Saturday, December 30, 2006

Don't Go Really Cheap on Bubbly for New Years! (PB)

Here we are on the brink of another New Years celebration and of course that means bubbly!
First just a point of accuracy–“Champagne” is wine that comes from Champagne, France. If it isn’t from Champagne, France, it isn’t Champagne.

Now that, that’s out of the way let’s get down to some rules of thumb rather than getting too caught up in specific names of wines which may or may or may not be able to find. Remember, you like what you like. Just make sure you really like what you like.

Do yourself a favor (and anyone else who will be cerebration with you, completely avoid the host of sparkiling wines that are ubiquitous at this time of year and are generally displayed on end caps or special displays so that you will buy them. If the wine costs less than $5, PLEASE don’t buy it!

For just a couple dollars more you can buy myriads of sparklers that are actually well made and taste good rather than the sickeningly sweet “soda-pop” wines that are disgusting and make you sick. Andre’s, Cook’s, and others of their ilk are such brands but there are many more.

For less than $10 you can find wines from Spain, Italy, and America that have some character and taste like, well, wine. Spain’s, Freixenet is popular and a solid choice and is always a decent buy. Washington State’s St. Michelle produces three types of sparklers all in the $10 range and are consistently well made. If you are given to a higher end sparkler look to a place like Schramsberg who makes sparkling wines that will rival those of French origin. From Italy are the various “Prosecco” sparklers which again, are routinely well made and won’t break the bank.

Now if you’re a purist and you have to have Champagne, my personal favorite is Mumm’s Brut Prestige. It will cost less then $20 and is a high quality, yet inexpensive bubbly that is affordable and pleasing.

In the case of New Year’s Eve celebrations, if everyone is pretty well toasted anyway, go ahead and open that Andre’s I guess. But if you’re looking for a wine experience, pay the extra few bucks and get a real wine. Happy New Year to you all and remember to have a designated driver. You don’t want to start 2007 on a catastrophic note. Raise a glass to the future

Chateau Bonnet Reserve 2003 wine review by (PB)

I picked this up at Sam’s Club for $12 since I have reviewed the normal release of the Ch. Bonnet wine 2003 which was $2 less than this “Reserve” and the regular release was a better wine.

But this wine is decent as well. The Lurton family just makes good wine…

It is a blend of half Cabernet Sauvignon and half Merlot. On the pour it has a nice cherry hue with a bouquet of fruit hidden beneath rustic tones of evergreens.

In the mouth it is minerally at first with prominent evergreen flavors with decent structure but needs to breathe.

With time, there is a bright cherry tone over cedar and again rustic flavors. It is a bit thin but a good enough wine for the money. My choice though is to hunt down the regular release and then raise a glass!

Feudo Arancio Nero D'Avola 2003 wine review by (PB)

This wine, which I find in Boston routinely for less than 8$ is one of my favorite bargain wines. It is solid garnet with a big bouquet of dried cherries, and dusty fruit with notes of anise.

In the mouth this wine is big on flavor though a bit tart (acidic) at first with steely notes, rigid tannins and a bit tight all around.

With a half hour of air the flavors are big with a core of solid uncomplicated fruit on a slightly sweet palate of cranberry and dried cherries. At $6 which is what I paid on sale, I would buy up more! Raise a glass.

*This wine has been reviewed by me which you can read at the Sept. 10 post; the Jan. 15 post and (NW) reviewed it Feb. 5 all in 2006.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lenz Winery “Old Vine” Merlot 2001 Wine review by (PB)

Disclosure—Lenz Winery sent us a half case of assorted wines to taste and blog. Various wineries have done this and we do our best to review these wines objectively. Even though the wines sent to us from Lenz came with tasting notes, and tasting results against some high class Bordeaux, these notes were immediately filed without review so as not to skew my review. You can rest assured my notes, are “my notes” rather than a parroting of someone else.

This wine with a reference price of $55 is a nice medium garnet colored pour with a dark core and a bouquet of faint green peppers with a center of spice and berries. Even on opening there are some nice layers happening here.

In the mouth the first taste is rich with some more spice but everything is tightly wound. It needs to be breathed for a half hour so more.

Now the flavors are layered again with a clear eucalyptus aroma, and dark berry fruit as well as other “things” just popping up, fading out then something else, unsweetened baker’s chocolate (?) takes its place.

This wine is rather elegant and really well made; balanced through and through. With a little more time breathing there is just more fruit and everything else all flowing together in a round wine that is just plain wonderful. This CAN’T be a New York wine can it?

To view their taste off against come spectacular Bordeaux Chateau, follow the link and then raise a glass!

