Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Sunday, July 25, 2010

2 Sweet Deals on Amazing Wines

Holding age worthy wines until they are at the perfect drinking time can be an arduous task. I personally have a hard time with it and can sometimes make it 9-10 years with a wine, but it has to be really special for me to wait than long. So what is really nice is when our reps bring us high quality wines that already have a few years on them that they've dropped the price a bit to move them and bring in the next vintage. It's good for me, and I make it good for you as well by keeping the prices down.

Such is the case for 2 California wines we have in the store right now. Both are selling for almost half the price that you find them on line and offer exceptional quality for the money. But grab them while you can, 'cause these wines are "singing" now and when the next vintage comes in, the prices will be back to normal and they probably won't be drinking as well as these are yet!

2006 St. Supery Virtu - California Meritage blend of 52% Sauvignon Blanc, 48% Semillon. This winery has a pretty stellar lineup and I tend to like everything they produce. This wine is meant for aging with its refined rich luscious style with aromas of nectarines, peach and ripe cantaloupe. On the palate, the mouthwatering flavors of peaches and nectarines are completely filled out with a subtle mineral quality. Elegant and juicy at the same time, everyone who has tried it has fallen in love. And at $14.99 a bottle, what have you got to lose???

2004 Nicholson Ranch Estate Syrah -Syrahs can be monsters when they are young, needing a lot of time to soften and integrate all of those complex flavors. This wine is drinking absolutely beautifully right now with tobacco, leather and dark fruit on the nose. Spices and velvety dark fruit fill the palate which leads to a brambly, earthy finish. Well balanced and delicous, $19.99

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Stimulate Your Palate with Greek Wines

Discovering new and exciting wines is probably my favorite thing about being in this business. You never know when or how it will happen, sometimes it is through research and travel, sometimes it's because your sales reps know you like geeky, obscure wines, and sometimes it's because your customers are asking for something specific that you don't have. Such is the case a few weeks ago when our friend/customer Mary was looking for Greek wines for an upcoming wine and food pairing dinner she is hosting at her home.

Well I don't know if any of you have attempted to located any Greek wines worth drinking in this market, but if you have, you know the selection has been quite slim. Luckily though, as I have found, this has nothing to do with the actual quality of wines produced there, but more associated with a lack of interest on the part of retailers and restaurants as well as as a lot of misinformation on what is happening in the world of Greek wines. Still tainted with an unfortunate association with retsina, an ancient Greek wine made with a base of white or rosé wine flavored with pine resin, has left Greek producers seeking ways to stay connected to their roots, but still produce wines with international appeal. And while retsina is an important part of the local cultural, winemakers have carved a niche for themselves by using indiginous varieties. While many are successfully using international grapes as well, it is the local varieties that have their own personalities and offer new flavors and a different twist for adventurous wine drinkers. Grapes like Xinomavro (“skee”-NO-mah-vro), Agiorgitiko (ay-yor-YEE-tee-ko), both red; Assyrtiko (uh-SEER-ti-ko), Moschofilero (Mos-ko-FEEL-er-o)(both white); and Mavrodaphne (usually used for Port-like dessert wines) while hard to pronounce can be pretty exciting to experience.

So let's get back to my story...I'm looking for high quality Greek wines for Mary to use for her dinner. I remember that Nick Selby and our friends from Uncorked have just picked up a new Greek portfolio. Knowing that these guys don't fool around with mediocre wine, I was pretty excited to try them. Mary had sent me all of her recipes, so I new what flavor profiles we were hunting for. Originally, not knowing what kind of quality we were talking about in the wines, I figured I would just get the bottles Mary needed for the dinner and I might, or might not, get any for the store. Well, Nick was right on with these wines and all four that will be featured in Mary's dinner will be on the shelves by Tuesday. I liked them so much that we scheduled a Tuesday night tasting with Nick for August 24 that will feature 5-6 of our favorites from the group.

Here's a little run down on the four wines we've picked up and keep on the look out for more and the tasting coming up next month!

Domaine Skouras, Peloponnese Greece, Wine & Spirits Magazine Winery of the Year, 2009: The Peloponnese, rich in ancient ruins from its glorious past, has been cultivating grapes for many centuries. Indigenous grape varieties in Nemea, Argolida, Arcadia and Mantinia include Roditis and Moscofilero (white varieties) and Saint George (aka Aghiorghitiko, red variety), as well as international varieties of Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, are cultivated, displaying the terroir of the region. Skouras Winery sources grapes from its own vineyards and from dedicated grape-growers in the area.

