Thursday, March 31, 2005

Chateau Du Donjon Grande Tradition 2003 (PB)

This unknown red (unknown to me) is ultra yeasty like mom’s baked buns fresh out of the oven. (Okay like Pillsbury’s buns out of the oven) There’s not much else there though other than nice yeast on opening. I bought this knowing nothing about it, but in the mouth it is surprisingly nice. This light red called "Grande Tradition" from the appellation Minervois has good structure, nice balance, delicate tannins and a finish that is subtle but polished. Breathing does nothing but then it doesn't need to. I like this wine. It is simple, straight forward, has some nice currant flavors though not big at all yet defined, fresh and pleasant. (old world) For $8.50 and unknown I would have expected it be a loser; what I got was a really nice quaffing wine. I would buy this again. Raise a glass!

Subsequent addition to this review: After posting my review I found this wine rated on the Wine Spectator web site. It was given an 88 and rated a “best Value.” They actually said, “A nice quaff.” I think they’ve been reading my bog… :)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Two Big Napa Valley Cabs: Prices, Scores, and So Much More (NW)

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

Sterling Napa Valley Reserve Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon 2001:
This wine was very tight upon opening, so we nursed it over two hours to see if it would open up in the glass
Very tight at first, but opened up to a big, powerful, fruity nose
Layers of dark berries, plum, spice, and some oak and vanilla
An intensity and earthy tartness
Strong tannins and long finish
Excellent compliment to grilled sirloin and twice-baked potatoes

Pride Mountain Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2002:
A little tight, but opened up rather quickly
Fruity nose with dark berries, sweet strawberry, plum, spice, and vanilla
Moderate tannins and long, smooth finish
Very well-balanced overall and elegant
Paired with filet mignon and assorted sides

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

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

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

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

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


It has been far too long since we've updated our links to highlight some of the best wine reads in the blogosphere. So take a moment and check out the carnival of wine, down on the right in the section entitled "Other Wine Related Reads".

There is lots of wonderful wine and cultural and just fun stuff there. Take a moment and expand your horizons of wine blog reading! You might find something you like.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Kaiken Cab 2002 (billy)

Kaiken Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. I paid $12.99 for this at that wine store I mentioned below. $13 is a fantastic price for this wine.

Chile's premier wine maker, Montes, crossed the Andes into Argentina to found and make this wonderful Cab. The name, "Kaiken", comes from the name of a wild goose that migrates across the Andes from Chile to Argentina and back. But the label will tell you that. What it wont tell you is that the bottle holds a jewel of a wine.

The aroma is complex, with plums, dark berries, oak and tar.
The palate has a small signature of green pepper but with raisins, and an absolutely delightful brightness that brings expression to the silky texture in the mouth.
The finish is smooth and lasting.

I do not know if it is the expertise of Montes that brings such character to this Argentinian wine or something in the soil there, but whatever it is, the results are fabulous. The color is dark and loamy in the glass but the mixture of scents and flavors is anything but heavy handed. It is forthright and robust without being overpowering.

The wine has a touch of laughter that, as mentioned above, makes it bright without slipping into fruity or "light". Make no mistake, this is a fat bastard of a wine (an English colloquialism for "big feel in the mouth"). And at the price, it is fit for drinking at dinner or with smelly cheese or enjoying with a pipe. It can hold it's own where flavors are bountiful.

Drink deep.

Quick Swirl: The Stump Jump (billy)

The Stump Jump Riesling Sauvignon Blanc Marsanne blend 2003 I paid $10.99 for this in a fantastic little wine shop in Alton Illinois, where I was on business last week.

Riesling is the primary varietal at 72% of the blend with the Sauvignon Blanc coming in at about a third and a touch of Marsanne (6%) to give character and uniqueness.

Most notably, though, is that this is a screw cap bottle. Opening wasn't as fun, but hey, it's what's inside that matters most.

Nose: spritely floral, citrus, and buttery
Palate: the spritzer is fun. The flavor is round and full - a benefit of the Sauvignon Blanc and Marsanne additions to the typically thin Riesling. If Rieslings were shapes, they would be typically ovoid. This is a phat sphere.

Finish: it's got one - a nice difference from the characteristically quick Rieslings. It is softer and shorter than a sauvignon blanc but that means that it is a quicker drink. This is an excellent aperitif or accompaniment for hors d'oeuvres. Unscrew a bottle and Drink Deep.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Primus by Veramonte 2002 (PB)

This Chilean is a blend from the Casablanca Valley of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere is a deep garnet on the pour with young, fresh fruit rising gently out of the bouquet. The nose is vegetal with a suggestion of spice. It sits well though a bit hot on the palate, is hefty and hints of eucalyptus are coy. With some air time currants come out with lots of blackberries and plums and the balance is pretty solid but still harsh a bit. If not for this, this would be a stellar wine. It finishes well with a smokey BBQ’d kind of ending which is quite nice. At $14, it’s a decent wine that pairs well with homemade Tagliatelle and Italian sausage and sauce. Now, raise a glass.

Moscato D’Asti Sori Gramella 2003 (PB)

If you like sweet wines–I mean well made sweet wines–not Boone’s Farm, Annie Green Springs, or Ripple, you have to find a Moscato D’Asti, put a good chill on it and guzzle it down. Moscatos are typically very sweet desert type wines or aperitifs, that are simply, brilliantly refreshing.

