Monday, January 31, 2005

Quick Swirl: Hedges CMS 2002 (NW)

Hedges CMS 2002:

Strong cherries on the nose
Berries and some pepper on the palate
Silky smooth, light finish

This is a wine I have been wanting to taste for a while. I like to look for interesting blends, and this delivers a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and a touch of Cabernet Franc from Washington state. While it is light, it is also delicious and versatile. My wife and I paired it with a rich, creamy chicken and dill potato dish. She didn't want white, and this did just fine.

I paid $13/bottle at a wine and cheese boutique in Florida and would do it again. I especially like its versatility and silky texture as a wine to pair with many dishes. I see Hedges from time to time and encourage you to pick one up- they specialize in blended varietals. Raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Casa Julia Merlot 2003 $10 (PB)

This is just another success from the growingly reliable country of Chile. This Merlot is a pretty ruby in the glass with a youthful tinge of purple passion. The bouquet is light at first with green peppers and peppery spice opening up with some air in twenty minutes or so with fuller aromas of berries. It is initially a bit flabby in the mouth but again opens with some breathing to a somewhat unexciting, but never the less balanced, wine that is a credit to its country. This is a straightforward Merlot, with nice berry flavors and another success from Chile. At $10, you have to love it. Raise a glass and you’ll see!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Quick Swirl: Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Merlot 2001 (NW)

Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Merlot 2001:

Berries on the nose
Dark chocolate and toasty oak on the palate
Silky finish

This is an exceptional wine. It is dark and rich, nothing like a California Merlot. With all the richness, it also has a Bordeaux-like elegance. The silky finish says Merlot, but the wine is powerful. It shows dark color, rich flavors, and a reasonable pricetag. I paid $16/bottle on sale, regular price showing as $19. Wine Spectator scored it 90 points. As a comparison, the highest scoring domestic Merlot ever is 2001 Paloma Merlot at 96 points and $50. Generally, a domestic Merlot scoring 90 points or higher on the various 100-point scales will cost $30-60. This is a great buy from Chile! Raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Finca El Portillo Merlot (PB)

Finca El Portillo Merlot 2002 $7
This Argentinian from Bodegas Salentein has an inky nose that reminds me of popcorn--not your typical wine review adjective but that's what it smells like okay? On the swirl it has a large bouquet that reminds me more of Shiraz than Merlot. The bold tannins give way to a hint of choclate and deep flavor with surprizing raisiny notes with a little spice. With some air, currants come out in force. It is simple, straightforward, the fruit seems to be over ripe and jammy but if you're not expecting Merlot, this is actually a good buy; its just a better example of Shiraz even though its Merlot. I'd buy it again for the price.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Quick Swirl: Cline Red Truck 2002 (NW)

Cline Red Truck 2002:

Overwhelming blueberry on the nose
A smooth chocolate flavor on the palate with a touch of blackberry, cherry, and mint
Very smooth finish and tannins

This is a nice, smooth wine with some interesting qualities. The label says it's a blend of mourvedre, syrah, merlot, and pinot noir. I enjoy seeing wines like this that put together an interesting proprietary blend of grapes. For my taste, though, there is too much blueberry pie. If you liked the scene in the movie Stand By Me featuring "Lardass" Hogan, you might devour this wine. But hey, anything under $10 is worth experimenting with. I paid $9/bottle at a store in Florida and have seen it priced from $8 to $11. Raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Chateau De Flougergues 2001 $16 (PB)

In writing "What Makes a Good Wine Shop Good," I mentioned asking Eric Fullagar the proprietor for a recommendation of something special under $20. This is the wine he suggested.

This selection from the Coteaux Du Languedoc is beautiful and youthful in the glass. Even before swirling, a playful fruitiness danced its way into my presence that was almost candied like a hint of bubblegum. The bouquet is punctuated with a yeasty, fresh baked bready nose while swirling releases a chocolate surprise full of ripe berries. In the mouth there is a perky little hum, nearly “spritzig,” to use the German term for a hint of carbonation, only this is subtler. Tannins are lively and the wine is structurally sound. With some airtime, the yeasty fragrance mellows out and currants emerge with full rich raisiny force. The finish is somewhat delicate.

I put Mr. Fullagar on the spot and asked for something special for under $20. Did he deliver? You bet! Nice going Eric! Excuse me while I go raise another glass of the same!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Quick Swirl: Vignamaggio Chianti Classico 2000 (NW)

Vignamaggio Chianti Classico 2000:

Earth and olives on the nose
Fruit kicks in on the palate
Fairly smooth finish with just enough tartness to deliver the Sangiovese grape experience

This is a favorite of mine! It brings me and my wife back to our first visit to Italy- when we fell in love with Italy. When I drink this wine, I can taste Tuscany and all its earthy drama. When wine brings back good memories, it's all that more powerful. Vignamaggio is a special label to me. The scores and reviews will never matter. I've stayed at this magnificent property several times and soaked up the richness of the Tuscan experience. Located just outside Greve-in-Chianti, this is a special place that produces special wines. PB and I have popped corks together at this villa and will never forget it! Vignamaggio is always in my heart. Isn't this what wine is all about? Raise a glass! -NW

By the way, I spent $23 on the bottle at a store in Florida and the wine is extremely hard to find.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Quick Swirl: Clos du Bois Merlot 2001 (NW)

A few quick notes on a Merlot that I find in many stores and restaurants:

Clos du Bois Merlot 2001:

Fruity, fragrant nose of strawberries and cherry
Oak and vanilla on the palate
Smooth finish, light tannins

This is a smooth, easy drinking wine that has a nice well-rounded character- nothing extraordinary, but just good, solid Merlot qualities. It complements a variety of foods and has a nice, fragrant quality. Merlot became extemely popular in the 1990's because of this type of wine (just look at the number of restaurants and bars that offer a Merlot as their default house red wine). But, what about the price? I paid $18 for a bottle in Florida. Why is it so much? Clos du Bois has received some high scores for its Merlots in the past, but lately the scores are average. Do they rest on their laurels? Let's assume this is a typical, well crafted Merlot that we would consider pairing with a variety of foods and offer in a variety of settings. If that's that case, I want to spend $8-12. Maybe, I'll spend $15. There are an aweful lot of domestic wines that are priced a bit too high. I don't want to automatically run out and get an import, but for $18 a bottle, you can bring home a border-line world class Merlot from Chile. California produces some of the best varietal wines in the world, but be careful with your money. Many $50 Merlots are justifiably priced, but many $18 bottles are just Merlots. Still, this Clos du Bois is good drinking. I just wish it were justifiably priced at just $12. Just my opinion, of course! Raise a glass! -NW

PB's cellar-humble beginnings! Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Quick Swirl: Sterling Vineyards 2001 Vintner’s Collection Shiraz (PB)

This is a full flavored, fully mature wine that is rich and jammy with lush plummy flavors of raisins and plums. Tannins are velvety if a bit underplayed. Superb with venison steaks seared in olive oil served rare. At $14, this is NICE. *D-licious!

We popped this cork because we just learned that our daughter, son-in-law (NW of this blog) and brand spanking new grandson are moving about a thousand miles closer. Did this celebration effect our objectivity of the taste of this wine? So what if it did??? Ahhhhhhhhhh, raise a glass; life is good!

Note* I just checked Wine Spectator's review of this wine and they gave it an 82. I gave it an 86. The only thing that matters is how YOU liked the wine--remember that!

What Makes a Good Wine Shop Good? (PB)

First I want to say I found one yesterday in Freeport, Maine. In this town—the home of L.L. Bean, there are three wine stores. Each has it’s own personality but the Freeport Cheese and Wine shop on Bow Street has it all!

The store is not large but the selection is intelligent. Wines are displayed on the walls and in wooden cases on the floor. And--this is the best part—nearly all the wines were reviewed and the price with the review is posted on a card over or behind the wine. Someone knowing nothing about wine could walk in and walk out with a selection you would know something about without knowing anything about it and there was no risk of embarrassment taking a bottle to the check out only to find the price was way more than you cared to spend. The proprietor—Eric Fullagar—and I talked for over half an hour. He tastes many (all?) of his own wines, is very knowledgeable, and very down to earth. If you’re in the Freeport area, this is THE place to check out!

So what makes a good wine shop good?
A fair answer must take into account regional differences in population and economics. While visiting in Florida, I had three wine shops all within a stone’s throw of one another, one with an inventory of wines by country whose country’s selections were larger by themselves than some of the entire shops I have available to me living in a not-to-densely populated part of the country. But selection is important, as is price, clearly marked bottles and information about the wines displayed. While it seems like having your product priced would be an obvious principle of marketing, you might be surprised at how often I find shops with either confusing pricing formats or even more frequently, no pricing at all. Maybe the shopkeeper believes that a typical person will ask “How much?” and then a conversation can ensue about the wine. But I think I am fairly normal—some would dispute that—and I simply will not ask. So if a wine is not priced, I’ll walk out and write the shop off, as someplace I won’t frequent.

So what do I look for in a good shop?
Selection—I can get the everyday supermarket wines at the everyday supermarkets. Duh. I don’t need a shop that repeats the essential selections of the local grocery stores.
Price—I hunt for bargains of course—who doesn’t; but I want at least competitive pricing. I am amazed and somewhat perplexed how one shop can sell a wine for $8 and another, the same wine for $11. All I can figure is the proprietor doesn’t know his competition.
Information—This is one of my personal “important items” in a wine shop. I have been studying wine for close to 30 years and I always find wines with which I am totally unfamiliar. What hope is there for the average person walking into a wine store and making a decent selection? The Wine Enthusiast, the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator, to mention the big three, are rating wines by the thousands every month. If a shop owner isn’t a particularly experienced wine aficionado, they can at least post some of the readily available reviews. Reviews sell wine I can assure you!
Great Staff—No one I know likes to feel like a complete ignoramus and we wine enthusiasts can make someone feel real stupid, really fast. It is not generally intentional (though sometimes it is) it is just that we love talking about what we are enthused about. Our enthusiasm can be intimidating. A shop owner needs to be sensitive to that.