  • Domaine Skouras White: Roditis 70% , Moscofilero 30%. Fermented in stainless steel vats with hort skin contact, no malolactic fermentation and short aging over fine lees. Fresh, crisp acidity, lively, aromatics. Very succulent, a summer charmer. $11.50
  • Domaine Skouras Red: Aghiorghitiko 90%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%. Fermented in stainless steel vats with short maceration, full malolactic fermentation and short aging over fine lees. Ripe and fresh, with medium body and soft tannins. A good easy drinking summertime red. $11.50

Alpha Estates, Amyndeon, Greece: Robert Parker's Wine Advocate says:" … One fascinating development is the emergence of great, little Xinomavro boutiques, wineries like Alpha Estate… These are folks who are taming the rustic tendencies of the grape. Poised to become one of Greece’s best wineries..."
  • Alpha Estates, Alpha: Syrah 60%, Xinomavro 20%, Merlot 20%, 11 months French oak casks with a medium – light toast. No treatment or filtration before bottling, and 9 months in bottles. Powerful, pungent aromas of sweet cherry, candied plum and toasty vanillin oak. Full bodied and deep in dark fruit flavors, with a peppery and strong oak spicy accents background. This is stellar for the price, $19.99

Domaine Sigalas, Santorini, Greece: Robert Parker's Wine Advocate says:" …Santorini producers like Sigalas and Gai’a work with their pre-phylloxera vineyards to produce crisp, steely and interesting whites. Think Chablis crossed with Trocken Riesling." Located on the plain of Oia, in Santorini, and more specifically in Baxedes area, Assyrtiko dominates with Aidani, Athiri, Mandilaria and Mavrotragano having their place here as well. These are quality wines which receive both international and local acclaim.

  • Domaine Sigalas Asirtiko / Athiri: All stainless steel fermentation keeps it bright, with a nose of ripe citrus fruit. With refreshing acidity, steely minerality and the subtle saline notes of an island white. Delicious with seafood. $18.99
So there you have it! If you'd like to find out more about these wines, grape varieties and history of Greek wine, you can go to the importers site, Diamond Wine Importers. All of the above photos are from their website. They also have a great map of the wine regions here, wine map.

And if you are interested in trying these wines, come to our tasting on Tuesday, August 24. Keep an eye on the events page for more details.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Valpolicella, Old World Appeal with a New World Punch

Packing the punch of extraction and purity of fruit that equal some of the best the New World has to offer, the wines of Valpolicella, and especially those made in the Recioto and Amarone styles are great "gateway" wines. Yet at the same time, these wines from Northeast Italy's Veneto region are still unmistakably Italian, or more accurately, unmistakably Veronese. The fan-shaped collection of communes and vineyards spreading out west, north and east from the ancient city of Verona to the shores of Lake Garda, produce wines that offer an intriguing combination of concentration (alcohol levels routinely approach 16 percent); fruit - in all its possibilities: dried, cooked, macerated and freshly plucked; minerality; and velvety texture.

It all starts with Valpolicella, an area within the Veneto region of Northeast Italy around Lake Garda. Like “Chianti”, Valpolicella is a region, not a grape and the red wines produced there are a blend of grapes dominated by Corvina, with Corvinone and Rondinella usually lending support. Molinara, Negrara, Rossignola, Dindarella and a few other local varieties are also allowed, but have diminished in importance. A superb grape variety, Corvina forms the backbone of the blend with its silky tannins and delicious fruity, smoky red cherry flavors and aromas. When yields are well managed, it creates bold, age worthy wines. The deeply colored Rondinella grape brings red currant and citrus components plus color-intensity to the blend.

What can be difficult to understand about Valpolicella is that there is a hierarchy of styles. The lighter fruitier styles of Valpolicella Classico wines are what most people associate with the zone, but these are actually more recent creations. They were preceded in history by the sweet Recioto della Valpolicella and it’s dry counterpart, Amarone.
Grapes drying on straw mats

Recioto, by most accounts came into fashion during Roman times when wines were made sweet and high in alcohol to preserve them during long travel. The Romans are also said to have developed the process of “appassimento”, in which the grapes were dried in farmhouses on straw mats which transforms them into shriveled, sweet, tiny concentrated berries. To make Recioto, they press these tiny dried berries, but stop fermentation early to retain the high sugar level.

Amarone is said to have come about possibly as a mistake, someone left a barrel of Recioto unattended too long, the yeasts in the barrel continued to work and the wine fermented to dryness. Now aged a minimum of 25 months in oak, they are densely concentrated and deeply colored with luscious ripe fruit balanced with a savory robe of alcohol, acidity and tannins. Think leather, coffee, chocolate, stewed blackberry fruit all wrapped up in a rich, viscous and heavenly concoction that just so happens to come out of a wine bottle.

Straight Valpolicella Classico (no oak aging required) are the perfect easy drinking wines to have with pizza or pasta or sitting on the porch on warm summer evening. They are vinified in the traditional manner using fresh grapes and usually have little or no oak and present a fresh, fruit forward style with light tannins and tart acidity. The Classico Superior wines can definitely take on a more serious note with 14 months of oak aging required. You have more structure and complexity present which makes them a better match with game and roasted meats, although they are usually wonderfully pleasant on their own as well.