This one is a typical Moscato but don’t get hung up on the label. On opening it reminds me of a classic Gewurztraminer; if you read my posts, you know that alone makes this wine one of my pets. It’s bouquet is full of peaches and apricots. Its frizzante (fizzy character) only makes a fun wine even funner–bad grammar not withstanding! Although I didn’t have it quite cold enough, it is rich, fairly well balanced with a creamy finish of fresh cut apples. For $13, you have to cheer!

This would have been stupendous with the salty ham dinner that followed but alas, it wasn’t around long enough to serve with dinner. Instead we had a Sebastiani Chardonnay 2001 (the inexpensive–$10--sought after Wine Spectator top 100 wines) but it really didn’t work well with the dinner. The Moscato would have been great! Live and learn and raise a glass!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Columbia Crest Gewurztraminer 2002 (PB)

I intentionally served this too cold. Why you ask? Because it is almost April and we still have lots of snow on the ground. And Gewurztraminer tastes like Summer to me! So–I stuck this bottle in the snow bank next to my porch to get good and cold like I like it in the heat of summer. Today in Maine it is sunny, and warm (45 degrees) and I want summer!

So at this temp the bouquet is resultantly closed but still it is fresh and fruity with gobs of peaches and citrusy fruit. It has a creamy texture but could use a bit more acid; still, all by itself, this is nothing but pure, sweet, quaffing delight–it’s Summer! For around $7, that’s a cheap vacation! Raise a glass and toast the departure of winter–for me, please!

Wine Flight: Syrah...and the "Old-World" versus "New-World" Discussion Emerges Again (NW)

This wine flight focuses on four interpretations of Syrah, listed from lowest to highest retail price per bottle:

McManis Syrah 2002 (approx. $10):
Stinky nose only partly burns off
Gives way to sweet cherry, cola, and green pepper
Interesting qualities, but difficult to decipher
San Joaquin Valley, California

Ravenswood "Icon" Sonoma County 2001 (approx $18):
Smooth and fresh tasting, maybe a little green on the nose
Basic layers of berries, cherry, finishing with some vanilla
Rhone-style Syrah blend with Grenache and Mouvedre
Sonoma County, California

Papillon Crozes-Hermitage 2002 (approx. $27)
Stinky nose at first, then burns off to a light a fruity note
No big burst of fruit, just well-layered and balanced
Very much in the old-world style (subtle and layered, not up-front fruit)
Paired well with food from fried oysters to rack-of-lamb

Foley Estates Syrah Santa Rita Hills 2002 (approx. $32):
Smooth and silky, big cherry flavors, a smokey layer, hint of pepper
Soft tannins and medium length finish
Versatile wine, paired well with a variety of food courses
Santa Barbara County, California

These wine represent three California and one French appellation. They are all different! I organized the listings by price, but a better wine flight arrangement is from lighter to heavier. Not having tasted some of these prior prevented me from using this method. After this tasting, I would arrange them in a flight as follows: McManis- Papillon- Ravenswood- Foley.

In general, I'm having trouble understanding Syrah. I think a lot of Syrahs pair well with food, as did all these wines, especially the Papillon and the Foley. But I can't get over the stinky nose present on two of these and the green nose present on one of the wines. What is this? I'm not sure, but my guess is that it has something to do with wines created from Syrah in the "old-world" style. That is to say, attempting to create well-balanced wines that are not too sweet, pair well with food, and are well-balanced. These are the original qualities of dry table wine made in the "old-world" countries of Europe. If you taste a Syrah created in the "new-world" style of big up-front fruit, you'll notice a difference. The "new-world" often refers to wine regions that have really developed commercially within the past 50 years such as most of the western hemisphere. I am guessing this style of Syrah must mask the stinky nose behind big, fruity aromas. However, many of these "fruit-forward" wines are sweet and grapey, low on acidity, and fail to pair well with food. This is often true of Australian "Shiraz" which is just a re-name of the Syrah varietal. Shiraz has developed a well-deserved reputation as a really interesting varietal with a fruity, pepppery character and has become so successful in the American market that many North American wineries are now using the term "Shiraz" instead of Syrah on their labels. Either way, it is a "new-world" style of winemaking and seems to be quite different in this varietal.

I like both "old-world" and "new-world"-style wines. They both have enjoyable qualities and can please a crowd. I'm just having trouble understanding Syrah as a varietal. I've got a lot to learn...and hopefully, a lot of time to learn. By the way, my favorite was the Foley, but none of them knocked my socks off. Raise a glass! -NW

Quick Swirl: Cakebread Chardonnay 2003 (NW)

Cakebread Chardonnay 2003:

Light golden color
Fruity and creamy on the nose and palate
Nice acidity on the finish
Well balanced

...But a little boring! I know this wine is well made and has lots of fans, but it's gotten expensive and I'm not sure you get anything interesting for the price. This is my second tasting of this wine and I will admit, it pairs well with food due to nice acidity and overall well-balanced character. But it now retails for $35/bottle or so and I see it in restaurants for $60-80. There are other well-balanced Chardonnays for much, much less. And personally, I like to find a Chardonnay that has some interesting qualities and stands out in the crowd. (Very big crowd- Chardonnay is the most planted grape varietal in the world and dominates the white wine shelves from coast to coast.) Buy it on an expense account...and if you have an expense account, raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Dallas Conte Merlot 1999 (PB)

