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Jeff’s Corner

Howdy Howdy Howdy

Even though my eyeballs aren’t screwed tight enough right now, it sure smells like spring outside. How refreshing! I had cataract sugary yesterday, and my left eye, literally, doesn’t know what my right eye is doing. My keyboard is a dizzy blur.

So, here’s a story I wrote two years ago about oak for the Georgetown Advocate. Next week (I can’t wait!), we’ll learn about our two brand new, first ever dry rose's; our Rose of Sangiovese and Ramato. Here we go:

While doing winery tours and tastings at Grape Creek, our guests often ask me about oak and how it influences wine. So, I thought it would be fun to share some of this info with you, our Georgetown readers.

Let’s begin with a little history. The use of straight-sided, open wooden barrels to store wine and other liquors dates back 5000 years to ancient Egypt. The Iron Age, not quite 3000 years ago, brought us fully closed barrels, which by the first century BC were widely used to store not only wine, but also beer, olive oil, and milk.

Wooden barrels were a huge improvement over older clay pots for several reasons. They were stronger and less fragile, they were round and could easily be rolled for relocation, and (like magic) it was discovered they actually improved the flavor of certain liquids, especially wine!

Over time, oak evolved as the wood of choice, and of the over 400 species of oak, two types of white oak (Quercus Alba from America and Quercus Robur from France) have emerged as favorites. To be used as wine barrels, the trees must have a circumference of about five feet, making the tree around 100 years old. Only wood from the base of the trunk to the first lateral branch is used, and one tree will yield only two to four barrels.

Storing wine in small 60 gallon oak barrels does two things. It ages the wine, and while doing so adds aromas which lead to greater complexity.

Wine matures in oak due to what’s called “controlled oxidation”. Even though the barrel is sealed, small amounts of air flow from the outside in, while small amounts of wine evaporate from the inside out.

Controlled oxidation does a lot of things, but most importantly it “marries” the component parts of the wine into something much bigger than the individual parts. I joke on my tours about Kathy and I being in oak together for 34 years, and how we continually grow together. 3% of wine is over 300 chemical compounds; they are like personality quirks learning to be friends!

Oak also gives aromas to wine that add to complexity on our palate. These aromas are like sweet spices that remind me of the holiday season, including vanilla, cinnamon, allspice and clove.

The insides of these barrels are charred, or toasted, over large flames when manufactured. This gives the wine a toasty or smoky quality, and wineries can purchase barrels with what’s called light, medium, or heavy toast. A barrel with light toast yields a fruity wine, while a heavy toast one that’s more oaky, tannic, and full-bodied.

What’s the difference between French and American oak? Well, they impact the wine differently due the growth rate of the trees. The French species grows much slower, and therefore the wood has a tighter grain that is more dense and less porous. This gives us a slower rate of controlled oxidation, with a softer oak finish on the back of our palate.

American oak, with it’s greater porosity, is more aggressive and gives up oak and tannin much more quickly to the wine. It can dominate our entire palate.

Which is best? Well, it’s a personal thing. I’ve seen wine geeks that are very knowledgeable argue that one is better than the other. It’s like watching people argue about Coke and Pepsi…

Jeff’s Corner

Wow, it’s only been a month since we talked about the 2013 Petite Sirah and here we are taking a look at the super brand new 2014 Petite. Production of the ’13 was small, and being a great wine we sold through it really fast. The ’14 Petite is the first of the new vintage reds to be released, and it promises to be outstanding.

It’s hard to compare the two since the’13 had almost a year in the bottle on release, while the ’14 is very youthful and still a little tight from bottling. It will, however, evolve into a wine of great power and finesse, rivaling all of Jason’s previous Petites.

The blend is 76% Petite Sirah and 24% Syrah. Its color is intensely dark and beautiful, with well extracted hues of violet and purple. The aromas are incredibly complex for a young wine, with layers of vanilla, cedar, and black fruit mingling with floral nuances of violets and lilies.

Black cherry and black raspberry dominate the palate, flirting with undercurrents of licorice, clove, and cinnamon. Youthful acids and rich tannins combine with the fruit for a well-balanced, elegant finish.

When we talked about the ’13 Petite last January, I paired it with a rich wine and stock infused beef stew. So, here comes a recipe from my early years that I originally posted in Jeff’s Corner close to five years ago.

