Harvest Wine Tasting

28 09 2008

Last Saturday (September 20th) we hosted a wine tasting focusing on wines perfect for fall foods like roasted root vegetables, pork loin with fig and apple chutney, and pear and gorgonzola tarts. The wines were full-bodied whites and light reds. We started with Pascual Toso 2007 Torrontes from Argentina, a lighter, acidic white that is best with end of summer foods like tomato salads, and spreads like pesto with its rich parmeggiano base. Plus, at only $7.99 it was an excellent deal.

From the lighter Torrontes, we moved to two different Viogniers, one from Washington State and one from Australia. The Washington State Viognier was from Kestrel–a little expensive, coming in at $22.99–and I did not feel it was worth the price. A little creamy and full-bodied, but it was definitely past its maturity. The Rolf Binder HOVAH from the Barossa Valley was a better value, although here the wine was a typical Australian, a little sweet on the palate with all fruit and no complexity. At only $12.99 however, I would certainly rank it the better value of the two.

At this tasting, the reds were the real stars. All three reds were excellent and matched very well with the foods they were paired with. The most delicate and lightest of the three was a Jaboulet-Vercherre negociant-produced wine from the Gevrey-Chambertin Cru of Burgundy in the Cote d’Or. Coming in at $31.99/bottle, this was the most expensive wine of the evening, but certainly well worth it, as its nuance and complexity were enjoyed by the glass sniffer camp, and the fruit forward folks could still appreciate the accessibility of aromas and flavors presented.

The next red was the 2005 Domaine du Grand Bouqueteau Chinon from the Chinon appellation in the Loire Valley, France. Cabernet Franc, one of the two parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, is the only varietal used in this wine. It is soft, delicate, and very aromatic, with lots of luscious violets, soft tannins, and a very pleasing overall mouth-feel. Plus, at the price point of $14.99, this is the wine I am most likely to want to revisit out of everything tasted that evening.

The final red wine was a slightly bigger red: Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva vintage 2004. This wine was a little dirty, which I think is great. It was far more robust than anything else that evening, but matched very well with the rustic roasted roots vegetables I had prepared. It also went smoothly with the pork and the simmered mushrooms. The Sangiovese so prevalent in this blend gave it a great earthiness, and as a classico it certainly captured more of the true Tuscan style and profile. A slightly more expensive wine selling for $21.99, this would still be a great choice for a nice dinner at home, or as a bottle to take to your favorite Italian BYOB place. It would probably go well with even heavier dishes, such as game, but would work nicely with any kind of roasted fowl, or any food that accents the rusticity of the wine.

We finished our evening with some full-bodied Pinot Gris from Eola-Hills in Oregon ($13.49- and certainly a good value). We also had a comparative tasting with a Gewurztraminer–Banyan from the Central

California Coast ($11.99)–and Trimbach, from Alsace ($19.99). The Alsatian wine had many more of the traditional characteristics of classical Gewurztraminer, with petroleum, roses, and spicy aromatics heavy in the glass, thick body, and a lot of minerality. The California version was much lighter in body but had a pleasing combination of citrus rinds blended with some floral touches that came perhaps just shy of smelling like roses that the tasting group as a whole found very pleasant.

All in all a wonderful night of wine, and we look forward to the next one.


Blue Badge Guides London

15 09 2008

If you ever take a trip to London, I highly recommend booking a tour with one of the official Blue Badge guides, even if you aren’t that into guided tours.  I’m not at all, but these guides were exceptional.  The knowledge they retain and pass on to their tourists is incredible.  We covered a small physical area of London but I feel like I came away from it with a wealth of details I never would have gotten from a guide book or on my own.

The route was based in the Kensington area and started at the Royal Albert Hall.  We learned the history of the hall, the architecture, and the present-day significance.

Next on the tour, at the entrance of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, was the Albert Memorial–an impressive monument that was once painted black during World War II.  We spent about 15 full minutes examining the pieces of the monument and learning its significance (each of the four corner statues represents a continent/area of the world) and then trudged through the rain with our always-cheerful guide down the paths of the park.

After seeing the famous Kensington Palace, which had memorial photos and messages attached to its gates due to the anniversary of Princess Diana’s death having just passed, we learned that some of the wealthiest and most powerful men lived on the adjoining road, and that no photographs were allowed.  The guide informed us that one of the most recent acts of terrorism in the UK occured on that very street by a seemingly innocent young women who placed a bomb in one of the cars on the street.  Since then, there has been a strong police presence at all times.

We ended our tour exploring the side streets of Kensington, seeing T.S. Eliot’s home, and discovering how close to our original destination we were.  The guides were so amazing and I would take another more specialized tour in a second if I ever return to London.

Review: USAirways

13 09 2008

I recently flew USAirways roundtrip from Philadelphia to London and each flight was like being in two different worlds. On the overnight flight to London, the audio/video system was broken (slightly disturbing) and therefor had no reading lights or video entertainment during the whole flight. For someone who can’t sleep on a plane, it was literally like being in hell: sitting in darkness for seven hours with nothing to do. The bathrooms were atrocious–like a public bathroom in a park or subway, I had to roll up my pants and step with care whenever I went.

The food service wasn’t horrible, but being served dinner at 11:30pm was a bit much. At least it was free.

The flight back was another story. Maybe because I was flying on Sep. 11th had something to do with it but the flight was half empty so I got practically a row to myself at the bulk head with lots of extra leg room. The flight attendants were courteous and everything worked. Even though we left a bit late from Heathrow (figures) we arrived in Philadelphia practically on time.

Even the food on this flight was impressive. I chose the pasta, and it was very tasty with creamy white cheese sauce and sun-dried tomatoes. On the side, was a cold barley and diced pepper salad with a light citrus dressing. Fantastic! We also got a warm turkey and cheese sandwich before we landed as a snack. I was still full from my dinner but I ate it anyway–hey, I paid for it with that $950 flight!

I was surprised when I got home that I received in the mail a letter from USAirways, apologizing for the poor service on the first flight and offering me a $100 credit on my next flight. I had been planning on writing a letter of complaint and requesting some kind of compensation, and I was pleased that they had saved me the trouble. (Granted–I may have demanded more than $100 credit, but I doubt I would have gotten much more.)

Overall, with the state of the airlines and travel these days, I was generally satisfied with my experience with USAirways this month. I may even purchase my next ticket with them because of the credit. But I still hate flying much more than I did 20 years ago, and I don’t think any airline could solve that problem.

The Queens Arms, Kensington, London

5 09 2008

The Queens Arms pub is a hidden gem. Off of a side street in Kensington, London, it is a cozy nook to slip into at lunch or when it starts to pour. Today I tried the Queens Arms and got the fish sticks bap. So wrong, but so right. Four perfectly fried fish sticks piled onto a bun with tartar sauce. That’s it, that’s all she wrote. But it was heaven for around 5 GBP ($10–not such a deal in the U.S.). Add vinegar and you’re golden. The beer selection was most impressive, and reasonable. Pints started at around 2.75 GBP and went up to around 6. I got the London Pale Ale (award winning!) for around 4 GBP. Tasty and hit the spot. I may have to go back and sample their Shepherd’s Pie tomorrow.