Valpolicella Ripassa is a different animal yet. The term Ripassa means “re-passed” and was made famous by Agricola Masi in the 1960’s. The straight Valpolicella, produced earlier in the usual red wine fashion, is passed "back over" the lees of the Amarone or Recioto after their fermentation is complete. The lees or pomace includes yeast, grape seeds, pulp, stems and skin and traces of alcohol. All of this leads to a second fermentation and the creation of Ripassa Valpolicella whose color, depth and flavors are greater than those of the original Valpolicella. Sometimes referred to as baby Amarone, it is also ready to drink much sooner than the Amarone and usually comes in at a third of the price.

One of the great things about Valpolicella is that you can experience the different aging and vinification processes across a spectrum of price points and styles. Basic Valpolicella is usually priced in the teens, Valpolicella Classico and Superior are priced in the high teens to low 20's, Ripassa style usually starts in the 20's to mid 30's, while most Amarone and Recioto (Recioto is sold usually in 375 ml bottles) wines begin in the $50 range and go from there.

Currently we are carrying a few different styles of Valpolicella, each chosen for their unique expression of the region, vinification process and quality. But as with every thing else in our store, my selection changes frequently although you will always find at least one Valpolicella on our shevles.

Here are some recommendations if you find yourself in the mood for a little Valpolicella:

Valpolicella Classico - Zenato Valpolicella Classico Superior frequently finds its way on our shelves and it consistently delivers great quality for the money at around $16-$17 per bottle. Currently I'm really excited to have just acquired the last 4 cases of the 2006 Accordini Le Bessole Valpolicella Classico Superiore, a single vineyard, powerhouse made by a small producer in the village of Pedemonte in the Verona province. See my "wine of the moment" for more info.

Valpolicella Ripassa – Bertani Secco-Bertani, Zenato have both been in the shop over the years. Again Accordini makes a fabulous Ripassa that we will bring back again, but right now I am head over heals for the 2004 Bussola Ca' del Laito, an extemely elegant wine with ripe fruit, grilled herbs and toasty oak. The 2004 vintage was exceptional and I can't believe there is still some available, but lucky for us, there is and it is in the shop for a mere $21.99!

Amarone Valpolicella – Tedeschi produces some incredible entry level and higher end Amarones that are absolutely delicious. For a big bruiser of an Amarone with tons of longevity look for the Bertani wines. Currently in stock with have the Tommaso Bussola, who has one of my favorite producers since I first tasted one of his wines in Checco, a little ristorante in the Trastevere neighborhood of Roma, and was very happy to know that our friend Matt Lirette has quite a few of their wines in his portfolio.

Recioto Valpolicella - It is hard to go wrong with these amazing dessert wines, but they tend to be very pricey. Bertani’s fabulous version seems to be the most affordable one available here in New Orleans and is around $45 for a 375ml bottle.

So there you have it, my thoughts on the incredible wines of Valpolicella. From entry level Classicos to the rich dessert style Recioto these are very unique wines whose stylistic variations offer lots of memorable moments as well as wine and food pairing possibilities. What are you waiting for? Mention this article in the shop this week and we'll give you a 10% discount to try one!

2006 Accordini Valpolicella Classico Superiore Le Bessole

I have a fondness for the wines from the Veneto region, with its wide spectrum of styles and varieties offering something for everyone. The star tends to be Amarone, but the lesser known wines of Valpolicella Classico and Ripassa style, can really offer exceptional wines for the money. They can also pack some really concentrated flavors with softer tannins which make them a good crossover for those looking to take the leap from the new world.

The owner/winemaker, Igino Accordini, is a traditionalist who grows his grapes only in the original Valpolicella zone. The whole region was expanded after it acquired its DOC in 1968 with the original portion designated Valpolicella Classico. The grapes for this come from an area called Le Bessole, located on the hills of the commune of Negrar. The blend of 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, and 10% Rossignola are dried on racks until November, then are aged on the lees for 15 days.

This is not your typical Valpolicella, it has a weightiness on the palate due to the vinification process, however, the vibrancy of the fruit still comes through. That rich, almost smoky, plum and cherry fruit, combined with a good acid core make this a really special bottle that you can taste with Greg Knapps of Lirette Selections this Friday, 7/23, along with 3 other new Italian wines. There are only 4 cases left and they will go fast. $19.99

Check out my post on the region of Valpolicella and it's wonderful wines, Valpolicella, Old World Appeal with a New World Punch.

Thirsty? Cool New Drinks

Always on the look out for something interesting and delicious, we added a few cool new drinks to the store last week. A couple of new sakes from Homare Shozu and some locally made kombucha tea are chillin' in the frig, so come on by and check them out!

