All duck dinner – duck five ways with five wines!

We are fortunate to live in a city with a restaurant like The Crested Duck.   Chef Kevin Costa painstakingly obsesses to make sure that every single bite is satisfying and tasty – AND reflects the flavors he intended.   With this in mind, and knowing several people who love duck – we at www.off-the-grid.ws challenged The Crested Duck to create a five course dinner with some element of duck in EVERY COURSE!   Chef Costa accepted the challenge and produced a menu that looked great to us, so we sent the invitation hoping to capture the interest of those few who dig duck like us… it sold out in three hours!

Matching the wines to the courses would hopefully be less challenging than creating the food, but we would see…   As it turned out the food was fantastic, and my biggest surprise was the ice cream made with duck fat – Wow!   The wines performed well: the Sauternes was the appropriate and correct match for the Foie Gras, the Decoy Chardonnay was wonderfully crisp for a Californian chardonnay, but despite my imagining that the main duck courses would match better to the smooth and spicy Rioja (which was still a very nice wine), the overwhelming crowd favorite was the Dierberg Pinot Noir.   I will note that one bottle of the Pinot Noir smelled slightly ‘off’ but fortunately this blew off quickly and the wine returned to its normal lushness.   Finally the Gruet Brut NV was the ever-reliable-bubbly that we have loved for years, providing a lively counter to the super rich duck ice cream dessert.

Off-the-Grid Sunday Supper –ALL DUCK DINNER at The Crested Duck

1st COURSE – FOIE GRAS MOUSSE – LEEK CONFIT, BAKED APPLE, PANCETTA

LA FLEUR RENAISSANCE SAUTERNES 2011

 

2nd COURSE – CHARCUTERIE – SMOKED DUCK BREAST, DUCK AND CHERRY PATE, DUCK SPECK

DUCKHORN DECOY CHARDONNAY SONOMA 2013

 

3rd COURSE – DUCK CONFIT CREPE – ORANGE CRÈME FRAICHE, POMEGRANATE, BITTER CHOCOLATE

DIERBERG PINOT NOIR Santa Maria VALLEY 2010

 

4th COURSE – CRISPY DUCK BREAST – MUSHROOM RISOTTO

CVNE VINA REAL RIOJA ALAVESA CRIANZA 2009

 

5th COURSE – CARAMELIZED DUCK FAT & FLEUR DE SEL ICE CREAM – SHORTBREAD COOKIE

GRUET BRUT METHODE CHAMPENOISE NV

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Napa Merlot worth trying – Bommarito Merlot Napa Valley 2012 by Whitehall Lane

While contemplating the famous anti-merlot statements in the movie ‘SIDEWAYS’, my enthusiast friends and I reiterated our belief that Merlot got a bad wrap in that movie scene.   To be fair to those who cheered when the line was delivered, we recognize that Merlot as a varietal became hugely popular through the 1990s, which led to over planting and over production of the California favorite and too much mediocre, over-ripe, too-sweet Merlots.   But does this mean Merlot is ‘bad’?  Of course not – some of the world’s most famous wines are Merlot-based – has anyone priced a Chateau Petrus lately? For those of us who cannot afford the world’s most sought after Bordeaux wines, we are still quite fortunate to have access to perfectly tasty Merlot wines that no one would (or should) be embarrassed to order!

One such wine is the Bommarito Merlot Napa Valley 2012.   Famous Napa producer Whitehall Lane created this wine (named after the historic Bommarito Vineyard in Rutherford) from Napa Valley sourced grapes during the high volume and equally high quality 2012 vintage.   Despite the affordable $14 pricetag, this wine delivers aromas of cherry and oak on the nose, and a big, rich, ripe, mouthful of dark berries and (common Merlot trademark) blueberry flavors ending in a not-too-tannic finish that is quite pleasing.   Of note, even though fruit is huge in this wine, at no point is this Merlot too sweet or over-oaked in its assembly.   Overall this wine delivers what Napa reds are famous for, at a price far below most quality Napa wines – so we consumers owe it to ourselves to give it a try!   Try it with hard cheeses and grilled meats, I certainly will!