If you find a place with all these elements, even if the wine is priced a bit higher than some of the local competition, it is worth the added expense—trust me.

So as I was about to leave, I asked Eric to select me a bottle under $20 of something special. He talked to the air a bit and then made his recommendation. At $16, I took the bottle of something French I can’t pronounce. I am eager to taste what he picked out for me and when I do, you’ll read about it here! Now enough reading—go raise a glass…

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Quick Swirl: Brolio Chianti Classico 2000 (NW)

A "Quick Swirl" tasting of a reliable Chianti:

Brolio Chianti Classico 2000:

Dark color for a Chianti
Blackberries and plum on the nose and palate
Just enough tart Sangiovese finish to remind me that it's a Chianti

This wine seems to be routinely offered on many Italian restaurant wine lists. In fact, at the local mom and pop eatery where I ordered this wine, it was the "premium" Chianti offering by the glass. I paid $8 for a glass and I felt like I got a deal when they brought me a good full 6-7 ounces. Good with hearty Italian from pizza to lasagna to chicken parmigiana!

Quick Swirl: Rombauer Chardonnay 2002 (NW)

Chardonnay is the most prevalent grape varietal in American. While there are numerous interpretations of the grape, some of the most consistantly high-scoring wines come from Napa and Sonoma, California. One such wine is Rombauer Chardonnay, which derives grapes from the Carneros region (a hilly region adjoining the Napa Valley and the Sonoma Valley). A "Quick Swirl" tasting note follows:

Rombauer Chardonnay 2002:

Nice pear and apple on the nose and palate
Very smooth texture wraps the tongue
Long, creamy, buttery finish

I typically buy this wine for $23/bottle in Florida. This glass cost me $17 at a Ritz-Carlton, but was well worth it for the pairing it offered my heart of palm salad, prawns, and Florida pompano. My favorite Chardonnay!

Numanthia Termes--another take (PB)

Numanthia Termes (Toro Termes 2000) From the land of conquistadors comes this knock out wine with it’s brilliant garnet hue and fragrant bouquet of homemade bread with a seductive undergarment of *violets, spice, and smoke. The violets are short lived but this is what makes wine so absolutely intriguing. It can change from one moment to the next which is why I always taste every red wine immediately and then about 30 minutes after opening and often one last time sometime later. This Spanish red made from 100% Tinta de Toro has a refined tannic structure that should hold it stable for a few more years. Although this is a bit pricier than I usually pay for a bottle, this was Wine Spectator’s #3 wine of 2004 with a reference price of $31-- I paid $22!

They scored it a 93. Indeed, I'd bump that another point or two! (Oops, actually I just realized that the wine they scored 93 was the 2002; this is the 2000! They scored it 94-- Oh yeah...)

It is now the next day and due to a blizzard, my normal Sunday routine is altered. Instead, I just sat down to eggs and a piece of grilled ribeye leftover from the night before. Dare I have the remainder of this bold nectar? I shall...

UNbelievable! Did I say, UNBELIEVALBE? I meant UN-believable. This wine is now exuding raisins--plump and round, with spicey vanilla notes with a cherry finish. As bold as this wine is, it is so phenomenally well made and balanced that even with the delicate flavor of an egg, this wine is wonderful and enhances this he-man's breakfast. "If I woke up tomorrow with my head stapled to the floor, I couldn't be more surprised" with how wonderful this wine is. (Thanks Clark Griswold...)I am calling the store today where I bought it to have them hold the last bottle I saw on the shelf.

This is a fabulous example of the type of wine bargains that are out there. You could easily pay 5-10 times more for another selection from some prestigious estate or chateau and not have a wine of this quality. If you can find it—buy it…and raise a glass! You won’t regret it!

*You will find that you may pick up something in a bouquet or flavor that someone else does not and vice versa. This is why tasting is somewhat subjective and why your taste and smell is what matters! YOU smell what YOU smell, and YOU taste what YOU taste.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

From Counter Top to Cellar: A Wine Collecting Discussion (NW)

How does a wine cellar begin? With one bottle. One bottle that you decide not to drink tonight. Collecting wine is exciting: the treasure hunt for a specific bottle, the cataloguing of your inventory, the progressive tastings through the years. There is no right way to put a collection together and there is no perfect collection. If you plan to "lay down" bottles for more than, say, two years, you'll want to ensure proper storage conditions. Generally, this means a temperature and humidity controlled environment. A lot of wine lovers use a basement area in their home. This can work, although humidity fluctuations can cause problems over really long storage periods of 10-20 years. Specific wine storage equipment is recommended if you anticipate holding on to bottles for a long time, are dealing with more fragile wines such as Burgundies, Rhones, and Rieslings, or are considering taking the wine to auction years later when proof of proper storage is imperative. For most wines, however, a variety of storage methods work fine. The basic principles are cool, steady temperatures of 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, minimal light, minimal handling, and horizontal bottle placement. I've seen elaborate redwood cellars containing thousands of bottles, basement storage racks, kitchen wine coolers, and crates in a coat closet. The point is, just get a collection going and have fun. When you decide to keep a bottle, though, don't leave it on the decorative rack you have on your kitchen counter. Kitchen counters kill wines.

My collection began with a special bottle of Antinori Tignanello (an Italian "super-Tuscan") that I decided not to drink for a while. It was a birthday gift from my wife and after reading that it would age well, I decided to put it on the cool tile floor of our bathroom closet (no basements in Florida). The collection had begun! From there, I simply began to pick up an interesting bottle here and there. Some won't age well and I plan to drink those within 12 months of purchase. Others will age gracefully for many years. Numerous sources will help you determine which wines have ageing potential, including magazines, websites, the label, and the wine producer's notes. I soon laid down a number of other Italian wines, inspired by my travels through Italy. These included mostly Tuscan wines such as Chianti Classico Reservas and super-Tuscan blends from Vignamaggio, Antinori, Lamole di Lamole, and Querciabella. As my interest in other wine regions grew, I would buy something new that I could lay down for a while. After exploring Chilean wines, for example, I decided to lay down Concha Y Toro Don Melchor and Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, two premium Cabernet Sauvignons (Cabs). I have a row of fine Bordeaux such as Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau Leoville Las Cases. I also have a number of California Cabs, Zinfandels, and Meritage (blend) wines from the likes of Far Niente, Pride, Silver Oak, Beaulieu, and Opus One. Many of these were just single-bottle purchases, which has made for an extremely well diversified cellar. My collection currently numbers nearly 100 bottles, all in the standard 750 mL format except for a couple of Sauternes and a Vin Santo (both dessert wines). The bottles populate a stand-alone wine cooler and a set of bottle racks that share my home office with my desk and bookcase. I recently inventoried the wine and discovered that the collection represents 19 varietals and blends from 11 countries. It is exciting to explore the world of wine and put a few aside so there will always be something interesting to choose from down the road. I anticipate a consistently evolving collection. Some wines don't get better with age (actually, about 90% of all bottles sold are in this category), some wines peak after just 3-5 years of ageing, and some bottles can last for 200 years. Discovering this as you collect will add to your enjoyment. Most of my wines will be consumed within 5-10 years of their vintage except for a few Bordeaux. Then again, it is a collection and will likely evolve. The world of wines is amazing. Raise a glass!

Friday, January 21, 2005

What Happened To France?–Addendum (PB)

“French wines no longer hold their place on the world stage.” So wrote my esteemed colleague in the previous entry. All that he wrote is valid to one degree or another but France has a problem that goes beyond marketing, beyond quality, beyond changing global preferences in tastes. Matt Kramer, writing in the Sept. 15, 2004 Wine Spectator, notes a fanatical increase in government intervention, control, and regulation that dictates what grapes are used from what areas and how much of which grape can be produced on a given parcel of land. The impact of this has not been to increase quality and demand but to decrease demand and prices of Bordeaux wines to about half of what they were just three years ago.

James Suckling, writing in the December 15, 2004 Wine Spectator notes what I believe to be the greater issue at this time. In Suckling’s words; “...the biggest reason for the decline in Bordeaux wine sales has to be the image of France in general–particularly with Americans. It’s not the fault of the producers–wine is not on the agenda when decisions on global politics are made. But political and social issues have accelerated Bordeaux’s fall.”

Indeed, somewhere between 15 and 25% decline of France’s wine sales to American are directly attributable to their animus towards the United States. I can personally vouch as anecdotal evidence that my own expenditures on French wine since 9-11 have been a very scant fraction of what it would have been under different circumstances. Where France would have been my first point of reference and investigation of what new wine is “hot,” I avoid France altogether as a matter of course which explains the oblique reference to this in my recent review of Chateau Plaisance. Americans are odd; we will bicker and fight amongst ourselves but may the good Lord take a liking to anyone else who dares to come against us. If France does not get their politics in order where the U.S. is concerned, I predict financial gloom and doom for all but the most prestigious of Frances producers.

What Happened to France? The French Wine Paradox (NW)

French wines no longer hold their place on the world stage. However, France still produces many of the world's greatest wines. As a result, a great paradox has developed. Let's look at Bordeaux as an example. The classified growth wines (1st growth, 2nd growth, etc), and the super-premium unclassified micro-chateau wines that have achieved great fame over the past few decades, are at the top of the class. They are some of the greatest wine achievements on the planet and a benchmark for wine production in every corner of the world. As a result, the supply and demand of these wines has elevated prices and there is no reason to believe this will change. The problem in Bordeaux is with the rest of the wines. There is a glut of wine being produced at the lower end of the scale which is rapidly losing its appeal in the global marketplace, and in particular, in the American marketplace.

