WBW #58 – Wine and Coltrane

Francis Coppola 2007 Alicante Bouschet Katie over at gonzo gastronomy issued a creative challenge:  write about your experience with a wine or wines and different kinds of music.   I love music and wine so I simply could not pass up this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW) theme.

I’m approaching the task as an opportunity to try a grape I’ve never tasted before by a producer whose wines are also unfamiliar to me.  To give credit where it is due, I got the idea to go outside my wine comfort zone after watching Gary Vaynerchuk in a video with the ladies of Galavanting TV.

So I visited my local wine shop, and asked the wine director for a suggestion in the obscure red grape department.  He handed me  a 2007 Francis Coppola Alicante Bouschet and told me that the Coppola winery was one of the few left in California still producing the wine for commercial consumption.   He said it was a hearty food wine.   Actually, I had only planned to serve the wine with a meal of music, so just to be safe, I asked for a cheese suggestion, to which he quickly replied, blue.  I just so happened to have some in my fridge.

When I got home, I consulted my copy of the Wine Lover’s Companion for more information on this mysterious grape (mysterious to me anyway).  I learned that Alicante Bouschet is a hybrid vine created by Frenchman Louis Bouschet de Bernard and his son by crossing Grenache and Petit Bouschet, Petit Bouschet itself a blend of Teinturier du Cher and Aramon.   Planted widely in Southern France and North Africa, the grape is cultivated to provide intense color to wine, not to stand on its own, though Francis Coppola would beg to differ and I do too; this wine can stand alone…with the right kind of music.

As to the music,  I wanted to sample the wine first with something I had never heard before, so I stopped off at my favorite internet radio site, Beyond Jazz, and cued up the tune Breakdown by Homecut featuring Andreya Triana from the compilation mix, Boom-Boom-Boom.  I uncorked and hit play at the same time.   The vibe was melodic and smooth, a sort of soul-hop groove.  The nose was a bit mellow, with some muted signs of berries.  A taste revealed cherries, maybe raspberry even some raisins in there, and a sugary taffy aftertaste like a cherry Now and Later.  I dug the tune and the hypnotic refrain: “I know there’s something much better, something much more than this”.   I hope so! Time for the next group, Jazz Liberatorz and a tune called Mountain Sunlight featuring Mos Def.   This is an upbeat composition featured on the same Beyond Jazz mix with a jazzy hip-hop feel and some trippy synth effects.  My mood changed and the wine seemed to sweeten and elevate, scaling the mountain.   I felt like dancing.

Next stop to music I know – Santana from Welcome – a cut called Yours is the Light.  Really old stuff – 1973.  Makes me want to drink right from the bottle and pass it around Woodstock style.  There’s a tinge of smoke to this wine, and a little acidity, two substances quite popular in 1973.   Feeling a bit hungry, I broke out the blue cheese and to my delight the two paired magically with Santana.

Shifting gears, I broke out my Stereolab LP, something from a compilation called Serene Velocity.  I chose this record because the album art has a h45016twjlumagenta like coloration that matches the wine label and it just looks like wine in the abstract.  I put on Come and Play in the Milky Night and immediately got lost in the sound and forgot about the wine.  I took a sip to wake up, but the wine seemed asleep too.  I had to switch into overdrive.

Jazz, but something complex and intellectual.  Coltrane’s Giant Stepsh90867ek9wk.  This is it.  I’ve found the right music for this wine.  The title track, Giant Steps, brought out my senses, a heightened awareness of my surroundings.  And there is so much going on in Coltrane’s work – for me it’s like a spiritual experience trying to follow his saxophone solo.  Coltrane plays like no other could, with complete mastery.  He rescued my mood from the spacey sounds of Stereolab and transformed this otherwise ordinary grape into a wine with structure, complexity and balance – giant steps indeed!

WBW #54 – A Passion for Piedmont

I have to confess that I don’t drink a lot of Italian wine.  It’s not that I dislike it, I just typically look to other places for affordable wine –  Spain, Chile, Argentina, Australia.   The last Italian wine I bought was a quaffable primitivo,  but it’s been a while, and now, thanks to David McDuff who has issued the next Wine Blogging Wednesday challenge – WBW #54:  A Passion for Piedmont over at McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail,  I have a good reason to go back to the Italian isle of my local wine shop.   And I did.

What I know of Piedmont came from reading a book by ethnographer Shirley Brice Heath called Ways With Words.  This seminal work looked at language differences between residents of neighboring communities in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the Piedmont Carolinas, an area not esepcially known for winemaking.  However, North Carolina does have a growing wine industry, and one gaining in respect according to visitnc.com.

Knowing nothing about wines from the Piedmont region of Italy, I asked a consultant at the Wilogo1ne Emporium for a suggestion.  He pulled a couple of bottles, described them both and I chose the 2007 Ca’ del Baio Dolcetto d’ Alba because, and here I’ll let you in on a little secret to my wine selection process,  I liked the label.  The gold race horse logo looked like a winner to me.