This Chilean Merlot from the Rapel Valley has a big bouquet full of fruit with green peppers closer in on the nose. It was made by David O’Leary a fairly well known winemaker and an Aussie. In the mouth, the first blast is of some nice spice and nice fruit although it is “hot” with some pretty “chewy” tannins. A few minutes of air seems to mute some of what it had going for it and the first “blast” was the best. This wine was on close out for $5 regularly priced at $10. It’s worth $5, not $10. If you see it for the $5, pick up one bottle and see what you think. Then decide if it’s what you like. For $5, it’s hard to go wrong. Now raise a glass!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Quick Swirl: Concannon Petite Syrah Selected Vineyards 2002 (PB)

The pour is rich, deep and purple with a color so intense that it clings to the glass and tints it even when the wine is gone! Unbelievable. There is a fresh baked bread bouquet with a light nose of ripe plums and blackberries. In the mouth it is offensively sour which is usually an indication of a pour acid balance. The tannins are HARD and the fruit is oppressed. Time to breath it.

With just ten minutes of air time there is an unbelievable transformation to a wine with currant rich aromas, and dried raspberries. In the mouth–-the real test-–it is wonderful, and big with tannins that finish with a real finesse. I have never had a wine change this much, this quickly from a wine I was ready to dump to a wine that is luscious, delicious and full of flavor. Wow! At $10 this will be a recommended wine and a must buy and you MUST raise a glass of this puppy!!!

Quick Swirl: Monte Antico 2001 Toscana (2nd tasting) (PB)

This Sangiovese from Chianti is pretty but has an overtone that is vegetal and reminds me a lot of daffodils with their polleny odor--niether good nor bad) There isn’t much fruit in the bouquet. In the mouth it is eye poppingly tannic and tart and so tight your throat squeaks when you swallow. There’s not much flavor there but perhaps some air will bring it around.

A chocolate aroma wafts out after a few minutes and even some of the steely sangiovese character is coming through. It has toned down a good bit with some fruit emerging but this is NOT the same wine I previously reviewed! So now the dilemma; is this wine, over the top; corked; or just an off bottle? Can’t say for sure but I have another bottle cellared. The first review of this was much different and it was an exciting wine which is why I bought more. If this had been my first experience with this wine I would have merely said it was a very marginal wine but having had it already and finding it very pleasing, I know something is a miss. Only another bottle will tell! If you have had this wine, please leave a comment of what you thought! Raise a glass…of something!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Real Time Review: Hacienda Merlot Clair de Lune 2002 (NW)

This is a real time review as I am typing while I open the bottle and taste the wine.

Hacienda Merlot Clair de Lune 2002 has a young, bright color in the glass. It delivers a nice nose of cherry, blackberry, and strawberry. The wine is smooth and silky on the palate, with a smooth, simple finish and soft tannins.

Time to pour a full glass and enjoy! This happens to be my favorite $5 wine. Yes, that's right, $5 per bottle. An amazing value for sure. It is a simple, every day wine that I turn to when I don't want to ponder over an academic selection for the evening. I first discovered this wine as part of a wine flight at Cab's Wine Bar and Bistro in Glen Ellyn, Illinois in 2000. I was impressed that it was as good or better than the $15 wines on the flight. With some difficulty, I located a supply of it at a wine merchant in California and have placed several orders. On internet searches, I've seen the wine selling for as much as $9 in some locations. Look for it and give it a try, even if you're not a big Merlot fan. I'm not usually a Merlot drinker, myself, but Hacienda steals the show for five bucks! Raise a glass! -NW

Light, Sweet, and Bubbly? (NW)

There is such a wine! Moscato D'Asti is light, sweet, and bubbly...and lots of fun to drink!

Do you like the bubbles associated with sparkling wine?
Do you like the sweetness associated with dessert wine?
Do you like to drink something that is light and easy to enjoy?

Many people have had a glass of Brut Champagne and promptly puckered their lips at the utter dryness. They find some sparlking wines difficult to approach, but always enjoy the festive bubbles. Alternatives abound, but many are still dry wines from familiar grape varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. If you like a touch of sweetness, you might be fond of dessert wines such as Muscats, Icewines, and Sauternes. However, many can be a bit heavy and as a result, not very versatile. If you're looking for something that is lighter and easy-to-enjoy, but still has bubbles, try a Moscato D'Asti.

Moscato D'Asti is produced in the piedmont region of Northern Italy. It is a light, sweet bubbly that is very versatile. Several times, I've opened a bottle as an aperatif and just kept on drinking it right through dinner because it does so well with food, too. At other times, I've popped a cork for dessert and have found it to be a terrific finale. One of the reasons for this versatility is that it is very low in alcohol content, usually 7-10%. And, because it's not overly sweet, it can be enjoyed with food. I remember it standing up well to citrus chicken on one occasion and Thai spring rolls with lemongrass soup on another occasion.

If you haven't yet discover this treat, go in search of a bottle or two. Serve it to your next guests as a surprise and allow them to draw their own conclusions. It's a crowd pleaser.