Homare Shozu Sake - Available in Nigori ($14.99) and Junmai ($13.99)

Local Culture Kombucha tea available in Pomegranate and Blueberry that blow away any of the big brand stuff at Whole Food. They're part of my daily diet, and at $3.50 they're priced better than most of the competition and are much more concentrated.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Preparing for the Next DC 8

It's been awhile since the full DC has met for a dinner party. Having lost two of our members to a recent move out of the city, the arrival of a new baby to another couple, and the difficulty of finding available dates for 8 people with completely crazy schedules, it's been tough going for a few months! But we are back on track this week!

While the dinner parties themselves are always fabulous fun, I have to say that the days leading up to them are a bit stressful. It is quite a competitive and creative group so deciding what you can do to "wow" them takes some thought and time. And of course with our schedule of private and public events these last two weeks, we've been too tired to tap into our right-brains for exciting ideas.

First we have to come up with the dish itself, as everyone is assigned a course that rotates with each party. Then figuring out where, when and how shop for your ingredients is the next challenge. This week we are meeting on a Thursday, so I had to make sure I got to the Farmer's Market on Tuesday to get a few of the ingredients that I new I couldn't find anywhere else. Today I have to schedule a trip to Whole Foods and World Market. Why World Market you ask? Plating! Our challenge this week is "fantastic presentation" which means besides the stress of coming up with something that tastes fabulous, it has to look fabulous as well. I've found that World Market has a pretty good selection of inexpensive plates and dishes that look good too, so I'll be running over there to see what I can find. We also have to consider what kind of prep time and materials we need to bring with us as the final stages are done in a kitchen that is not your own.

And then there is the wine pairing which somehow has taken a back seat to efforts that go into creating the dish. Everyone is so focused on the food that the wine has become almost an afterthought. But with each couple having at least on person either in or having been in the wine business at some time, we're always drinking something good! And everyone is experienced enough in food and wine that the pairings are almost always good, but work to varying degrees!

Now, what are we going to cook? We will be preparing one of two appetizer courses so I've been skimming the internet and my cookbooks to be inspired by something that wouldn't take too much time to create. Pulling out one of my favorite books, CIA's The Professional Chef, I was looking for some ideas on creating a savory flan. Having never done one, I was a little nervous about it and knowing there would be no time for a practice run. I've been anxious to do one ever since our dinner at a Mano where Chef Josh Smith did a delicious Porcini Mushroom Sformato. But, low and behold, on the cover of this massive book was a small photo of an appetizer that looked fabulous. Checking it out, I saw that the cooking was minimal, but the end result was beautiful, just what I was looking for!

It is sort of a deconstructed salad, which means I can keep the actual cooking to a minimum, a good thing considering I will only have a few hours tomorrow afternoon to throw this together. We figure out who will do what part of the dish, prep as much as we can in the afternoon and then load everything in the car so we can finish it up right before we present.

We always like to include fresh, local ingredients when possible, so I changed the recipe a bit to include some things I new I could find at the CC Farmers Market. The recipe called for mangoes so I subbed fresh Alabama peaches; instead of lobster I bought Gulf shrimp; local tomatoes for the garnish and some beautiful bibb lettuce to line the plate.

So hopefully you are curious by now as to what we did so here is the dish and the instructions. I'll show you step by step how and what we created and the end result. Now I have to admit that there are a lot of steps, but everything is pretty simple if you take your time and quite a few things can be prepared ahead.

Let's start by talking about the end result that I was attempting to achieve, a layered salad of beets, avocado, peaches, fresh goats cheese and shrimp with the fruit and veggies being cut by a circular mold so that they were the same size and stacked on top of one another with the shrimp crowning the top.

Plating and Molding: We opted to buy some of the rectangular plates from World Market that we use for our cheese presentations at the shop. The shape meant we would have to add some extra elements to the dish, but we both like the clean look that complemented the simplicity of the food. I was also able to get the circular mold there, basically a metal cookie cutter. Knowing the diameter of the peaches would be fairly small, I was lucky to find a set of them in all different sizes, one would be the right fit!

A Snafu: Not in the original recipe, but that I thought would be a nice touch, was to add a layer of goats cheese. My plan was to season it with lemon zest, salt and pepper; roll it into a log, freeze it and then cut the circles while still frozen. Well that didn't work! The cheese crumbled when I tried to cut it and I couldn't get a clean circle which was essential to the presentation. So, still wanting the flavor and the texture of the cheese, I resorted to little goat cheese balls that would be part of the garnish. This can be done the day before:

-3 oz fresh goats cheese ( I used the creamy cypress grove goat discs from the shop)
-1/4 t. lemon zest -salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate for an hour. Using about 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture, roll into a small ball in the palms of your hands. Put in a covered container in the frig until you are ready to plate. You will have extra to spread on fresh figs and drizzle with honey...yumm!

