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Celebrating Spring with Austrian Flavors Delivered by Szigeti and Zantho

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, and I know where all the flowers is….

In my back yard, which I can’t get to because all of the darn rain.

Ugh!

Last night Jose and I were with the winemaking team of May-Britt and Denis Malbec. Denis is a third generation winemaker from Château Latour. May-Britt is a brilliant sommelier, who has also worked at Château Latour. It’s a tender love affair shaped in the vineyards and the wines, where Denis was raised and May-Britt showed up one day stealing the winemaker’s heart. Today, besides having their own brand of Notre Vine Wines, they consult with many prestigious brands, both in California and in France under the name of Malbec & Malbec.

Our reason for being together was a trip to an Oakland restaurant to have dinner with Steve Heimoff. We all wanted to introduce Steve to Respite wines. Respite is owned by very dear friends Corinne and Charles Reichel. Corinne was a mentor for me years ago at Belvedere Winery. She and Charles own vineyard property, 2,700 feet altitude on the Mayacamas mountain range north of Geyserville. I wrote about a picnic we had there a couple of summers ago: Reichel Vineyards in Alexander Valley ~ High as a Kite.

So, in the Pure Luxury ride to Oakland we were discussing the weather, which I now have come to think of as wretched. Frankly, I’ve had enough. Bring on the sun, give me the heat, and let me go for walks again. Denis said that he was up for one more good soaking rain.

Jose asked, “Why?”

Denis replied, “To give the ground one more good soak.”

That’s a winemaker talking. It’s someone who can’t get enough rain in winter and spring in California, because they all want reservoirs and the ground just saturated before the heat of summer arrives and dries out everything… almost to dust bowl proportions. (California is a desert, after all is said and done.)

Me? I couldn’tj  care less about rain right now. I know these winemakers will be making great wine, barring any catastrophes… I just want the sun back.

Okay, so back to my title, and how the above rainy weather does tie in… honestly…

A couple of weeks ago I received a spring surprise. A bottle of NV Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut, from Neusidlersee, Austria arrived at my doorstep, delivered by my favorite FedEx woman. In the package was a note that read:

Jo,

Spring has officially sprung, and what better way to enjoy the warmth and sunshine than with a bottle of sparkling Grüner Veltliner? We’re encouraging you to take the party outside. So where will you choose to pop the cork? Relaxing on the patio? Lounging on a blanket in the park? Alongside some sandwiches at an impromptu picnic? We’d love to hear about (and see!) your favorite way to ring in spring! So pop the cork, grab a friend and bask in the sunshine!

Cheers! Constance Chamberlain

Also in the package was an image of winemaker Peter Szigeti, who is on an Austrian wine tour. In this image, he’s gearing up to remove the wine’s cork with a saber. This is one of the most theatrical methods of opening a bottle of sparkling wine, as some can only imagine. I don’t have to imagine it, though, because when I left Mondavi Winery, Kurt – one of my colleagues in the education department – sent me forward into success with a Mondavi sparkling, saber removing the cork, et al… I’ve kept the top of the bottle, complete with foil and cage (what do you call that little thing, anyway?) as a memento.

A bright finish to this “Make Your Day Kit” was a package of White Moonflower seeds. It’s a night blooming vine, and I know exactly where to plant it, but I just can get out there long enough to manage the planting…

Yup, the infernal rain. (Great visual, huh?)

So, when Easter arrived, I decided that I could wait no longer.

  • I wasn’t going to enjoy the warmth and sunshine.
  • I wasn’t going to take the party outside in the damp, cold rain.
  • No relaxing on the patio.
  • No lounging on a blanket in the park.
  • No sandwiches at an impromptu picnic.

If I waited for a great spring day, it could elude me as having gone from winter to summer in Northern California, missing the season entirely.

What I did have, though, was great inspiration from Szigeti and I was salivating for a writing occasion. I was ready to enjoy what’s quickly becoming a favorite white variety, Grüner Veltliner. This time, as an introduction to the grape’s capacity in sparkling form, the wine graced our Easter/Spring/Jose birthday celebratory table.

There was a lot to celebrate with Jose, my beloved daughters, and the wonderful men they’ve chosen as life partners.

The only Sunshine this day was from a phone call during brunch. Katie Sunshine, my first born, who still lives on the east coast with her small family, called to check in and share this day with us. Since birth, Katie has always added Sunshine to anything, including this day’s glorious meal.

The wines that graced our table that day:

  • 2007 Bernardus Chardonnay, Monterey County
  • NV Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut, from Neusidlersee, Austria
  • 2007 Zantho Zweigelt Burgenland, Austria

Our menu ~ Wine and food pairings:

  • CHARDONNAY: A soft, luscious brie with crackers and freshly made gluten free bread (bread made by our daughter Melanie)
  • A garden salad with toasted, glazed pecans, dressed with a freshly made oil and vinegar dressing (vinegar was made by my winemaking son-in-law Heath Hoffman)
  • GRüNER VELTLINER: Roasted Mushrooms and Shallots with herbs from my garden: dill, mint, and fresh parsley (recipe from Food & Wine, March 2010 issue)
  • ZWEIGELT: Baked ham of superior quality
  • Dessert: A Grand Marnier orange cake to celebrate Jose’s early April birthday (made by our daughter Lyla)

Bernardus Chardonnay tasted of rich baked apples with a smooth and creamy finish, but enough tartness to blend well with the cheese, crackers, and fresh bread. Given to us by a friend, this Chard was a perfect accompaniment to the day.

The Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut is a really aromatic sparkling wine. As the bottle was opened, the room filled with floral aromas. On my palate it had flavors of rose hips and lavender. This is a very beautiful sparkling wine, and well worth opening for this heartwarming day.

The Zantho Zweigelt has very deep and spicy aromas of red berries and fresh cherries, with a spicy hint of  cinnamon. On the palate this wine had supple dark fruit. Coupled with the ham and mushrooms this wine delivered a fine spiciness. The finish was long and lingering. This red wine was sent to me this past winter, and the right moment just hadn’t presented itself yet.

All I can say is… although I didn’t get out into the Sunshine, it was brought inside in so many ways that I continue to count my blessings.

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