By: Linda Kissam
I am often contacted by people representing various wine brands. They find me through my blog, or through articles I’ve written, or radio interviews I’ve done. Their question is simple, “Would I be willing to receive some samples and review the wines. “ Well…let me think on that for about 10 seconds…heck yes! I am always happy to give the wines a try, but only review them if I had something positive to say. I just don’t see the point in bashing a wine. Does that make me a wimpy reviewer? Nope. Not only might it be a wine that others will love, but what constructive purpose will my writing something negative about their wine serve?
This mantra has held true for me, especially since I started a Women’s and a Men’s Wine Council. It’s fun and educational to share my wines with fellow wine enthusiasts. The basic structure of the groups is 3 other wine writers and 2 non-writer wine lovers. It’s a good balance of give and take, going through each wine, talking about what we think. Sometimes we bring in food, other times we go solo – wines only. At the end of the evening we rank the wines according to our own preferences. What I have learned from this experience? Even if you’re the Chief Wino organizing the group, your favorite wines are not necessarily going to win that night. It just brings home the point, the art of judging wine is subjective and whatever you like makes a winner.
At the Men’s Wine Council tasting we tasted 4 Folie á Deux wines and an impulse add on, a Mead wine from Hawaii. Prices ranged from $18- $24. Folie á Deux is a French term meaning “shared fantasies.” According to their Web site the, “Wines represent the fulfillment of a dream to create a beautiful dance of flavors and true varietal expression.” Not sure every wine lived up to that promise, but I found some I could definitely bring to a party or sip on my patio.
2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($18) – A drinkable Chardonnay for the price point. Presents with aromas of apple and peach and should pair with a variety of foods like Crab Cakes . Not over oaked. Expect nuances of vanilla and toasted oak. Suggested song pairing (per the notes included in the sample), “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” by Otis Redding. Group gave it a 2nd place rating.
2008 Napa Valley Merlot ($18) – Pretty garnet color. Boasts fragrant scents of sweet cherry and ripe plum laced with some subtle spice. The palate is soft with red berry fruit flavors and a hint of cocoa. Enjoyed this wine with roasted or grilled chicken– the wine will complement, not overwhelm the dish. Think good midweek wine. Group ranked this one in 1st place.
2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($24)- 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Syrah from Napa Valley vineyards. After fermentation the wine spent an additional 14 days on the skins before being aged for 15 months in a combination of French and American oak; 20,500 cases produced. The wine has an inky plum color around the edges. Expect big tannins. May need to lay down for a while. I enjoyed the nose with hints of ripe berries. Based on the nose I expected more from this wine but the flavor profile just wasn’t overly complex. It’s a good “starter” Cab for those just getting into more complex wines. This wine took 4th place.
2008 Amador County Zinfandel ($18) – This is an old-fashioned Zinfandel – not overly jammy and not all that high in alcohol (14.5 %). It’s a contradiction of sorts. While it is ripe and juicy, it’s also kind of rustic. The nose showcases cherries, vanilla, and cinnamon. The palate is soft and pleasing with no hot spots. All in all, this is not what I’d expected from an Amador County Zinfandel, but it hit the spot with me. The group ranked it 3rd – I ranked it 1st.
Laka’s Nector by Nami Mood Mead ($24) – Made in Hawaii with Hawaiian raw honey. No sulfites or preservatives added. Mead is an acquired taste, so this wine ranked last in the tasting, but probably would have done well in an all-Mead tasting. Best served very cold, it would go well with light island cuisine or Monterey Jack cheese. It sort of grew on me with its beer-like mouthfeel and dry delicate noted.
Recipe: Wild salmon with Leeks and Raisins | Compliments of Folie á Deux
The richness of wild-caught salmon makes a friendly match for both Folie á Deux’s Chardonnay and Merlot. The recipe is fairly simple and a sprinkle of crisp chopped bacon makes it even more appealing.
4 medium leeks (including the white part and some of the green)
4 whole allspice berries
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. raisins
½ C. chicken stock
½ C. heavy cream
1 ¼ – 1 ½ lbs. boneless salmon filet
If serving Merlot: 2 pieces thick-cut bacon
For Leek Sauce: Split leeks lengthwise and discard tough green portions of leaves. Cut crosswise in ½ inch pieces, then submerge in cold water. Rinse very well to remove all sand, drain well (you should have about 6 cups in all). Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat and cook leeks until almost tender, stirring regularly but not allowing to brown. Crush the allspice berries very well and with back of a slotted spoon and add to leeks along with bay leaves and raisins. The sauce will improve if covered and allowed to rest 15-30 minutes at this point, if possible. Add the stock, cream, and cayenne; simmer slowly 1-2 minutes to thicken sauce slightly. Season to taste with salt and keep warm.
If serving with Merlot: Cook bacon slices over medium heat in a heavy skillet until crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
For Salmon: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Salt salmon filet well and lay, skin down, in center of a sheet pan. Roast uncovered in oven 10-15 minutes, or just until thickest part of fish is cooked through (center should be pink rather than dark red). To serve with Merlot, portion fish and leeks onto plates as for Chardonnay, but also coarsely chop the bacon and sprinkle over the leeks to finish.
Jasmine rich and a few wild mushrooms sautéed in butter make nice accompaniments to this flavorful dish.