The United States is the single largest wine consumer in the world; not on a per capita basis by any stretch but on a total consumption basis. As a result, wine producers who figure out how to market to Americans will figure out how to sell a lot of wine. French wine makers have lost touch with how to accomplish this. Common, every-day Bordeaux wine is now nearly absent from shelves in American wine shops due to several factors, such as the French focus on confusing proprietary blends not varietals, confusing labels, the difficulty of pronunciation, and little creativity in distribution techniques. What has replaced it? Of course, the initial wave was inexpensive varietal wine from California. The second wave was wine from Italy, which for the past decade has been the largest exporter of wine to the United States. In 2004, however, Australia stole the number one spot. Why is this? Think about your own experiences. Australian wines are focused on varietals or clearly identified varietal blends, they have easy-to-read labels, there is no language barrier, and they have developed major distribution in the inexpensive price range to wine shops and supermakets all over the country. The Aussie wine makers have figured out the American marketplace. Present wine drinkers with easy-to-read, tasty, varietal wines at a reasonable price and a lot of wine will be sold. A major overhaul of Bordeau wine production would be necessary to re-market their everyday wines to the United States. However, this transformation is not happening and Bordeaux is suffering. While the world-class wines they produce are being snatched up faster than ever by restaurants, collectors, and the affluent baby boomers who are discovering new hobbies and leisure, bankruptcy is threatening wine producers all across the region. Thus, the great French wine paradox, which is painfully obvious in Bordeaux.

What will happen? I don't forsee revolutionary changes in lower-end French wines happening any time soon. Even if the industry turned upside-down, consumers are fickle and preferences change. Right now, the Australian model is dominant and is being replicated by New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina in their approach to the U.S. market. Can you believe the way the restaurant wine lists have changed in the past ten years? Take another good look the supermarket wine aisle. All of Europe is poorly represented and France is almost non-existent. My local grocery store, a regional chain, carries only one bottle of Bordeaux and 20 bottles of French wine in total. In comparison, the shelves hold 100 bottles of Australian wine and 400 bottles of domestically-produced wine. Are we missing out? Yes. But in the meantime, there is pleanty of excellent wine from all corners of the world to enjoy. Raise a glass! -NW

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Genetically Modified Wine Debate (Billy)

Vinography has a great post examining the impacts of genetic modification (GM) on the wine-making industry. It is an interresting and contentious issue. I think that GM wines are inevitable and that, in blind tastings, they will do as well as non-GM wines. This means that, ultimately, GM wines will achieve a higher value and (typically) lower cost to the consumer than non-GM wines.

Nevertheless, non-GM winemaking has survived as long as people have had grapes and feet. GM wines will probably be great for the business (even the local and small commercial vinyards). But I think that the "soul" of the wine and winemaking will be lost with this transition. Of course, the foot-pressed wine lovers probably had similar laments regarding the advent of winepress technology.

In 100 years, we - or our children - will probably be all drinking GM wine or toasting the "quaintness" of the historic non-GM vinyards ("How DID they survive?" we'll muse).

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Gaiter and Brecher--Must Reads (PB)

With all the options one has at their fingertips these days for information, gathering too much information can be inhibiting. So I want to endorse a wine reference that is one of those must read resources. Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher write a wine column for the Wall Street Journal every Friday in the section called the Weekend Journal. I am fairly certain that the column is syndicated so it may be in one of your local papers but if it isn’t, the Wall Street Journal is readily available at your supermarket no doubt. Gaiter and Brecher, the husband and wife team are, in my estimation, one of the very best wine writers of the day because they are REAL people who know wine. They are the consummate, unpretentious wine writers who love wine, the experience surrounding wine, and communicate those joys in the everyday realities of life. Their Friday column in the Journal is worth the price of the paper. Their reviews are not snobby, are written in everyday terminology and I have found their recommendations to be very reliable. I don’t believe I have been disappointed in a single recommendation of theirs that I have been able to follow up on.

They have a couple books published the most recent of which is Wine for Everyday and Every Occasion and it is written in the same down to earth lingo of their column. If you are not familiar with their writings, become so as soon as possible.

High-Tech Wine Tasting (Billy)

We don't usually post articles here, but this one caught my eye. Wired magazine (a daily read for this tech-geek) has a write up of VinoVenue, a new wine tasing bar in (where else?) San Francisco. What sets this place apart is it's high-tech approach to dispensing the fruit of the vine. From the article:
"At the wine stations, organized by varietal, one then inserts the card into a slot, places the glass under a stainless steel spout, and presses the button above the bottle of choice. The machine deducts money from the card, drop by drop, as it shoots out a precise 1-inch pour. . . .VinoVenue's willingness to take the cork out of a $200 bottle of wine further sets it apart from traditional wine bars . . . The dispensing machines preserve the wine by filling the air space in the bottle with argon, an inert gas that prevents the wine from spoiling."

If you have been to VinoVenue, or a similar establishment, we'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment or email us (see the profiles to the right for email addresses).
For pictures and the entire article, go HERE.

As always, Salud!

Monday, January 17, 2005

RealTime Review: Penfolds Rawson's Retreat Shiraz Cabernet 2004 (Billy)

This Shiraz Cabernet blend hails from South Eastern Austrailia. The region, like Chile, South Africa, and New Zealand has been producing some high quality yet relatively inexpensive wines for several years now. The "Rawson's Retreat" is the introductory level of their wines according to their website. The bottle ran approximately $7.

I've not tasted this wine before.

Upon Opening: A nearly translucent red maroon greets me as I pour. It is inviting. Even before I sample the bouquet, cherries, raspberries and plumbs reach out to me from a distance (young Cabernet?). As I lift it to my nose sweet vanilla and lemmon cake greet me. There is an open-fire roasted skewered tomato that lurks just below the surface spiked with black pepper (that would be the Shiraz). It is intriguing to me.

As I taste, the wine flirts with a fruity character and texture that would be enjoyable, but it does not obtain. It has a slippery texture that moves much too quickly and is done with little noticible finish. However, I believe some air will mature this red quite nicely. I doubt that it will round out as much as I would like or as the bouquet suggests it could be.

My hunch is that this young wine will wind up being "nice" - like a movie script that really could be great - even Oscar great - but with Macaulay Culkin as leading man, it will just never (ever) get there.

Let's hope that some time and exposure does more for Rawson's Retreat Shiraz Cabernet than it has done for Mr. Culkin.

After Breathing: The intensity of the bouquet has rounded and softened nicely with the spice of the Shiraz coming noticeably to the fore with an appealing warmth. The raspberries are stonger and the vanilla less intense to create an overall very friendly nose.

As I taste again, I was right. The wine has blossomed albeit into a tiny, though beautiful, flower. The oak aging is pleasantly hinted at. It still retains a slipperyness that tries to be smooth but rushes it. This leaves me feeling wanting and a little bit used, like a virgin at prom who got his first french kiss before he knew what was coming. Still, after I realize what happened, it was exciting and I'll not hesitate to tell all my friends about it.

I wont say the wine is pleasantly round, but it does get close. What the wine leaves me wanting is easily fulfilled by something small to eat - nuts, cheese, a cracker or two. This makes this Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet a wonderful (and inexpensive) choice for casual meals or cocktail hour.

I'm going to buy another bottle.

Chateau Plaisance 2000

I paid $15 for this St. Emilion is a “Premieres Cote De Bordeaux” medium deep garnet with an inky, yeasty and blast-of-spice nose. It sits very nicely in the mouth with a decent balance on opening. With some airtime it’s a little bitter but not detracting. This is rather straightforward, uncomplicated and solid. Huge green pepper aromas emerge later on and even a little mint and may be even a smidge of dill(?)
Two days have elapsed though I have kept the open bottle in the fridge with a vacuum top (later blog). It really is nice with raspberry aromas and a wild mocha and coffee aftertaste that is very nice. This is the best inexpensive Bordeaux I’ve tasted in quite some time (but then I haven’t had many due to France’s crappy attitude toward one of their biggest markets.) When they go to their attitude garden and pick a new attitude towards the U.S., I will jump back into the French market. I may buy one more to lay down just for kicks. PB

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Castello Di Verrazzano Chianti Classico 2000 (PB)

This is a fine example of the impact of ambience on the so-called objective evaluation of a wine. I remember this wine as being a wonderful experience and a wine to be sought out however...that was after embibing it with daughter, son-in-law, and the love of my life sitting in a restraunt in a moutaintop restraunt in Tuscany eating wild boar in a lovely tomatoe based sauce over pasta while Sergio(?) our waiter was hitting on my daughter. He was charming though but I digress...It is now some 10 months after the fact and I am tasting the same wine in my living room on a 23 degree evening in New England while my love is out of town for a week. This wine, ($18) bearing the name of the fabled family who built the famous bridge in New York (Verrazzano Narrows) is light in color but rich in the nose with berry accents. It is quite tart in the mouth which is it's predominant impression unfortunately--but this is prior to breathing. (I am a firm believer in airing out my wine.) It is shallow in flavors but with some air time it does open up but is still rather austere. It never quite arrives. It is not unpleasant, just not as memorable as the evening in Italy when it first appeared. Ah, Tuscany!!!

