Recuerdo this torrontes

While at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Ore., in August, I received a sample bottle of Recuerdo Torrontes, a perfect taster-size that I’ve been dying to try. So today I chilled it and cracked it open, a perfect pre-dinner refresher Torronteson this warm, Indian Summer night.

The pour came out pale yellow, and a floral aroma mixed with Honeycrisp apple wafted upward.

Torrontes is a prevalent Argentinian varietal, and the Recuerdo label does its home grape well. It’s a smooth yet crisp wine, refreshing yet savory. The sugar is not syrupy, and the hint of lemon is just enough to brighten the palate without causing a pucker. Floral flavors meander through the entire sip, from first inhale to final swallow.

The moniker “Recuerdo,” meaning “memory” or “momento” in Spanish, and the wine is made as an homage to – or memory of – Argentina’s terroir. The wine is stored for three months in stainless steel to preserve the naturally refreshing qualities. Each bottle should capture the essence of its year, presented as a straightforward representation of that year, unmanipulated in the process of winemaking.

Recuerdo produces only two varietals – Torrontes and Malbec – Argentina’s two most recognizable wines. But the Recuerdo brand puts an American twist on its winemaking, partnering with a Napa Valley vintner to make Argentina’s best wines accessible to a North American marketplace.

At only $15 per bottle, this is a wine one could easily pour on a weeknight, and just as easily feel proud to serve to guests. The wine is available in specialty shops, online, and at its Napa home, Ma(i)sonry.

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Chardonnay in April

I am admittedly partial to red wines and not a huge fan of white. But I think, like most prejudices, my dislike is founded mostly in ignorance. So I’m dedicating this spring to learning about white wines, starting with chardonnay this month.

Chardonnay is a pretty standard white wine – it grows in every wine region and every winery makes it. (so says Wikipedia) It has different characteristics depending on where it’s grown and how it’s treated, but overall it’s a fairly straightforward wine. (Yes, I know I’m pissing off 2/3 of the wine community by saying that. It’s overly simplistic and doesn’t do justice to the grape. But bear with me. I’m laying my uneducated cards on the table and building on that.)

By the way, I welcome recommendations and good old-fashioned tongue-lashings from those who can teach me what I’ve missed while paying so much attention to my beloved reds.

What I want to learn is what distinguishes a chardonnay from other white varietals. I can recognize a sauvignon blanc, but what makes a chardonnay a chardonnay?

Tonight I’m tasting the 2010 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay (on sale at Raley’s for $11). Robert Mondavi is one of the grandfathers of California wines, and I know I can’t go wrong.

The color is a light lemon yellow, the pour and swirl releasing a wonderful aroma of vanilla, spice, lemons and peaches. I’m generally turned off by melon aromas and flavors in white wines (hence my fairly solid dislike of sauvignon blanc), but there is no melon in this wine.

One flavor I detect in most chardonnays is popcorn — yes, popcorn. Some chards that have been aged in oak have a heavier popcorn flavor, but even the fruitiest chards still seem to have that hint of butter and grain.

So here’s my first note on chardonnays: butter.

This flavor can be accentuated by oak aging, but even steel barrels can’t mask the buttery characteristic.

What other flavors are common to chardonnays? Anyone? Anyone?

Fear not, I will end this month with a great understanding of white wines and will be better able to review them on this meager blog. Suggestions are welcome. Mild criticisms are accepted.

Pinot grigio with a side of humility

Mental association is an incredible thing. Just think about it a minute: You love the name Daniel, but your husband was beat up in high school by a kid with that name. Guess Junior won’t be called Danny Boy. Or you used to love dishes spiced with cumin… until someone mentioned that it smells like sweaty feet. Next thing you know, Mexican food is ruined for you.

That’s how it is for me with pinot grigio. It was a gateway wine for me — a fruity, sweet wine, perfect for my novice palate… a decade ago. Now when I think of pinot grigio, I think “amateur,” “beginner,” “wimp.” What self-respecting wino drinks pinot grigio? My mom, a non-drinker, loves the stuff! Then Ramona Singer went and drove the nail in the grigio coffin. After watching Ramona slosh through four seasons of “The Real Housewives of NYC” with a bottle of pinot grigio in hand (watch out if you don’t have it at the ready!), I just can’t drink it without feeling the hit to my IQ. (or is the four seasons of “Real Housewives” that does that?)

But a recent Groupon delivery of $10-or-less wines from Wine Insiders included a bottle of pinot grigio, so tonight I decided to swallow my pride, so to speak. The pick was a Twin Bridges 2009 Pinot Grigio (San Martin, Calif.), and I thought it would go well with the peppery rub on my barbecued pork chop.

The aroma made me hesitate – is that grapefruit and honey I smell? Whoo boy, this is gonna be rough! (For those who are new to my blog, I hate overly sweet drinks. I drink my iced tea with lemon, my coffee black and my wine dry.)

But you know, life is about second chances and having an open mind. And in this case, it paid off. The blend of citrus and honey is refreshing, not heavy. Its mouthfeel is light and fleeting, and there’s an intriguing floral note in the taste, not at all syrupy. And yes, it went perfectly with the pork rub!

