Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thai food pairings?


Last weekend a few of us went out for dinner at an old favourite, Thai Basil in Sunnyvale. This used to be a tiny hole-in-the-wall on the end of Murphy Street in Sunnyvale. It was so successful that the owner opened a much larger second branch in the nearby Town & Country Village. Now that mall is being demolished and rebuilt, the original Thai Basil has expanded into what was formerly a particularly seedy looking bar called the Miramar. This is the first time we been there since it reopened.

The obvious question arose: what wine to take? What goes best with Thai food? Conventional wisdom has it that the best match for many asian cuisines is an off-dry Riesling, but although Felton Empire was once famous for it's Rieslings I don't think there's much planted here any more. Besides, I'm not a huge fan of Riesling or of off-dry wines in general. As Stephen Colbert might say: dry or sweet, pick a side, we're at war. Red wine didn't seem appropriate and although a nice sparkler might work there are very few that would really stand up to a sweet or spicy dish.
Unfortunately my cellar is somewhat lacking in dry whites these days. A 2007 Storrs Sauvignon Blanc looked promising; I also picked out a 2004 Varner Home Block Chardonnay.

The Storrs is from the San Lucas AVA, which is in Monterey County. It's a light, fruity wine with lots of the typical grapefruit flavours as well as melon, gooseberry and something tropical - guava perhaps. There's a slight sweetness that showed up particularly when paired with a bowl of Tom Yum Soup.

The Storrs didn't last long, so we moved on to the Varner. In theory this should have been a good pairing; it's a full bodied, rich, creamy Chardonnay. The oak has integrated nicely after a couple of years in the cellar; there even seemed to be a hint of petrol on the nose like you'd expect from a Riesling. But in practice the sweetness of the sauces, nuts and coconut, and the spice of the chili and basil somewhat overpowered the wine. With hindsight I think a Fogarty Gewurztraminer would probably have been a better choice; I'll save the Varners for something more appropriate.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

2007 Alfaro Family Rosé

Recently my wife was complaining that we had no rosé left in the cellar, so a restocking was in order. I called in at K&L and saw the 2007 Alfaro Family for $14.
I visited Alfaro Family earlier this year as part of the Pinot Paradise event and I remember being impressed with their Pinot Rosé; it had a nice flavour of strawberries, perfect for the hot weather.

Maybe they were pouring the 06, or maybe it's the four months in bottle, but the flavour profile of this was very different than I remember. The dominant flavour is now raspberry, backed by a kind of fruit punch. It's fruity without being sweet, and light in acidity. Overall a perfectly serviceable, though not particularly inspiring sipper for those warm evenings and weekends as summer draws to a close.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Woodside Vineyards

Woodside vineyards was bonded in 1963, which makes them officially 45 years old this year (and slightly older than me). In this anniversary year some significant changes are afoot. Now aged 82, Bob Mullen has sold his property on Kings Mountain Road along with the vineyard and winery buildings, but not the business. Woodside Vineyards is now in the process of looking for a new home, preferably within the Woodside area.

The good news is that the new owner isn't planning on taking immediate posession, so the 2008 vintage will continue to be produced as normal. The future of the vineyard is not certain, but it seems likely that it will continue to be managed by Woodside Vineyards for at least the next year, possibly longer. Since that is only one of around 25 vineyard sources used by the winery there shouldn't be any significant impact.

This last weekend the vineyard held an open house for mailing list members and were pouring several new releases. Wes and his group had visited on Saturday; I managed to get up there on Monday.

1997 Sparkling Wine I wasn't particularly impressed with this the last time I tasted it. The price has been reduced from $30 to $20 so clearly I'm not the only one. There's some green apple but a lot of what some might call minerrality, but to me it just tasted like baking soda. There's far better bubbly for the money. $20

2006 Chardonnay Lots of vanilla and green apples. Fruity with a rich mouthfeel. Quite low in acidity for a Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay and a surprisingly tannic finish; I'm guessing this was fermented on the skins for longer than is typical. I'm in two minds over this; I got one to try at a later date, but it's not my favourite. $22

2005 Pinot Noir This is the first chance I've had to taste the Pinot, but I've heard good things about it. At Pinot Paradise I think it was the first wine to run out, and unfortunately I'd started at the other end of the room. I wasn't disappointed; it really delivered. It reminded me of a much more concentrated version of the 07 Great Blue Heron I tried on Saturday; not entirely surprising given the proximity and the shared history. Lots of chocolate and cherry, with a long finish. $36. Go get some before it sells out!

2005 Estate Zinfandel I do like the Woodside Zinfandel. Lots of bright raspberry fruit and pepper, with some coffee and chocolate from the oak. The finish is long too. $30

2005 Kings Mountain Cabernet This wine and the Estate Cabernet both won Gold medals at the SCMWA Commercial Wine Competition, with the Kings Mountain being voted best SCM Red. I'm sorry, but the judges got it wrong. The Kings Mountain cab is a good wine; lots of blackberry/blackcurrant fruit, a little coffee and caramel, but it didn't wow me like the (Silver medal winning) Pinot did. I'm not even convinced that the 2005 is as good as the 2004 I opened recently, though to be fair the 2004 had a year of cellaring. Having said that it's still a damn fine wine and one of the best Santa Cruz Mountains cabs for opening tonight. Excellent value at $22. I bought two and would have liked a case.

2004 Estate Cabernet A lot more structure - tannin and acidity - than the Kings Mountain. Typically the Estate needs a few years in the cellar to show well and this one is no exception. There's plenty of fruit but it needs time to come round. $40.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Great Blue Heron Vineyard

When Paul and Robin Smith built their home in Woodside about 10 years ago they approached Bob Mullen of Woodside Vineyards for suggestions on what to do with their estate. Bob recommended planting Pinot Noir; he oversaw the first phase of planting and took the fruit from the early vintages.
Later vintages were custom-crushed at Thomas Fogarty by Michael Martella, but Fogarty needed the capacity for their own use so Paul set up a winery in his three-car garage under Martella's supervision.

A group of us met at the vineyard last weekend. Wes had arranged a tour calling at Ridge for their "Taste of Monte Bello" event and at Woodside for their open house, but I had other commitments and was only able to make this event. I was accompanied by my one-year-old son which made taking notes impractical, so this is from memory.

The vines are now fully mature and produce enough fruit for 100 cases of Pinot Noir. Paul would like to increase production, but as ever it's a question of sourcing suitable fruit. The wine is sold at Roberts of Woodside for around $21 and is also at a few local restaurants, as well as being available directly from the winery. Unusually for Pinot the wines are bottled in Bordeaux-style bottles. This was done to give more space for the bottle label; the plan is to have a different label every year with artwork from local artists. The name Great Blue Heron comes from one of the resident wildlife who apparently helped keep the area clear of gophers when the vineyard was planted.

The first vintage was 2005, and was scored 86 by Wine Spectator. We tasted the 2006 and the newly bottled 2007. The painting that graces the 2006 label was the first to be commissioned by the winery and depicts a heron sitting on a lake. The wine had a reddish-brown colour reminiscent of an older wine; on the palate there was some candied fruit and a character I couldn't immediately pinpoint. On the way home I wondered if the wine was slightly madeirized.

The 2007 on the other hand had a more vibrant purple colour and really nice, rich cherry and chocolate flavours. I purchased a couple of bottles and plan to let them stand for a few weeks before sampling again; I'll probably end up going back for more. The label has a photograph of two herons in flight.