Dow’s Vintage Porto 1992 “Quinto Do Bomfin” wine review by (PB)

Because the price of Vintage Ports are generally prohibitive for “normal people” this is my very first one that I have personally purchased. I saw it in a shop in Boston and since it was 15 years old and cost only $45 (trust me that’s cheap for a port that old) I grabbed it.

What more fitting a time to open it than on Christmas Day with (NW) and the fam?

The color is a nice, deeper garnet holding solid garnet to the rim. The bouquet is finessed with layers that are hard to define but they are very nice. Seems there is at first just a sweet fruitiness, then cherries, then currants, anise and/or mint perhaps.

In the mouth this wine is of course richly sweet with a velvety rich cinnamony front layer with lush tannins that caress the tongue. Then there is a finessed and elegant middle with a finish that is subtle yet definite and several minutes later it is still subtle but just as strong as at first. Remember, if it doesn’t say “porto” or “Oporto” it is NOT port which is made only in Portugal. Raise a glass of something wonderfully voluptuous and say, ahhhhhhhhh!

*Sometimes pictures of labels have the wrong vintage date on them. It all depends on what pictures are available to us. The date listed in the blog is the correct vintage!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Chateau Du Don Jon 2001 “Cuvee Prestige” wine review by (PB)

This lovely Minervois creation has a nice cherry color on the pour with light cherry fruit in the bouquet with a baked bread note. Black pepper and black cherry abound in the nose.

In the mouth the palate is full hot and tight. Give it some time to breathe!

Ripe plums in the nose with some time and major white pepper flavors are prominent with plenty of ripe fruit.

I picked up a Ch. Du Don Jon a year or so ago and found it to be a nice value wine around $10. Seeing this special bottling, (Cuvee Prestige @ $17) I wanted to try it. While nice, it is not up to the “bargain” quotient that the cheaper one was. Either way, it’s a nice wine as Minervois’s tend to be. Raise a glass.

Firestone Merlot 2002 wine review by (PB)

This is a creation from the Santa Ynez Valley with big aromas of black berries with a nice garnet color and some density to boot.

The nose is ample with plenty of dark fruit that has some character with an accompanying mint(?) Or cedar hint.
The palate is stern and tight on opening with tannins that are chewy. The finish is somewhat complex with a fruit and spice ending.

Once breathed, black berry and spice flavors are present but not up to the level of the bouquet. They are a bit thin and tannic. Not bad but for the price of $18, I would look to Chile. Raise a glass either way.

Muscadet Sevre et Maine 2004 “Les Embruns” wine review by (PB)

This inexpensive wine has a light color of very pale gold with a sweet pear spice bouquet–again both very light.

In the mouth this wine has a bitter base with citrus in the foundation and too much alcohol and fairly bland flavors. This is not a good example of what this wine can be. Even at the reduced price of $5, there’s just so much better out there for so little more. Raise a glass of something else.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Raise a Glass to the Celebration of the Birth of the Messiah!

Cheers to all.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Nose of black cherry and blueberry
Dense, fruity core with a dark chocolate note
Finishes with moderate tannins and layers of berries, cloves, and vanilla

For $16, this wine make a strong case for Washington state Cabernet Sauvignon. There's something interesting about it, offering a unique blend of flavors on the finish. It has fairly round edges and nice, ripe fruit, too. Raise a glass!

Felton Road Central Otago Pinot Noir 2003 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Bright strawberry and fresh herbs mixed with a hint of chocolate on the nose
Rich core of flavors; earthy and herbal
Nice lingering finish of wild berries, sour cherry, and pepper

Good friends provided this special wine on Thanksgiving. We had several wines open for the meal, but this may have been the best pairing. It has a delicate balance between fruit and herbs, very nice texture, and a classy presence.

The wine was a real crowd pleaser and, at about $45, a real treat. You won't find it everywhere as it's one of the more sought-after, small production Pinots from New Zealand. Raise a glass!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Lenz Winery Old Vine Chardonnay 2004 wine review by (PB)

This is one of the wines sent to us by Lenz Winery–North Fork Long Island for review.
It is a lovely rich golden yellow pour with a room filling bouquet of sweet candied butterscotch with creme brulee notes, and citrus. There isn't a hint of alcohol in the nose which in my experience is a bit unique.

This is a wine that is a delight just to smell and behold in the glass; this is what compels enophiles to spend their early retirements searching wine after wine for something special.

Swirl, sniff and draw a mouthful in letting it's buttery texture linger on the tongue. Fruit filled flavors of pears, and apples, with a gentle vanilla touch built on a solid foundation of clean acidity make this a very nice food wine. It doesn't overwhelm, it accompanies and accentuates your pairing and leaves your mouth cleansed ready for the next bite.

This wine has a price point of $25 and its well worth it (find it here). Do not serve this wine too cold! It does much better around 65 degrees than at cellar temp (55 degrees). Raise a glass to another New York success.