The Beets, Part I: I bought six large beets, knowing I had to get 8 circles of the correct diameter and figure I could get at least two from each and have extra in case I screwed anything up. You can either roast or steam your beets, but be careful not to overcook them as they will get too soft and be difficult to cut and handle.

-6 large beets (I ended up using 4 beets)
Heat the oven to 375°
F and arrange a rack in the middle. Rinse the beets and trim off any leafy tops. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in the oven. Roast until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool.

The Shrimp: I bought 1/2 pound of fresh Gulf Shrimp and decided to prepare them ceviche style to enhance the citrus in the dressing and goat cheese. I knew that lying them on the top layer might be difficult so I sliced them in half lengthwise so that they would be easier to work with.

-1/2 pound peeled, headless, de-viened Gulf Shrimp
-2 each lemons and limes
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and briefly cook the shrimp, one minute only! Rem
ove with a slotted spoon into a bowl with ice water to stop the cooking. Cool, drain and slice lengthwise. Put the shrimp bowl and squeeze equal parts lemon and lime juice over them until covered. Let sit in the frig for at least an hour.

The Dressing: Ok so we don't usually make dressings at home, we just drizzle balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and top with roughly 3x the amount of olive oil. But I decided to follow the recipe's white wine vinaigrette and see if we liked it. The problem was that the amounts were in ml and made like a gallon (maybe not quite that much...) of dressing so I had to cut everything down. We did end up liking it though, so it was worth the trouble.

-25 ml lime juice
-15 ml lemon juice
-60 ml chardonnay
-1 medium shallot, minced
-200 ml extra virgin olive oil
-2 T minced chives
-salt and pepper to taste
Combine lime, lemon juice, chardonnay and shallot and whisk in olive oil gradually. Add the chives and season to taste. Be sure to mix well before you use it.

Assembling the "Salad": The above items can all be prepped ahead of time, but you don't want to start with the next steps until just before serving as the avocado and peaches may begin to brown. You should start these steps about 30 minutes before serving time.

The Lettuce: You can use any type of lettuce leaves (except Iceberg) as long as the stems allow them to lie fairly flat on the plate. I used bibb lettuce that I bought at the farmers market and cut out the bottom part of the stem.

-16 medium sized lettuce leaves Wash and pat dry. Arrange on 2 leaves on each plate opposite each other with the stem sides touching.

The Garnish: Take 8 grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half and de-seed. Slice into super tiny little slices and the mince. Put in a bowl, season with a bit of salt. You won't need this again until the very end.

The Beets, Part II: When completely cool, slice of the ends and then cut an even 1/2" wide slice. Using the appropriate diameter metal cutter, put it in the center of slice and cut downward to get your perfect beet disc. Cut as many 1/2" discs from each beet as you can that will be large enough to use the cutter (2-4, depending on the size of the beet). Place the disc in the center of the plate on top of the lettuce leaves. Brush the top of the slice with a little of the dressing, but be careful not to drip it down the sides.

The Avocado: The trick with the avocados is to find ones that are firm but ripe. If I was careful, I could get 2-3 cuts from each one, but again, I bought extra for backup.

-5 medium sized, firm avocados
Cut of the end at a point that will
be wide enough for the cutter, you don't need to peel them. Using the appropriate diameter metal cutter, put it in the center of slice and cut downward to get your perfect avocado disc. Cut as many 1/2" discs from each avocado as you can that will be large enough to use the cutter (2-3, depending on the size of the avocado). Place the disc in the center of the plate on top of the beet disc. Brush the top of the slice with a little of the dressing, but be careful not to drip it down the sides.

The Peaches: Again you are looking for fairly large, ripe but firm peaches. The local peaches gave me 2 slices per fruit.

-5 medium sized firm peaches
Cut of the end at a point that will be wide enough for the cutter, you don't need to peel them. Using the appropriate diameter metal cutte
r, put it in the center of slice and cut downward to get your perfect peach disc. Cut as many 1/2" discs from each peach as you can that will be large enough to use the cutter (2-3, depending on the size of the peach). Place the disc in the center of the plate on top of the avocado disc. Brush the top of the slice with a little of the dressing, but be careful not to drip it down the sides.

The Shrimp, Part II: Take your shrimp out of the frig, drain juice and pat dry before assembling. Using 2 slices per dish, arrange on top of the peaches in a circle, there should be sort of a hole in the middle to place the goat cheese balls. Brush the top of the slice with a little of the dressing, but be careful not to drip it down the sides.

The Goat Cheese Balls, Part II: Remove your goat cheese balls from the frig and taking some of your left over chives, carefully insert a few into the top of each ball. Place the balls on top of the shrimp.

