Monday, August 29, 2005

Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 Grand Estates (PB)

This is another review of a value wine earning the Wine Spectator rating of 89 points.
It is deep and dark in the glass with raisiny and ripe blackberry aromas. Flavors are quite large with prunes and ripe fruit though hot on opening. A nice chocolate finish gives this $9 wine a shot at greatness. With a half hour of breathing the hot alcohol tones down with tannins that are sophisticated if not bordering on elegant. Big pruney and currant flavors take this wine to the end with a nice ending of dark fruit and smooth finish. This is still a wine that is available and worth seeking out. One of the best value wines of the year. Raise a glass and stock up–again!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Selaks Marlborough Ice Wine 2004 (PB)

I bought this bottle from a nice little wine shop at Boston’s famed “North End” the Italian district. We had just finished a great dinner at one of the many fine Italian eateries and stepped outside to be greeted by a cacophony of firecrackers being exploded in honor of St. Agrippina whose festival filled the streets.

We saw a sign that mentioned a wine tasting which we couldn’t resist. One of the wines we tasted was this New Zealand ice wine which is a blend of Gewurztraminer and Riesling. It is a pretty yellow to amber in the bottle and has a gentle honeyed nose. The flavors are nice but very subdued and mostly just sweet but with a solid acid foundation to carry the intense sweetness of an ice wine.

This wine is simple. I paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $16 (I think) for a half bottle. A pleasant enough dessert wine but I have had a couple others for the same price which had much more character and taste. For what it’s worth...raise a glass!

Sideshow “The Contortionist” 2004 (PB)

This is the second in a line of strangely named wines with bizarre copy on the labels. In spite of their somewhat cheesy uniqueness the folks at Sideshow are putting out some interesting wines of various origins. The last one I reviewed was from Argentinian grapes and this one is from S.E. Australia. The blend of Grenache (45%) Syrah (35%) and Mourvedre (20%) is a very light red in color with a really fun cinnamony nose that smells like spiced apples at Thanksgiving time.

In the mouth it is spicy with cinnamon hints. This is just a really fun wine; it’s good with toasty crisps for an appetizer and as a warm up to whatever “real” wine you might be serving with dinner. Serve well chilled and it makes a good “amuse bouche!” I think it was around $8, actually a little pricey for the overall quality of what you get but then again it is just plain fun but I think I already said that! Raise a glass and have some–what else? Fun!

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Heritage of Meritage (NW)

When you see the word Meritage on a wine label, don't bring out your best old-world French pronunciation. Contrary to what you hear, this is not an ancient viticultural term passed down through the generations in the Medoc. Nor is it a catch-all term for any red blend. This is actually a word created in 1988 by combining "merit" and "heritage" and is not found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. A group of American vitners founded The Meritage Assocation to identify hand-crafted American wines blended in the Bordeaux style and the word was chosen to define and brand this initiative.

Meritage wines must meet certain blending criteria put forth by the association and there are red Meritage wines as well as white Meritage wines. Today, there are over 130 members in 14 states, Canada, Australia, and Israel. For more information, see

Raise a glass...of Meritage!

Guenoc "Langtry" 1996 (NW)

Guenoc "Langtry" 1996:

Explosive nose, full and fragrant
Layers of fruit
A nice smooth texture
No real sign of age
Moderate tannins

By mid-May, my wife and I were celebrating having our house in Florida under contract. We were scheduling friends for our final get-togethers and visiting some favorite spots. Our last trip to the local wine bar revealed some exciting tastings in several wine flights we constructed. One flight featured red Meritage wines from California and the standout was definitely the Guenoc "Langtry". It was more powerful and had more layers than the other wines. As we closed out our final visit to the wine bar, the owner poured us a second complimentary tasting. Raise a glass! Especially when it's on the house!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Concannon Petite Syrah 2002 (PB)

This is a second review of the same wine I reviewed in March. Check it out to see the difference just a few months makes with certain wines. This wine from the Central Coast has a dark ruby hue with a solid rim on the pour. The bouquet is wowing from the bottle with a general dense, dark fruit nose. In the mouth (served too warm) there is a touch of licorice and maybe some cocoa mid palate. If this opens as well as I suspect it will,, this will be a recommended wine.

Sure enough with 45 minutes the bouquet is gorgeous and exudes fat, ripe plums. In the mouth it all comes together with a nice balance of acid and tannins and flavors. This wine is not complex; just a fine, big wine with big flavor and big aromas.

For $10, I am impressed... I recommended this wine back in March and now, not remembering that review, I recommend this wine again! That's a good review and worthy of raising a glass!

Hogue Late Harvest White Riesling 2004 (billy)

So I was in the store looking for a bargain gewurztraminer. I left with a bottle of late harvest riesling. So much for intent. Still, the $9.99 sticker meant that good or bad, I was not going to be out much. I got a kick out of the bottle hanger that was around all of these bottles of Hogue.

The image was black and white, 1950's adhype style (like this) with a guy pointing up to the screw-cap and confidently stating something like, "We've been screwed by the research". Well, I doubt that was really the ad text but it DID mention research and how screw-caps keep the wine fresher and prevent taint.