Lenz Old Vines Chardonnay 2004 Review by Billy

Full disclosure--whenever our friends from various wineries send us wine to review we are sure to let you know that. The folks at Lenz Winery on Long Island New York sent each of us at the wine cask 6 bottles to review. This is the fifth of the 6 Lenz wines I have reviewed. I consulted no other tasting notes or reviews when tasting this wine.

When you pour this wine the first thing you notice is the extremely bright color. It is a brilliant yellow-gold. A color fit for a Magi's gift. It is very exciting.

Nose: RICH! Rich is the perfect word to describe the nose. I pick up rich white rasins, light citrus, flowery chamomile, some subtle and elegant mineral overtones and something that might be nutmeg. Just delightful.
Palate: Pleasingly rich structure with a solid acid floor but not over crisp or tart.
Finish: Nice lingering youngish finish with a minerally character.

Overall I thought this was a very well balanced wine with a rich mouth feel. Not overly dry or "apple/pear" flavored to me like many chardonnays. Nice mineral flavors/feels add character to the wine that are a-typical but well done and pleasing here. This is quite a nice and elegant chardonnay but one that diverges from a "typical" chardonnay profile is some distinctive ways - none of them bad or concerning.

This is one I would buy and drink again.

You can order this wine direct from Lenz HERE where it lists for about $25 a bottle.

Be sure to read PB's review of the wine here

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Gift Ideas for the Wine Lover in your Life (PB)

Need some gift ideas for that enophile in your life? I hope this helps.

I have been studying wine for over 25 years so it’s fairly safe to say I have all the gizmos, gadgets and gee-gaws any aspiring enophile could want. So remember, my council is based on the assumption that I am “every man” and that my particular gift likes and dislikes might be fairly representative. If you grant that assumption, I think you will find this helpful and may even spare you some embarrassment on the gift giving end when you give that cork wreath to someone special…

In the wine category—
Port wines—“Ruby,” “Tawny,” and “Late Bottled Vintage” ports are all quite inexpensive. Don’t confuse a “Late Bottled Vintage” port with a Vintage Port. You will know immediately by the price! A L.B.V. port will cost less than $20. A vintage port will start at twice that and you’ll be hard pressed to find any for under $50 and that will be for a very young one. With age, you are usually talking in the $100-$150 range.

Vintage Port
—Always a treat and a great gift but it is pricey—(see above)

Champagne—also another reliable treat for most normal people. I am not normal and a good bottle of champagne would be wasted on me. But for well under $50, you can buy some very nice sparklers.

In the wine paraphernalia category—

Glasses are always welcome; namely because there are so many different shapes geared to a particular style of wine and because they break. But not just any old wine glasses; nice glasses and that doesn’t have to mean expensive. I like Riedel (pronounced to rhyme with “needle”) and their “Vinum” series are lovely crystal and will run you around $20 for one glass. (See I’m not talking about a whole set here, just a special glass or glasses just for “him” or “her”) The Bordeaux glass with it’s large 21 oz. bowl is great for tasting and evaluating red wine. But then they make a special shape and sized glass just for Chardonnay; Zinfandel; Burgundy, you get the idea. Spieglau (pronounced to rhyme with, uh, never mind) is also another name which makes a nice quality, but inexpensive glass.

Williams-Sonoma carries Riedel and Crate and Barrel carries Spieglau or at least used to. I think the Crate and Barrel may even carry their own brand which are actually pretty nice and about half the cost.

Vacuum seal stoppers
—These actually work and again will cost you less than $20! They help keep opened wine a bit longer. Some work better than others but I paid $7 for mine at T.J. Maax and they are now a year old and still working well. That includes a pump and two stoppers.

Spray preservatives—The Wine Enthusiast has an aerosol spray that you shoot into an opened bottle of wine which displaces the air with an inert gas thus preserving the wine. I have never tried this but I am told it works! $10 buys you many bottles of preserved wine!

Stemware Care
--Various sizes and shapes of stem ware brushes and odor free soaps are available at wine suppliers on line. I love mine!

Label Lifters—for removing wine labels from bottles; some work better than others and I have found the ones from to be the best. Around $8!

Wine identification
--The very best wine gift I have received to date is an aroma kit which my lover, girlfriend, and wife of 33 years made for me. A wooden box, some glass vials (obtainable on line from any medical supply house) and you put your scents in each vial for continued reference. You can buy a small, ready made kit though from the Wine Enthusiast but they are a bit pricey ($60) I believe.