One of my biggest complaints with white wines is the pucker factor. So many whites — sauvignon blancs being the biggest culprit — are too tart. They make my mouth pucker. And that is NOT a good look on me. The Twin Bridges pinot grigio is totally sans a pucker factor. And it’s my new best friend… at least while the temperature is topping 90. Once it cools down, I’ll return to my beloved reds. Until then, I do believe I’ll refill my glass and channel my inner Ramona. How much are flights to the Hamptons?

Cannery Row Chardonnay

Thanks to Groupon, I’ve been able to try some new wines much cheaper and more easily than browsing the wine aisle at the grocery store. As much as I love reading labels and looking at the selection on the shelves, shopping online is fitting my hectic schedule much better. My latest online find was through WineInsiders.com’s Groupon offer: $75 of wine for only $25. Yeah, baby!

I browsed the WineInsiders site and found several great deals, including tonight’s pick, Cannery Row 2007 Chardonnay.  It has a delightful aroma of buttery pear. It has a creamy mouthfeel with a clean finish. The pear is soft and smooth without a hint of syrupy sugar. This is truly the perfect chardonnay for me. I despise sweet, overly tart wines. While I have an affinity for heavy oak in my chardonnays, I’m discovering how tasty a buttery layer can be in the absense of oak.

This wine would pair really nicely with a fatty salmon steak or pasta and lemony alfredo sauce. I expected it to be more tart, so I made Betty Crocker’s spicy peanut chicken stir-fry, something I thought would pair well with a bright, lively white wine. I should have opened a sauvignon blanc to go with dinner, but I enjoyed the chardonnay despite the poor pairing.

While we’re on the subject of Cannery Row, I’m dying to check out the Wine Walk there. Has anyone done this? Monterey, on the coast of California south of San Francisco, is an adorable little town with tons to do (my last time there was for a family camping trip, but we spent plenty of time wandering the shops in downtown and digging for shells on the beach). But I didn’t know they have so much wine there! Add another line on my To-Do List!

Torrontes surprise

I’m a big fan of Alamos red wines, so you can imagine how my review of the Alamos Torrontes white wine will go. Yum. There, review done!

Ok, I’ll give you a little more substance if you really want it. But for those of you on a tight schedule, you can stop reading. It’s yum.

Torrontes is an Argentinian white grape, THE white grape in that country, according to this guy, who also says that it’s “aromatic and perfumed” like a viognier or muscat. This is all true, but I think that comparing it to a muscat is a disservice because muscat is so often sweet. This torrontes tastes florally sweet (is florally a word? Sure, why not?). If we’re going to attribute sweet to it, it’s like mashed-up dandelions, not like syrupy over-ripe grapes.

There’s a nice balance of vegetative tastes in this wine, actually. Dandelion, some bitter green beans, and a sunny splash of citrus. I’m admittedly ambivalent toward white wine, and when I tasted this fun find, I actually said, “Oooh, this is good!” (high praise, believe me!) The wine also has a fizzy feel on the tongue, a nice surprise for a Tuesday night! (um, yeah, not sure how I feel about that statement)

You can pick this up in the $13 range, but I’ve seen it on sale for under $10. I paired it with a very mild fettuccine alfredo with breaded chicken and steamed broccoli. The strong flavor of the broccoli worked very well with the wine, but I think a stronger pasta — maybe spicy sausage rather than chicken — would have complemented the torrontes better.

Clif Climber hits a home run… again

I’ve been saving my 2009 Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc for a special occasion. With two kids and a full-time job, special occasions are hard to come by. So when my husband brought home some fresh Ahi tuna that a custpomer gave him, I decided that was special enough. (Hey, fresh sushi-grade tuna IS a  big deal!) He took care of the cooking and I took care of chilling the wine.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc with seared Ahi

Clif (yes, as in the health bars) has become one of my favorite wineries for its green practices (read about that here, in last year’s review) and reasonable price tag. The sauvignon blanc retails for about $14 and is worth every penny.

The wine is nearly clear, which is a good hint at the taste. It’s fresh and light and a little tart in a palate-cleansing way (as opposed to the lemon-sucking way). There’s a nice presence of pear, but what makes this wine great is that no single flavor jumps forward; it’s just mellow and tasty. Not overly intrusive with any fruit. And that’s why it was perfect with tonight’s “special occasion” meal.

Tonight my husband marinated the Ahi in soy sauce, wasabi, green onion, cilantro, lime juice and sesame oil, then lightly crusted in sesame seeds. He seared it perfectly and paired it with stir-fried veggies (sauteed with a little Hoisin sauce) and teriyaki Rice-a-Roni (hey, we had to make something our kids would eat!). The tuna was so light and fresh, the veggies were so light and fresh, so it made sense that the wine be light and fresh too. The meal would have been destroyed with a heavy, dominant wine; it needed something to brighten up the sesame but not be so tart and fruity that it overpowered the tuna.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc is one of those wines that will be your best friend at dinner time because it will complement just about anything. However, it’s also drinkable on its own (as I’m finding out at this very second!) because it won’t make you pucker after two sips. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of white wines, so I have a bias against sauvignon blancs. This one makes me look forward to my next bottle (and next Ahi filet!), and that’s big in my book.