All true. But the best bottle hanging ad doesn't change the wine inside. It was much sweeter than earlier harvest rieslings - this due to the fact that the grapes lose acidity and gain sugar the later they stay on the vine. In this case though, the sweetness became nearly syrupy and overbalanced the wine. This is not a dessert wine, it is dessert. As a stand alone, it is not bad and suitable to serve at parties. The casual, first date, white-zin drinker will enjoy the peaches that are preeminent. Someone of a more sophisticated palate or someone seeking to pair this with an appetizer, sorbet, or fresh fruit may find it passable but not more than that. This is not a bad wine though I was left unimpressed with the lack of complexity in its character.

Serve it chilled on a hot summer day to your adult neighbors while you give their kids ice-cream sandwiches.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 1997 (PB)

This wine from the Rioja region of Spain is ruby on the pour with deep dark fruit in the bouquet with tones of ripe plums, a little licorice and smoke. It has a port-like nose–sweet and pruny.

In the mouth it is very tart (sour) on opening with uptight tannins that I suspect will ease up with some air.

After decanting, that sharp, puckering acidity on opening has toned down and the tightly wound tannins have really relaxed. (Another stellar example of the necessity of breathing many (most?) red wines. The bouquet is big with very ripe fruit, woody and full of smoke.

With two full hours of air time with decanting the balance of this wine comes to the fore and proves to be a nicely balanced, well made Rioja. It is a good wine which we paired with grilled veal chops with a balsamic sauce and porcini/cheese tortellini as a side. A Capri salad (sliced tomatoes stacked with sliced black olives and mozzarella then grilled under a broiler with a fresh basil garnish) was served prior to the primi of this Italian fare. The wine was $18. It was a good Rioja at the price and another nice example of old world flare. Raise a glass and say “Cheese!”

Monday, August 22, 2005

Ridge California Geyserville 2001 (NW)

My wife and I had limited time together while I was commuting to Massachusetts. With our firstborn just a few months old, we had to schedule time well in advance in order to enjoy a nice dinner and bottle of wine. For this wine, we planned ahead.

Ridge California Geyserville 2001:

Raspberry, cherry, and chocolate on the inviting nose
Smooth wine, good structure
Some herbal notes
Moderate tannins

This wine had been sitting in my wine cooler for about a year. I really wanted to try it but kept putting it off for the right food pairing. It's not all that special or expensive, but I just never got around to drinking it. Finally, with some advanced planning as I mentioned, I popped the cork and poured. The wine paired well with the grilled meat and vegetables.

Ridge has a lot of fans. They produce a few different labels, most of which are blends based on Zinfandel. This bottling was 74% Zinfandel, 18% Carignane, and 8% Petite Syrah. Over the years, the price has crept up and it is no longer an every day way for most people including me. I spent $32 for the bottle. Raise a glass, but don't raise the prices! -NW

Two Big Napa Valley Cabs: Prices, Scores, and so Much More (NW, Re-Posted)

These are tasting notes worth re-posting from one of my last business dinners in Florida before the move. This dinner gave me a great comparison of two wines and is the type of restaurant experience that has repeated itself a number of times this summer as I'm getting settled in to the Boston area. The entry from March 30, 2004 is as follows:

"I recently tasted two big, expensive Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that are worth comparing: a 2001 Sterling Reserve and a 2002 Pride.

Sterling Napa Valley Reserve Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon 2001:

This wine was very tight upon opening, so we nursed it over two hours to see if it would open up in the glass
Very tight at first, but opened up to a big, powerful, fruity nose
Layers of dark berries, plum, spice, and some oak and vanilla
An intensity and earthy tartness
Strong tannins and long finish
Excellent compliment to grilled sirloin and twice-baked potatoes

Pride Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2002:

A little tight, but opened up rather quicklyFruity nose with dark berries, sweet strawberry, plum, spice, and vanilla
Moderate tannins and long, smooth finish
Very well-balanced overall and elegant
Paired with filet mignon and assorted sides

These are great wines to compare and contrast. Both are Napa Valley signature Cabs, both are pricey, and both were enjoyed with steak. The Sterling had an edge to it that the Pride did not, and I describe this as earthy tartness. The Pride, though, was more approachable and well-balanced overall even being a year younger. The Sterling was more powerful, but the Pride had an elegence to it. Both paired well with steak and were crowd pleasers. It is interesting to see two variations of signature Napa Valley Cab.

Which one would I reach for again? I really enjoyed the qualities of both wines, but the Pride wins...just by a hair. It is slightly more well-balanced and a little less expensive. The Sterling has a retail price of approximately $75 in stores, while the Pride costs roughly $65. This $10 difference, remember, equates to a $20 difference in a restaurant. With dinner, I believe the Pride would be a little more versatile. But that was big, powerful, and dramatic in a way the Napa Valley Cabs can be at their best. I even appreciated that hint of tartness, but wondered how that scores with the critics.