Your local wine shop should have a couple of choices. Two that I recommend are both approximately $13/bottle:

Bosc D La Rei Moscato D'Asti and "Il" Moscato

Treat yourself to something light, sweet, and bubbly! Raise a glass! -NW

Friday, March 18, 2005

Wine, the Drink of Heaven?

Wine must surely be the designated beverage of the heavenly hosts. Is that a stretch?

Have you thought about how prominent wine is in the New Testament? It is mentioned about 40 times and in that it was used as the subject of word pictures, illustrations, and casual conversation shows how prevalent it was to the culture. God incarnate made His first miracle the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana.

Even the inspired writers of Scripture knew what we are just coming around to admitting; namely that wine is good for you! Consider the counsel of the apostle Paul to Timothy: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:23)

Recent studies in France, Sweden and the United States have found that wine in moderation is great for lowering cholesterol, regulating blood pressure and improves over-all heart health. Now you know why those Frenchmen can sit down and ingest their buttery sauces and fat laden cuisine with impunity.

Now what I am wondering is just what wine tastes like that is made by the One who Created the universe? If Jesus made wine for the wedding at Cana, why wouldn’t we think there will be wine at the wedding feast of the Lamb? I suspect, it would be out of this world! “Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' " And he added, "These are the true words of God." Revelation 19:9

I can’t wait to raise a glass of that!

Quick Swirl: Gundlach Bundschu "Mountain Cuvee" 2001 (NW)

Gundlach Bundschu "Mountain Cuvee" 2001:

A tart, grassy nose burns off to give way to dark berries and herbs on the palate
Vanilla and cinnamon on the finish
Moderate tannins

This wine has some nice layers that unfold in a progression. The surprise is the sweet ending. Or should it be a surprise? I assumed this was a Cabernet Sauvignon-based "Meritage", but it is approximately 80% Merlot with the balance from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This explains the vanilla, a common Merlot characteristic.

The wine paired well with grilled tenderloin on sauteed rapini. I paid $45/bottle at the Wentworth-by-the-Sea hotel lounge. Raise a glass!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

What the heck do you mean by “structure?” (PB)

Wine is made as an art form. You have to have the basic raw ingredients of high quality but given the same ingredients, you can get drastically different wines made. How long a red wine is allowed to sit on the skins (which allows its color to develop and tannins to leach into the mix) whether or not it’s aged in new oak, used oak, American Oak, French Oak; how long it was aged in the oak barrels, how long it was allowed to age in the bottle before release and a myriad of other factors all combine to give a wine its structure.

In short, it is the sum total of everything that makes the wine what it is. A wine may have adequate acid for example, but lacks the tannins to allow it to age gracefully and with some longevity. A white wine is sometimes (frequently) too sweet without an adequate balance of acid to counter the sweetness in which case the wine will just be sweet--disgustingly so.

So although a bit simplistic, a wine’s structure is the sum total of everything combined that makes the wine what it is. When it all comes together in the right proportions, like a quartet with the individual parts perfectly balanced, one listening would never be able to really pick out the individual harmonies. They create one gorgeous sound. When a wine is well made–well structured–the individual parts are balanced creating one, unified impression that is wonderful; that is what makes a wine well structured.

Quick Swirl: Montes Malbec Reserve 2003 (PB)

Another youthful, grapey looking varietal in the glass with a beautiful, young hue. This Chilean from the famous Colchagua Valley has a subtle bouquet on opening of steely fruit with underlying cherries. It sits well on the palate with a tense structure that is forthright and secure showing its youthfulness once again. Breathing opens it up wonderfully to a currant-rich nose lush with sophisticated tannins with cocoa notes though still a bit harsh. This is a sturdy, enjoyable wine.

We paired it with chicken breasts sauteed in butter and garlic topped with an Italian sauce, and asparagus broiled with olive oil. It paired nicely. At $10, I would give this wine an 86, created in the new world tradition with an assaulting array of flavors; just the way I like my wine. Raise a glass and get ready for the weekend.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Quick Swirl: Falesco Lazio Pomele 2002 (PB)

This is an Italian red dessert wine that blows my socks off! It is luscious smelling of tropical fruit like mangos, strawberries and maybe a twinge of pineapple but some others mixed in. It has a wonderful texture and nicely balanced. It tastes strongly of honey right out of the comb reminding very much of a fine Sauternes. If I didn’t know this was a red I would have thought it was a classy white Sauternes.

I picked it up in Florence last year after tasting something similar in a restaurant. This was the finale to our Italian anniversary dinner you can read about in the previous entries. We served it with panna cote topped with raspberries and it was a wonderful pairing; the perfect ending to a perfect commemoration. I believe it cost me around $18 for a 500 ml bottle. I’ve never seen it in the states. Too bad! A delicious treat.

Quick Swirl: Lamole di Lamole Riserva 1999 (PB)

One year ago to the day, NW and his wife, myself and my wife were sitting in a hilltop restaurant in the heart of Tuscany in the town of LaMole. We ordered a wine called LaMole Di LaMole. While visiting NW in Jacksonville, I found the wine in a shop and laid it down for a few months. Last night, with homemade raviolis, spinach and ricotta pattys and great reminiscences of that evening, we opened this bottle.

Dried cherries abound in the nose and on the palate. There is a good balance of flavor and structure. With everything that surrounds this wine, how could I possibly not give it a good rating? And you see there is the curious nature of wine. It’s so much more than just the essential nuts and bolts of the wine itself. At $14, this wine brought back priceless memories and that is the best you can ask for. Raise a glass to it all!

