Bacchic Reflections

Drink wine, and you will sleep well. Sleep, and you will not sin. Avoid sin, and you will be saved. Ergo, drink wine and be saved.
                                                                         Old German Proverb

         My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne.
                                                                            John Maynard Keynes 

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Great Reds for Winter Feasts....
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FOCUS:  Trione Winery of Sonoma County            
The Trione family has a longstanding commitment to quality in Sonoma County. Financier and philanthropist Henry Trione, who died in early February at age 94, restored quality to Geyser Peak as owner from 1983-1998. Sons Mark and Victor continue the legacy at Trione Vineyards & Winery, established in 2008 at the home ranch in Geyserville. Owners of 650 acres of vineyard in key Sonoma wine districts--Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast--Trione selects the best from each to produce red and white wines of distinction.
      Trione red wines in particular have three qualities that I look for in perusing restaurant wine lists: balance, richness of fruit and affordability--an appealing combination of ageworthy structure, the juiciness of ripe fruit and restrained tannins that make them attractive to drink when young. Trione reds are entirely capable of aging well, but tasty enough in youth that they may not get the chance.
      It's a tribute to the winemaking skills of Scott Covington, who was in the Triangle recently to present current Trione wines. Hired as winemaker in 2005, Covington had previously worked with some of California's best winemakers, including Bill Bonetti, who crafted Chardonnays of great finesse at Sonoma-Cutrer, and Pinot Noir icon Merry Edwards, an influential mentor. At Trione, Covington has consistently produced wines that deserve to be on more Triangle wine lists.
Over dinner at Herons on a recent chilly evening, we sampled some of the new releases:
Trione Sauvignon Blanc 2012,  Russian River Valley,  $23.  Though better known  for chardonnay and pinot noir, Russian River Valley (RRV) produces Sauvignons of complex flavor, such as the minerally lime-and-lemon zest of Trione's 2012. The 2013, just out, is a little fatter, with melony fruit and a hint of wet stone.
Trione Chardonnay 2012, RRV, $25-30.  The bright richness of Russian River chardonnay is abundant in this barrel-fermented Chard, not too oaky but with a nice touch of butterscotch, excellent with our lobster appetizer.
Trione Pinot Noir 2012, RRV, $37.  A really gorgeous aroma on this Pinot--smoky and spicy, hints of cinnamon and mint; big and rich in flavor. Should become more nuanced with time but drinking well now.
Trione Syrah 2010, RRV, $32.  Trione Syrahs are seductive, with meaty aromas and spiced berry flavors (blueberry, black raspberry);  it's fleshy and juicy but with an edge of tannin for structure, very drinkable now.
Trione 2012 Block 21 Cabernet Sauvignon  Alexander Valley, $45-50. This reserve style red, 85% cabernet sauvignon, is supplemented with merlot, cab franc, petit verdot and malbec, which round off the concentrated blackberry flavors and add notes of licorice, chocolate and oak. More tannin here, but the ripe fruit softens the edge. It was excellent with our fork-tender beef filet. The Block 21 Cab, as well as Trione's 2010 Geyserville Ranch Red, $35-48, a Bordeaux blend, are definite candidates for aging.
       Trione also makes Zinfandel and Primitivo.

Wine Buy(s) of the Week
Chateau Armandiere Cahors, France 2012  $12.99** Cahors, the deep red wine from the Cahors region just east of Bordeaux in France, has long been the prototype for the black grape malbec. Some Cahors are rustic and tannic, but this one, with its ripe blackberry-black cherry flavors, is definitely one to enjoy now--at a great price.
Anton Bauer Cuvée 2012, Wagram  Austria   $16-17**+   A juicy blended red that is an excellent match for the lighter meats (veal, pork, chicken) but an appealing richness suits beef as well as savory cheese dishes. 
Barco Reale di Carmignano 2011, Tuscany ** $11-14.99  I used to recommend this red blend (mostly sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon) from the Cappezana estate north of Florence, so it is nice to revisit it. Still a very good value, somewhat rustic in style as befits its popularity as an everyday red in Florence and Siena--earthy, with wild berry flavors, a streak of minerality--a worthy match for pizzas, hearty meat pastas, sausage and peppers and the like.
Quattro Mani Barbera d'Asti 2012  Piemonte**   $14.99 at The Wine Merchant in Cary. Barberas from Asti are juicier than the more weighty Barbera d'Alba reds, more drinkable sooner. Highly versatile with lighter meats (they recommend braised rabbit ragout), pizzas, pastas (especially carbonara), with black cherry flavors and good acidity.
Chateau Musar. Various wines, unique and excellent, worth a search. On some 370 acres in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, the Hochar family produces unusual blends such as Chateau Musar Red, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cinsaut and carignan, from mature vines that yield a lot of character. The Jeune Rouge** and Jeune Blanc** are charmers, the Musar Cuvée Rosé is lively, fresh and delightful. Prices range from $17 to $48 (and up for older vintages).  Note:  Musar's guiding light for several decades, Serge Hochar, recently died, sadly. He will be sorely missed in the wine world.
Rodney Strong 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon  Sonoma  $20 *** An excellent value, this Cab displays vibrant fruit flavors of ripe berries, lively balance; eminently drinkable now, it's one to have on hand for spontaneous grill action.
Markham Cellar 1879 Red Blend 2012,  Napa Valley $25**+  A very tasty and drinkable blend of several red grapes, with flavors of ripe berries, toast, vanilla that get more intense as the wine airs. Fine for roast loin of pork.
Carmen Carmenère Gran Reserva 2012, Maipo Valley, Chile, $18-23**+. Another dark and bold red from the carmenère grape, once thought to be merlot but identified as a Bordeaux variety and now something of a star in Chile. Lush and supple in texture, with flavors of black cherries and tobacco accents; it is good to see this variety emerge as a worthy red--a bit one-dimensional, perhaps 15-20% cabernet sauvignon would add a layer or two of flavor.


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                                                                                                                                             ©Barbara Ensrud