The interesting part of this comparison is in the scoring! The Sterling scored 83 points in Wine Spectator, while the Pride scored a whopping 93 points. A ten point difference? For those of you who follow scoring on the 100-point scale, you know that very few Napa Valley Cabs score 93 and higher because they are the most meticulously critiqued and highly scrutinized wines available in the American marketplace. I think this is on the high side for the Pride, although it was delicious. What about the Sterling? I assume the modest score reflects the tartness that I had trouble figuring out but really enjoyed. Still, a ten point difference? I really enjoyed both wines, they are fairly comparable in price, and both paired well with steak.

In the world of wine scoring mania, 93 points can make a winery and 83 points can break a winery, especially at this price point. It's important to understand that scores shouldn't matter. If you like the wine, drink the wine. Wine is a matter of preference! Scores influence us, though, and I should admit that if I had known about the Sterling score before I ordered it, I probably wouldn't have done so. When possible, I only research scores after I've tasted the wine myself. Of course, this isn't always the case and scores can be useful ahead of time by giving us a starting point for important wine purchases when there is a lot at stake (like a lot of money, for example).

This was an interesting comparison between two highly-regarded and well-established wines. I recommend both wines and really enjoyed both for their unique characteristics. Raise a glass...or two!"

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Clos du Bois "Marlstone" 1999 (NW)

When our move from Florida to Massachusetts became official, we immediately thought of some of the friends we wanted to spend time with before packing up and heading north. Arrangements were made to meet a couple at a local restaurant halfway between our respective homes. I knew dinner would be a casual affair and they would be happy with any wine selection that I made. I thought a juicy California red would please all the palates and went with the following:

Clos du Bois "Marlstone" 1999

Berries and an earthy layer on the nose
Big, ripe up-front fruit
Still young and fresh

We paid $69 for the bottle and polished it off with our steaks. It was fruity and delicious and somewhat more interesting than our every day wines we open at home. I don't think it gets particularly high scores as critics don't like its earthy layer and refer to it as "mossy". This characteristic, to me, makes the wine more interesting. Scores and opinions aside, juicy reds like this from California seem to please a lot of palates. Raise a glass!

Antinori Tignanello (NW, Re-Posted)

Looking back through my notes, I felt it would be worthwhile to re-post my entry from my first business dinner in the Boston area. We had not yet made the move, so I was commuting from Florida to Massachusetts every week. This dinner had been arranged for me to meet some important colleagues, and Italian was the choice. I had the pleasure of selecting the wine and the following experience is worth sharing. This is a re-post from March 5, 2005:

"This is an extended tasting note on two vintages of Tignanello, served back-to-back at a restaurant with hearty Italian fare.

Antinori Tignanello 1999:

Dark berries and complex layers on the nose
Cocoa, smoke, and oak added on the palate
Tangy and earthy finish, moderate tannins

Antinori Tignanello 2000:

Similar characteristics as the 1999, but a touch more tart and youthful.

It was a real pleasure tasting these wines back-to-back, however, this was not planned. The second bottle was supposed to be another 1999, but the restaurant exhausted that vintage and moved on to the 2000 without consulting me until it had been opened. Luckily for them, this is what I would have done. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they read my mind.

The 1999 was a powerful burst of dark, dark fruit followed by some obvious complexity. I couldn't decipher all the layers, but picked up some cocoa, smoke, and earth. These layers were very tightly packed. It then finished with some earthiness, which is vintage Tuscan, as well as some tangyness, which is reminder that the Sangiovese grape is involved. Beautiful wine, but was it ready for drinking? Should it have breathed longer in the glass? been decanted? I don't know the answers here and I don't recall any hint of age. The 2000, of course, followed. The wine had very similar charatacteristics but was a bit more tart. This may have been coupled with stronger tannins, too. Being a year younger may have contributed to this, but I've also read that 1999 was an excellent year in Tuscany and 2000 was average. Both wines were delicious!

The fun came with the chance to pair the wines with many different Italian foods. My table ordered so much food, we basically ate family-style with numerous appetizers and hearty pasta and meat dishes. I recall being very impressed with how the wine accompanied the food, however, nothing light like fish was presented. This was a business dinner, but very much social as well. I paid $110/bottle which is fair. I have seen this wine priced from$59 to $76 in stores. It has a strong following because it was one of the early "Super-Tuscans." This term was developed to categorize Tuscan wines grown outside the classification system that maintains strict rules for the likes of Chianti Classico and other designations. Antinori is a leading producer of classified wines as well as a pioneer in "Super-Tuscans", with their wines such as Tignanello. Generally, this wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Both the 1999 and the 2000 deliver! They are dark, rich, and tightly-wound wines I believe embody the intensity of high-end Italian red wines. If you are interested in discovering more Italian wines that are similar in strength and character, look for other "Super-Tuscan" blends, Brunellos, Barolos, and Barbarescos. These are generally expensive wines, but worth exploring to get a feel for what Italian red wine is all about. In the near future, I'll be reviewing a Barolo from the 2000 vintage that Wine Spectator scored a perfect 100! 'Till then, raise a glass!"