(Bommarito Merlot Napa Valley 2012 by Whitehall Lane PLCB Code 33389 $13.99)

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Bargain Portuguese red blend Carmim Aragones Reguengos 2012

Looking for a wine to stand up to burgers and other summer-grill favorites?  Try the Carmim Aragones Reguengos 2012 – you may want to buy several to last the remainder of the Grilling Season!

First some background: American wine enthusiasts often overlook the wines of Portugal, not for any ill will toward the country (I loved Portugal in all aspects during my visit) but more for the fact that Portuguese grapes are little known outside of Portugal, many Portuguese wines are blends of multiple grapes and this is a difficult hurdle to overcome in a world wine market focused on universal grape names – how many times have we heard a customer tell a server “I’ll have a Cabernet” or “I like Chardonnay”?   Conversely, rarely is heard the phrase “please bring me a multiple grape blend of Portuguese grapes that I cannot pronounce”…

So while there may be understandable reasons why Portuguese wines do not own high level American mind-share, there are many reasons wine enthusiasts should give them a try.   For example, Portugal’s wine industry suffered (like the rest of its economy) through difficult political rule in the 20 century, leaving many of its vineyards neglected and wineries idle, but the past 20 years have seen vast financial investment with influx of international talent which resulted in rapid redevelopment of Portugal’s wine industry – this allows the wine-buying public to enjoy good quality wines at bargain prices.

Case in point:  Carmim Aragones Reguengos 2012 is a quality red at a good price ($10 bucks!).   Hailing from one of Portugal’s lesser known regions (Alentejo Region covers the south central portion of the country), and specifically a co-op in the town of Reguengos de Monsaraz, a town due east of Lisbon and nearly to the Spanish border which also is home to very successful ESPORAO Wines and Olive Oils.   A blend of 40% Trincadeira (sometimes referred to as ‘Portuguese Malbec’, but in reality not related to Malbec), 40% Aragonez (also called Tinto Roriz in other Portuguese regions, and Tempranillo in Spain), 20% Castelão (sometimes called Periquita in Portugal), these are not the most commonly known grapes, but the blend results in a pleasing red wine.   The color is dark garnet red, not purple, but nearly as dark.   Although medium bodied, the wine packs an intense, juicy delivery of red and black fruit flavors with a bit of a rustic character.   The freshness and clean flavor intensity together with medium body gives away its old world origin – and makes it ideal to stand up to cheeses and possibly grilled veggies or meats.   Additionally, this wine is listed as #20 on a popular wine magazine’s top 100 best buys.   You might like it too – and at this price it is worth a try!  (PLCB Code: 43567 Carmim Aragones Reguengos 2012 $9.99 750ML, 14% ABV, Available in Specialty Stores).

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Screaming Good Deal: The Show Chardonnay 2012 at $7.99

A certain satisfaction always accompanies declaring a Screaming Good Deal – defined as a wine with below $10 price point and above $10 quality.   In the case of The Show Chardonnay 2012, satisfaction is clearly warranted.

Similar to many other wines at affordable price points, The Show Chardonnay is a wine produced by winemakers and business people using purchased grapes, rather than by a winery on an estate using exclusively estate grown grapes.   While the estate grown and produced wines may produce consistently high quality wines vintage after vintage, the less expensive production method of simply buying grapes and making wine has potential to yield high quality wines at low prices IF the vintage is especially good.   In my opinion, California’s high quality AND high quantity 2012 vintage, during which many grape growers complained only about not having enough space to store all their harvested grapes, will afford us consumers great value opportunities in some lower priced wines.