Cork screws
like my glasses, just can’t really have too many of them; especially a unique one, (*note—unique doesn’t mean stupid; like a Santa handle) or a particularly functional one—the best are called waiter’s cork screws and have a hinged lip on it. These are purely functional and are less than $10. But a very special cork screw, like one from Laguiole can run you in to the hundreds of dollars. If you have money to burn…

Wine cooler
—these come in drastically variable price ranges. I have a Sunbeam generic 35 bottle cooler which cost me less than $200. The same size from one of the premier makers like Haier will cost you more than twice that but of course you get a better quality unit.

—For my birthday this year I received a crystal, monogrammed chiller which is essentially just a big glass jar—a pretty one—which fits a bottle of wine submerged in ice water for that quick cool down. The prices vary widely depending on composition.

Wine totes are also very practical and handy. I'm not talking about the bag kind of tote but one that looks more like a small piece of luggage. It can carry one or two bottles of wine, has an insulating material on the inside and keeps your wine temperature moderated while in transit. These are also fairly inexpensive at $25 or less.

Books are a nice idea if you the person is a book kind of person. I like the huge wine volumes with the magnificent pictures from around the world. I received Wine by Andre Domine (Barnes and Noble) two years ago and it is magnificent for the very beginner to the very studied. A handy reference book is also a nice idea; Andrea Immer and Food and Wine Magazine each have a quick reference book that costs around $10. Check the book reviews posted this past year on this blog.

Mags. If we’re talking about a real wine enthusiast the Wine Spectator ($49/year) and the Wine Enthusiast ($29) are essential! If your wine lover enjoys cooking as well, I like Food and Wine magazine.

A wine journal or log book; If they haven’t been doing so they need to be writing about their wine. This doesn’t have to be some gimmicky official “wine log” but just a nice book with blank or lined pages. Leather is ALWAYS special…

What not to get—any kind of clothing with a wine motif, really, please! Unless perhaps its an apron--the one exception. :)

Braidenwood Estates Cabernet Sauvignon (N.V.) wine review by (PB)

This wine was sitting in a bin with a Merlot and a Chardonnay by the same vintner all half bottles and a sign that was pushing them—2 for $6.

Since I had not heard of this winery, I thought I would give it a try. (Some of these wines can really surprise you.)

There is light fruit in the bouquet with fresh cherries at the rear. The bouquet reminds me a bit of a red jug wine. It is shallow but certainly drinkable. With a few minutes of air, this wine actually gives up a cinnamon spice in the nose which is both stunning and quite nice. This wine would be less than $6 for a full bottle and frankly you can do a lot worse.

Raise a glass to cheap value quaffs.

Chateau De Segries Tavel Rosé 2004 wine review by (PB)

In my earliest studies of the fruit of the vine I remember reading about Rosés and how the only ones worth even being called “wine” were coming from the Tavel and Lirac regions of France. They were pretty pricey for a rosés costing 2-3 times as much as any other rosés being sold. But this was in the 70’s.
On my quest to learn this wine now 25 years later, there are scads of rosés that are worth your attention totally unlike the soda-pop wines of the past.

I picked this one up in Boston for $13 on sale from $20. It is a very pale watermelon colored wine with a bouquet that is almost non-existent with a nose that barely hints at fruit.

In the mouth the wine is also very light in flavor but does have nice acid structure but so light in flavor that is nearly only “wet.”

But here is a surprise—after 24 hours, the nose actually opens quite a bit giving off a candied, sweet aroma and yet he wine is very dry. Flavors also come around much more so after a day of breathing which was totally unexpected.

Even at this thought, this wine is shallow all the way around. It would be a nice wine at $5. At $13 it needs to be passed over and at $20, someone should ask the maker if they have been trying the host of new Rosés from all over the world and then ask what they are thinking with a price point of $20.

Raise a glass of Rosé but not this one!

Ridge Geyserville 2003 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Nose opens with air to show ripe berries, cherry, and plum with a sweet note
Rich but classy and well-structured on the palate
Elegant, balanced finish

This wine tastes well made. It has nice flavors, but is also elegant and balanced. A bit slow to open up, it remains reserved for Zinfandel. This seems to be the style of Ridge wines, in my experience. Instead of big, spicy fruit this wine delivers balance and harmony. In part, that's due to the blending. If you notice on the label above, there's a fairly significant percentage of Carignane along with Petite Sirah. The Carignane gives the wine some of it's backbone and structure.

You'll pay up for this style at Ridge, though. They have a terrific reputation and many of their wines are now $30 and up. This bottle cost $60 at a top restaurant, which isn't too bad considering it typically retails for around $25-30. Raise a glass!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lenz Old Vines 2001 Merlot Review by Billy

Full disclosure--whenever our friends from various wineries send us wine to review we are sure to let you know that. The folks at Lenz Winery on Long Island New York sent each of us at the wine cask 6 bottles to review. This is the fourth of the 6 Lenz wines I have reviewed.