Friday, August 19, 2005

Sideshow No.4 The Puppetmaster (PB)

Okay I don’t like gimmicky labels but this is one exception. My wife brought this home tonight to have with grilled tuna to which I screwed up my nose. First to the label: the label read, and I quote “Sideshow A collection of novelties and oddities from around the world No 4 Puppetmaster all the way from Argentina”

The graphic is a figure of a strange looking man holding marionette strings in one hand then the words “SYRAH on the one hand and MALBEC on the other”

The reverse label reads even more oddly. What’s important of course is the taste. In the glass th9is wine is a lighter red though pretty with some pretty large and very fresh fruity aromas but this wine smells like a well made Gamay. I would never have guessed this is made from Syrah and Malbec. In the mouth this wine is unexpectedly sweet with definite vanilla hints. The flavors are subdued a bit and a bit harsh. With some air time this wine is uncomplicated, full of fruitiness, uncomplicated and fun. For the pairing? Well, our grilled tuna steak done with Cajun spices was topped with a mango and cilantro and cherry salsa. The wine was actually VERY nice. The sweet fruit balanced the somewhat biting alcohol of the wine and the “Gamay-like” lightness did not overpower the light flavors of the tuna. All in all, I really liked this wine; it is different, fresh and simple. For $9, we’ll be buying more of this wine. I suggest you raise a glass to this and to the return of NW!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Vignamaggio Chianti Classico 2000 (NW)

In reviewing my wine jounal entries over the past few months, it's interesting to see wine selections that my wife and I made during our transition from Florida to Massachusetts. We had a lot of important events to celebrate and a lot of interesting experiences along the way.

Vignamaggio Chianti Classico is a special wine for us. It takes us back to our first experience in Italy, when we fell in love with all things Italian. I can taste Tuscany in this wine!

I selected this wine to celebrate. I had just received my job offer in Massachusetts, something we had been looking forward to. When the phone call came in, my wife was chopping up the ingredients for a homemade pizza. After I shared the good news, I ran off to the other room to investigate the contents of the wine racks. I had a number of good bottles fit for a celebration, from First-Growth Bordeaux to Napa Cabs to South America's finest. But I paused in front of a $23 Chianti from Vignamaggio. Sometimes a special label or a wine that evokes a special feeling is better than a big name bottle that the critics tell us we should celebrate with. Of course, I was also reminded that this was homemade pizza night. Pizza that is somewhere between Roman style and New York style with fresh ingredients in interesting combinations. The Vignamaggio was it! We would celebrate life and our new chapter with a wine we've loved for years. It was the right choice!

Vignamaggio Chianti Classico, regardless of the vintage, let's you know your drinking from the earth. This 2000 vintage, in particular, is very earthy with a layers of dark fruit, olives, and leather. It also has the tangy reminder that you've got a glass of Sangiovese in front of you. It is the full expression of the Chianti region. Right in my tasting notes, I had written "awesome compliment to our homemade pizza."

Our meal was just right and a familiar, trustworthy wine made it complete. It was a celebration, for sure, and we talked late into the evening about where we had come from and where we were going. Wine is a celebration of life and it connects us with so many things. Raise a glass! (NW)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (PB)

Don’t be fooled by the rather generic name of this wine. It is one of those inexpensive (relatively speaking) but wonderful wines you hunt for. The bouquet of this garnet wonder from Sonoma is graceful, fruity on the bouquet w/ a couple different layers of eucalyptus with a touch of licorice. In the mouth it is robust, with soft tannins and a very nice construction. It should only improve with a little breathing.

With some air this wine is ripe, sensual, and downright sexy. It is rich in currants, with a sweetish fragrance and a great balance. This is a GREAT value wine and would be a fine wine at 3 times the price. The Wine Spectator gave it an 89. I would push it to that “special” 90 range. It is awesome with a medium rare rib-eye hot off the grill. AHHH, life! Raise a glass—this baby is making the recommended list. You can find it for around $15!

Monday, August 15, 2005

"Corked wine" A must read (PB)

My wine guy in Freeport Maine at the Freeport Wine and Cheese shop syas it all re: "bad wine" and what to do about it. So, I have included his entire sentiments on this important subject. It is worth reading! Raise and glass and enjoy!

I've been getting a lot more questions about corks, synthetic corks, screw-caps, etc. from, I thought I'd dig into this and send out an e-mail with my recent findings.

Corks, Screw-caps, Synthetic Corks, even the rare beer cap closure...what's going on???

Just what is the wine business up to with all these different bottle closures?

First, the wine industry is dealing with a problem that has troubled it for years..."off," tainted and/or corked bottles (industry numbers estimate it as being 3-10% of all bottles - WHOA...that last number is more than 1 bottle per case!!!).

What is a tainted or corked bottle? It's wine that has gone bad for a variety of reasons. What do I do with a "corked" bottle? We'll get to that in a few paragraphs (and it will save you money!).