Quick Swirl: Censio Chianti 2002 (PB)

This is your basic Chianti; nothing fancy, just straightforward, quaffing wine with enough guts and tactfulness to stand up to any Italian cuisine. We had this for our accompaniment to Bruschetta with fresh basil and tomatoes slathered in pure virgin olive oil. Ahhhhhhhh, nice! First impression is cocoa which automatically makes it a winner for my tastes. It seems most people tend to gravitate toward certain flavors which just make any particular wine a winner. Mine is chocolate, my son’s-in-law is “dirt” or, “earth” if you prefer. I’m not sure what my son’s is but it seems to revolve around sex in some shape or form but that’s an issue for the counselors…

This inexpensive Chianti has good mouth feel, and a larger flavor burst than I would have anticipated. With some air there is another brilliant but ever so short-lived burst of cocoa and cherries. All in all, it is pretty decent though a bit tart. This was $9 on sale from $11. After this we raised a glass of yet another Tuscan delight. Read on!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Wine on the Road (billy)

Well I'm on the road again and sipping a glass of Columbia Crest Merlot (no vintage able to be provided) served much too warm as part of my room service meal - which was otherwise ... < ahem >.

Hotel wine (I'm at a nice upscale hotel in a savvy downtown area), I have found, is hit-or-miss for quality but reliably overpriced. It is typically served in a glass more comfortable on an airplane (first class - sure - but still on an airplane).

I don't know, I guess it's the saran wrap over the top of the glass that does it for me. It gives the glass that "you know it's still fresh" look as the bell-hop is carrying in my meal. If he holds still, I can even pretend that it's a jello-shot rather than a $10.00 a glass dram too warm to be quaffed unless you're Leif Anders-son of the viking kin. (viking kin enjoy warm or even hot wine, in fact that's the only way they'll even drink it - boiled. Heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves.)

This wine wants to be good. It aspires to be raised in a toast to the honor of some up-and-comer. Instead it is toasting under the 100 watt bulb of the desk lamp where the cabin boy put it.

I take a sip. Aaahhhh, warm cherries and hotel funk. Now I'll just squeeze some toothpaste right into my mouth, chew, swallow. That's the ticket.

It's not that good. But hey, at least it was expensive.

lesson learned.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Side by Side Review: Chateau Meyney- St. Estephe 1996 (NW&PB)

This is a special format in which PB and NW are reviewing the following wine side-by-side without comparing notes until they are entered on this blog.

Chateau Meyney- St. Estephe 1996:

Served at a perfect temperature for my taste- approximately 55 degrees F.
A hint of age is visible to the eye and apparent on the palate
Dark berries and tar on the nose and palate, later joined by strawberry, plum, and herbs
Elegant texture, soft tannis, but not a long finish

This is a classic example of "Old World" wine and an interesting study. It is elegant and smooth, but difficult to discern. There is no burst of fruit like many "New World" wines offer. Rather, the wine requires special attention in order to pick up on the layers. In other words, you have to think about what you're drinking! Initially, dark berries and tar appear. After breathing in the glass, plum, herbs, strawberries, and other light berries emerge. The finish is abbreviated, tapering off with soft tannins. There are no long, lingering layers and very little intensity. While this isn't necessary in a good wine, the elegance of this wine is not enough to carry it. Paired with a Emeril-inspired spicy pork tenderloin in pastry crust, the wine disappeared and went flat. It was enjoyable to pop open a Bordeaux nearly a decade old, but the ultimate experience did not deliver the expected complexity and versatility associated with the best Bordeaux. Raise a glass to the world of wine- just not to this one again! (NW)

(PB) wrote--
(NW) was in for a visit and so we thought it would be fun to have a nice dinner and a side by side review of the same wine. That way, you could see the difference between two opinion of the same wine under the same conditions which, if nothing else, would allow you to see the subjective aspect of wine tasting and wine evaluation. I went into my cellar and opened a bottle of Chateau Meyney 1996. I paid $20 for it not too long ago. We did not discuss our review process. Here are my notes.

The bouquet is pleasant and perfumy with wild cherries accenting a pretty garnet color which still shows some youthfulness. There is little bit of "stinky" nose which dissipates as it breathes. In the mouth it is firm and somewhat harsh and not a lot of flavor though it is well structured if it allows the flavor to emerge. In about 20 minutes time it is vegetal with a little green pepper and sits pretty well in the mouth. There is some flavor starting to emerge with a little bitterness that is pleasant with a fruit foundation fighting its way to the top yet still austere. After almost an hour it is clear this is a well made wine even if in the "old world" way. I’m a new world kind of guy and for the price, there’s much better around! Case in point--you don't drink the label; you drink the wine! Now raise a glass, of something more "in your face!"

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Quick Swirl: Yalumba Viognier 2002 (Revised) (PB)

This Australian white with the funny name pronounced Vee-oh-nyay is a pretty and light golden with a lovely sweet and honeyed bouquet reminiscent of a rich dessert wine though this is not a dessert wine! In the mouth it is not sweet and has a solid acid base that will make it nice with food. The flavors are quite subdued though and fairly dead. *This may be a wine that has simply peaked which would be my guess. (*After subsequent review, the wine had in fact peaked and was on its way out. How do I know? Because only 24 hours later, stored in the refrigerator with a vaccuum stopper, the wine was vinegar.) Further review is pointless except to say that most of these "everyday" wines are meant to be consumed young!