Gascon 2003 Malbec Review (PB)

This Argentinian is just one more reason why you need to expand your horizons beyond Napa/Sonoma/France. It is youthful in appearance (which means it tends toward a purple hue; wine becomes more reddish as it ages towards a brown when too old) and appealing to the eye. Remember wine is a sensory experience engaging everything from taste to texture, to remembrances of places people and times. The bouquet is delicate but delightful. In the mouth it is lively with a unique bitterness (immature tannins?)and tartness that may sound like a negative but actually provides a certain intrigue. This wine has a solid structure, good tannic foundation and cherries in the midst of it all. this is a well made and good wine though not particularly one that stands out in a competitive field. A solid buy.

Friday, January 14, 2005

RealTime Review: Viu Manent 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Billy)

A "RealTime Review" means that I live blog the tasting of this wine. I write as I taste, these are first impressions and initial reactions.

I always like to take an intial taste before letting the wine breathe. The distinctions are often pronounced and make for an interesting tasting experience.

This bottle is about $10

Upon opening: This Cab is a deep blood red and clear.
Bitter Chocolate, anise, and plumb give way to vanilla oak (which takes over) on the nose. There is a complexity in the mouth that makes me go, "huh, is that supposed to be there?". Nice tannins but shallow finish.

Lets hope a little breathing settles this beast down.

After Breathing: That "huh, is that supposed to be there?" taste has migrated to the "bouquet" although it's starting to smell like something my dog dug up in the garden (and not in that winesnobbish "moist earth on the nose" kind of way). If I smelled like this my wife would ask me to shower. This wine's "nose" makes me want to hold mine. Well the complexity in the mouth ("palate" seems too refined a term for what this sluice juice does to me) is gone. It has been replaced by an "organic" flavor, like licking a camp-shower stall that has been wet but unused for the entire summer. It leaves my "palate" like a mouthfull of soggy moldy bread.

The Bottle is the nicest thing about this wine and that's because it can be recycled.

pouring the rest out now and getting a glass of Mountain Dew.

Quick Swirl: Sebastiani Chardonnay Sonoma County 2001 (NW)

A "Quick Swirl" tasting note for an unbeatable value Chardonnay:

Sebastiani Chardonnay Sonoma County 2001:
Pear, honey, and vanilla on the nose and palate
Long, lingering, buttery finish with some oak
Price paid in Florida store- $11/bottle

Personally, my favorite style of Chardonnay due to the balance of fruit and the long, buttery finish. I prefer to let it warm up in the glass a little to let the flavors emerge. Refrigeration temperature is just too cold for this type of Chardonnay.

This is a great deal in today's marketplace because very few Chardonnays under $15 have any real character. A lot of inexpensive Chardonnay on the shelves tastes okay, but it is all the same and does very little to bring out the qualities of the varietal. Look at the Chardonnay isle- it's too big. This has become America's favorite varietal and is ordered by the glass in restaurants just like iced tea. Ubiquity has lead to sameness and blandness, but Sebastiani stands out in the crowd!

Quick Swirl: Concha Y Toro Xplorador Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (NW)

A "Quick Swirl" tasting note on an everyday Cab:

Concha Y Toro Xplorador Cabernet Sauvignon 2003:
Deep dark color (characteristic of Chilean Cab)
Dark berries and black currant on the nose and palate
Decent finish with some dark chocolate notes and medium tannins
Another excellent value from Chile
Nice everyday wine and likely a good compliment to red meats and rich sauces
Price paid in Florida store- $7/bottle

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Columbia Crest Is Best: Where are the Rest? (NW)

Columbia Crest Winery is setting precedent. Over and over again, their bargain-priced every day wines are wowing critics and pleasing a broad range of wine drinkers. I believe this winery is currently setting the new standard for quality low-priced American wines. They were first recognized in Wine Spectator in 1997 as the best value-priced winery in America. And it's not in California! Columbia Crest is located in Patterson, Washington, and offers three lines: Reserves ($25-30), Grand Estates ($11-15), and Two Vines ($6-9). These three lines cover numerous varietals and blends, many of which are available nationally. You will likely find these wines in restaurants, wine shops, grocery stores, and liquor stores in your area. When I say bargain, I mean absolutely low-priced! Many of their most enjoyable wines are in their lowest-end line, Two Vines (formerly known as Columbia Valley, if you happen upon that). Typical prices are $6-9, which makes me feel like I'm stealing. Do I feel this way because I've been manipulated into believing good Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay from California should cost at least $20? In somes ways, this is the case for many of us who are looking for good value domestic juice. If you're like me, lately, you're turning toward Australia, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa when you want quality for under $10. As a result, the precedent being set by Columbia Crest is that a full line of quality domestic wine can be achieved for under $10 per bottle. This is great news and will encourage more of the same. Raise a glass! NW

Highly recommended, especially due to the overall price-to-quality ratio:
Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon (numerous vintages)
Columbia Crest Two Vines Shiraz (2001, 2002)
Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay (numerous vintages)

Recommended, due to the price-to-quality ratio for this caliber of reserve wine:
Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (1998-2001)
Columbia Crest Reserve Syrah (1996-2002)
Columbia Crest Reserve Merlot (1998-2001)

Cline Ancient Vine Zin--Another Bargain (PB)

Nothing fancy in this review just a straightforward wonderful wine for about $12!
Our Sam's Club has this in stock at $12 though I've seen it elsewhere for as much as $18. At $18 it's a nice, nice, full flavored wine. At $12 it's a run-right-out and buy a half case. Here's my tasting notes:

Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel 2003 tasted 1-3-05 There's a nice fruity bouquet with yeast and a fairly weighty nose. In the mouth it's impressive with rich, berry flavors. Breathing brings out an expansive bouquet full of fresh grapes and the nose exudes raisins which carry to the palate; wild and intense. There's subtle layer of spice in the after taste that I can't quite put my finger on. That just means I'll have to keep tasting it until I can! Outstanding! *Buy more. I give it a 90! A super value!

*Note--often times I'll have a very nice wine that is a great value but once is enough. So even though I may give a wine a good review, I always include a "Buy More" if it something special and I want to buy more! Might seem obvious when you are only dealing with a handful of wines but when you have hundreds you have tasted and rated over the years, trust me, you won't remember if you really wanted to buy more or not. Use the technology and help yourself out. PB

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Numanthia Termes: The Word is Out (NW)

Spain produces an extraordinary amount of wine. Two years ago, I toured the largest wine-producing regions in Spain and was overwhelmed by the expanse of vines planted all throughout the arid countryside. One day, Spanish wines will be big sellers in the U.S. But right now, because of poor marketing and recognition as well as distribution focus on other countries like Italy, France, Australia, and Chile, the Spanish wines are a mystery to many American wine drinkers. Me included! However, if you want a mind-bending introduction to Spanish wine and the Tempranillo grape that is so prevalent in Iberia, raise a glass of Numanthia Termes!

2002 Numanthia Termes:
The Termes is 100% Tinta de Toro (grape type), which is a clone of the Tempranillo grape
Mulling spices and other exotic spices on the nose
Raisins and plums on the palate
Long, ever-changing finish with cranberry, pepper, and probably many other subtleties

In summary, this wine is as unique as red wine can be. And truthfully, it's a bargain around $20. You may find it priced anywhere between $18-$25. I found it in Florida for $20 and used a discount card to get 10% off, walking out of the store with three bottles. Of course, Wine Spectator fell in love with this wine and gave it its place in history as the number 3 wine on the Top 100 Wines of the Year for 2004. The top ten wines on this annual list usually sell out before I finish reading the article. Seriously, if you find it, buy it. And share it with someone. This wine is remarkable! It won't be a $20 wine for long.

Silver Oak: The Pursuit of American Cabernet (NW)

Recently, I've had the opportunity to taste two late 90's vintages of Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: 1998 and 1999. Silver Oak is a premium wine that appears on many restaurant wine lists as a benchmark of American Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab). The owners and wine-makers have been in pursuit of the ultimate American Cab since the mid 1970's. That is all they do-- one varietal (grape type), one purpose, one mission. Well, how do they do? According to many wine critics, they have had some stunning years throughout the 1980's and 90's. However, the wines haven't had a high scoring year in a while. Prices are high, but that is due to the fact that they do have an established track record and a fairly strong, devout following. It's relatively expensive stuff at about $60/bottle in the store and $100-$130/bottle in a restaurant (the Silver Oak Napa Valley is nearly double these figures). So, is it any good? What does it taste like?

1998 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:
Amazing dill scent on the nose! (put your nose at the rim of the glass for a big whiff)
Strong wild berries on the palate (take a sip and swirl it in your mouth to cover your tongue)
Some complexity on the finish (pause after swallowing to see if there are other flavors lingering)
Also, a strong oak presence (the wine, like many, is aged in oak casks and picks up some flavor)

1999 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:
Some sweetness and dark berries on the nose
Dark berry and spice on the palate
Some layers of oak and cedar on the finish

Well, fairly similar tasting notes. I remember enjoying both, but forgot to note what food I paired them with: this type of Cabernet Sauvignon is generally considered a red meat compliment. The wine actually does have a consistancy from year to year. Many wine lovers are enchanted by the dill that is often prevalent and many fans are eager to acknowledge the "oakiness". Neither of these wines scored extremely well with the critics, just posting good, solid scores. But when you spend this much on a bottle, is it okay to settle for just good, solid scores? That is the most complicated and loaded question in the world of wine! Basically, if you enjoy a wine and are comfortable with the price, drink up! At The Wine Cask , we are wine lovers who generally seek out value wines (enjoyment at a reasonable price). We don't drink a wine like Silver Oak on a regular basis. However, Silver Oak is a name that can add special meaning to a dinner, party, or other occasion. At a client dinner, for example, Silver Oak can turn heads and confirm your appreciation for the client. Many people recognize the label for quality and exclusivity. It is often the highest-priced wine on the list at mid-range restaurants and steakhouses.