You'll run into 2 primary types of "corked" bottles:

1 - Sometimes, natural cork has a fungus called 2,4,6-tricloroanisole (TCA) in it. It imparts its flavor to wine and ruins it. If you've ever tasted a wine with a dank, moldy aroma that reminds you of wet cardboard, a damp basement or mushrooms, that's TCA, and the wine is "corked." A badly "corked" wine will just smell nasty (bear in mind, some wines don't smell good the instant you open them, but they smell nice a few minutes after opening; I once had a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon that smelled of cat's pee and rotting vegetables the second you opened it - in 5 minutes it was good; in 10 minutes it was marvelous - that's one reason to "swirl" the wine in the glass - the swirling, spinning action puts more oxygen into the wine, helping it "open" up its aromas and flavors; give the wine a few minutes to see if it opens up). A badly "corked" bottle will never smell will always smell "skunked."

2 - Now, here's the hard part - most wines are not so "corked" that they are as nasty as the above description. They are just blah, lifeless, little or no fruit...nowhere near the wine the person in the store or restaurant're drinking it and thinking either, "That wine guy doesn't know diddley..." or "Maybe wine isn't for me...or I should just stick to X." Well, the odds are you're drinking a wine that has gone bad. They are what wine geeks call, "Off."

Ah, what's "off" mean, you wine geek? Here are the basics for how you tell when a wine is "off:"

A - you get little or no fruit (leaning toward none) from the aromas (focus on aromas - smell is much more sensitive than taste) from the wine after its been in the glass for 10-15 minutes. For most wines, you should smell fruit within seconds of pouring it (certainly within a few minutes) and it should evolve over time - even a short time.

B - the wine is flat and fruit or floral aromas, few flavors....completely blah, boring and mostly you taste some alcohol heat as you swallow it (a slightly burning or pepperiness at the back of your tongue).

C - 15 minutes after opening, the wine is still lifeless and blah. It hasn't changed....the aromas haven't opened up. Remember, you need to pour the wine into a glass, swirl it, even decant it (decanting is just pouring from the bottle into a pitcher or container and then pouring into the the glass...this "opens up" the wine).

Corked bottles are why winemakers are looking at new closures. So, what is the difference between the closures?

Screw-caps - First, in the "premium" wine market ($8 and up bottles, give or take a buck), we're not talking about cheap screw-caps found on Mad Dog 20-20 or Boone's Farm. Stelvin Closures are the dominant screw-caps in the market. Winemakers are NOT using them because they are cheap - in most cases they are significantly more expensive than natural corks. Winemakers are using them because they are a sterile, clean, neutral seal - the wine tastes like the winemaker wants it to taste...and the bottle is perfectly sealed.

Synthetic Corks - These were going to revolutionize the industry. They still have the romantic ritual of opening a bottle with a corkscrew and that lovely "POP" as you vigorously pull the cork from the bottle. They are cheap. They are plentiful. Alas, winemakers are finding that they don't seal the bottle as well as natural corks or screw-caps...especially in terms of aging wines for years - have you ever noticed how the synthetic corks are often wet on the sides when you pull them out? Well, that means wine is slipping between the cork and the bottle and interacting with oxygen in the air and that's a bad thing. If a wine is consumed within a year of bottling, a synthetic cork isn't that big of a deal, but it's still not as good as a screw-cap or natural cork. Several winemakers are finding premature oxidation of wine sealed with synthetic corks (I'm talking about wines that have been in the bottle for 18+ months).

Natural cork - it's been the standard for 300 years. It seals a bottle even allows the proper, small amount of air exchange between the wine and the world (although it's possible to dial up that with the good screw-caps). It's renewable - cork can be harvested every 7-12 years from trees and then it grows back. Too bad it sometimes has TCA - otherwise it would be the perfect closure.

Today, even boutique wineries are using Stelvin Closures. France is slowly moving toward screw-caps (I recently tasted a wonderful Verget Macon-Villages from Burgundy with a screw-cap; if a Burgundy producer is using the Stelvin Closure, times are a changin'). Europe will the last hold-out for natural cork (part of that is tradition; part is Portugal produces most of the cork in the world). New Zealand and Australia are leading the charge for using part this is because you should drink the overwhelming majority of their wines young and screw-caps help keep wines fresh longer; another part is that Down-Under is less beholden to Old World traditions.

From my reading and asking questions, my guess is that by 2010, screw-caps will rule the roost....with the possible exception of natural cork for long-term aging (but that's a tiny percentage of bottles)....and even with those, the wine program at UC-Davis has research showing screw-caps are the best choice. Time will tell...and tomorrow, some hard-working scientist or entrepreneur may create the perfect synthetic cork....or a way to eradicate TCA.

As for screwcaps and aging, the evidence increasingly shows oxidation is not a problem. Oddly, the lack of oxygen is a minor, but reversible problem. It's called "Reduction." It's a chemical process that occurs in wine aging in the absence of oxygen. The result are unpleasant, quirky, bizarre aromas in wine. Fortunately, "reductive" aromas are temporary, not permanent, and a funky "reductive" wine will go back to its "happy state" with plenty of air after opening. I've also read about an old wine-maker's trick of dropping a clean copper penny into a glass to eliminate the stinky sulfur compounds caused by reduction - but, decanting and air will solve the problem on its own.

