expecting a lot, instead, I was alarmed by the paucity of discernible flavors; faint red fruit, moderate drying tannins, medium body and a surprisingly short finish. We were all shocked, the wine’s gorgeous bouquet translated to a truncated note—we were grasping for all that we could on that first bottle but we were left with a vanishing act. It was not a fair portrayal of Syrah so we detoured to the Pacific Northwest.

Moving on to Washington State, I gave a little talk on Walla Walla Valley—with its loess soils, dry (an average of 12 inches of rain) climate and more about the history of the AVA before discussing Charles Smith. We took a look at the wine; the “Cougar Hills” Syrah possessed a deep garnet hue in the glass. On the nose there was a decidedly meaty quality to it, with notes of bacon, barbequed meats and dark fruits. With just one sip the wine was definitely big, armed with mouth-jarring flavors of roasted coffee, blackberry, grilled meat, smoke and chocolate. The smoky Syrah from Washington State had a good hefty structure, moderate acidity, a nice not overbearing compliment (sic) of oak and a long finish that made us all but forget the previous wine.

The last bottle on the table had begun its life in the Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest growing region, an area close to Sydney, famous for its examples of Semillon and Shiraz that grow in the well-drained red clay loam in the upper and lower parts of the valley. We poured Tyrell’s Single Vineyard Shiraz that was a composite of ruby and garnet in the stemware. The wine was powerfully aromatic with notes of red cherry, vanilla and worn leather. It was bursting with bright red fruit balanced by lightly drying tannins, moderate acidity and a long simple finish. The Shiraz did not showcase enough complexity on the palate to warrant a first place finish (if we were judging) but the unembellished style was done well and though singular, it was not without breadth.

I was impressed by the many suits of Syrah, from the darker, smokier impressions to brighter expressions of fruit—Syrah could do it all. I knew this going in to the tasting but it was nice to have it reaffirmed. Next time (and in the near future), I might limit the Syrah tasting to strictly Northern Rhône exemplars because Côte-Rôtie has eluded me to this point in my wine career.

The NHL season is underway and the Ducks have started the season with an impressive record, keeping me glued to the TV and giving me another event to cover during a busy campaign (forgive me, I have been watching a lot of re-runs of The West Wing) of blogging. As I get ready to take in the season, parsing my time between blogs, actually playing hockey and wine tastings, I can only hope this is a big season for the Ducks as it will manifest nicely into many celebratory posts. Another thing that my team’s season means is that there will be less time to enjoy films, a past-time for me, as I always try to catch up over the season break, enjoying as many “classics” as I can. The difference this year has been that I introduced wine to the movie-watching process, feeding two birds from one perch, so to speak.

Far and away the zenith of my summer time movie watching came when I had a miniature Paul Newman fest. I had never seen Cool Hand Luke before and that was a huge priority over the break—to enjoy cinematic history, line after famous line—coupling the experience with two different bottles of Pinot Noir. I had my glassware ready with two glasses of similarly hued vino so that there would be little pouring distraction during the picture. While mentally tracking the film, paying attention to the scoring, actors in their youth/prime and the recognizable dialogue, I would casually sip on my first glass of 2009 Dashwood Pinot Noir (#160) from New Zealand. The fruit-forward red was packed with light tannins that made it very easy drinking. There was little to pay attention to in the wine, just never-ending fruit with moderate acidity that kept the Pinot from being out of shape. It paired well with the film, from the opening scene of Paul Newman lopping the heads off of innocent municipal property—parking-meters—through his tender banjo playing on learning of his mother’s death; the wine deferred to the movie, content to take the backseat.

The A-Z Pinot Noir from Oregon (#159) was a little bit more distracting, the flavors changed, noticeably, shifting from ripe cherry found in Pinot from New Zealand to earth and cranberry. The wine was replete with mouth-puckering acidity and lightly drying tannins. During the film, the Pinot was noisier—in an inaudible sort of way—not as eager to let the spotlight fade, nor share it with the movie. It had structure that made me pay attention to it, and thus, it was not a good candidate for movie viewing (viewing this movie), though its flavors meshed better with the tragic ending befalling Luke.