While I consulted no tasting notes or other reviews in the writing of this review. However, I did stumble across some hints while doing other reviews that this was one of the "premier" Lenz wines that has been favorably compared to such greats as Château Pétrus. I say this in the interest of full disclosure. As objective as I may try to be, my expectations were naturally high for this wine.

Upon opening:
Nose: Jammy plumb, black pepper spice, anise, and vanilla oak.
Palate: tight and acidic on opening but a very good structure that is extremely promising.
Finish: light and lingering with plumb skins, green grape stem and dark fruit.

After about 90 minutes I take another pour and I am excited.
Nose: The nose is rich with vanilla, black pepper and dark berry.
Palate: Structure changes to a nice full and firm balance revealing plumb and jam fruit layers with toasted cinnamon. Really quite lovely from start to finish on the palate.
Finish: rich with some acids that linger at the back of the tongue.

What is so engaging about this wine, I think, is it's firmness. It has the complexity of a fantastic old world style merlot (old world in this sense as the opposite of a fruit bomb). While fully engaging on the nose with ripe merlot scents and pleasingly oaky vanilla, it does not turn flabby or mushy in the mouth. While in the mouth it is less like chewing on a marshmallow (think of the feel, not the taste) and more like savoring a small, fingernail sized, piece of dark chocolate, or truffle, or good cheese (again, think not of the taste of those, but the way they would feel in your mouth). The flavor and feel is firm, it is compact but it is also complex and layered and rewarding.

Some of the best wines in the world are crafted in this way and it is a testament to the skill and care of the folks at Lenz that they were able to achieve such a wine. This is a good wine and you should be prepared to pay for the quality and time it takes to craft.

You can get a price on this wine HERE at Lenz.

Raise a Glass!

Silverado Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Big nose of berries, currants, and some chocolate
Voluptuous texture, round and smooth on the palate
Toasty finish with layers of dark fruit and vanilla

I've seen this wine on a lot of restaurant menus lately. In fact, it was the "high end" Cab offering at two restaurants I've been to in the past month. Both restaurants had the price by the glass at $18, which is no surprise considering the bottle retails for around $40 in a wine shop.

Both times I had this wine, it paired just fine with my steaks. I wonder, though, if the wine is a little bit too soft. The flavor profile is nice, but it seems a little round and smooth. I know that sounds critical, but for $40 in Bordeaux you can get a wine with good flavors and a backbone that suggests strength, elegance, and ageing potential.

Prices for Napa Valley Cab never surprise me though. They are high and trending higher. For an expense account wine at a steakhouse, when you don't want to spend over $100 a bottle, this will probably please your guests. Raise a glass!

Rocca Delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 Wine Review (NW)

Tasting notes:

Nose of cherry, red candy, and a trace of earth and mushrooms
Smooth texture on the palate
Nice finish with spices, some chocolate and more undertones of earth

When I find good Chianti Classico, it blows me away. The good ones have some fruit and new oak layers, but a subtle earthiness and "old-world" elegance that pairs so well with food. Wines that deliver this balance are cutting edge in Chianti because it's an art form to marry the best of the old world and the best of the new.

Look for the Riserva wines right now. Many are from the 2001 vintage and have a little barrel and bottle age. You won't have to pay up a lot over a regular Chianti Classico bottling if you hunt around. For example, I found this wine on sale twice for just $13, and their non-Riserva wine usually sells for about that price. Grab the Riserva if you find it, or any Riserva priced in the teens. More and more, these wines are the perfect balance between old and new styles. Raise a glass!

Raise a glass!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Lenz Old Vines 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Review by Billy

Full disclosure--whenever our friends from various wineries send us wine to review we are sure to let you know that. The folks at Lenz Winery on Long Island New York sent each of us at the wine cask 6 bottles to review. This is the third of the 6 Lenz wines I have reviewed. I consulted no tasting notes or other reviews in the writing of this review.

We had some dinner guests over for dinner this evening and I wanted to have something special. Given that I had this bottle at the ready and needed to do a review anyway, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. What a treat! I am glad I did.

Here are the notes I wrote in my journal from a bit earlier this evening:
In the glass this 2001 Lenz Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon was an inky plumb at the core with a fireengine red at edge. Still showing youthful in the glass suggesting aging potential.

Nose: Leather, Vanilla Creme, Dark Cherry. Very Rich and promising.
Palate: Fantastic balance and huge rich mouth feel.
Finish: soft and tapering in an even decrescendo. Not overly green or peppery. Quite a fine wine.

I have to be honest, this is a great Cab and able to stand toe to toe against any premium California cab and not blink first. I have to admit that my expectations of a New York Cab were not great but this bottle has substantially raised the bar.

In a word, WONDERFUL!

You can order direct from Lenz Winery on Long Island, NY HERE.