Friday, March 11, 2005

When a “Sale” Wine Is Not a Bargain (PB)

I just opened a bottle of Carmenet Zinfandel 2000 Evangelho Vineyards.
It was on close out at $10.00 regularly selling for $22.00. I was tempted to buy several bottles at the time as it seemed like such a good deal but experience has taught me to taste first, buy later! Another case in point.

This wine is a medium garnet on the pour with a very closed bouquet and a shallow nose on the swirl. There are subtle hints of berries but barely. It could be that this wine just needs some breathing but it is doubtful that it will improve significantly; an intuition of tasting hundreds of wines.

In the mouth, there is an underlying sense of sulphur. If this was a German white wine or even some white wine of different origins, I wouldn’t be overly concerned as this is not uncommon on opening of many white wines. But with a Zinfandel, this is a first for me. With some time, the sulphur notes are still there and the flavor is fairly dead all the way around. Although it opens up a bit and even allows some raisiny overtones to come through, this is a great example of why you don’t buy several bottles of a “sale” wine before you taste it. At $10, I would give this wine an 80–maybe! Don’t raise a glass! For the price, there are so many superior wines out there; get your money's worth. Check out our recommendations!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Quick Swirl: Cellar #8 Merlot 2001 (PB)

This is actually produced by the Asti Winery in N. Sonoma and it was a gift from my daughter so I don’t know the price but I believe it sells for around $12. There is a hint of eucalyptus on opening which I love. There is a rich but light berry nose with underlying chocolate tones though a bit austere. It is a bit “hot” but flavorful and the tannic structure is a bit “in your face.” In spite of it all, I still liked it! And that’s the bottom line to any wine. Now raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Camelot Pinot Noir 2003 (PB)

This is the wine recommended as a best buy by Gaiter and Brecher a few weeks back
in the Wall Street Journal. There is an intriguing “stinky” though mild odor in the nose that is interesting. The bouquet of this light colored red, is like that of a jug wine, more grapey perhaps than the norm. In the mouth it really is nice with a decent base and hints of currants. This is much more elegant that the 2001 which was a great value as well. At $7.50, you have to swallow your wine snobbery pride and buy a couple bottles. Put a light chill on it and then raise a glass or two...

Quick Swirl: Wrongo Dongo 2003 (PB)

First I have to admit I have an aversion to silly names on wine bottles. To me it diminishes the credibility of the wine and if it wasn’t for a trusted recommendation of this Spanish red I would never have tried it.

That being said, it is a medium garnet with a slightly mineraly nose and a pleasant bouquet but not remarkable. In the mouth it is tart, with firm tannins and a bit austere but working toward a nice balance. There is a peppery foundation that’s exciting. With air, the Monastrell grapes, also known as Mourvedre—one of the great grapes of the Rhone wines of France, releases all its berry flavors and the tannins become down right tantalizing. With a gutsy finish, at $9, the name not withstanding, this is a decent wine and a good value. I give it an 87. Now raise a glass.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

News Flash--Urgent! (PB)

I posted a previous review for Columbia Crest’s Grand Estates Merlot 2001. This is #52 pick of Wine Spectator's top 100 of 2004. It is sold out in knowledgeable wine shops (at least in my part of the world) where people who know wine tend to go. But here is the FLASH--This wine is currently available in supermarkets for $10. It will not last long so if you want a wine that Wine Spectator rated a 90, for this price, RUN, don’t walk to your nearest supermarket.

For your refresher; I have re-posted my review below.

It is 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 $10.00. I would give it an 88 maybe even an 89.

Monday, March 07, 2005

A Boy's First Burgundy (billy)

Tonight I decided to open a bottle of Bouchard Aine & Fils Pommard 1998. ($40.99)

I am not an expert Burgundy connoisseur so my tasing notes may be a bit novice.

Eyes: clear and inviting dark cherry red. Tending to a bit muted and tan in the rounded bottom wine glass.
Nose: raisins, cherries, plumb, and oak. Hints of spice and anise come out after a while. The bouquet starts intense and rounds out pleasantly.
Palate: Round and balanced fine tannins that are not overpowering. Some pleasing fruit but not too strong.
Finish: slight citrus like acids on the finish coupled with an oaky vanilla that is pleasing.

Pommards, according to this website are not known for their subtlety . However, this 1998 is pleasingly round. It lacks the velvety character of some other vintages and Burgundy regions, but that, to the mind of this taster, does not detract from the overall experience.

The wine has a lot incommon with a Beaujolais but with more poise and character though with less fruit. This is a heady wine fit for couplings with a pipe and philosophy discussion. I'll raise a glass to that.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mixed Up Vintages When Ordering at a Resaurant (PB)

NW’s post on the mix up in vintages between the bottle ordered and the bottle opened compels me to follow up with a point of wine protocol at restaurants. NW ordered a 1999 bottle of wine and apparently the restaurant opened a 2000.

The typical protocol, even in very low tier establishments, is for the person presenting the wine to present the bottle with label facing you before it is opened precisely so you can make sure that what you ordered is what you are receiving. Only after your approval is the wine opened in front of you.