Final touches: Spoon a small amount, about 1/2 teaspoon of the tomato mixture in 2 places on the the plate.

Wine Pairing: While Sauvignon Blanc would have worked well with most of the ingredients in the dish, how boring would that have been? So we opted for (surprise, surprise), an Italian white with a similar flavor profile, but with more interesting components. The Rocca del Principe Fiano di Avellino was absolutely perfect with the dish, picking up the citrus notes in the dish and complementing the food with it's acidity and minerality

The Last Word: So we invited everyone into the kitchen and had the dishes placed on the table when they came in. Cutting into it was a bit difficult, mine sort of toppled over onto the plate, but once you bit into the different flavors and textures, everything really worked. I have to admit, for a last minute decision and no practice run, it was a "fabulous presentation", excellent wine pairing and it tasted pretty damn good too!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wine of the Moment, 2007 Antigal Uno Malbec

I have to admit that the first thing that you notice about the Antigal Uno Malbec is the packaging. These guys have put some serious effort into catching your eye with the metal "1" on the front of the bottle, sleek shape and coppery graphics. But the great thing about it is that the juice that's inside matches the quality of the packaging and you and your friends will be very impressed by both!

The Antigal Winery is located in Mendoza, more specifically in the famed Uco Valley of Tupungato. The Malbec grapes for the UNO come from their vineyards that sit at an elevation of 2000 feet above sea level where they have everything they need to produce perfect grapes. The calcarious soils in the foothills of the Andes combined with very hot days with very cool nights, gives the grapes the ability to ripen slowly with a high concentration of flavors and aromas.

Made with high quality, hand picked, estate grown fruit, the Antigal Uno is aged 8 months in a combination of French and American oak. Luscious black and red berry fruit is brightened by natural acidity and supported by firm but ripe tannins. The silky palate has tobacco, cocoa and vanilla-spice notes with a decent finish. I haven't found anything in this price point that can beat it, but I'm open to suggestions!


Monday, July 5, 2010

Italy, A Refreshing Respite from Dull, Oak Laden Whites

I've never been shy about expressing my love for Italian wine. And while many are jumping on the Italian bandwagon because it's hot and popular, it's not just a fad for me, it is my passion and the reason I am in this business. To me, it is by far the most exciting area of the world in terms of diversity and quality and that is evident when you visit to the shop as the number of Italian wines lining the shelves far outweigh any other country or region. In fact if I thought it would work here in New Orleans, there would be nothing but Italian wine on the shelves!

One of the great things about Italian wines is that I never get bored. According to Attilio Scienza, a well-known professor of enology at the University of Milan, there are more than 800 distinct grape varieties to be found in Italy. So our job here at Swirl is to educate our inquisitive customers on the diversity and beauty of Italian wine. And if you allow yourself to go there, it opens you to a whole new world of wine and food experiences that to me is unparalleled by any other place on earth.

That being said, there are 4 new white wines in the shop this week that have me really excited! All retail for less than $16, are delicious with or without food, and really show the diversity that Italy has to offer. Buy a bottle of each and get a 10% discount!

So if you are looking for a refreshing respite from dull, oak laden white wines, bring your sense of adventure into the shop this week and try one of these amazing Italian wines, I promise you won't be disappointed!

2008 Nicodemi Trebbiano D'Abruzzo (Abruzzo) - Pretty jasmine and citrus on the nose with the distinct stony minerality on the palate that is typical of the good wines from the region. Zesty spices, herbs, little black pepper, and balanced acidity make this a fabulous food wine and a sophisticated daily drinker at $14.99! 2 glasses by Gambero Rosso

2009 Vinosia Malvasia Salento (Campania) - Aromas of golden apples, pineapple and a touch of honey. Medium-bodied with good concentration. Nice freshness, lively acidity and a clean, round finish. Made from a blend of three different strains of the Malvasia variety in steal at $12.99!

2009 Tasca D'Almerita Regaleali Bianco (Sicilia)- Although this wine has been a staple on our shelves, the newly acquired 2009 vintage is exceptional! Vibrant notes of peach, pear and citrus, Regaleali Bianco is dry and crisp with excellent structure and a deliciously fruity finish. Clean and refreshing, it is a blend of three Sicilian grapes, Inzolia, Catarratto and Grecanico and just screams SICILIA! $15.50

2009 Palazzone Dubini Bianco (Umbria)- This wine combines the best attributes of Orvieto with the modern thirst for truly dry white wine. Scents of acacia, apricot, and dried honey emanate from the glass and the palate offers a fresh, crisp, and slightly fruity blend of Procanico and Grechetto. “Unquestionably the number one small estate of Orvieto -Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. $13.99

The Latest on the Sicilian Fig "Tree"

For those of you who have been following the progress of the little cutting from the Sicilian fig tree that returned with me after our last trip, I think it is now safe to call it a little tree instead of a cutting! It is about 2.5 feet high and has been thriving this summer with the leaf stems sprouting secondary growth and becoming small branches.

