Friday, February 6, 2009

Chard or Viognier?

Last night to go with chimichurri salmon (thank you Trader Joe's, yeah!) and roasted golden acorn squash with butter, kosher salt and herbs from the garden, we opened up a bottle I've had for awhile. It's one I got from a work holiday party over a year ago (when we used to get gifts -- guess I should be thankful we even had a party this past year) and I didn't have high expectations. I wasn't expecting much since it was a Chardonnay (one of my least favorite varietals by far) and it was from Coppola's everyday label, the Diamond Collection.

But I decided to give it a whirl and, while it smelled like an oakey, buttery Chard, it had much crisper flavors of apple, tropical and stone fruit than I expected. It tasted like something else, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Brian called it though -- "It's like a Viognier," he said. I was impressed with his on-the-money call. Its resemblance to a Viognier -- albeit one crafted for the California pallet -- was why we liked it. (Both of us usually turn our nose up at much of the domestic Chardonnay). It went well with the oiliness of the salmon and the rich flavors of the squash, just as a Viognier would have as well.

The similarities reminded me of the blind tasting challenge at the Wine Bloggers' Conference this past fall. The very first taste stumped both myself and Jessica (who made it to the final round as the only woman with five guys!) as well as a good portion of the room. We were positive the varietal was Chard, but it turned out to be Viognier. Before then I had never had a wine that so closely resembled both varietals, but as last night proved, it wasn't the last time!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Very Worldy Wine List.... À(hhhhh) Côté!

I've wanted to go to À Côté in the Rockridge district of Oakland for as long as I can remember. This longing was only cemented by the fact that a girl in the wine class I took last fall had worked as a server there and had some very atypical wine knowledge, which led to her and the instructor having some lively conversations. So when Brian fared well in his first semester of law school finals, we decided to treat ourselves and go there.

The front room, which included the bar, was busy and the hostess said it would be about 20 minutes. After barely 10 she led us down a narrow hallway to the back, where there were two rooms of additional seating under a heated tent. We figured the wait list was to make it seem busier/trendier than it even was. Hmmmm. No matter -- once we saw the wine list, we knew we were in the right place. Over 70 varietals (40+ by the glass), many of which I had never heard of and most of which I'd never tried. While a couple I really wanted were only sold by the bottle, we had no trouble -- along with the helpful server's suggestions -- customizing our own flights.

Another couple was seated shortly after us and when the girl asked for a "Red Zin" (at least she didn't say White Zin!) I was waiting to hear the server's response considering the wine list was 98% Old World. There was a Plavac Mali (Zin cousin from Croatia) that may have been a fine stand-in, but it was only sold by the bottle. The server patiently guided her to another red, which couldn't have gone well with the oysters she ordered later...

I chose the '07 Xavier Frissant, a Surin Gris/Fie Gris blend from Touraine in the Loire Valley, which reminded me of Sauvignon Blanc (no big surprise considering SB is the predominant white grape of the area) with fresh, grassy aromas; the '06 Castro de Lobarzán Treixadura/Godello duo, which, despite good minerality, was a bit lackluster for me; and the '06 J. & H. A. StrubKabinett Riesling, with it's signature petrol-laced nose, bright acidity and twinge of sweetness. Later I had a glass of the '06 Gonzales-Suñer Manto Negro/Callet blend -- not being able to pass up a Spanish wine (actually, to get more precise, Mallorcan) from varietals unbeknownst to me. It's berry flavors combined with a rustic earthiness went well with the grilled flat iron steak and greek lamb sausage flatbread.

But the star of the night -- and the one we took home two bottles of, thanks to À Côté's 1/2-off carry-out price -- was the '07 Tajinaste Tinto Tradicional from the Listan Negro grape. It's a deep, dusty wine from the Canary Islands that couldn't help but remind me a bit of my favorite Napa Cabs (despite seeing no oak and selling for a fraction of the price), but without as much red fruit. Brian ordered it first in his flight and then had to have a full glass of it. He's got good taste, as two of my favorite wine shopkeeps -- Kevin Hogan at Spanish Table in Berkeley and Jeff Diamond of Farmstead in Alameda and Montclair -- have both featured it in recent months.

We'd be there once a week if it wasn't for the bill (ouch). Looking forward to the next special occasion...