While I watched other movies in my downtime, Cool Hand Luke was definitely the most memorable, not so much for the wines—though those showed well—but for the quality of the film. Trading movie time for the coolest game on earth—hockey—is not so difficult; going forward I will trudge happily into Duck-mode and, hopefully, be afforded many opportunities to drink Champagne. Let’s Go Ducks!

It is becoming clear that Riesling is my thing. I find myself searching all over Southern California, as well as the Web, to find interesting Rieslings for the taking/tasting. On a warm fall day I had the opportunity to cool down over two separate Rieslings, sans food, letting the Rieslings work their magic.

It was warm, just a few days after being pelted with rain; there was no trace of moisture in Los Angeles. I decided to abate the unremitting heat by throwing a couple seven-fifties in the chiller. They happened to be: A bottle of 2009 Eroica Riesling (already included in the countdown) and another bottle of 2009 Dönnhoff Kabinett Riesling (#161). I waited until they were good and cold before popping them.

Beginning with the Dönnhoff Riesling, I uncorked the cool-to-the-touch German bottle, in a hurry to nose the green apple aromas leaping from the glass. It’s fragrance was powerful but simple—candied green apple. On the palate the acidity was moderate and the flavors were clean and crisp, blending Pippin apples and minerals. It had a light amount of residual sugar, sleek body (light-medium) and was absolutely refreshing. It was a good start and definitely helped battle the heat.

While enjoying the first glass of Dönnhoff, I decided to open up the Eroica Riesling. I looked forward to trying the Eroica, as it was a highly vaunted Riesling from Washington State, pairing the know-how from two big entities in the wine world—Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen. Another case for terroir, the differences between the two were numerous and eye-opening. I noticed that the Eroica’s bouquet was a completely different animal, yielding notes of golden delicious apples and orange zest. When I took my first sip the wine was much bigger than the previous Riesling, bulging like a weight lifter (medium bodied), with a-little-more-than-moderate-acidity (moderate +) zinging my taste buds, leaving behind bright flavors of apple, pear and citrus. The weight on the palate and the structure of the wine spoke volumes.

Both wines were perfectly suited for refreshment during the dog days of fall. I think the Dönnhoff Riesling was not quite as focused as the collaborative effort that sourced Washington fruit (the Eroica) for my palate, but both were deeply appreciated on a day that called for something cooler.

The Six has been a candidate in my almost-weekly-burger quest for the last couple of months, losing out to some other viable running mates in the race along the way. This week, however, I was looking to explore the highly touted restaurant off Pico Boulevard and Overland Avenue to celebrate a birthday.

I had numerous people build up this burger before I had ever had it and I was curious if it would live up to the hype, or lead to its own demise, suffering the Napoleon Dynamite effect. There were five of us celebrating my roommate’s brother’s birthday—he was turning 21—and we would be having what was billed as the “best” burger around, sharing a round of beers and one glass of wine while enjoying the inviting environment of the Westside eatery.

The Six was impressively designed, featuring a communal table, a booth and lots of smaller tables under wan lighting, fostering an intimate mood perfect for dates. The vibe was relaxed and eaters were all roughly our age—mid-twenties give or take—and everywhere we looked there were visual indicators, cues, like a group of six photographs hanging above the booth where we sat to remind us that we were eating at The Six.

We ordered our round of beverages, including four different beers and a Writer’s Block Cabernet Franc (#162). We made no bones about it; we were there for the burgers. Casual eating that suited our Friday night plans, the tough choice was how we wanted our fries or our burger cooked. In addition to the burgers all around I had put in for the White Bean Cassoulet.

The prices were steep, sixteen dollars for a burger and fries, which, unfortunately is becoming the standard price tag for a gourmet burger in Los Angeles. I could not mull it over for too long because the Cassoulet arrived in a cast iron skillet with a farm egg and finished with a fresh coating of shaved Parmesan. The white bean stew had a lot of fresh herbs coming through and tender white beans. It was excellent, not too salty, just an honest bean dish. Things were looking up.

Next up were the burgers that made the table in a similar fashion to another restaurant down Pico Boulevard—Upper West—with a knife piercing into the flaky brioche bun. The fries were served in a metallic cup lined with white parchment paper a la Upper West. Whether the presentation was a copy or not, I was impressed by the size, a generous patty, sharp blue cheese, tomato, onion rings, thousand island sauce and tender butter greens, all of which stood half a foot tall on the white porcelain plate.