See PB's review of this wine HERE.

Raise a Glass.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Peralta Syrah 2004 Wine Review (NW)

Very fruity nose of wild red berries
Smooth core with notes of anise and spice
Good finish, tapers with more wild berries and a touch of pepper

This is what reasonably-priced California Syrah should taste like. It has balance, layers, and a little pizazz. To me, this tastes better than a lot of Australian Shiraz at the same price point. According to the Peralta website, the reference price is $11. I paid $14 in Massachusetts. I might be able to do better for $14-15 with an Australian, but $11 makes this wine a compelling story. Raise a glass!

Chateau Saint Martin de la Garrigue Bronzinelle Coteaux du Languedoc 2003 Real Time Wine Review (NW)

Cherry and plum on the nose
Juicy, vibrant core of fruit on the palate
A touch of herbs and pepper on the finish

I've been on a wine journey through Southern France for the past six months or so and I've discovered that a lot of good value wines are being produced in the Coteaux du Languedoc, for example. While I was in a local wine shop recently, I came across this wine. It had a big write-up attached to it by a shop employee, praising the wine for a rich flavor profile, roundness, and tasty spices from the oak.

What? Maybe the tag was in the wrong place. This is not a rich, round wine with generous spices. In fact, this is a fruity wine with a youthful, vibrant core and a lean, herbal finish that makes me think of Grenache baking in the hot August sun on a dusty hillside in Provence. Oh well, it's still a decent wine and a good value. I paid $13 for the wine. Raise a glass!

Lenz Merlot 2000 Review by Billy

Full disclosure--whenever our friends from various wineries send us wine to review we are sure to let you know that. The folks at Lenz Winery on Long Island New York sent each of us at the wine cask 6 bottles to review. This is the second of the 6 Lenz wines I have reviewed.

See my review of their 2004 Chardonnay HERE. You can also see PB's review of this vintage 2000 Merlot here. No tasting notes were consulted for this review.

Nose:Heady! Smokey. Tar is here which is a nice old world style departure from the heavy fruit bombs of many recent western hemisphere merlots. I also pick up cassis with cherry hints and obligatory oak with some nice cedar dimensions.
Palate: tart and tight on opening. Balance is good though not a rich as promised by the nose. Flavors fall off the palate quickly and do not spread through the mouth for a less than full mouth feel.
Finish: Finishes nicely but shallow. Creamy oaked finish with cherry.

After breathing this for about an hour
Nose: Really opened up with more fruit of plumb, cassis and tar. Cedar and oak still pronounced.
Palate: The tannins have unwound quite a bit. This leaves the acid significantly more pronounced to nearly the point of distraction. Still less than full in the mouth though still quite nice.

Overall I liked this wine while not being blown away by it. The nose was so richly layered and earthy I feel I could have been drinking something much more expensive than the $23 price point on this wine. This was a great bottle if only for the multifaceted and complex aromas the wine gave off. While the mouth feel (I am very big on "feel" in my mouth - much more so than simple sweet/salty/sour/bitter taste) is less than desired in the wake of the robust and heady nose, it is certainly not bad. This is a fine merlot for pairing with an evening meal.

You can go HERE to order this wine direct from Lenz.

Raise a Glass!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lenz White Label Chardonnay 2004 Review by Billy

Full disclosure--whenever our friends from various wineries send us wine to review we are sure to let you know that. The folks at Lenz Winery on long Island New York sent each of us at the wine cask 6 bottles to review. The ironic bit is that while they sent this to me nearly a month ago, I have been stuck in Manhattan for 32 days straight! From November 6 - December 8 I was on a work assignment there. So while this bottle and 5 others were waiting for me here in Minnesota, I was closer to Lenz than the bottles were to me. Either way, it was very nice to come home to this great sample package from Lenz Winery. No tasting notes were consulted for this review.

So here are my notes from tasting the 2004 Lenz White Label Chardonnay from the North Fork of Long Island, NY.
Nose: Pear, Citrus, Warm Bread, and softened cardamom.
Palate: Good structure and strong acid but not overstrong. Wet metal accents which are subtle and interesting and nice. A touch of chamomile on the tongue.
Finish: citrusy and smooth. Not Green which is nice. Long and subtle. Elegant.

Overall this is quite a nice chardonnay. It is creamy at the back of the palate and not overwhelmed with woody or oaky tastes. It is full and round in the mouth. The pear and citrus aromas and flavors work very well together as the prominent dominant profile. The underlayers of softly floral chamomile and the memory of cardamom spice with the mineraliness of the wet metal mouth feel add dimension and depth to this Chardonnay. I like it.

The price point on this wine is $11.99 and you can order direct from Lenz HERE. At that price it is a very good deal and stacks up very well against other, similarly and higher priced Chardonnays.