So, what do I do with a "corked" bottle? One that I've wasted my hard-earned money buying?

RETURN IT!!! First, put the cork in it and quit drinking that nasty stuff.

We'll happily replace a corked or "off" bottle of wine. Any reputable wine store will (if they won't - they aren't reputable). We won't smell it. We won't taste it. We're taking your word for it. It's bad...the distributor will give us a new bottle...the winery will credit the, don't feel bad or awkward if you need to return a bottle. Open a bunch of wine bottles and one of them will be's the nature of drinking a "living" beverage.

Restaurants will do the same...if you're in a restaurant and you think the wine is just not right, ask your waiter to taste it. If your waiter is inexperienced, ask for someone with more experience. If you are convinced it it "off" and no one agrees...remind him/her that the distributor will take the bottle back, so it is no skin off the restaurant's back to open another bottle.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Chianti Classico Banfi 2003 (PB)

This Tuscan red is full with room filling bouquet of big plump plummy and blackberry notes.. In the mouth it is really placid with delicate flavors of Sangiovese yet somewhat atypical for the grape. It is a little peppery, lively and flavors of raspberries and black cherries. It stands up well to a heartily smoked BBQ rack of ribs that were like shoe leather but with nice smokey flavors.

For $13, this is your basic, decent Chianti and besides, I really liked the label. Now, raise a glass!

Castano Solanera Monastrell 2001 (PB)

This unfiltered Spanish red is from the Yecla region of Southern Spain. Monastrell–the grape type–is also known as Mourvedre. In the glass it is a deep inky dark red and this blend of 65% Monastrell and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon has a fragrant bouquet of smoke, green peppers, prunes and blackberries. In the mouth it is hot, sour and out of balance. Licorice is fairly prominent mid-palate and on the finish though flavors are tightly wound. I’ll breathe this and see if it helps.

After a couple hours and decanting the wine, it is full of prunes and in the mouth it is much better balanced though still a bit harsh and austere. Tannins are fairly well developed.

This wine was recommended as a wine that would pull my socks off by the wine manager of a local store. I bought two bottles about 1 ½ years ago and after tasting the first bottle and being quite unimpressed, I decided to lay the other bottle down.
1½ years later, the wine was better than I remember it the first time but not exactly a “pull your socks off” kind of wine. For $14 you can do better.

Wine and the Journey of Life (The Return of NW)

I'm back with pen in hand! Or, in this case..keyboard. My last blog entry was several months ago from Florida. Since then, I've taken on a new job, sold a house, sold a car, sold a boat, bought a house, bought a car, and moved to Massachusetts. Wow, the journey of life! All the while, though, I found time to enjoy wine, explore the world of wine, and even keep some tasting notes. These notes just haven't made it to this blog site... yet.

It's good to be writing about wine once again! Wine is a celebration of life. It connects us with people, places, stories, and memories. With my move from Florida to the Boston area this summer, I had some interesting experiences and some memorable moments. I also marked these occasions with some special wines. Allow me to bring my blog entries up to speed by re-counting some of my wine experiences over the past several months. In reviewing my wine journal entries, I've found some notes that are worth sharing because they've connected me with people, places, stories, and memories. More to come... from Massachusetts... from my journey of life. (NW)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Dry Creek Chenin Blanc 2004 (PB)

This is another review of a previously reviewed wine. At the risk of being redundant, I explain briefly that I always review essentially every wine I taste no matter how many times I have had it previously. There are too many factors with wine that cause a wine to change—or one’s taste buds to change—[due to illness or medications, etc] that could have greatly impacted a previous review. I have had many wines that I either loved initially but at subsequent tastings didn’t care for it all that much, and others, which I didn’t care for all that much but with later reviews, adored it.

(Oops! After checking, this is my initial review of the 2004. See previous review of the 2003.)

This wine which sells just about everywhere it seems will cost you around $10. It is full of wonderful aromas of citrus, melon, and possibly pears or maybe even a little pineapple. It is well structured with good acid making it a nice food wine and yet there is a softness and flavorful backbone to it that makes it pretty nice just for sipping with a nice chill on it. The 2003 of the same wine was equally as good. Either way, pick one up and raise a glass; you’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Montecillo Crianza 2001 Rioja (billy)

I love spanish tempranillo wines and there is only one difference with this wine from the rest of the fantastic 2001 vintage: the price. You can get this at most wine stores for under $10.00. It is soft and round with spicy hints on the nose. The palate is lean but not sparse. The finish is easy going with some big fruit (strawberry) coming out then.

The nose is the most complex with the fruit and spice mingling with wet stones which add a maturity to the overall feel of the wine. For less than 10 bucks, this is definitely not something you would typically expect. However, this red from Rioja delivers.

For the price, you can afford to try it out. Give it a whirl.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Mondovino--A Movie review–sort of-- (PB)

Perhaps you missed it; it wasn’t exactly the Summer blockbuster nor will it be. This movie–subtitled in great part no less–-is a documentary of the conglomerization; AKA alleged unification; standardization; homogenization [pick a word, any word] of the world wine industry and the role Robert Mondavi has played/is playing in that endeavor.

