Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Truly One of a Kind, the Cornelissen Contadino 6

I've written a lot over the past year about Frank Cornelissen, a very controversial producer from the Etna region of Siciliy.  I began researching him while working with Cynthia Nicholson of The Farmhouse Table on our wine and culinary tour of Sicily last year and have been enthralled with him and his wines ever since.  Luckily our friend Matt Lirette, one of our favorite local wholesalers, has shared my interest in the region and his portfolio currently offers the largest selection of Etna producers available in Louisiana.

It is difficult to describe these wines to someone who has never tasted them.  Frank takes the terms "natural" and "non intervention" to a level that would frighten most producers and consumers.  He feels that anytime you add something to the process, be it herbicides, oak, sulfites, you take something away from the wine. Which is why Frank avoids all possible interventions including any treatments, whether chemical, organic, or biodynamic, to keep the process in tune with nature as it was done thousands of years ago.  From his vineyard practices to non-temperature controlled fermentation in plastic vats to the cellaring in clay amphorae buried into the volcanic soils of the Etna, you can't truly appreciate Frank's "hands off" approach until you've witnessed it yourself.  For my full article about our visit with Frank on the Etna, you can go to my post on The Madman of Etna.

On to the Contadino 6 (meaning 6th vintage), a wine that originally was never meant to be bottled. But a vat containing the musts of grapes and stems from both his red and white wines of his different bottlings was mistakenly tasted by a group of journalist and has gone on to be one of his most popular wines.  It's a field blend of mostly Nerello Mascalese but also with white varietals, Carricante, Dorato, Grecanico.  The grapes, twigs and leaves are all allowed to co-mingle to create an incredible cauldron of dark orange/pink liquid that teems with tobacco, cumin, cinnamon, citrus peel and tangerine. A one of a kind beverage that is the only wine of its type in the world. This is the most sophisticated vintage yet of the Contadino, unlike anything you've ever tasted, it is very intriguing, complex and enjoyable as an actual wine, not just as a study. 

However, the Contadino is not for everyone as there is nothing normal or familiar about any of Frank's wines.  You have to forget everything you expect or know about how wine tastes and approach them with a truly open mind. Drinking them is an experience, and one that I promise you won't forget even if you ultimately decide they are not for you!

To experience the full potential of Frank's wines, it is important to transport and store them at a cool temperature of 58-60 degrees.  Because the wine is unfiltered there is a lot of murky sediment in the bottle, so be sure to stand it upright for a few days before serving to allow the lees to settle.  Since they are natural there are no sulfites or preservatives added to protect against color degradation, so if left open a few hours, you will see the color evolve from granite red to volcanic black ash!!! Don't worry, the flavors become more complex with time, as the color turns. 

As you could expect, Frank does not make much wine period, so availability is limited.  But his wines are truly one of a kind and if what he does sounds intriguing to you, start with the Contadino.  Lirette Selections is also carrying the Munjebel Bianco and Munjabel Rosso so you will be seeing and hearing about those soon as well!

Also, the first time we drank this wine was with Cynthia during one of her visits to New Orleans to plan our trip.  I made a Sicilian dinner that evening and paired the Contadino with a simple but delicious dish called Pesto Trapanese and they worked beautifully together.

Cornelissen Contadino 6, $28.99

Babcock Wines, California Done Right!

I've been working a lot lately on expanding our California offerings.  It's a difficult task for an old world wine drinker, but I'm finding that if I seek out the smaller, artisan producers there's a better chance that something will pique my interest.  So when Scott Howett from Mystic Vines approached me about Central Coast winemaker Bryan Babcock, a little research told me I needed to pay attention to these wines.

It seems Bryan has been getting lots of recognition lately as the Los Angeles Times named him as one of the "Ten Best Winemakers of the Year", he was also named by this influential daily as "Most Courageous Winemaker of the Year" for his daring style. The prestigious James Beard Foundation chose Bryan as one of the "Top Ten Small Production Winemakers in the World," the only American to receive the title!

Located in the Santa Ynez Valley, the Babcock family has owned and operated the winery for over 30 years.  Pretty small production here, ranging anywhere from 300 cases to 5000 at the most.  They offer an excellent range of wines and to show you the scope of what they make we'll be tasting five of them in our Friday Free For All this week.  Definitely worth a look, what have you got to lose, it's free!