The first few bites were difficult—it was a messy burger. The sharp cheese dominated the flavors and the sweet thousand-island-rejoinder could not balance it. And then the problems began to pile up… The most egregious of errors was an over-cooked patty that wasn’t limited to my burger. I had asked for medium rare and that burger was closer to medium well but to my surprise it was not totally dried out. The bun disintegrated under the little bit of jus that escaped from the patty and it made it tough to handle. I washed down my disappointment with the almost minty Cabernet Franc from Lake County.

Easy to say that the burger did not meet my expectations and the asking price was a little too pricey for a gamble. The balance of flavors is one thing that is subjective, it did not work for me but that is not to say it wont work for others. Cooking time though, is no joke. People rightly talk up Father’s Office and Umami because they are technically sound and will never over-cook an order. The Six got a lot of things right, I liked the ambiance, my fries and enjoyed the Cassoulet but one thing I might want to shore up before boasting that I have the best burger ever is the cooking time.

After having a conversation with another wine buyer, it was apparent that I needed to try more Cabernet Sauvignon from California. In a short conversation he listed about fifty or more wines from my home state that I had never tasted because, well… to put it bluntly, I wasn’t interested. For Shame! I knew at once, though, that I needed to address my stance… update it, especially the Napa interpretation, because it was apparent that it was my Achilles’ heel.  It was no longer acceptable to harbor these feelings against this category without at least  having tasted many of its leading lights. The varietal that I have spent most of my time shirking in my budding wine career has been Cabernet Sauvignon, not having the patience to cellar its California expressions or the bank account to fuel my interests in the historic foreign examples (left bank Bordeaux). It was time to change that.

I spent the day in Venice with a friend, picking up a few bottles at one of my favorite wine boutiques in Los Angeles—Lincoln Fine Wines. I bought four bottles in total, including a split of 2006 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon (#164) and a 2007 Nelms Road Cabernet Sauvignon (#163) for the purposes of tasting later that day with a bottle of Lambrusco that my buddy had purchased. When we arrived at my friend’s domicile, we opened both Cabernets and chilled the Lambrusco. We allowed the Cabernets to open up in the decanters while we ran next door to a Mexican restaurant.

With food in hand and the Labrusca Lambrusco (#162) cold to the touch, we plated la comida, poured the glasses and began our analysis of the dry, bubbly and earthy red wine. The nose was reminiscent of a berry spritzer and the palate was shockingly dry—I was so used to Lambrusco amabile—and a decent accompaniment to the Mexican food. Its high acidity and earthy tones would have been better suited to salty cheeses and salami, but before we could mull it over any further we were on to the Cabernet.

Both bottles of Cabernet had been properly decanted and we decided to begin the main event with the 2006 Darioush. With deep shades of ruby and slight feathering on the rim, the Cab’s powerful nose of vanilla, blueberry and cinnamon were enough to indicate that this wine had seen some oak. It had a fair amount of alcohol on the bouquet, keeping me from diving any deeper in the glass but it was still pleasant sniffing. I took the challis to my lips tasting blueberry and cedar but what was most remarkable were the fine tannins that were incredibly smooth. The palate was luxurious—even if the fruit was battling the oak (heavy use), the refined structure on the buds was delightful. I was impressed.

Moving on to the Nelms Road Cabernet from Washington State, the deeply garnet glass of wine had considerably more assertive fruit—a bushel of blackberry and black cherry—on the bouquet. The palate was not as fine as the Darioush before it, replete with black cherry and a hint of sandalwood with coarse tannins that were a little green, but the simple fruit that persisted through the long finish was favorable and great for the price point (under twenty dollars).

All three wines were good; the Lambrusco blew me away with its biting acidity, dry palate and solid core of fruits but then again I LOVE Lambrusco. Both Cabernets showed something different and enjoyable. While I am not sure I can splurge, spending more than thirty dollars for a half bottle of Cabernet from Napa everyday, I can say, in earnest, that I look forward to tasting a lot more Cabernet from Northern California. Any recommendations?