So here's where we started and where we are now. Pretty amazing, huh?

And in case you missed the original post from November....

For the Love of Figs,
November 14, 2009

I've been wanting to plant a fig tree for a while now. We were at our friend Kaysey's house in Covington last year and picked fresh figs from a tree right off of her balcony one morning for breakfast. Drizzled with a little honey and spread with fresh goats cheese, they are to die for! So I start looking online, trying to figure out what kind of fig tree I wanted and where I would get it. Should I order one? Should I just find one locally? Could I grow one from a cutting?? For the last year I've been contemplating planting a fig tree but somehow it never seemed to happen.

Sometime before we went to Sicily I was again looking at growing from a cutting. I found out it was relatively easy, but how would I decide where I wanted to do a cutting from? The right answer didn't come, until we were in Sicily...

On a windy Sunday afternoon in Sambuca di Sicilia, we were walking the beautiful grounds of Planeta's Ulmo winery with Chiara Planeta. Having just finished an amazing tasting of way too many of their wines, we were heading into the dining area of the 16th century farmhouse for lunch, when I noticed a beautiful fig tree on their property. After more wine and a delicious lunch of local foods, I asked Chiara if I could possibly have a cutting from their fig tree. She said of course and cut off a small piece about 6-8" long. As delighted as I was to have it, I now just had to figure out what to do with it!!

So, I put the cutting in my purse and tried to recall what I had read about propagating fig trees from cuttings. When we got to our next lodging spot, Mandranova, I was so enthralled with the place that I had forgotten about my cutting. Four days later at our last agriturismo, I found it and decided to put it in a glass of water. Our next stop was Roma for a few days and then home so I wrapped the bottom in a paper towel soaked with water and then put it in a plastic bag. I was a little nervous about getting it through customs, but it made it into the states and into our kitchen.

Well we came back with way too many things to do, so I just stuck it in water again until I had time to do something with it. Another week went by, it was now more than 2 weeks since Chiara had cut it for me, when I found a post about propagating fig trees at gardenguides.com. By this time is was starting to get brown and I really didn't have much hope for it, but I figured what the hell, it couldn't hurt to try. Here are the instructions that I followed:

Step 1
Cut stems for rooting in late winter. Cut 1-year-old stems growing in the center of the tree. Make the stems between 6 and 8 inches long and approximately as thick as a finger. I kind of got this right, but we did not take it from the center of the tree and it wasn't late winter...

Step 2
Line the bottom of the plastic container with newspaper and place 2 to 3 inches of potting soil into the bottom. Place as many as four cuttings in one plastic container, standing them so that the cut ends are in the soil. Add more potting soil to fill the container--you should see just the tips of the cuttings.

Step 3
Water the soil and place the container in a location where there is bright sun, but not direct light. Keep the temperature at 70 degrees F or higher. My office at home seems to be working well. It has lots of windows and gets light from the east and south.

Step 4
Cut off the bottom of a plastic bottle--a soft-drink bottle works well--and place the bottle over the container. Keep the cap on the bottle. I used an orange juice container that Ron had left in the frig during his house/dog sitting stay.

Step 5
Water the cuttings only when the soil dries out completely. Lift the container and if it feels light, place it in a shallow pan filled with water. Allow the soil in the container to soak up water from the pan. Remove the container when the soil is moist again. I have not had to do this yet, probably in a few days.

Step 6
When new shoots and leaves extend from the cuttings, remove the bottle cap. If the cuttings continue to grow after several days, remove the bottle. If they wilt, replace the bottle and try again in a few days. If they thrive, it is time to transplant the cuttings. This where I am now, I just removed the cap, take a look at my photo!! I am amazed that this thing is actually growing after what I've put it through...

So, I'll keep you posted as to how the rest of this goes, but so far so good! Keep your figures crossed and hopefully one day I can be giving some of you cuttings from my Planeta fig tree from Sicilia!!

Thanks Chiara!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Eat Fresh! Support Local Fishermen and Farmers

Our trips to the local Crescent City Farmers Market, K-Jeans seafood and our own garden the past few weekends have netted in some really memorable meals. Nothing fancy, but it is amazing how good, simply prepared, ultra fresh ingredients can make for a really flavorful meal.

For example, yesterday we picked up those beautiful baby zucchini, lots of ripe red tomatoes, butter beans, freshly made cheese and milk at the CCFM, and then some gorgeous tilapia fillets at K-Jeans. We've got more cucumbers and basil coming from our garden that you can imagine, so we had lots of options for dinner!