In summary, Silver Oak is generally not the best value for the price. But it consistantly delivers an air of confidence by enchanting wine drinkers with its dill and oak notes as well as its special place in the pursuit of great American Cab throughout the past three decades.

Wine never tasted but enjoyed just the same

NW’s eloquent entry commenced me thinking. Wine is indeed not just a beverage but an experience; a celebration. What other liquid in a glass could possibly take you back over two decades to a night of wine tasting and crab omelets with a phenomenal white wine that still lingers in the memory of my palate? I never found the Morey St. Denis served with that dish though I looked for years. But never mind, the memory is there, and that is sufficient.

It was Atlanta, Georgia and I was a lowly medical technologist working in a veteran’s administration hospital as a blood bank technologist. One of my colleagues learned of my newly discovered fondness for wine and even though I didn’t know her well at all, she invited me and my wife over to she and her husband’s house in suburban Atlanta. Her husband was the chief “head/neck” surgeon at Emory University—a man of means and a man with an astute penchant for--what else--wine.

We were sitting in the formal living room with a glass in hand when he walked over to a hidden handle buried deep in the pile of their plush carpet. With a twist of his hand like a magician, he pulled a door out of the floor exposing a stairway down. We followed our host into a multi-chambered, arrangement of brick walls, brick archways, stunningly appointed rooms with lovely ceramic tiled floors in a humidity and temperature controlled wine cellar. Somehow “cellar” doesn’t seem a fitting descriptor. It was more, a wine paradise.

It was spacious with wall to ceiling racks containing Grand Cru Bordeaux, premier Burgundies and expensive Germans, not by the bottle, but by the case. I remember distinctly our host proudly showing me his cases of Domaine Romanee Conti “Eschezeau” with a sign that read “2000.”

He explained that this would be his millennium celebration wine. What gripped me was that we were standing in the year 1978 looking at this wine and our surgeon-host was already in reverie anticipating a wine he wouldn’t taste for another 22 years.

And 22 years later, on New Years Eve, several lifetimes and a world removed from that evening, when the clock tolled midnight, believe it or not, my thoughts were on that night in Atlanta trying to imagine what such a fine, mature Burgundy must have been like.

I’ve never had the pleasure of actually having such an expensive and aged wine as that one would have been but I tell you, just the memory of that evening and of that wine, carries a thrill all its own.

How do you know when you are growing beyond someone who likes a glass of wine with dinner every now and then and an enophile? When just walking through a row of famous bottles, reading their labels, maybe even touching them if they’re not behind lock and key is a joy unto itself, you know you’ve been smitten. If you don’t understand now, stay with it; you absolutely will.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

How Was the Wine? (NW)

My wine philosophy is simple; it places wine at the center of the celebration of life. Sometimes wine enhances experiences and sometimes wine is the experience. I fondly remember my first carafe of house Chianti in Rome years ago. No, I don’t remember the name or the particular qualities. In the orange glow of a dimly-lit piazza in ancient Trastevere, I remember enjoying a long conversation late into the evening with my wife and two good friends. Sipping the wine and fighting jet lag, we spoke quietly-- adjusting our volume only for the occasional passing moped as it buzzed through the square.

Similarly, I will never forget that wine that got us singing along with an Andrea Bocelli recording as we prepared fresh pasta in our vacation rental cabin overlooking St. Helena and miles of Napa Valley vines. Or did I forget? Was it a 1998 Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon or a 1999 Beaulieu Tapestry? Either way, I’m pretty sure it was red, and I’m quite certain it was part of a memorable evening.

Recalling another wine memory, all I can see is the top of the label on a bottle of Rombauer Chardonnay peaking at me above the rim of the ice bucket. And all I can taste is the endless, smooth, buttery finish coating my tongue and seducing me for the very first time. I quickly learned that it is a characteristic so typical of Carneros Chardonnay, and I learned it that night. (Carneros: the hilly region adjoining Napa and Sonoma). The other details of that evening apparently weren't that important to stash away in my memory bank.

I try to take notes on all the wines I taste. Reviewing these notes brings a lot of memories to life and although the vivid recollection is occasionally the wine itself, it is more often the experience around the wine. Either way, there is wine involved and the moments are celebrated!

A Toast To Tastings

As I write this I am enjoying what is left of a bottle of Italy's 2003 Selezione Santa Monica Pinot Grigio (from the Veneto region of Italy). It is a bit thin on the palate (to this novice enophile) but has a warm bouquet that hints of lemon and mint and granny-smith apples.

I am probably describing the dishwashing detergent residue stuck on the glass, but to my "new wine lover's" nose, that is what I sense, so I'll stick to it. Either way, it is a nice clean way to close down this evening. I say that I'm enjoying what's left because I just enjoyed my first hosted wine tasting party and this was left over.

For my recent birthday (30th), I told my wife that I wished to have a wine tasting. I've attended a wine tasting or two before (with very fond memories from my first - on an Alaskan Cruise ship on my Honeymoon) but never hosted one. So with some helpful hints from "PB" and a resolve that wouldn't let me get too up tight about the "proper" way to host a wine tasting, I jumped in. (actually, my wife jumped in and planned, purchased, and coordinated the entire affair, I simply enjoyed some wonderful and some not so wonderful wines).

We decided early on to not worry about having someone more experienced come in to "lead" the tasting, opting instead to open a wide range of wines, order them from sparkling to light whites, to light reds to fuller reds to some wonderfully deep Ports. We had an array of palate cleansers and clean glasses so that the night could progress without too much hassle and without too much snobbery or worry about the "rules" of a proper wine tasting.

As guests arrived we encouraged them to try something new. If they enquired as to the "how" of a wine tasting, we simply instructed them to follow the order of the bottles that we had set up and enjoy themselves. Enjoy themselves they did. We quickly realized that the biggest "problem" was that the guests had all (or nearly all) brought a bottle of something with them and the wished to open it immediately. While this led to a large variety of wines to sample, it also lead to a
l a r g e quantity of wines to sample. The result were several bottles left over at the end of the evening. Nevertheless, as the night progressed, I and my fellow birthday celebrants sampled some delightful wines in the inexpensive to slightly moderate range.

We started with a St. Gabriel 2003 Riesling (from Germany) which I thought was a bit loose, meaning that the initial flavor was there but it broke apart quickly and faded away. It was crisp, while it stayed, which was not long. All in all, it was OK but not something to write home about. Not a waste of money and drinkable, but not something to necessarily seek out.

From there we moved to a California wine: Fetzer Valley Oaks Sauvignon Blanc - 2003. It did not win the recognition of Fetzer's 2003 Echo Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, but I still thought that this was one of the best wines of the evening. It tasted of warm apples and had the smoothness of a soft cheese (which, to me, are GOOD things). The finish was equally smooth and pleasing. This is a wine I will definitely be tasting again when I have less distraction. It makes me even more curious about the Echo Ridge Sauvignon Blanc as well. I will go a-hunting for this American white.

I may or may not have tasted other whites that evening but the next entry in my wine journal was my birthday wine disappointment: Barton & Guestier 2002 Beaujolais-Villages. I cannot claim to have ever been a fan of the Beaujolais. But my impressions of this wine was that there wasn't much there there. Others have reviewed this vintage (HERE) and found it quite pleasing but this is where the subjective part of the entire wine experience comes in as PB has been writing of late. I am willing to give this wine another go, but I was not impressed on our first "date". I feel that the wine didn't even try to get to first base with me. Heck, it didn't even offer to pay for dinner, the movie, dancing, or bother to open my door. In orther words, I had to do all the work for this wine. If there is a next date, it had better be something special.

The definite winner for the evening was the 2002 Lindemans Reserve Merlot (from South Australia - link here). This wine was a deep ruby color with what I will call a thick and complex bouquet. I detected chocolate, plums, and black cherry as well as some "greenery" possibly fresh parsley or basil. The flavors were long and equally complex and rich and the finish was silky smooth - like a dove dark chocolate ice cream bar melting in your mouth. I adored this wine. Of course, it came at the end of the evening when my mouth was already warmed up from its earlier taste escapades and that may have had something to do with it.

We finished off the night with cheese cake and a Tawny Port (which I will not review here but save for a later "fortified wine" review) and a toast to 30 more years of life and health and fine wines. The evening was a wonderful time. I think that for the next wine tasting we host, we'll bring in a seasoned sommelier to lead the tasting. I need to thank PB and the fetching Mrs. Billy for putting in such hard work and thought into my wonderful tasting party. It was really quite a treat.

I will leave you with this, spoken by Euripides, the Greek playwright who died in 407 B.C. "Where there is no wine, love perishes, and everything else that is pleasant to man."

The Celebration of Life: A Wine Philosophy (NW)

Wine is an experience. It always is! Wine creates experiences. It always does! The juice of the vine is a celebration of life. With the myriad interpretations of wine, each and every tasting is special. From great French bottlings to simple jug pourings, wine enhances a meal or a moment or a memory.

My wife and I often talk about how wine encourages conversation; conversation about wine, about relationships, about life. Wine takes us on journeys through our memories and into our dreams about our future. Have you ever noticed that sharing a glass of wine with friends often leads to conversations about travel, geography, history, restaurants, food, and other wine experiences? Just a quick glance at a label can provoke a thought or even stir the soul. Even when the wine itself is not the focus, wine is the great facilitator of experiences. People celebrate with wine. "Pop the cork" has uinversal meaning and broad appeal. The wine label may never be seen or the characteristics on the palate discussed, but the moment is special and the experience is being enhanced by a glass in hand.