Portugal, not the man nor the band, but the country, flanking the western border of Spain, a nation with too much history to only be mentioned in passing—once thus far on my countdown to five hundred wines–is a place that I really need to pay more attention to. Aside from Port wines, which I drink with frequency, I generally pass over the red (and white) wines alike, for the neighboring Spanish wines when I am looking to drink hearty earthy offerings. However, on a whim, I decided it would be best to shake it up and grab a seven-fifty from Central Portugal as a warm-up to a Port.

In my mind there was nothing special about the “Saes” wine from Quinta de Pellada (#167). For about eleven dollars I had a bottle of unassuming red with simple packaging, nothing declarative, and I was certainly unaware of the contents. I opened the bottle quickly, once home, pouring a little into my stemware to encourage a transformation to take place—a kind gesture to any wine. While preparing dinner I would give the nose a sniff, intermittently, detecting a mixture of red berries, worn leather and polish. Not bad and certainly not funky like I had imagined. It seemed slightly more “old world” based on nasal impressions because the fruit was present but not overly expressive. When it came time to taste it, I was relieved; the wine was medium-bodied, with an oily texture as I swooshed the liquid in my mouth to parse out the particulars. I detected a bit of dusty fruit, a little earth and some slight wood and the wine left a surprisingly long finish with smoother tannins. The blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Alfrocheiro was new to me yet agreeable. It was like meeting someone that you know you would be forging a relationship with down the line. I got my money’s worth and then some with the Saes, and it was onto the Port.

The Smith Woodhouse “Lodge Reserve” Port (#166) was another effort representing good value–roughly twenty dollars for a bottle of fortified wine. I poured a miniscule amount of the wine to get the gist. The viscosity was mild and the nose was moderately powerful of fruit, raisins, nuts and caramel. The usual fragrances but on the palate it was a changeup, lighter and less goopy in style. The wine was medium body with persistent fruit that stayed with me long after putting the glass down. The delicious factor was way up, not too sweet or viscous, this Smith Woodhouse Lodge Reserve Port was unique.

I was pleased with my excursion via the bottle to Portugal; the value was there in two extremely different wines, one savory and one sensibly sweet. I am positive my Portugal awareness will increase exponentially since this was just the jumping off point.

I am not a numbers guy by any means (despite my 500 countdown), but recently I have tasted a lot of wine in pairs, not to pit the wines against each other but, instead, to understand the subtleties that exist between varietals, or to emphasize the impact that terroir can have on wine. Sometimes the wines were not even related but it was still telling to taste overt differences in each glass. It has been an interesting luxury, one that is not lost on me, to conduct these tasting experiments and even more illuminating on the palate to discover how differently each wine evolves and just what makes each one tick.

The first twin set of wines was a couple of bottles that shared a French tradition but nothing more. Tasting between two vastly different regions in France, I poured a 2009 Marc Brédif Vouvray (#171) and its line-dancing partner, a tall drink of water, the 2008 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Blanc from Alsace “Les Princes Abbés(#170). The Vouvray hailed from the Northwest, tucked in the Loire Valley while the Pinot Blanc was practically in another country (kind of Germanic), longitudinally parked in the Northeast of France. I had relatively little experience with Pinot Blanc from Alsace, having tasted perhaps ten in my life, so I was relishing the opportunity to explore further. And while it is no secret that I adore Loire Valley’s white wines, I am always eager to taste one more. Starting with the Pinot Blanc in its customary flute, transferring the golden vin into my glassware. The coloring was medium deep and the nose spoke of clove and freshly rubbed eraser. The Pinot Blanc was dry with refreshing acidity (moderate) but a little less interesting on the palate than the olfactory. It was solid and balanced and would have been a good friend to food had I eaten something Asian with it. Not the circumstances here. The Vouvray was a different story; a delicate straw coloring in the glass that had a lovely bouquet of green peas, lifted aromas of vanilla and some toasted notes deeper in the stemware. On the palate the wine was dry with a pinch of residual sugar. The medium bodied Chenin Blanc expressed a powerful flavor profile chock full of green apple and toasted almond—it was enjoyable drinking. Both wines were far different yet that made the experience that much better, tasting them side-by-side.