This might seem a bit showy but it is merely practical to avoid what happened to NW. If you happen to give a careless nod without reading the label carefully—as I have done once—caveat emptor! It’s yours!

On the other hand, I would not only be skeptical of an expensive wine which has been brought to my table already opened, I would refuse it. Though we like to think the best of everyone, replacing fine wine with lesser quality wine in a nice bottle is not unheard of.

In NW’s case, it all worked out for the good but as a matter of practice, I’d insist the restaurant follow the rules.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Extended Tasting Notes: Antinori Tignanello 1999, 2000 (NW)

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

Antinori Tignanello 1999:

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

Antinori Tignanello 2000:

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

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

The 1999 was a powerful burst of dark, dark fruit followed by some obvious complexity. I couldn't decipher all the layers, but picked up some cocoa, smoke, and earth. These layers were very tightly packed. It then finished with some earthiness, which is vintage Tuscan, as well as some tangyness, which is reminder that the Sangiovese grape is involved. Beautiful wine, but was it ready for drinking? should it have breathed longer in the glass? been decanted? I don't know the answers here and I don't recall any hint of age.

The 2000, of course, followed. The wine had very similar charatacteristics but was a bit more tart. This may have been coupled with stronger tannins, too. Being a year younger may have contributed to this, but I've also read that 1999 was an excellent year in Tuscany and 2000 was average.

Both wines were delicious! The fun came with the chance to pair the wines with many different Italian foods. My table ordered so much food, we basically ate family-style with numerous appetizers and hearty pasta and meat dishes. I recall being very impressed with how the wine accompanied the food, however, nothing light like fish was presented.

This was a business dinner, but very much social as well. I paid $110/bottle which is fair. I have seen this wine priced from$59 to $76 in stores. It has a strong following because it was one of the early "Super-Tuscans." This term was developed to categorize Tuscan wines grown outside the classification system that maintains strict rules for the likes of Chianti Classico and other designations. Antinori is a leading producer of classified wines as well as a pioneer in "Super-Tuscans", with their wines such as Tignanello. Generally, this wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.

Both the 1999 and the 2000 deliver! They are dark, rich, and tightly-wound wines I believe embody the intensity of high-end Italian red wines. If you are interested in discovering more Italian wines that are similar in strength and character, look for other "Super-Tuscan" blends, Brunellos, Barolos, and Barbarescos. These are generally expensive wines, but worth exploring to get a feel for what Italian red wine is all about. In the near future, I'll be reviewing a Barolo from the 2000 vintage that Wine Spectator scored a perfect 100! 'Till then, raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Steltzner Claret 2001 (NW)

Steltzner Claret 2001:

Berries and plum on the nose
Fruity, fleshy texture and some earthiness on the palate
Hint of floral sweetness on the silky finish

I have tasted this wine before, at an excellent restaurant (Matthew's in Jacksonville, FL) as part of a tasting menu. I remember enjoying it but couldn't find it for months in any store. It came as a surprise when I stumbled on a few bottles, so I brought a bottle home for $18. The wine is a decent offering from Steltzner, who is known for Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab). A Claret is a term the British coined for Bordeaux wines, many of which are based on Cab. This Steltzner Claret is the winery's tribute to "Bordeaux-style" blending, and it delivers a nice experience at a nice price. Raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Chateau Bonnet 2002 (PB)

This Entre Deux Mers (pronounced, ahntray-do-mare) is a blend of Sauvignon blanc, Semillion and a touch of Muscadelle. It is the same wine I sort of reviewed on my Valentine’s date with my bride. But a restaurant is rarely conducive to a solid review. So here goes again;
It is a pale yellow in the glass with yeasty and *musty odors—“DANGER,DANGER Wil Robinson; enemy TCA approaching???” Beneath the mustiness is a hint of oranges and citrus. In the mouth it is a little flabby but with some nice citrusy flavors and some peach notes. The finish is short.

I paired it with citrus and garlic stuffed Cornish game hens with a raspberry glaze and sides of homemade lemon pasta with a leek and lemon sauce. The pairing was quite nice and despite the mustiness, the bottle was consumed…

*This wine was definitely NOT musty when I had it at the restaurant which is one reason I always review every wine I have no matter how many times I have it. It’s the best way to really track a wine’s maturity or demise and real character.

*This mustiness “might” be the dreaded TCA which stands for trichloranisole, a chemical that appears either as a contaminant in the wine making process or due to a faulty cork. It is the scoundrel behind the raging cork vs. screw cap debate which I will blog at a later date.

Had I not had this wine before, I wouldn’t have really known if this was just part of it’s character or is indeed a fault. It was not sufficient to make the wine undrinkable but it certainly detracted from its freshness. This was a “Food and Wine” magazine’s Pick a couple issues back. At $10, it’s an “okay wine” (without the taint that is).

Friday, March 04, 2005

Quick Swirl: Velletri Red Wine by Terre dei Volsci Riserva 2000 (billy)

OK, I bought this because the bottle was interestingly shaped and 2000 was a pretty good year for Italian wines. It is a Riserva so it's been aged for at least 24 months prior to release. It is also a limited numbered quantity. I have opened bottle number 013008.