The Show Chardonnay 2012 at $7.99 is exactly this scenario.   Created from a blend of 100% chardonnay grapes from California’s Sonoma and Monterrey regions, and aged in French oak, this California Chardonnay may lack the prestige of a big name estate or region, but the successful 2012 vintage delivers moderate apple and pear aromas followed by flavorful hints of citrus, pineapple, pear and baked apple.   Although oak was used, there is mercifully little of the heavy oak flavors that trademark many California Chards.   Instead, the oak/vanilla hints are balanced with the overall soft acidity and fruit flavors.   The Show’s weight and flavors are clearly Californian, but with alcohol measured at a comparatively low 13.6%, this Chardonnay isn’t too heavy or thick to encourage more and more sips on a warm summer evening or with a rich fish like Salmon or Arctic Char.   At this price, buying enough to last the rest of the summer is worthwhile!   (PLCB Code 33338 The Show Chardonnay 2012 750 ML $7.99 – available in PLCB Specialty Stores)

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Two Tasty Americans – solid value Pennsylvania Chairman’s Selections: Beringer Sauvignon Blanc and Sebastiani Merlot

With price points just north of my $10 qualification to be a ‘screaming good deal’, these two wines present very solid value to the wine-loving consumer.

Beringer Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2012 – The Beringer winery in Napa Valley is an icon of the US wine industry.   Founded in 1875, Beringer has operated successfully and steadily expanded to its current globally recognized status.   Known for high volume production, and high-end estate wines, Beringer’s solid quality regional wines are sometimes overlooked.   The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley is a regional (all the fruit is from Napa) wine we should not overlook.   Starting with a bright yellow color in the glass, the Sauv Blanc offers fresh aromas of citrus and a hint of grass.   A sip reveals a medium bodied, juicy mouthful of nicely balanced citrus, especially lime and melon, ending with a nicely fresh, not-too-crisp finish.   The Wine Advocate awarded a score of 89 to this wine – if considering the value of this $10.99 bottle; I would push that up to 90 points using a similar scale.   This is a wine that will be useful all summer long, on porches, decks and in backyards with light bites and fish dishes!   (PLCB Code: 33239 Beringer Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2012 $10.99 Orig. $16.00)

Sebastiani Merlot Sonoma County 2010 – For years Sonoma County winemakers have offered fine alternatives, often more affordably, to the more hyped Napa wines.   Others have suggested that Sonoma is more ‘relaxed’ than the more tightly-wound-tourist-focused Napa region.   With no science to decide on these suggestions, we can only judge on a case by case basis.   In this case, the Sebastiani Merlot Sonoma County 2010 is a laid back, fruit-driven, rewarding red wine that deserves some attention at this Chairman’s Selection price point!   Sometimes surprises are welcome, but other times a consistent performer that delivers exactly what you expected is even more rewarding… and this Merlot delivers the full-figured, mouth-filling, lush, dark fruit that one would hope to find in a California Merlot.   Just shy of being over-the-top (in recent years many CA reds have suffered from off-putting over-rich flavors), this Merlot hits the flavor targets and oak-balance very nicely.    If you are grilling cheese burgers with friends and need a firm red to accompany, this Merlot will do the job!   Tons available, but grab some before it sells out!     (PLCB Code: 33258 Sebastiani Merlot Sonoma County 2010 $10.99  Orig. $18.00)

Screaming Good Deal – Best $7.99 red wine in Pennsylvania right now – Anciano Tempranillo Reserva 2004, aged 7 years, from Valdepeñas

Bold words but happily uttered….   I had to try this wine the moment I noticed it was for sale.   Last year I was fortunate to try the 2001 Anciano Gran Reserva Tempranillo (aged 10 years) and found it to be quite a fine and nicely aged wine – and for the money (under $20) it was a fantastic deal.    Hence I could not wait to get my hands on another Anciano product, in this case a 7 year aged Reserva (one level below the Gran Reserva) priced at only $7.99!  (Anciano Reserva Aged 7 years Tempranillo 2004 Spain PLCB Code #33272 $7.99).   These Anciano wines hail from Spain’s south central region of Valdepenas (surrounded by the larger region called La Mancha).   Valdepenas is less well known when compared to other Spanish regions like Rioja or Ribera del Duero, but this brings more competitive pricing for the chalky-soiled, hot region red wines of Valdepenas.   Additionally (as if we needed more reasons to try another bottle) 2004 is acknowledged as one of the best Spanish vintages of the past 20 years, so we know the grapes were healthy before they became this wine!