The following tasting, happening a week later, homed in on Zinfandel. The catalyst was opening a bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel from Lodi (#169) with my roommate and his girlfriend, knowing two things before going in: The juice would be balanced and it would be an excellent candidate for making a case for the effects of terroir, as I would be comparing it to a 2009 Mauritson Zinfandel from Rockpile “Westphall Ridge(#168),” which was admittedly more expensive and hopefully worthy of it. The flavors of the Ravenswood Zinfandel were direct, a no bull**** kind of wine that spoke refreshingly of its place. Good fruit, abundant blueberry, seasoned carefully with cupboard spices. The palate was beefy, a fleshy wine that had a nice finish and was everything I expected. The Mauritson, second in the tasting order, was notably more nuanced on the whiff and the palate. It just went deeper in both regards. A noticeable amount of earth was integrated in the heavy raspberry and other red fruits. It had more weight and concentration, earning its expensive stripes. Both wines told a tale and were enjoyed immensely by all tasters present during the event.

I have a newfound perspective on tasting at home: While it is a stretch to pop two bottles every night (and even justifying it most nights is a non-starter without company), it does have the ability to be an eye-opening experience and a quicker way to season one’s palate. On the negative side, it can result in a lot of dishes. I am not sure if I am going to continue the trend regularly but I can only hope to be so lucky because it is evident that a lot can be gathered by tasting in pairs.

Apple Pan is an institution in Los Angeles; the legendary burger joint has been offering its exclusive menu for years as part of their strict adherence to keeping things simple and never changing. Something new to me was that they offered burgers to go. I opted for the take-out menu last Friday night to pair with a few wines over dinner with a friend after work.

When my friend arrived with a split (375ml bottle) of 2003 Château Kirwan (#177) in hand, I had been upstaged by vintage and value, after pulling my random 2005 La Bastide Blanche Bandol (#176) for the purposes of burgering. I scrambled to find something more interesting but he said it didn’t matter and he was more curious about judging where his wine was in terms of readiness to drink. We uncorked both bottles, encouraging both to open up while we went out to Apple Pan to pay too much for two burgers.

We stepped foot in the perennially busy restaurant about five minutes later, timing the ebb and flow of eaters just right, managing to squeeze in and order “Two steak burgers” one with cheese and the other without for an exorbitant total of fifteen dollars without waiting. Yikes, fifteen dollars for two simple burgers! We waited a few minutes, watching our burgers be created and in a short time we were handed our white paper bag and were off to my residence to check up on the wine.

Unwrapping the tiny packages and staging the photo shoot, with the wines in perfect position—even the half bottle was dwarfing the burger—we took the shot before we ate. My buddy spied too much mayo for his liking and asked for the knife to begin a scrape.

It might have had something to do with the putty knife the chef used to administer the mayonnaise or the simple fact that all the condiments were excessive, including the cloyingly sweet relish. It was unnerving to see the amount of mayo that my friend removed from his hamburger but after that we kind of looked past the faults and started eating because… at least we had the wines.

The Bandol was stunted on the nose, reminiscent of a newly opened package of photocopy paper—it was fair to say that it was slightly corked—but still drinkable. On the palate it wore less of that funk, showcasing earth and savory qualities that meshed incredibly well with the burger. Later, the nose would open up, presenting some interesting fruit notes tied into anise that had been obscured earlier in the tasting. An interesting experience to see a wine work to shake off its funk, but that is exactly what happened and, so, I will reserve my final judgment of Bandol for the Domaine Tempier Bandol later in the year.

We had two glasses each, to keep each presentation clean and undisturbed for each wine poured. We transferred the contents of the Bordeaux from Margaux into the second glass. With notes of blackberry, cassis and some leather highlights that were readily detected as we swirled the glass and on the palate, the wine was drinking well, showing polished tannins that massaged the tongue and some lengthy notes of fruit and dried herbs (thyme) that stayed with me on the finish. It paired well with the burger but was much more enjoyable on its own. The sweet relish was not as forgiving to the Bordeaux.