Chardonnay, $19.50                                                              
“Identity Crisis” Syrah  (a white wine, very interesting...), $16.99
“Rita’s Earth” Pinot Noir,  $24.99                                           
“Classic Rock” Cabernet, $21.99                                           
“Under the Radar”  Merlot,  $19.50                                    

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wine of the Moment, August Briggs Napa Valley Old Vine Zinfandel

Winemaker August "Joe" Briggs will be paying us a visit this week, so I thought it only fitting to write about one of his specialities, his Napa Valley Zinfandel.  Joe has been producing under his own label since 1995, and before that was the winemaker for La Crema as well as a few famous spots in the Willamette Valley.  He produces a total of 16 different wines, all in small quantities from some of the most legendary vineyards of the North Coast. 

The 2008 Napa Valley Zinfandel is a blend of three different vineyards. The first, the Luvisi vineyard, was planted in 1908 and is located just across the street from the winery. The other two are blocks of the Frediani Vineyard, also located in Calistoga, about 200 yards south of the winery on the Silverado Trail. The “old” Frediani vineyard block was planted sometime in the 1940s and the “new” block was planted in the 1950s. All three vineyards are head-trained and dry-farmed, thus yielding small, very concentrated Zinfandel grapes.

Each block was harvested and fermented separately. The clusters were hand sorted before being de-stemmed into open-top fermenters, and punched-down twice daily by hand. Following fermentation and pressing, they were inoculated for malo-lactic fermentation and barreled down. The barrels used were 30% new American oak, and 70% two to three year old French oak barrels and aged for 16 months. Due to the damaging spring frosts, Only 420 cases were produced.

From the winery:  "Our Zinfandel is flashy & fragrant with aromas of ripe black berry, black cherry, plum, cedar, and mocha oak tones. On the palate, it is rich & expressive with flavors of dark berry fruit and hints of coffee-mocha. This Zin is a bit old school in style showing great depth, but also having a balanced well structured finish."  $38 

Try this wine and 4 others with Joe on Wednesday, October 20 from 6-8pm.  The tasting is free and open to the public.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Fig Report, Coming to Fruition....

Today is the day, 365 days since Chiara Planeta gave me a small six inch cutting from their beautiful property in Sambuca di Sicilia.  The cutting, now a sapling, gave us a gift this week on its anniversary, a small fig.  Kerry says it's too young to bear fruit, but I can't bring myself to cut it off.

It is hard to believe it has been a year since that amazing trip, where everyone of us came away  knowing we were changed by it and we all had experienced something truly special by being in that place together at that particular time in our lives.  I am so happy to have our little fig tree as a constant reminder of all the wonderful experiences and memories from that magical journey across Sicilia.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rachael Ray Checks out Swirl

Remember way back when, sometime last year, the Food Network and Rachel Ray paid a little visit to Swirl and a few other great spots in New Orleans?  Well, the episode FINALLY aired last month and they sent us a DVD of the segment.  It's a pretty cool spot, so check it out, and you just might see yourself on the Food Network one day soon!

MOA Beer Tasting & Cheese Pairing

 In honor of Oktoberfest we're holding our first ever formal beer tasting Tuesday night!  But of course this isn't just any beer tasting, we'll be popping the tops on 4 really unique beers from MOA Brewery in New Zealand and tasting them with cheeses presented by Richard Sutton of St. James Cheese.

So just what makes these brew so special?  MOA beers are the creation of Josh Scott, winemaker for Allan Scott Family Winemakers in New Zealand. Josh decided after years of winemaking experience to apply winemaking techniques to craft beer brewing. He starts the process off quite normally. The beer is brewed traditionally using mainly local hops, malt, wheat or barley. The beer is then bottled and a dose of yeast and sugar is added, and the cap is sealed. Just like champagne “methode traditionelle,” the bubbles produced by this second fermentation are dissolved in the liquid. When the fermentation is complete, the yeast plug that accumulates in the bottle neck is frozen and popped out. The beer is re-capped and good to go!

The result is a beer unlike any other — very crisp with fine carbonation, great mouthfeel and very refreshing!

And as an added bonus we'll be tasting/pairing two of Josh Scott's wines as well.  His Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir will finish out the event.  We're still working on the cheeses, but Richard loves beer and cheese pairings, so you know they'll be awesome!  And the wines, beers and cheeses will be for sale after the event.  Here's the lineup for the night:

Moa Original - Pilsner style lager. This beer has an abundance of hoppy notes with hints of sweet fruit and grassy aromas.

 Moa Noir - Dark lager. Seductive flavors of chocolate and richly roasted coffee beans dominate, with a long, smooth finish.