Enjoying wine and the experience around wine is the goal! Studying wine, collecting wine, and waxing-eloquent about wine can be thrilling, too-- but entirely unnecessary. In my contributions to The Wine Cask I will focus on exploring the simple enjoyment of wine through sharing experiences, recommendations, and tasting notes in plain language. Ocassionally, I will also discuss the study of wine and pursuit of collecting for private cellaring.

I hope this content will enhance your enjoyment of wine and help you place wine experiences at the center of your celebration of life! Raise a glass! NW

Monday, January 10, 2005

Wine Price Versus Wine Value

What has always intrigued me is the price a bottle of the fermented juice of a grape will fetch. Recently, a bottle of Chateau D’ Yquem sold at auction for somewhere around $70,000. While that is certainly on the unique and ridiculous end of the wine pricing spectrum, it is not uncommon for a bottle of wine today to sell for several hundreds of dollars. Some of your Bordeaux’s Grand Cru En Classe and top line Burgundies will regularly sell in this range. So while I am not sure I would be willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle of wine even if I could truly afford it, you have to wonder, just how reflective of quality is the price a wine sells for.

The easy answer is, for the most part, it’s NOT! (Remember this is my opinion)

Back in the 70's when I began what would become a lifelong study, I noted in some of my early notes that when it came to wine, more than anything else, you really did get what you paid for. A $4 bottle of a Riesling (a specific type of grape) was pretty much the same quality as any other $4 bottle from any other vintner. And a $12 bottle of Merlot (a specific type of grape) was considerably better than a $5 bottle. But somewhere along the line that all changed.

Part of it was the maturity of the California wine industry from an infant learning to walk to the world wine powerhouse that it is today. Face it, when you’re shy and unassuming, with acne that won’t quit, you’re not about to walk over to the best looking blonde at the dance and ask her to the floor. You feel lucky if the bespectacled, frump with the metal clad smile is willing to have a spin with you. That was California wine early on. But then California came into its own and Napa and Sonoma started producing bottles of wine that would rival some of France’s best although without the hype and fanfare of centuries of history and tradition to back up their marketing. California was the new studly jock at the senior prom.

I remember reading about a guy named Joe Heitz who was making a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes grown on a small parcel of land called Martha’s Vineyard. This wine was selling, if you could find it, in the $100 range and he was having no problem getting rid of it at that price. I fantasized what such a wine would taste like and whether it would really taste ten times as good as a $10 bottle. I would never know...

But there was a definite change in the world wine market. Over the past two decades the economy grew to something called a global economy and suddenly countries that had been making wine for decades began shipping their product to markets all over the world. (Supply and demand, and good old competition will set your pricing every time whether you’re talking wine, whiskey or widgets.)

So today, we have countries like Argentina and Chile and South Africa and Australia making superior quality wines in such quantity that they have to keep the price down to get rid of their abundance. Where some of the California and French wine makers were and are producing 3-5,000 cases (and much less in some situations) of a particular wine in any given year, Chile, for example is producing 50-100,000 cases. With Argentina, Australia and more and more countries annually getting into the global wine market, there would either be a lot of wine left on shelves, or the prices would have to come down. And come down they have and the quality has sky rocketed. All of this is nothing but a gold mine for savvy wine lovers.

Sure there are still plenty of very mediocre wines galore, but there are also plenty of really top notch bottles sitting on shelves for under $20 and when you get up into the $50 range, you have to look at Casa LaPostolle Cols Apalta, and Don Melchor produced by Concha Y Toro, both Chilean wines rivaling some of the best of the best.

This is where a magazine such as the Wine Spectator is so valuable or Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Wines of all pricing are tasted blind, so as not to be swayed by a label and reputation, and are in essence rated against each other, and against a somewhat objective standard for fine wine.

And it is eye opening to see a “second growth” Bordeaux selling for $250 scoring a 90 and a bottle of Joseph Phelps “Le Mistral” which sells for $25 scoring a 91. So how would you rather spend your money? 1 bottle of Bordeaux with an impressive name or ten bottles of an equally good Phelps for the same price?

I always look for value in my wines. Meaning I am getting a good quality wine for a price that is far less than many other wines of the same quality. There are too many to list but here again The Wine Spectator gives you a list in each issue along with the snazzy and expensive and hard to come by.

So when it comes to wine, you definitely do NOT necessarily get what you pay for today which can be a very good thing because often times, you get much, much more.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bargain night uncovered! Iron Horse should be sent to glue factory...

Okay, my colleague--that would be my NOVICE colleague--posted two "recommendations" of wines we haven't even tasted. He has been reprimanded although you have to love his zeal!

I just tasted one of the non-tasted "recommendations." The Iron Horse 1999 cuvee "R" I found on close out at a local store should be "closed out!" The regular price was $19 and I bought two bottles--untasted--for $8 each. This wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (a specific type of grape) and (Viognier-another type of grape whose name is pronounced Vee-oh-nyay!)
This is a great example of why you should always try one bottle first. On the pour it was an exciting luscious rich golden color with hints of late harvest in the *bouquet but...there was something "strange" lurking in the background. So note, after you have tasted scads of wine, you still may not be able to put your finger on a specific odor but you know it shouldn't be there.

(*I define the bouquet as the aroma the wine imparts from a distance. This is to differentiate it from the "nose" which I define as what I smell when swirl the wine in the glass and stick my nose right down in the glass. You will pick up different nuances in each)

Unfortunately, the bouquet and color was the best part of this wine even though there was a fairly medicinal layer of alcohol behind the nice "circus peanut candy" bouquet. It was down hill from there! There are only hints of sauvignon blanc and the viognier gave up the ghost on the bouquet giving its contribution to that part of the wine. This is not a wine you would want again at any price. I was uncertain at first taste if this was just a poorly made wine or if it had out-lived it's useful age. I concluded that it was indeed an "expired" wine.

Now this is a good lesson also on buying from dealers you can trust. I returned both bottles where I bought them even though I opened one and it was half empty since I poured 4 glasses of it to friends. Now if the wine had been "healthy" but I just didn't care for it, I would not return it for a refund. So even without a receipt, I returned both bottles and my purchase price was refunded cheerfully and without question! That's smart retailing for if they hadn't responded in such a fashion, I would be shopping elsewhere.

The other close out wines I bought were a 1998 and 1999 Punter's Corner Cabernet Sauvignon, "recommended bottle" was a cabernet Sauvignon bottled by Punter's Corner. I tatsted the 1998. This is a big wine with classic Cabernet aromas of green peppers, almost too strong--meaning out of balance. In the mouth, it has a nice feel but the tannins are a bit too harsh though a peppery layer sits behind the initial impression on the palate. It's fun but short lived. This wine cost $13 on close out regularly $25. At $13 it's "okay" but there are plenty of wines out there for less that are considerably better. Although the store had a case of these to close out, I won't be going back for more.

Moral of the story is, shop where you will treated well, and taste a bottle of wine you buy before making multiple purchases!

"Wine Speak"--A Language Unto It's Own

I have to admit it, “I like “Wine Speak” even though I admit it gets absurd! By wine speak I am talking about the vocabulary some of us use in describing a wine we are reviewing. You know what I mean! “Has legs like a thoroughbred, strong and forward, with a tannic backbone that sucks the life out of your palate. Notes of leather and tar accentuate a rather presumptuous if not heady structure though voluptuous berry notes of cream and citrus lift your spirits. An elegant and gentle finish just lingers on and on.”

Sometimes you’re not sure if the reviewer is drinking wine or making love for crying out loud. And what about some of the adjectives wine writers use? Tastes like “leather” and “tar?” I don’t know about your tastes, and I understand that this whole “taste thing” is subjective, but if I pay good money for a bottle of something to drink, a mouthful of saddle or thoughts of my tongue on hot summery pavement isn’t something on which I want to spend money. But these are favorable descriptors which seem to be in vogue on the wine scene currently.

In the Wine Cask, I will try to be “real” in my reviews using words that make sense. But remember I’ve been doing this a long time, and if I happen to slip now and again, well, pour another glass and make up your own wine vocabulary. PB

Harvests of Joy by Robert Mondavi (book review)

If you are a real wine enthusiast and especially if you have been to Napa Valley, Harvests of Joy should be fun reading. While I don’t usually get into autobiographies, this one, of the man who truly made Napa Valley what it is today, is fascinating. After reading it I had to immediately pick up a bottle of Mondavi wine. Having read of the ground-breaking innovations mastered by this wine frontiersman, I had to taste the results of decades of diligence and a quest for perfection. I grabbed a Private Selection--Fume Blanc in a frosted glass bottle. Though I have seen it around in the $14 range, I happened to find it on sale for $8. Nice!

But after reading of the elder statesman’s lifelong commitment and struggles to keep the business in the family, it was distressing to learn only a couple weeks after finishing his book, that the Mondavi “family” business had just been sold. Late in December of 2004 drinks giant, Constellation Corp. paid over $1.3 to assume full control. I suppose it makes sense looking at numbers alone but it is the end of an historic era.

When I think of Robert Mondavi, I can not help but think of the wisdom of Solomon who wrote, “Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity. Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun. (Eccles. 2:18-20)

And so after all is said and done, what was a man’s life, is now in the hands of hirelings who will make whatever decisions are necessary in the future to insure stockholder happiness. That does not bode well for what was a monument to Mondavi’s labors and genius.