Growing up, we all had our favorite Mom meals. We looked forward to them when we were young, and revered them as we got older. This is what comfort food is all about; it takes us back to times of love, security, and a more gentle era. Mom called this “Booze Stew”, and whenever I make it, I always get out the faded recipe card in her handwriting, even though I don’t really need it…

Ingredients:

3 lb. lean stew meat
2 cans Campbell’s Consommé
2 cans Campbell’s Beef Broth
3 lb. red potatoes
2 lb. onions
2 lb. carrots
16 oz. bag frozen green peas, thawed
10 oz. fresh mushrooms
1/2 bottle inexpensive red wine (save the Petite for your glass)
cornstarch for thickening

Cut the potatoes, carrots, and onions into stew sized pieces. In a BIG pot, brown the meat in 2-3 oz. olive oil (do not drain), add the consommé and beef broth, and bring to a light boil. Add the wine, return to a boil, and add the veggies (except for the peas).

Simmer for 2.5 to 3 hours, until the meat is tender. Add cornstarch, mixed with warm water, and stir into the stew for desired texture—it will thicken as it cools, so go easy. Add the peas 10 minutes before serving. This makes a LOT, so have some friends over!

Jeff’s Corner

Once again, it’s time to say howdy!

Since the start of the year, we’ve been bottling our new 2015 white and sweet wines, and our 2014 reds. This means lots of new releases are right around the corner, and I’m going to be abused and overworked by having to taste these new wines and write notes about them. As always, my faithful sidekick, Kathy, will be at my side offering opinions and advice.

Today, let’s kick off the season and check out our 2015 Cuvee Blanc. First, however, we should revisit some cool info regarding its history and name.

“Cuvee" means blend, and it’s a derivative of the word “Cuverie” which is the French word for the production facility. Cuvee is most often associated with Champagnes, which are typically a blend of wines from different vintages.

Cuvee Blanc has been part of our portfolio at Grape Creek for at least 16 years. In the past, it has been blends of many different grapes, and I remember one from years ago that was Chardonnay, Semillon, and Chenin Blanc.

The 2015, as it has been for much of Jason’s tenure, is Pinot Grigio (45.5%), Viognier (29.4%), Muscat Canelli (13.8%), and Sauvignon Blanc (11.3%). Being very different percentages of these four grapes than the ’14 Cuvee, it is to me quite different in style.

The color of the new ’15 is a classic pale yellow with intense, bright clarity. The aroma is subtle yet complex, and shows soft caramel and butterscotch in delightful contrast to lemon peel, tangerine, and Granny Smith apples.

On the palate (due in part to the high percentage of Pinot Grigio), we see an austere wine, delicate and lean in fruit, with a strong backbone of acidity. The citrus dominates, and transitions into an elegant clean and crisp finish. It’s a delightful spring and summer wine.

Last night, I prepared a Chicken Piccata (super simple) and it was a great pairing with our new Cuvee. So, as a bonus, I included my recipe. Try the two together when the wine is released, maybe in a week or so. I liked it between 45 and 50 degrees.

CHICKEN PICCATA

INGREDIENTS

* 2-6 oz boneless chicken breasts
* 1/2 cup grated Romano, 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs, mixed
* 2 Tbs Grape Creek Citrus Cilantro Grapeseed Oil
* 4 Tbs butter
* 6 oz GCV 2015 Cuvee Blanc (get a bottle, drink the rest with dinner)
* 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 small lemons)
* 1/4 cup capers

METHOD

* In a large, sealed zip-loc pound the chicken to where it is between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick.
* Rinse the chicken, and dredge it in the Romano and bread crumbs until well coated.
* Heat the olive oil and 1/2 the butter in a large skillet on medium high heat. Brown the chicken on each side until it releases from the pan, 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove and keep warm.
* Still on medium high, deglaze the pan with the wine and lemon juice, add the capers, and reduce by half. Whisk in the remaining butter and reduce the heat so the sauce thickens, but not too much.

I’d definitely serve this on hot plates to help keep the food warm. Wild rice would be a great side, but I like linguine. Be sure to sauce the pasta as well as the chicken. Add a baby spinach salad with mixed greens, garlic bread, and maybe some Spumone for dessert. Enjoy, everyone!!

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