I was really disappointed by the price of the Apple Pan burger. If not for that, I could see myself eating there again, but, in reality,  I can only see myself acting as the host offering guide tips to out-of-towners, shepherding someone else there for their first time. The wines, especially the Bordeaux over-delivered on their end; the Bandol could have done with less controversy (partially blighted) but it was still a solid pairing with the burger. I was astonished by the quality of the 2003 Bordeaux still showing some character and having a backbone in a hot vintage even if the food accompaniment was less than stellar—I am just going to have to change the location of the eatery in the future to match the caliber of the wines. Easier said than done!

Sometimes I wish I spoke French. My ears are drawn to that language as I am currently in a French rut, riffling through Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg albums in heavy rotation, while not understanding a word, trying desperately to get my fix. I have also tasted a lot of French wine lately, in particular, adoring the Loire Valley whites that have been transported across shores to shelf to my glass. It was no surprise then that I looked forward to the Loire Valley themed tasting that one of the member’s from my group was hosting to invite more palate exposure to the wines that had me enraptured.

Arriving at 7 p.m. (in hopes of not letting the tasting run too late) to a beautiful home off Melrose, we quickly shuffled in and unsheathed our white wines from the paper totes. We were being treated to an ambitious menu, pairing two to three wines per course, beginning with creamy potato and leek soup, chilled aspargus with vinaigrette and eggs mimosa and finishing the meal with salmon and sorrel Troigros (a strained cream sauce cooked with mushrooms, shallots and sorrel).

We gathered around the table in the outdoor patio catching an hour’s worth of fleeting daylight to start the dinner and the tasting.

We went through these wines:

2007 Damien Laureau  Les Genêts Savennières

2009 Lucien Crochet Sancerre La Croix du Roi

2010 Domaine Daulny Sancerre

2010 Domaine de Saint Pierre Sancerre

2010 Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Blanc

2008 Domaine Le Captaine Vouvray Demi Sec

2008 Château de l’Eperonniere Savennières

The wines, for the most part, were fresh and crisp, opening with the Chinon blanc that primed our palates for the first course of soup and the following wines. We had the soup that was absolutely phenomenal—no cream, strictly vegetables—partnered with the Domaine Daulny Sancerre that had well balanced components that lifted the wine and the soup to the next level of excellence. The other wine/soup duo—Ch. L’Eperonniere Savennières with our soup, showed better on its own. The medium bodied Chenin Blanc had a distinct fragrance of nuts and the brine of olives, with notes of butterscotch, nuts and green apple in the mouth. The wine was unique and had finesse; its deep flavors intrigued me to no end (the favorite wine of the evening for me).

We continued to the second course, selecting two wines from the pool that might best compliment the egg mimosa and the aspargus (enemy of most wines!). It turned out that another Sancerre—Domaine de Saint Pierre Sancerre—was the key to avoiding the tininess one tastes after mixing wine with asparagus. It was a nice moment in pairing (and I might make use of it when I become a Sommelier) but the apex of the evening and dining experience was reserved for the final course.

Our chef darted for the kitchen after we had cleared our plates, making haste to plate the last entrée.

The salmon came crust up, upon a pale colored sauce, making it a rigorous exam for the final few wines to preserve the flavors in the creamy broth while having enough oomph to carry the salmon and cleanse our palates. The skin was flaky and crisp and downright delicious on its own, the sauce was light and delicate with balanced flavors of mushroom and shallots. The Savennières from Damien Laureau was first, resembling the earlier Savennières with nutty and almost Sherry like esters on the nose but a lighter style that did not mesh perfectly with the salmon while the Lucien Crochet Sancerre paired better in contrast.

I learned a lot about the wide range of Chenin Blanc, from a nuttier, deep and oxidative profile to an off-dry approach with more fruit preservation, Chenin Blanc could do a lot (we didn’t even have a crémant). Meanwhile my appreciation for the food pairing sensibilities of Sancerre were left unscathed—a miraculously clean and mineral-driven expression of Sauvignon Blanc—that could pair with a gamut of cuisine. Afterwards, many lively conversations ensued, dessert was served and I was happy to call the night quits with the Loire Valley having shown me its fullest potential, thinking about the Savennières while listening to Serge Gainsbourg’s L’Histoire de Melody Nelson on my drive back home.

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