I started with the zucchini: sliced them in half and salt and peppered them; heated a good amount of oil in a large skillet with some peperoncino and fried until lightly browned. The baby ones pack a ton of flavor, so I didn't need to add anything else!

I couldn't wait to eat those tomatoes so I chopped them and a few of our cucumbers in chunks, added a small amount of sliced onion, with a little fresh basil and oregano from the garden. Dressed simply in 1 part balsamic vinegar to 3 parts evoo, the tomatoes were deliciously sweet and the crunchy fresh cucumbers added the perfect texture.

Next I made the pesto. Kerry planted tons of basil this year and fresh pesto is a staple that we just love in the summer. I took 2 packed cups of basil, a clove of garlic, a pinch of sea salt, 3/4 cup of mainly freshly grated Parmesan cheese with a little Pecorino and 3 T. of pine nuts and threw it in the cuisinart. Pulsed until finely chopped and then slowly added in 1 cup of evoo and pulsed until oil and herb mixture are well blended. This made about 2 cups of pesto. Added freshly cooked pasta and topped with a little more cheese.

Kerry took care of the fish. She made a little lemon butter sauce with 1/2 stick melted butter whisked with 4 t. freshly squeezed lemon juice and a pinch each of cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. She salt and peppered the fillets and dredged them in a little flour. Reheating the oil left from the zucchini fried them over med-high heat until just lightly browned. Sorry, I got to hungry to take any more pictures...

We packed our plates with veggies and pasta, added the fish with the lemon butter sauce spooned on top, and settled down to watch the first day of the Tour de France, our absolute favorite sporting event of the year! We drank a great little Italian white wine, the Vinosia Malvasia, cheered Lance on as we cleaned our plates and commented on how lucky we are to eat such great food. Everything was simple, fresh, local and delicious and we finished it all off with one of my freshly baked Biscotti Amaretti.

A great performance by Lance, and superb meal, what a perfect Saturday night!

A Sweet Sunday Respite

Most Sundays start with a long bike ride. Usually by noon, we've ridden 40-50 miles, eaten a big burger washed down with a few beers and are ready for a nap. But Sundays are also the day that I finish up all of my blog posts for the week, so an afternoon cup of coffee or tea are usually on the menu too. Having ridden exceptionally hard today, I treated myself to one of the Biscotti Amaretti that I made yesterday as well.

I've been on a mission with these nutty flourless Italian cookies since I first had one when we were in Chicago early in the year. Finding a recipe for something similar, I made the pistachio version a few months ago, but I felt like the texture was just not right, a little to gooey. Recently I found this recipe, using almonds, in a new cookbook I bought by Maria Filice called
"Breaking Bread in L'Aquila" , and it is absolutely perfect! The cookies are satisfyingly dense, chewy and nutty, and one is all you need for your afternoon coffee.

The book itself is a beautiful tribute to the style of cooking from the small town of L'Aquila in the Abruzzo region of Italy, where the author spent much time visiting her late husband's family. You may remember that this area was devastated in 2009 by a terrible earthquake. Upon a recent visit after the disaster, Maria reports:

"When I was leaving L'Aquila on my short visit in September 2009, in the lobby sitting next to me was an older woman, relocated there from her crumbled home in the city. We made eye contact. I smiled, and she asked me what I was doing in L'Aquila. I told her that I was finishing my book and that I had wished to see L'Aquila once more before I could put closure on my book's introduction. She looked at me and gripping my hand, said, "Don't forget about us." I was moved. This deepened my resolve to complete the book, and release it on April 6th 2010–the anniversary of the earthquake–as a reminder to readers of the Abruzzo region's suffering. I promised the elderly lady that I would help by donating the net profits of my book to L'Aquila."

I've posted the recipe below, and click here if you'd like to check out the book. It is cleverly organized by days of the week and each day features seven courses of an Italian meal starting with the antipasti and finishing with the dolci. Simple recipes, with easy to find ingredients and for a good cause, I'm happy to have it in my collection!

Biscotti Amaretti
from Maria Filice's "Breaking Bread in L'Aquila"

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

  • 3 cups whole almonds with skins, plus an additional 36 whole almonds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups of confectioner's sugar, spread on a large sheet of wax paper for rolling
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Lightly grease three baking sheets with vegetable spray or line with parchment paper.
  • Using a food processor, pulse the 3 cups of almonds until they are finely ground. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and almond extract. Add the ground nuts and gently fold them together until you have a moist mixture that you can form into balls.
  • Using a teaspoon or your fingers, scoop up the batter and form balls, and then roll them in the confectioner's sugar. Place the balls at least an inch apart on the greased baking sheet. Prior to baking, press one whole almond into each ball.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cookies are golden in color and firm to the touch.
  • Let them cool before removing them from the baking sheets.
Make a good cup of coffee or espresso, put your feet up and enjoy!


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