High on the Hog Viognier blend pairs great with rabbit

April 9, 2012

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of celebrating my birthday with Barbara and my grown-up children at Espuma.  We had a very nice meal and several interesting wines. The service was especially well done by a delightful young woman named Florina. I mention this because the restaurant staff was obviously surprised by a large contingent of walk-in business. Somehow everyone was billeted and handled in a fairly expeditious fashion. Only folks who work in a high-anxiety, a la minute business fully grasp the complexity of managing a large group of unexpected, hungry diners. I wrote of Espuma a few months ago, so I’ll leave it at: the same or better than ever.

One of the wine selections that we found to be particularly appealing was the Barrel 27 High on the Hog 2009. A Viognier blend (this is easy to pronounce, folks - try vee-ohn-yay. It rolls right off the area in your mouth and on your tongue that has most to do with wine snorting and tasting) with Roussanne and Marsanne that is straw golden and opens with a complex bouquet of honeysuckle, marzipan, lemon zest and jasmine aromas. The wine was served a tad cold for my taste, but a few minutes in the glass and a bit of hand warming brought it right into proper perspective. High on the Hog is full-bodied with flavors of ripe peaches, lemon and tart apple. The frame has plenty of acid to support this “fat” wine and provide a lovely, clean fruit finish. A wonderful food wine, you can probably find it priced under $15/bottle in the store. Goes great with rabbit.

By comparison, a French Viognier, E. Guigal Condrieu 2007 is coming into its perfect drinking window 2012-16, rated 90-92. Expect to pay about $50/bottle. I think the Cali Rhone Rangers have got this down, and therefore it is not worth the extra cash to buy French Condrieu in most cases. The following are some of the better Cali producers; buy under $30. Alban Vineyards, Conway Family wines and Wild Horse plus Ironhorse T-Vineyard from Alexander Valley in Sonoma.  Upscale in price is Joseph Phelps, Napa. I’m a big fan of Joseph Phelps Insignia Eisrebe, the Napa cab and even the second label Innisfree; the 2007 was a 90-point lovely selling under $20; the 2009, 87 points priced up at $27. There ain't no inflation. We can trust our leaders. Ignore those gas prices behind the green curtain, but the Viognier 2006 priced at $50 has failed the pricing test. Avoid!!

Warning!!  Major sticker shock coming.

Recently, many 2006 Bordeaux have come on sale on my favorite sites. The discount appears to be 20 percent on a bottle. Generally speaking, the 2006 Bordeaux, especially the St. Julien drinking window, won’t open until 2016-18 and they will drink well into 2035. Quite a few were highly rated, i.e., second-growth Ducru Beaucaillou was rated 93-95 points by most. I expect pricing to trend down a tad. The huge vintage hype effect is on. The 2009 are selling for $300/bottle, and the higher-rated 2003 are selling for $230. Smart shoppers can find the 1995, rated 94 by Tanzer and Parker and 97 by WS, for $2,100/case, maybe less than $200/bottle; 1995 is in its perfect drinking window. The 96, rated lower, are selling around $230. You tell me.

Once again the annual Tasters Guild International is coming up. For folks with time and some disposable income plus an abiding interest in wine, this event is a terrific initiation into wine tasting. The 2012 event will be held in Grand Rapids Mich., April 25-28. This is an annual event where more than 2,000 wines from 15 countries and 30 states are judged. Here is last year's list:

Don’t forget Abeja Heather Hill Cab Sauv 2008 and winemaker John Abbott.  Wrote of it last week. Trust me, folks, this is a winner and a producer to keep a close eye on.

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