Unlike most wine producers around the world who release wines shortly after bottling (leaving aging decisions up to consumers), Spanish producers continue the tradition of barrel and bottle aging their wines at the winery prior to release.   This Reserva was treated to at least 24 moths in Oak Barrels, followed by five more years in bottle… the result is a softer, more complex wine with fewer of the sharp edges common to younger wines.

This wine comes in an attractive and old-world looking package featuring a red label and gold wire mesh covering the entire bottle which suggests a more expensive bottle than it is.   The nose is slow to show, but features red fruits and a little strawberry and vanilla.   The mouth feel is warm and soft, light to medium bodied – the flavors attack softly, a common feature for aged Tempranillo, but quickly form generous earthy flavors of red fruits, savory spices, leather and a hint of balsamic followed by a very persistent and smooth spicy finish.   This wine would pair nicely with grilled meats and mature cheeses but I will save my next bottle for a piece of blackened salmon!  Although this wine might age longer, I would drink sooner than later.   For my money, this is the best $7.99 red in Pennsylvania’s State Store System – serve it at your next grill/dinner event and impress your friends while you save money!

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South American Wines at e2 Restaurant

Despite the (never ending) wintry weather – everyone showed up last evening to learn about some South American wines at Chef Kate Romane’s e2 Restaurant (www.e2pgh.com).   Our go-to staffers (Adam and Will) were ready for us, but we got extra help from attendees Kate, Lee, and Susan who helped get the tables arranged and ready for the entire group (I thank them for their help!) – We had a community feel from the start, which is always nice!

To kick things off, we talked about the Chilean and Argentine wine industries which date back to the mid-1500s (a solid 300 years before we had much wine industry in California) while we tasted an Argentine Sparkling wine from Mendoza.  In attendance was a retired bank executive who lived in Argentina in the 1960s and shared stories about bringing great Argentine wines back to the US every time he returned, and also a Peruvian couple who noted correctly that the original Chilean grapevines were brought through Peru centuries ago.   Despite the incredibly long history of making wine in Chile and Argentina, winemaking as we think about it today made its transition to modern-style production in the mid 1800s after the introduction of French wine grapes.  Since then the ups and downs of politics and economics have affected winemakers, but great improvement has taken place in the past 20-30 years.  

Our goal last night was to taste the wines individually, then taste all the wines with food and assess the differences and note improvements or degradations in flavor/experience.    Our dinner menu included:   short ribs in a smoky tomato braise, a dirty risotto with pancetta, hot peppers and mushrooms, romaine and arugula salad, chocolate bread pudding for dessert with berry mess

A lively discussion followed and everyone seemed to enjoy the combination of foods and wines, especially the Lapostolle Clos Apalta, which by far was the most expensive wine on the table, but in my opinion is a special wine, and two people said it was the best wine they had ever had… so pleased we could include it in the event!   Here are notes and prices for the wines:

Santa Julia Pinot Noir Rose Brut NV, Mendoza Argentina (PLCB 17019  $11.99) – 100% Pinot Noir, Maipú and Uco Valley vineyards, Mendoza, Argentina, Charmat method, second fermentation at 14°C, Creamy, fresh, red fruit delicate flavors.

Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Especial 2012, Casablanca Valley Chile (PLCB 46536 $12.99) – 100% Sauvignon Blanc  (Grape used in Sancerre and BDX blends), Valle de Casablanca – Mineral Soils and red clay, Crisp and fresh, slight grassy nose with grapefruit and citrus flavors – clean finish.  W&S90, A delightful wine part-way between the light crisp Euro SB and the face-puckering NZ or full figured CA SBs

Vina Cobos Felino Chardonnay 2011, Mendoza Argentina (PLCB 39322 $18.99 ) – 100% Chardonnay  (White Burgundy Grape), From American winemaker Paul Hobbs, 95% aged in Stainless Steel, 5% Oak, Distinctly “new world” Rich tropical pineapple and peach flavors with medium weight . RP88. Hotter, arid desert = very different chardonnay compared to cool weather Burgundy, Score too low in my opinion, I would award solid 90pts.

Bodega Norton Malbec Reserve 2011, Mendoza Argentina (PLCB regular item 7019 $18.99) – 100 % Malbec , a blending Grape of Bordeaux, and main grape of Cahors France, #36 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2013  WS92 100% French Oak aged 12months (50% new), Deep dark purple color, black fruits, violets and tobacco,  World Malbec Day = April 17th Jancis Robinson says Malbec = a more rustic Merlot.  Bodega Norton founded 1885 by Englishman Sir Edmund James Norton who was in Chile/Arg to build railway bridges, but loved the region and founded Norton – Norton family owned Bodega until purchased by Swarovski in 1989, huge investments in quality and commercial success have followed.

Lapostolle Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile (PLCB 31420  $79.99) – 78% Carmenere, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, Bordeaux Grapes – until recent DNA tracing tests, much of Chile’s Carmenere was thought to be Merlot,  2005 vintage (same 96pts score) ranked #1 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2008.   Inky dark color, polished and complex herbal, earthy dark fruit and spicy flavors, a special wine that shows sometimes money spent on a wine is rewarded by quality!    Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle (founder of Lapostolle in 1994) in Chile is great granddaughter of Grand Marnier creator in France.   World famous winemaker Michel Rolland has been winemaker for every vintage since 1994.   Family still owns an estate in Sancerre.

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First ever PLCB sale!

For our friends in Pennsylvania, be sure to check out the PLCB stores in the next two days.   The PA Liquor Control Board is trying a sale for the first time ever!

For two days (Thursday and Friday Feb 13, 14), four sparklers will be offered at 25% off their retail price.   I hope that PA Consumers will clear the shelves of these sparklers to show the state that we in Pennsylvania have an appetite for good value!

Here are the sparklers on sale:

Veuve d’Argent Brut NV   Code: 32861 Quoted at $14.99…Save $4.00  Price: $10.99  Sale: $7.99    Served at Quantum Theatre GRAPENUTS Night last week!!!   Full write up is in last posting below, but this is a solid sparkling value that would provide a great starter to a party!

Juve Y Camps Cinta Purpura Demi-Sec NV  Code: 32913 Quoted at $18.00*….Save $6.01 Price: $11.99    Sale: $8.99   A sweeter version of traditional Spanish Cava from region just outside of Barcelona.   A fine pairing for desserts – and since Valentines Day is upon us, who doesn’t like some sweet bubbles with dessert?!?!

De Chanceny Vouvray Brut Excellence 2011  Code: 32980 Quoted at $20.00*….Save $6.01 Price: $13.99   Sale: $10.49 *89 points Wine Spectator Online, 2013  – –   This is a fine example of Chenin Blanc made into bubbly!   (who says Chardonnay is the best white grape for sparkling wine?).   This sparkler is fuller bodied, richer flavored yet drier than many inexpensive French sparklers – a good value in an attractive bottle – try this on Valentines Day and your date should be impressed by the bubbly AND your keen eye for value!