It is a documentary that tries to be objective showing the Mondavi’s as artisans/businessmen but with good representation of the remnant of anti-corporation/damn the man/damn capitalism stalwarts trying to preserve the sheer pristine revery of the “pure faith.”

To the enophile and more, the wine historian, this is a must see movie even if not the most exhilarating flick you’ll ever see. In fact, it may take some discipline to get through the whole–seemingly unending and repetitive vignettes.

Stll, the mini-biographical sketches of whose who in winedom is tremendous. Robert Parker, Philippe Rothschild, Michel Roland, the Frescobaldis; the Antinori clan with short jaunts to Argentina and Brazil for yet more entrepreneurial exploration by the king of wine from Napa, Ca. is a nice lesson in wine history. The photography of the great growths of Bordeaux; the shots of Tuscan countrysides, is like a travelogue with purpose.

It is a thought provoking film at once giving rise to empathetic ponderings of the potential? of a one size fits all–Walmartization of world wines yet at the same time realizing that, try as the so-called purists might wish to think, they are not exactly the protectors of tradition as if they are making wine in 2005 the same way as their forefathers did 6-10 centuries ago.

And as much as I grow tired of having increasing difficulty discerning between many of the new world wines--purposely seeking out wine with some distinguishable characteristics--at the end of the day, these people are in business which means they have to turn a profit which means they have to produce a product that others wish to buy. You can stick to your principled traditions all you want but if there is no market for your traditional liking, you will not be making wine for long.

Hopefully, we will NOT be seeing an ever increasing homogenization of the world wine styles and the elimination of “terroir.” And some how in the grand scheme of things, market forces come to bear and the person plopping down his earnings to purchase his wine is the one who will rule the day and the destiny of the fruit fo the vine. Raise a glass!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Chateau De Cruzeau 2000 (PB)

This wine form the Pessac-Leognan region of the Graves in Bordeaux is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot. Hailing form the fabled vintage of 2000 this Grand Vin De Bordeaux is a deep purple/garnet in the glass and almost thick looking. The bouquet is yeasty at first and then changes to a rich nose of ripe fruit and blackberries.

In the mouth it is almost offensive it is so sour, harsh, steely and closed with very little flavor. This wine is borderline awful–corked? I don’t think so–just bad. We shall breathe it and see what happens.

After an hour or so there is substantial change with the bouquet being very pruny of ripe–over ripe? fruit. It is still out of balance but not offensive; just not impressive–at all! The finish is perhaps it’s best point.

We had this wine with a recipe I took out of the current Bon Appetite–the cover picture of Ancho chile and coffee rubbed filet mignon with a wild mushroom sauce. To show how underwhelmed I was with this wine, the recipe called for a cup of red wine and I used this wine in the recipe and we still have some left in the bottle.

For $20 and the vintage of a lifetime, this was immensely disappointing and yet, another adventure in the fantastic and *unpredictable world of wine!

*The Wine Spectator gives this wine a 90. I would give it an 82 and that's being generous. With this disparity there are a few possibilities going on here. Either I don't know wine--an absurd statement if I do say so; the wine is in fact mildly corked (a strong suspicion) or I have a pre-symptom infection developing in my mouth causing my taste buds to react weirdly to the wine. This has happened before. (It is kind of like drinking orange juice right after brushing your teeth; there's nothing wrong with the juice; it's with your mouth.) I don't think that is what's going on here so I suspect this wine is in fact mildly corked or experienced some bad storage conditions prior to sale.

No matter; Raise a glass because we are alive in the greatest land on earth and loved by a Creator who gives such awesome gifts to the likes of us!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Argiolas Perdera Isola dei Nuraghi 2003 (PB)

Now that NW has moved and is getting situated in his new digs in New England I expect to see him blogging once again soon. Finally one of our grand children are within driving distance and so my wife and I took a little jaunt down to see NW and our daughter and of course our newest grandson.

An added delight of their new proximity to us in Snake Navel, Maine is their proximity to the great little city of Boston. If you are ever in the neighborhood, you MUST take a lunch or dinner trip to Boston’s fabled “North End”where you’ll find the best Italian cuisine this side of Italy.

Our dinner trek took us to La Summa, a very small and very quaint family run restaurant which is just plain old authentic. Nothing glitzy or pretentious; no plastic gondolas on the table. We walked in without reservations as it was early (5:45) otherwise reservations are strongly suggested everywhere although we have never had a problem getting seated (at some restaurant) even at peak hours. In other words, without reservations you may not get the restaurant you want but we have just walked in to totally unknown establishments and they have all been outstanding! So never mind Zagat’s and other reviews; I don’t think you can really go wrong in this genuinely Italian community.

The wine list at his restaurant was scant; one page on both sides but interesting and affordable selections. (See previous blog re: the price of wine in restaurants)

NW and I collaborated on our selections and chose the Argiolas as the first bottle. It was $27 which means it retails for around $13 if you can find it. Neither of us had any knowledge of this wine which is what enticed us to try it–that and it’s price...