Be sure to read PB's review here.

Raise a Glass!

Dusted Valley Vinters Old Vine Chardonnay 2003 Review by Billy

Sometimes the bargain wines are in the bargain bin for a reason. This was one such wine. While I certainly cannot complain about the $5.75 price I paid, I can certainly complain about the wine.

Dusted Valley Vinters Old Vine Chardonnay hails from Walla-Walla Washington. Here are my notes:
Nose: a bit buttery but overpowering acitone and sharp lemon citrus.
Palate: OUCH! (yes, I actually wrote ouch in my journal). Overbalanced acid makes me pucker. Heavy citrus with sour grapefruit like acidity. Some chardonnay flavor buried in there.
Finish: green grape stem finish.

It should be noted that I tasted this again about an hour after I opened it. Still makes me pucker. Wines just shouldn't do that.

Still, Raise a glass.

Lenz Cuvee 2000 Wine Review (NW)

In the interest of full disclosure, this wine was a complimentary bottle from Lenz Winery. They shipped some wines to The Wine Cask blog for review, recognizing that wine blogs generate positive discussions on the world of wine. My tasting notes are as follows:

Medium tight bubbles and a nice pale color
Apples on the nose
Citrus core with good acidity
Finish is nutty, with more citrus and a bitter note

Made in the "Methode Champenoise", this is a serious sparkling wine. It has elegance and some depth. The citrus core provides structure on the palate and the nutty flavor on the finish adds complexity. However, there is a bitter note on the finish that is a bit distracting.

I shared this bottle with my wife and two friends. We paired it with a sampling of appetizers, and it stood up well to the variety of flavors. Sparkling wines are a great way to kick off an evening dinner party as they add to the festive atmosphere and offer something different from still table wines.

Lenz is a winery on the North Fork of Long Island. They have quite a line-up of high quality wines that we'll be sampling over the coming weeks. This Cuvee has a reference price of $30. Raise a glass!

Lenz Winery Chardonnay “White Label” 2004 wine review by (PB)

Another sample wine from our friends at Lenz Winery in Long Island (North Fork) New York is a gentle gold color with a pronounced bouquet of apple, pear and citrus and a definite touch of *vanilla. (*Vanilla flavors/aromas usually come from the oak in which the wine is aged however this “White Label” Chard is unoaked. Hey, I just call it as I sees it!)

Also note that I review all wines without reading anything about the wine including the winery’s description of the wine which it often prints on the label.

The citrus base is prominent and while fruit is a little thin, this is a solid--even ideal--food wine with a vibrantly acidic foundation. For a $12 Chardonnay, it is straight forward, uncomplicated and well made. Raise a glass!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rodney Strong Zinfandel 1986 (Sonoma county) wine review by (PB)

This is an interesting–and instructive–story! I was in Boston with (NW) on a wine hunt and found this twenty year old Zin at the Brookline Liquor Mart. BLM is a really nice store with a huge selection of wines at all price points.

I found this bottle marked down to $16 from around $22 and the age of the wine intrigued me. Try finding a 20 year old Zin of any stripe but this one was just a very normal, $5 bottle of table wine when it was released; one which the Wine Spectator gave a 79 rating to.

I grabbed the bottle and took it to a guy who I believe was one of the owners of BLM. I thought maybe he might know something about the wine I didn’t because there is no way anyone in their right mind would buy a 20 year old everyday wine at any price. They just aren’t made to age and the likelihood of it being even potable is remote. Most wines are meant to be drunk within 5 years (for reds) and even less for most whites. I didn’t really care to just throw $15 down the sink.

I asked, “What are the odds that this wine will even be drinkable?” The man took the bottle and held it up to light and pondered it. I was skeptical about what seemed to be a “show” more than anything. “The guy said, something like, “It still has a pretty decent red and not much draw down.” I said, “You can see that through the tinted glass?” He didn’t say anything.

I asked again, “So is it going to be drinkable?” He said, “It could be?” Talk about a non-answer.

Som while skeptical and disappointed by what I thought was a less than straight forward answer, I thought, for $15 it will be an education anyway.

Well, (NW) was up for the weekend and we opened this 20 year old (almost 21 year old) run of the mill wine.

Here is the review:
The cork took some effort to remove as it pretty well disintegrated on removal. The color is brick red with amber touches at the rim the typical mark of age and yet it looked better than I expected. The bouquet actually was surprisingly okay though light with some spice hints and very light fruit notes. It is a really mellow bouquet. This too was all positive so far...

In the mouth, I was expecting to have to spit but to my surprise, it too was truly “round,” subtle, nothing remarkable of course accept that it was even drinkable after all these years. I was impressed! That this Sonoma County wine lasted all this time is remarkable and quite unusual.