Like so many “success” stories though, Mondavi’s accomplishments were overshadowed by an incessant driven-ness and insensitivity to those around him costing him far more than his net worth in family strife and a shattered marriage.
I have to admire Robert Mondavi’s passion, ingenuity, perseverance and work ethic but his priorities were certainly misaligned and now everything he lived for is in the hands of someone else. Someone who knows none of the toil, none of the heartache, none of the sacrifice and pain the whole Mondavi family endures. If that’s what it takes to be “successful” in this life I’ll gladly settle for mediocrity in the market place for an inheritance of loving children, a lifelong spouse, and peace with my Creator.

Review by PB

Friday, January 07, 2005

Bargain hunting Friday night

Alright first bargain find of our new blog came just moments ago. Let it be a lesson in how to do it; well at least one way. I went into a local liquor store this evening after work and checked their “close out” wine section. This is a small store yet it has an intelligent wine selection albeit small. So I noted several wines and their prices in my digital recorder I carry everywhere. It is my mind these days of 50 + years on earth. I went home and logged on to my Wine Spectator on line full membership account which allows me access to their expansive wine evaluations library.

One of the wines I noted was Punter’s Corner 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was marked at $12.99 and the other wine which interested me was Iron Horse Cuvee “R” 1998 which is a Sauvignon Blanc blend. It was marked at $8. Eureka! The Punter's Corner wine was selling for $25 a couple years ago before it was even ready to drink and the Iron Horse sells for $19 normally. So I went back and bought two bottles of each. But note, it wasn’t merely the price but rather the evaluation by the Wine Spectator staff that caused me to rush out to purchase these deals. A word of caution–I rarely buy more than one bottle of wine before having tasted one. Remember, taste is a subjective element which means you might not care for what the evaluator loves. I have learned to trust the Wine Spectator rating system however as it seems to run very closely to my own tastes. That is NOT the case with some other highly competent and highly respected wine evaluators. Caveat Emptor!

How It All Started

It was 1979 and I was putting my time in at a hospital laboratory as a medical technologist. Someone brought in a magazine subtitled “The magazine for physicians at leisure.” On my breaks I would page through it because it had some really nice photos of far away places in gorgeous spots of the world. In one issue there was a feature titled, “The Ten Best Wines in America for under $10.”

Wine had intrigued me yet my exposure to the fruit of the vine had pretty much been relegated to the annual Thanksgiving sip my parents would serve of—sit down—Mogen- David wine. Even as a kid, I thought it had more in common with cough syrup than a drinkable beverage. That exposure is probably why I was much more a Guinness Stout kind of guy if anything at all.

Still, the mythical stories of the guy who could sit down with a glass of fermented grape juice in front of him and tell you the place it was made, the year it was made and the particular type of grape or grapes fascinated me. So, “What made a good wine, a good wine?”

Even I could afford a $10 bottle of wine every now and then so if the ones in the magazine represented the best in the country, I wanted to know what they tasted like and began to hunt down everyone I could. That was it; I was hooked. I joined a wine club called “Les Amis Du Vin” which means “Friends of the Vine” which entitled me to the wine of the month at a local dealer which meant I could get one bottle of the month’s selection for half price. That was the beginning of a lifetime pursuit of what has been an absolutely inexhaustible quest to understand wine. Do not misunderstand though, I am NOT a connoisseur but I do know a good wine from a mediocre wine from a bad wine. And I know a great value when I find one which these days abound! Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile are producing wines not by the hundreds or thousands of cases but by the hundreds of thousands of cases. With that kind of volume, phenomenal bargains are all over the place!

So if you are serious about pursuing wine beyond a bottle here and there, you have to subscribe to the Wine Spectator magazine. It will cost you $45 a year but is worth every penny. And will save you ten times that in a year by helping you to avoid over-priced and over-hyped wines. Their rating system is irrespective of a wine’s cost so when you see a wine that rates an 88 out of 100 scale and it costs $8 and then another wine that rates an 86 which cost $55; the savings are obvious. Til next time--

Thursday, January 06, 2005

A Toast to Christen The Wine Cask Blog!

Welcome to the blog that simplifies the wondrous world of wine for everyone from the enologically astute to the guzzler of "white zin." Whether you are a wine connoisseur, a weekend wine-er, or merely wine-curious, we will have something for you.

We'll whine about wines that are overpriced and over-hyped and we'll rave about the very best of the everyday wines stocking the shelves of your supermarket. The fact is, the overwhelming majority of people who drink wine are going to spend only $5-$15 a bottle.

The Wine Cask's writing staff is spread across the U.S. and travels frequently. We will bring you reviews, whines, and raves about regional treats and specialties as well as brands and vintages you can get almost anywhere. We have various levels of experience and wine education and can speak to everyone from the "by the glass" to the "by to case" wine enthusiasts.

Check back soon as we officially launch the newest blog plying the seas of the vine.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Wine Cask's Recommendations

Feudo Arancio 2003 Nero D'Avola (PB)
Dried cherries; a hint of anise; candied berries on opening! Mouth watering tannins, classic old world style. At $8, this is a really nice value wine!

Damilano Barolo 2001 (billy)
A lucid ruby red with a nose of sensuous cocoa, cherry, and tobacco. In the mouth the structure is liquid velvet where cherries and cocoa and tobacco mingle with exquisitely balanced acids and tannins. The Finish is perfect - a lingering decrescendo without a missed note.

Research indicates this will age well through 2008 or so. $33 is fairly priced. Any less is a bargain and demands that you pick up a bottle.

Zind Humbrecht Gewurtztraminer 2004
A golden wine with a bouquet of fruit of apples, peaches, apricots and pineapple. In the mouth it is rich and full.

There is a layer of smoke that is subtle but definite and fascinating. The finish of this wine is lingering and full of fresh apricots that just keeps going.

This is great with food or as an aperitiffe. $20 but worth every penney! Go!!!

Rosenblum Zinfandel Oakley Vineyard 2003 (PB)

Cherry aromas and a little spice with dark berry aromas that are intense. Rich with nice raisiny flavors with a scant hint of chocolate and spice.

This is a food friendly wine and at $15, I HAVE to recommend this Zin!

Covey Run Riesling 2004 (PB)
Not to be confused with Covey Run “Dry Riesling” this wine is light, fresh and a bouquet of pineapple and citrus. In the mouth it is fresh, lively with a bit of “spritzig” (sparkle) and well balanced. At $7 this is a run out and buy all you find wine! Drink by itself or with a spicy dish or even Chinese!

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot 2001 (PB)
Already recommended once but I HAVE to recommend it again just in case you missed it! At $11, "Marvin K Mooney, Will you please go NOW" and grab this while you can!

Gallo of Sonoma Pinot Noir Reserve 2003 (PB)
This inexpensive Pinot Noir is a great value and wonderful example of the grape. Don't miss this one if you are ignorant of what classic Pinot aroma and taste is like. At $10, knock yourself out and raise a glass!

Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc 2004 (PB)
Straw colored with generous fragrances of pineapple, mandarin oranges and “grassy” aroma. It is supple with nice mouth feel and big pineapple and quince flavors. The finish is simply, nice! $12-$15

Covey Run Riesling 2004 (PB)
Pale golden on the pour with a nose of grapefruit and peach overtones. This creation is mildly sweet but then veers off to a nicely acidic offering that is both mildly sweet yet dry at the same time. As a Wine Spectator 87 point wine, Such a value is hard to find for under $8.00.

Eos Petite Syrah 2000
This is a Paso Robles red of deep garnet on the pour with good fruit of cherries with a touch of a little licorice and a smidge of cocoa with refined tannins.

Black cherries, a touch of licorice and this wine is at peak; is luscious with refined tannic structure. $22 but worth it!

Concannon Petite Syrah 2003
This wine is so intense in deep purple color it leaves pigmentation on the glass after you swirl. It has a unique nose that is deep and inky with a hint of milk chocolate. In the mouth this gorgeous wine is big with humongous but finessed tannins. Deep dark berry fruit is central with a subtle layer of anise. At $10 it is a find!

House Wine (2003)
The wine with the generic name, previously reviewed in June--look it up here--is still worth searching out. You'll regret it if you don't find it and give it a swirl! It will caost you about $12 (or less!)

Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel 2004 (PB)
This wine is big in every way right on opening with a huge bouquet of dark fruit. It sells rich! In the mouth this wine is just as full with loads of body and flavor and mouth feel.

With a little air time, which isn’t necessary for this elegant creation, it is so full of flavor and if you ever wondered what “plush” tannins were like; this is it! This is just a nicely made, elegant wine. It finished velvety, and long–the finest tannins I have had yet! At the listed reference price of $18, this wine is a bargain BUT–Sam’s Club has it for under $13!

Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2003
Fruit filled with black cherries opening to a wonderful fruity wine with solid tannins and a rich flavor of hay and watermelon and little spice. At $8.50, give it a whirl; have I steered you wrong yet?

Chateau Montpezat 2003 (PB)
This lighter, garnet colored wine is from the Coteaux Du Languedoc. The bouquet is full of cherries and licorice. It is a little sweet with nice, even flavors. For a $15 wine this is VERY nice and worth seeking out!

Kono Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (PB)

This wine is typical New Zealand with a bouquet of fresh cut apples and guava.
This wine is highly acidic in a good way and is fresh with big pear and guava flavors with a a sense of creaminess on the palate yet it finishes it clean and dry. At $10, pick it up and try it; I believe you'll love it!

Dry Creek Chenin Blanc 2004 (PB)
This pale straw white wine has a strong nose of pineapple, apples and tropical fruit that is fabulous. In the mouth, this quaff is solidly acidic making it a great pairing wine with many foods and it is neither sweet nor dry. It is a tad creamy and just plain impressive at $9. Don't miss this one. You can't afford too!

Camelot Pinot Noir 2003 (PB)
Read the complete review but don't waste time doing that before you run out and buy some of this bargain creation fro around $7! It has some complexity, great flavors and pairs well with a variety of foods. At this price, it's hard to beat!