It was a nice surprise! With our cheese ravioli (home made of course)appetizer the wine was a perfect pairing. This wine from Sicily is made from the “Monica” grape. A grape I had never heard of. It had a nice, juicy bouquet of cherries and dark fruit even right out of the gate. Antonio Argiolas ferments this wine in glass lined vats and then ages it 16 months in French Oak. What was especially nice about this wine is that it was nicely made, well balanced and didn’t need any breathing. This blind choice was a great choice!

The second wine I was familiar with and knew it to be a value wine although I had tasted a different vintage. This was the Morgante, Nero D’Avola 2003 another Sicilian which I have bought for $12-$15 locally. Restaurant price–$27–I think.

This wine was even a littler bigger than the previous once which again, was just perfect for all of our entrees which ranged from Italian sausage over penne pasta with roasted peppers to papperadelle (wide pasta) with egg plant to NW’s smorgasbord of all kinds of delicious stuff including the restaurant’s kitchen sink.

This was a GREAT evening and mind you, with a wine tab of close to $60, four people stuffed and a 20% tip, this evening was a bargain at $160! If your anywhere near Boston, check out the North End and raise a glass to the wine cask!

Santa Alicia Merlot Reserve 2000 (PB)

This is a second review of a wine I blogged several months ago. It was such a good value I had to buy another for another time. That time is now.

This Chilean varietal is a deep, luscious garnet in the glass with solid Merlot aromas. In addition, the nose is full of blackberry and blueberry scents.

In the mouth it is a bit stern, hot and a bit austere but the flavors are firm and carry through to a definite but hard finish. I think some breathing will help.

After about 20 minutes, this inexpensive red turns deeply aromatic with loads of plummy and raisiny aromas. The harshness has really toned down and there is even a subtle but wonderful candied flavor in the finish. This wine is at its best right now so drink away.

A wine of this quality at $7.50 is another reason why Chile is one of the up and coming wine countries in the world. Raise a glass!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Cajun and Creole: Difficult Pairing of wine with food (PB)

Tonight my wife suggested “Carribean Night” so Carribean night it was! Pina Coladas with big butterflied shrimp seared in olive oil with Cajun spices and broiled bread with butter lightly spiced again with Cajun spices was served up for a "tide me over." In the background was playing steel drum music from the Atlantic Clarion Steel Drum band. This later gave way to some indigenous Soca music from the Island of St. Maarten from a previous trip to this Carribean paradise.

We had some left over Sauvignon Blanc we needed to use so it was the sipper with the aforementioned appetizers. (This was not a good pairing but then it was just a way to not have to dump some aging wine.) I don’t suggest this tact for the record...

But the main course was another story. Normally I enjoy flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to cooking; nothing ventured, nothing gained; no guts, not glory. But tonight I consulted with Emeril–the master of Cajun cuisine which is very similar to Carribean in some respects.

So I decided to try the potato crusted fish (catfish in this instance) with a roasted pepper sauce, sweet corn and Zatarains rice and red beans for a side.

The fish was spiced with cayene pepper, and all those wonderful Creole seasonings which make wine pairing a bear. But I had just read an article in “Food and Wine” about pairing wine with Chinese cooking. Several options were mentioned from Gewurtztraminer to Pinot Noir.

So applying the principles I gleaned from this article, I thought I would try a sweet wine but one with a good acid structure and solid flavors. I needed something to stand up to the “hot” spices of creole yet something that would enhance the flavors of the sauce and delicate fish.

I selected a Late Harvest Riesling from Covey Run 2003 ($11) and it was spectacular! (See previously entered review of this wine)

First, the food was really very nice but with the odd flavors of the rice and beans, which was VERY spicy, and the delicate flavors of the roasted pepper sauce and catfish, I had concerns but it worked and worked really, really nicely.

So if you are struggling about the dish which is spicy and or hot, think about a well made sweet Riesling, Gewurtz, Semillion or even a Viognier. It will probaby work! Now raise a glass and a fork!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Terrunyo Carmenere 2002 (PB)

This is a rich, pretty garnet with youthfulness in the color right to the edges. Concha Y Toro creates this masterful wine from the Cachapoal Valley of Chile, block 27 of its Peumo Vineyard attempting to create a wine with genuine “*terroir.”

NW strolled into town recently and dropped this gift off as it was not available in my neck of the woods.

It has an intense bouquet of dark berry fruit with a little mocha and black cherries. In the mouth this wine is large, dense and almost thick brimming with finesse and flavor. Tannins are poised and balanced with aplomb.

With some breathing, the bouquet is simply gorgeous with ripe cherries and blackberries floating in the air and cedar is prevalent mid-palate right after swallowing. The finish is a little peppery, lively and just all around nice! The wine runs around $30 and it’s worth it! Raise another glass!

* Terroir–is the phenomenon, disputed by some, that a particular parcel of land on which the grapes are grown, imparts identifiable characteristics to the overall flavors and aromas of the wine unique to that parcel of land.