But, before I begin, an apology: It has been two weeks since I have been back from Oregon and my Oregon wine tastings and I have yet to blog the results. I beg a bit more of your forbearance, dear reader, and promise to have the reviews up soon.

Now on to this Italian Red.

Eyes: it sits with a deep plum purple in the glass and promises character.
Nose: Rich earth and jammy blackberry with a thickness of bouquet that is alluring.
Palate: Lush and Velvety! Oaky and smooth with that rich fruit acting as a foundation upon which the acids swirl and dance with smoke and wood.
Finish: as hoped for; long and swanky. Ever the slightest hint of green herb on the finish that should probably not be there but, hey, it's a-ok.

About the blend and area: Velletri is a hilltop town and commune in the province of Lazio/Latium, south of Tuscany. In 1950, seventy Velletri winegrowers joined to form a co-operative. Today the co-op has the support of over 1000 partners! The “Terre dei Volsci” is a blend of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Cesanese, Bombino Nero, Merlot and Ciliegiolo. (hat tip to this site for the info). The blend and the oak aging gives the wine a depth that is wonderful and a smoothness that is delightful and (almost too) easy to drink.

About the unique bottle shape, I was able to find this:
The bottle has a strange shape. The guy doing the demos said the crooked neck was to keep sediment out of the glass. There is also a dimple in the back of the bottle. Rumor has it that this was an imperfection in the original bottles. The first vintage, the town was so poor that they had to bottle the wine in the faulty bottles just to keep from going under. It turned out that it was their best-selling vintage of all time, so they kept the dimple in the back for good luck. There is another rumor that the girlfriend or wife of the wine maker had a dimple in her lower back, so they made the wine to look like her -- but with tiny sediment-catching boobs.(from here - scroll down)

The story works for me and it makes a wonderful tale with which to regale guests sharing this wine with you.

This is a wonderful group wine for dinner parties or semi-formal or business casual get-togethers. And if that is not what wine is for, then why bother? Raise a glass.

Quick Swirl: Gevrey-Chambertin (Champy) 2002 (PB)

This pours incredibly light with a big cloud of sweet fruit rising from the open bottle. The bouquet has finesse, gentle and steely like a Sangiovese with etiquette. In the mouth it is really sour and the flavor is minimal. If this is “it” this is a huge and expensive disappointment. In half an hour, the bouquet turns a bit “funky.” (According to a recent Gaiter and Brecher column I read (WSJ) this is not uncommon for pinot noirs of Burgundy—okay but it’s not thrilling me…With some air the flavor is bigger and the sourness does soften. Maybe this will grow on me; it does have a nice balance but for the money, give me a good cab. or merlot.

Once again in all honesty, I have almost no experience with Burgundy. I have no benchmark to judge this by so I don't know if this is even the way the wine should taste. It could be corked for all I know but I don't think so. I certainly welcome anyone with experience with this wine or Burgundies of this year to give me some help here! If this is it, for $32, it ought to be "Chumpy" and not "Champy!"

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Quick Swirl: Marques de Borba Alentejo 2001 (NW)

A quick swirl review:

Marques de Borba Alentejo 2001

Fruity strawberry jam on the nose
Silky Syrah style texture on the palate
Burst of green bell pepper on the finish that tapers off quickly

This is a very interesting wine. Portugal is making in-roads in the dry table wine category. Of course, they are world-famous for delivery port wine. I look for Portugese red wines in every store because they tend to be interesting and inexpensive. I paid $11 for the bottle at a wine store in Chicago. If you are serving guests, this is far more interesting than a basic Merlot or Shiraz and has similar qualities to both. This wine is an Alentejo, which is a blend of Periquita, Trincadiera, and Aragones grapes. It delivers the interesting silky texture of Shiraz or Syrah, the fruity and smooth quality of Merlot, and the exotic terroir (land) of Portugal. What a great way to explore the world of wine! Raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvingnon 2002 (NW)

A Quick Swirl tasting:

Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2002:

Raspberry jam on the nose
Chocolate and coffee on the palate
Strong tannins, earthy finish

This wine is young and powerful. It exhibits a lot of the Chilean characteristics with its dark color, rich flavor, and strong tannins. I ran a taste test versus an Australian Shiraz and paired both wines with Swedish meatballs spiced with nutmeg and caraway. The Cab was too powerful, while the Shiraz complimented the dish with silky texture and a burst of pepper.

However, I enjoyed the Cab on its own after dinner. This is yet another great value out of Chile. I paid $16 for the bottle at a wine merchant in Florida. Show me a powerful Cab at this price from California. Actually, there aren't any. You pay at least $25 for a wine of this caliber and often $50 or $75. I really love California Cab, but when you find Chile on the shelves it's worth a look. Especially on a Wednesday night in March! Raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Snoqualmie Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (PB)

Get ready for another super value and must find—This is a pretty and crisp straw colored wine that almost shimmers in the glass. There are loads of fresh cut apples, peaches and pears in the bouquet which is positively refreshing and tantalizing. In the mouth there is plenty of mouth watering fruit with a touch of steely intrigue. This has a fine acid base making it great for food pairing, cleansing the palate of the greasiest food (fried chicken). This Washington State treat is such a bargain I can hardly contain myself. It finishes with some lasting fruit and at $5.79 a bottle I am calling to order a lot more! Now raise a glass of this and find out what a wine bargain is.