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
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. One of the best value wines of the year.
Concannon Petite Syrah 2002
Recommended back in March and now recommoneded again. check out the review and then go buy a couple bottles of this inexpensive, ($10) big wine!

Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Don’t be fooled by the rather generic name of this wine. 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. It is rich in currants, with a sweetish fragrance and a great balance. I would push it to that “special” 90 range. You can find it for around $15!

Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (PB)
This New Zealand phenome is a pale yellow in the glass with a phenomenal classic “grassy” Sauvignon Blanc bouquet with a citrusy foundation. In the mouth this wine is superbly balanced with a solid base of acid.

It is rich and creamy in the mouth and the finish just keeps on going and going. At $8.99 buy some NOW!

Covey Run Dry Riesling 2003 (PB)
It's brilliant, and lively with a unique bouquet and a candied nose of something elusive and exciting. A bit sweet yet its acidity balances it out well. It turns buttery, fruity and wonderful with food or by itself. At $8, this is a winner and another recommended wine to seek after.

House Wine Columbia Valley 2003 (PB)
Search it out: at less than $12 it is a blend of Washington state Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot and it is really BIG! Chocolate, fudge and berry/cherry flavors with mellow tannins (after breathing and decanting) yields a BIG, full flavored wine.

Kendall Jackson Vinter's Reserve Pinot Noir 2003 (PB)
The bouquet fills the room of fresh fruit of raspberries, currants, black cherries and black berries. Full of spice that is elegant in balance with a touch of chocolate in the end. VERY nice especially at $12!

Cartlidge and Browne Pinot Noir 2003 (PB)
This light red beauty comes out of the bottle with seductive aromas of fresh fruit and pipe tobacco aromas. Has a tartness and pleasant finish of cherry fruit. At $10.50 this is a "search out" wine!

Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2003 (PB)
This South African from the Stellenbosch region is golden pale on the pour with fruit galore in the bouquet has a nose of pears, Apple, peaches and apricots with a hint of nectarines and a definite texture and flavor of rich cream. The 2004 is supposed to be even better! At $9 look for it!

Rosemount Estates Traminer-Riesling 2004 (PB)
Pale golden with a light bouquet of apricots and peaches. In the mouth it is sweeter than I would have expected but is quite refreshing. The texture is rich and there is a subtle hint of bananas which is quite nice. The finish is long and satisfying. This was a Wine Spectator top 100 under $15. I paid $6; NICE!

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2004 Marlborough "Regional Collection" $10
Wine Spectator rated this wine an 88 and a "Best Buy." It's every bit of that! So go for it and raise a glass!

Fetzer Gewurztraminer 2004 Valley Oaks $7
Put a good chill on this flavorful liquid Summer in a glass and just enjoy it to the max all by itself. Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Hahn Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
Rich with intense berry flavors and lush tannins with licorice and raisiny notes with a nice flavorful finish. At $10 this is another great bargain!

Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
This $13 wine is must expereince wine of inexpensive first rate wines which are superior for thier price. It has a slightly minty, bouquet with sheer finesse in flavors and balance.

It is not only a great food wine but excellent all by itself. Don't let this one pass you by! Wines this good for this price are must buys! (See complete review in posts) (PB)

Sterling Vintner's Collection Pinot Noir 2003
This Central Coast delight is light on the pour with a raspberry bouquet with a real nice balance of fruit, tannins and acid. With a little time to breathe, cherries are up front and the balance is superior with a long elegant finish abounding in chocolate. At $12, this is worth hunting down before you miss it!

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (PB)
This New Zealand creation is golden with a bouquet of kiwi fruit and pineapple. After a few minutes another layer emerges of classic Sauvignon Blanc grassiness.

Because I believe it is readily available and because it is such a good example of the grape, I have to recommend this. At $9.50, you can raise a glass or two.

Essensia 2003 Orange Muscat Dessert Wine (PB)
At $11, this half bottle of honey dessert wine bursts with floral aromas of orange blossoms and lilacs. From the provovative color to the caramel and fruit finish, this wine is a bargain all the way. Don't pass it up!

Chateau Du Donjon Grande Tradition 2003 (PB)

A nice surprise in an unknown red and for $8.50 a fresh, delightful guzzler. See complete review in recent posts.

Concannon Petite Syrah Selected Vineyards 2002 (PB)
This wine is rich with currant aromas, and dried raspberries. In the mouth it is wonderful, and big and tannins finish with a real finesse. Wow! At $10 you have to get this one--seems to be widely available.

    Snoqualmie Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (PB)
    This is a pretty and crisp straw colored wine that shimmers in the glass. There are loads of fresh cut apples, peaches and pears in the bouquet which is positively refreshing and tantalizing. With such nice acid it is great for food pairing. I had it with fried chicken and it was lovely.

    It finishes with some lasting fruit and at $5.79 a bottle I urge you to run to find it before it's gone.

    2 Brothers Big Tattoo Red 2003 (PB)
    Another winner from Chile. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Syrah is fruity with olives and yeast on the nose. It is amazingly big and balanced with an initial cocoa tease giving way to dried cherries. Good tannins make for a nice finish. At less then $10 this is a keeper. I would score this an 87.

    Chateau La Faurie-Peyraguey 2001 (PB)

    A luscious Sauternes, pale golden in the bottle. A gentle bouquet full of bananas and honey; powerfully sweet offset with a great acid foundation; floral scents and really ripe cantaloup or musk melons with a caramel sweep. I would give this wine a 92. Something special indeed!

    Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot 2001 (PB)

    Lighter on the pour with a bouquet that is fruity and the nose rich, even meaty. Medium bodied with robust tannins and a foundation of mixed berry flavors. A large presence of currants and raspberries climb on top with a nice silky texture. There is even some spice that tops it off for a provocative finish. It is a bargain value at $11.00. I would give it an 88 maybe even an 89.

  • Salmon Creek Chardonnay 2002/2003 (California)
    For the price, this one's hard to beat! You'll pay less than $5--seriously--and you'll be treated to buttery texture, decent acid perkiness and vanilla. I prefer the 02 to the 03 but only by a whisker. PB

  • Bodegas Escorihuela
    Malbec Mendoza Don Miguel Gascón 2000

    I paid $10 for it; tasted 1-10-05 This Argentinian is youthful in color and deep. Bouquet is nice but not huge. It is lively in the mouth with a unique bitterness and tartness neither of which is "bad" just intriguing. Even structure and nice tannins with cherries. This is well made and a good all around wine. Possible buy again. Wine Spectator gave it a "Best Buy." My reveiw was not as strong as theirs. They gave it an 88; I might give it an 84. (PB)

    Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc 2004
    This Chilean is another great buy out of S. America. It is huge in the bouquet of apricots and peaches. If I didn't know better I would have pegged it as a nice Gewurztraminer (another grape type)but the taste is characteristically Sauvignon Blanc. With a good acid base it is lively and citrusy making it another Wine Spectator "Best Buy." At $8-$10 you can't miss this one! (PB)

    Numanthia-Termes Toro Termes 2000
    This is a phenomenal Spanish red and At $22, this beautifully made wine of balance and fullness of flavors of spice, raisins, and a bouquet to entice even the most unlearned of wine lovers, is a MUST find. But good luck... (For more details, see my full review in the articles. (PB)

    Dry Creek Vineyards 2003 Chenin Blanc Clarksburg

    Don't let the name of the grape cause you to think "cheap white jug wine." This Californian is another steel at $8.50. On opening pears and pineapple lifesavers are impossible to miss. I was hooked almost before I had it in my mouth. But in the mouth it is rich in vanilla with a lovely citrusy tartness and slight lemon finish. I bought up the last two bottles of this I could find in a 75 miles radius. You should do likewise. Wine Spectator branded this a "Best buy." I'll say! (PB)

    Chateau De Flougerges 2001 $16
    This wine from the Coteaux Du Languedoc is beautiful and youthful in the glass and before swirling, a playful fruitiness danced its way into my presence that was almost candied like a hint of bubblegum. The bouquet is punctuated with a yeasty, fresh baked bread nose while swirling releases a chocolate surprise full of ripe berries. In the mouth there is a perky little hum, nearly “spritzig” to use the German term for a hint of carbonation only this is subtler. Tannins are lively and the wine is structurally sound. With some airtime, the yeasty fragrance mellows out and currants emerge with full rich force. The finish is somewhat delicate. Unique!(PB)

    Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Merlot 2001:
    (see "quick Swirl" review for more info)
    This is an exceptional wine. I paid $16/bottle on sale; Wine Spectator scored it 90 points. This is a great buy from Chile!(NW)

    Camelot Pinot Noir 2002 $6.50 (PB)
    On the pour it is really light; almost enough to conclude that this couldn’t possibly be any good. In the glass it has light scents of currants and too much alcohol. But...with twenty minutes or so of air time, there was a thrilling though fleeting moment of dill which gave way to some pretty definite flavors of dried cherries and currants. At $6.50 where I bought it, how can you go wrong? I can’t wait to find the 2003! By the way, the 2001 of this same wine was equally good though more intense on raisins! Now put aside your scepticism and raise and a glass!

    Sebastiani Chardonnay 2001
    At $10 I sought out this wine as a recommended “best buy” from Wine Spectator. It even looks rich in the bottle causing me a second look to see if the bottle glass wasn’t tinted gold. It wasn’t, that was the color of this phenome. On the pour pears leap out of the glass and there is a rich butteryness in the bouquet. Wow! In the mouth, the flavors are deep and balanced with pineapple lifesavers underneath, silky texture and vanilla highlights to finish it all off.