Moa Blanc - White beer. Brewed from 65% wheat and 35% barley malt, it is elegantly smooth with hints of spice.

Moa 5 Hop - A powerful malty character and creamy sweetness imparts serious weight and mouth-feel to this beer.

 Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc - An aromatic mix of tropical passionfruit with a hint of varietal herbaceous notes. The palate is crisp and lively with tropical passionfruit and pineapple with zesty citrus acid giving this wine great mouthfeel and a well balanced refreshing finish

Allan Scott Pinot Noir - Subtle yet textured tannins and well balanced acidity. Blackcurrant, dark plums and ripe cherry dominate the flavor profile with a hint of savory mushroom and smokiness.

Curious?  Call us, we've got 5 spots left for the tasting!  Tuesday, October 12 at 6pm, call 504.304.0635 $20

Do You Yelp!?

Kerry and I are both big fans of Yelp!, an online urban city guide that helps people find cool places to eat, shop, drink, relax and play, based on the informed opinions of locals in the know.   We use it a lot when we travel, (remember that great little coffee shop we found in Chicago and the cool Italian wine bar/restaurant, 3 of Cups in New York?) It's a fun and easy way to find, review and talk about what's great, and not so great, in your world.  For example, our friends over at 3 Muses are listed on yelp!, and of course have lots of great reviews (including mine), check them out here, 3 muses on yelp!.

We have a yelp page for the shop, swirl on yelp!, and have just started to use a new function they offer for people to list activities and events.  So if you want to know about great things going on in our fabulous city, check out the New Orleans Events page, and if you have something to say about what we are doing over here at Swirl Wine Bar and Market, please give us a yelp!

Swirl on Facebook

Want to know our tapas menu before you come over on a Friday or what our drink specials are this weekend?  How about up to date info on wine tastings, special impromptu events, featured cheeses, or when our Bittersweet Chocolate order or citizen nola shirts arrive?  It's easy to become a fan on facebook, just go to the Swirl page, click the "like" button at the top right of your screen and you're in!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Week of Wickedly Good California Wines...

Those of you who are frequent readers of my blog know that I talk about little else but Italian wine.  Every once in a while I'll throw in something from France, Spain or South America, but I rarely talk about California.  And I'll be honest, it's because I get bored quickly with the over extracted "cocktail wines" that dominate the market.  But something must have happened with that new moon last week, because I had a week of tasting some pretty amazing wines from the big C that made a huge impression on me.....

It all started with our friends Monica and Neil from Neat Wines showing up at the house last week to show us their new wheels and we figured we might as well taste some wine while they were there.  Neil pulls this delicious blend of two of my favorite French varieties, Carignan and Grenache, with a little Syrah and Petit Sirah thrown in.  The Mark Herold Winery's "Flux" is all that is good about Southern France (fans of the Tribouley wines would love this) with a California twist.  Deep, almost roasted black fruits, tobacco, chocolate; dense and delicious, this was a real treat!  Look for it next week...

Then there was Jason's visit with the new vintage of the Rosenblum Rockpile Zin.  For those of you who like a more rich and savory style zin, this is a stunner!  Beautiful black raspberries and cherry fruit, with notes of smoke and black pepper this is a wine you have to try!  To make that easy for you, we decided to do a complete Rosenblum tasting in November featuring our favorites in the Rosenblum lineup that will include the Rockpile, Petit Sirah, red and white blends and more!  So mark your calendar for Tuesday November 9th, more details later!

 Next up was Randall Petit from Dry Creek Vineyards with a great lineup of reds and whites at amazing price points.  Again, I was very impressed from start to finish with these wines, so we decided Randall would come back on a Friday so you could check them out as well.  He'll be here November 19th....

Now probably the biggest surprise was a presentation of wines from Amador County.  And just where is that you ask?  Located just east of Napa in the Sierra Foothills this little known area has tons of small family owned wineries that you usually don't see outside of California.  While Zinfandel put the area on the map, I tasted some amazing Sangiovese, Petit Sirah and blends that really made me want to see more about what this area has to offer.  I ordered 3 different wines on the spot and will be tasting more next week that we will feature in a tasting we scheduled on Tuesday November 30th and we'll probably throw a Friday in to introduce you to a few more as well!  In the shop now are the Runquist 1448 (great blend of zin, petit sirah and syrah) that is a killer bargain at $16.50, the Runquist Petit Sirah, around $30 and a cool, easy drinking red blend of zin and merlot from Drytown Cellars that is a steal at $12.99.  Look for the tasting dates in November, you gotta try these wines!


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