The attendant said it was definitely a food wine and advised me to let it air out for a while.  When I got home, I uncorked it and as usual, butchered the cork – either I’m an incompetent extractor (most likely and why I prefer screw caps and synthetics) or I need to invest in a decent cork screw.  I let the wine breathe for a bit, but not for long – maybe 45 seconds because I was so excited.  And I was not disappointed.  A little sweetness on the nose which I expected from a a grape named Dolcetto – “little sweet one”.  Aromas of cherries and wild raspberries – fresh and fruity. A sip of this imperial Deep Purple colored light bodied dry Dolcetto revealed no sweetness – hey, what’s going on? Smoke and mirrors? Smoke on the Water? Deceptive to be sure, and lively too with a good bit of acidity, some tangy cherries, terse tannins and a dash of earth.  The finish is quick, clean and refreshing.  We’ll have no trouble finishing this one.

For lunch, we had steak with grilled peppers and onions and a plate load of steak fries.  With such fare, I’d normally go with a weightier wine, but the Dolcetto d’ Alba paired nicely – the tannins combined with the meat and pepper to bring out the fruitiness of the wine and the acidity sliced right through the fat.  Definitely a food wine.

Here’s what the winemaker had to say:

ruby red with violet hues; intense, fine and fruity; dry, good body, smooth, balanced, lightly tannic, sufficiently persistent; good with hors d’oeuvres, cold meats and salami, and first courses

And good with the main course too and maybe even with breakfast, but that was last month’s WBW theme.  This mighty fine wine is nicely balanced and  “sufficiently persistent” in that it seems to say “drink me, drink me”, which is exactly what we did.

WBW #53 – Breakfast Wine

2003_Alvear CrianzaBreakfast wine?  Great challenge up at El Bloggo Torcido for Wine Blogging Wednesday #53 from the folks over at Twisted Oak Winery, especially for me since I typically do not eat what one would consider a real breakfast – just a cup a joe with a banana on the go for my morning commute into the heart of Boston.   What’s more, I’m not much of a cook, short order or otherwise.  I have a tendency to burn food – eggs, steak, burgs, roast, toast.  However, there are a few dishes I do well,  and one happens to be a breakfast food – grits.   For this challenge, I’ll be serving up a mess of southern style cheese grits with garlic, hickory smoked bacon and biscuits with white gravy, lightly peppered.

But wine and cheese grits?  My first inclination was to go with a Pinot Noir just because I’d be frying up some bacon, but this just didn’t seem adventurous enough and avoided the question – what to pair with grits? Plus I have had my fill so to speak of Pinot Noir during the Holidays.  I was also thinking a crisp white, maybe an unoaked Chardonnay to cut through all the heavy dairy I churn into the grits – cheddar cheese, sour cream, butter and milk.   I decided to hold off until I got to my local wine shop.  After a few recommendations and samplings courtesy of the nice folks at the Wine Gallery, I narrowed my choices down to two –  a Chardonnay and a Spanish Tempranillo. Ultimately, I went with the red because of the name of the estate – Palacio Quemado – Burned Palace.  Sounds like my kitchen when I’m in it.  The wine is a 2003 Crianza produced by Alvear made from 100% Tempraillo grapes grown in the Ribera del Guadiana, a wine producing area which is part of the Extremadura region of Western Spain.  At $11.39, I was tempted to buy a case, but I had to stay on task and the question remained, will it go with baked cheese grits laced with garlic?

I unscrewed the cork but in doing so, destroyed it – I can never get a good center action going and stripped the thing right down the side.  I manged to extract it, but the cork practically crumbled in my hand.  Off to another great start!  You’ll have to read my WBW #52 entry to understand the reference.

Spice and earth on the nose…and a little cork too – my bad.   Medium-bodied – more weight than I expected from a Tempranillo.  A palate pleasing clean cherry tart with a dash of pepper on the finish.

From the winemaker:

Dark cherry colour, clean and brilliant, it’s aroma is intense, with hints of ripe fruit and mineral backbone.  Good varietal expression, where the wood is present, yet well integrated.  Tasty and yummy in the mouth, with fine notes of toast and liquorice.  Well structured and balanced, with a good finish and great ageing potential.

I did not find the nose intense, nor did brilliant come to mind to describe any aspect of the wine, but I’ll not quibble with the meat of the winemaker’s notes.  Balance, structure, clean, fresh fruit, spice from the oak, longish finish – it’s all there.

Now for the real test:  breakfast.   Fortunately, the wine’s acidity helped cut through the creaminess of the grits and combined beautifully with the cheddar to reveal freshly picked cherries.  The smokiness of the bacon brought out the earthy quality I sensed on the nose.   This red is indeed nicely balanced.  However, the peppered white gravy and biscuits buried the wine like an avalanche.   If you must have biscuits and white gravy for breakfast, better stick with OJ or try a Chardonnay!

With garlic infused southern style baked cheddar cheese grits, this 2003 Palacio Quemado red is definitely a hit!