 

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Quantum Theatre “Madagascar” pre-show tasting

Fifty people joined us last Friday evening for the Quantum Theatre production of “Madagascar” –  One of Quantum Theatre’s unique features is that every production is produced in a new space, almost never a traditional theatre space.    And since “Madagascar” is a play set in a Roman hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps, the fantastic century-old, marble-lined bank lobby of the Carlyle Building was chosen for this production.   In keeping with Quantum’s multi-setting approach, our Grapenuts pre-show tasting turned into a tasting AND tour of several century old bank buildings along Pittsburgh’s Fourth Avenue.   Despite the single digit wind-chills, our hearty Grapenuts Group enjoyed checking out the old buildings while tasting wines related to the show.    Logically, we imagine guests of a beautiful, marble-lined hotel in Rome would be served Italian Wines, so here is what we tasted:

Wine Number One Veuve d’Argent Brut NV – a French Sparkling Wine created from blending two grapes: Chenin Blanc and Ugni Blanc.   The Ugni Blanc grape is common in France for both still and sparkling wines, as well as for providing the main component of Cognac.   Known in Italy as Trebbiano, which is likely the more well-known name, combined with the fact that this Brut is created using the tank method for secondary fermentation (just like most Proseccos), we had our Italian connection…. (PLCB Code: 32861  Veuve d’Argent Brut NV   $10.99)

Wine Number Two Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico 2010  – As the name implies, a ‘classic’ Italian red, made from predominantly Sangiovese grapes in the Tuscan region of Italy (north of Rome).   Intense cherry and tobacco flavors dominated this tightly-knit medium bodied red.   An obvious match for heavy red sauces common to central and southern Italy, an hour or two open before drinking might soften this one a bit – a serious wine and very tasty!  (PLCB Code: 32941  Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico 2010  $12.99)

Wine Number Three – Secoli Ripasso della Valpolicella 2011 – Northern Italy has several famous wine making areas.   In the Valpoicella region Ripasso is a popular style from the central northern region of Verona (not far from Milan).   Ripasso reds slot between the inexpensive and easy-drinking standard Valpolicella reds on the bottom, the Ripasso in the middle, and the rich, expensive Amarone reds on the top.   The principal red grapes of Valpolicella are Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara and a portion of these are dried to reduce moisture before pressing, thus producing thicker heavier juice for fermentation of this Ripasso.   This wine was popular with the Quantum attendees, possibly due to its rich, silky mouth feel and new-world style fruit forward drinkability.   (PLCB Code: 33197  Secoli Ripasso della Valpolicella 2011   $13.99)

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Screaming Good Deal: Dopff & Irion “Crustaces” Alsace 2012 !!

Need a white to sip by itself or with light fish dishes?   Here’s a lovely white made from grapes that may be unfamiliar, but the wine packs pleasing juicy flavors with fine balance.

Sylvaner is the main grape component for this Dopff & Irion “Crustaces”  (90% Sylvaner, 10% Pinot Blanc).  And although Sylvaner is common in France’s Alsace Region and provides juice for wines commonly served as the ‘house blanc’ in Alsatian restaurants, most of the world ignores Sylvaner in favor of more popular white grapes like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

On the nose are clean notes of fresh citrus and light floral hints followed by a light bodied, juicy mouthful of lime and lemon flavors, finishing with a slight minerality – all nicely balanced and fresh enough to warrant another sip.   In some respects this wine is reminiscent of a Pinot Grigio, but the intensity of citrus flavors and light mineral finish differentiate it from the popular Italian.  The lobster on the label causes one to wonder if the producer missed the memo that ‘critter labels’ went out of fashion 10 years ago.   But one cannot blame the producer for making the suggestion – this wine capably compliments shrimp, lobster or lightly sauced white fish dishes.

To anyone seeking an interesting and inexpensive alternative to Pinot Grigio, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, this $8.99 Sylvaner provides a fine and fresh tasting alternative.   Enjoy!   (PLCB Code: 32914  Dopff and Irion Crustaces Alsace 2012 $8.99 widely available)