So, if you find a wine of this caliber, and it is this old, pass it up unless you are willing to write off the experience to education because chances are, you will not fare as well as we did.

I am still skeptical of the man’s response to me at BLM but in light of the outcome I have to give benefit of doubt. Lastly–this wine was rated 79 points on its release 2 decades ago. I would give this wine today, a better score than that! . So raise a glass to the adventure that wine is.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Feudo Arancio Nero D’Avola 2004 wine review by (PB)

I am sitting doing one of my favorite things–I am reading a great wine magazine–The Wine Enthusiast in this case–while reviewing this wine. This issue of the W.E. happens to be the top 100 wines of 2006.

I’ll explain as I go along; I have liked everyone of the last three years of this wine by this producer yet it’s been ages since I have put a wine in the recommended category on our side bar. As I am tasting this wine, I am saying to myself, this wine is clearly a SUPER value wine that will make our recommended wine list. AS I am writing my review, I turn the page in the W.E. to the “Top 100 Best Buys” of 2006. Guess what wine makes #18 scoring 88 points? You guessed it; THIS wine. And I paid only $6 for it at Kappy’s (a chain in Boston) on a recent visit to (NW).

This wine is a pretty cherry red with bready notes in the bouquet with plenty of fresh red fruit and a nose with a touch of spice? Eucalyptus? And definitely licorice!

In the mouth right on opening this wine is well made with a slightly sweet impression with loads of fruit, cedar notes, and fine tannins. It is nice right now!

With some air, it gets only better. It is still bready with gobs of fruit, nice structure, and is just a plain GOOD wine. I have to buy a load of this and I suggest you do the same! Now raise a glass and check it out!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Beaulieu Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Wine Review (NW)

Blackberry jam nose
Herbs and cocoa on the palate
Finishes with berries and a layer of olives

I enjoyed this wine. It has some interesting nuances and is knit together well. There isn't much of that "Rutherford dust" that people talk about, but it tastes like a decent Cab.

I've seen a pretty broad range of prices for this wine, from about $19 to $26 for a 750 mL bottle. I was in the hunt for a half bottle recently, and picked one up for $14. It was just the right wine for the evening, and appreciated it's classic Cab characteristics. Raise a glass!

Nieddera Contini 2003 Wine Review (NW)

Rich nose of plum, cherry, and sweet spices
Equally rich and fruity on the palate
Soft, smooth finish

I recently had a glass of this wine at Mario Batali's Babbo in New York City, which cost$14. It's the style of Italian red that I like right now, with rich flavors and a smooth profile.

This wine is from Sardinia, and I haven't had a chance to do any research on it yet. Sardinian wines are showing up more often in the wine shops I visit. I've sampled a few, but this is the best so far. The others were lean and overly herbal.

If you like Italian wine, keep an eye on Sardinia. Some unique offerings are starting to show up. Raise a glass!

Alfalfa Farm White Table Wine NV Wine Review (NW)

Nose has notes of grapefruit and apple
Slightly "spritzig" on the palate
Clean, fruity finish- somewhat green with a floral touch

Alfalfa Farms, in Topsfield, MA, is the closest winery to my home. I heard they produce decent white wines, so I decided to start by trying their non-vintage white table wine. According to the winemaker, it's a blend of estate-grown Vidal Blanc grapes and Californian Chardonnay. This produces a nice balance of fruit and an underlying greenish flavor. I paid $15 for the bottle at the winery and will plan another visit to try one of their other wines. Raise a glass!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Septima 2004 Malbec Cabernet Review by Billy

Now this is what I am talking about! I had a bottle of this ($36) at the same restaurant where I had the Storybrook Zin (reviewed below). And I was impressed! The $36 Manhattan Restaurant price means that this is most likely a bargain wine in your local store (I have seen it for as little ast $7.00 online).

It is an Argentinian wine that is a Malbec (60%) Cabernet (40%) blend.
Nose: Cracked black pepper, dark blackberry, slightly minerally which is nice and a bit unusual.
Palate: full and rich though slightly overacidic.
Finish: smooth and soft at the very back.

With time the nose reveals dark currant, blackberry and tobacco with some black cherry emerging after a while. The Palate is almost well balanced though not quite achieving that expert plateau but the play between the acid and tannins is slightly uneven. The finish after time reveals dark cherry and some green pepper.

Overall, this was really quite nice for the price. The body here was a nice contrast to the Zinfandel we had previously. I liked it and, for the price, I will definitely be looking is up when I get back to Minnesota.

Cheers and Raise a Glass!

Storybrook Mountain Vineyards 2002 Napa Zinfandel Review by Billy

Nose: Tight, berryfruit, slight rasin, almost but not quite jammy.
Palate: acidic which is nice. The mouth feel is "wet" and liquid - to me a sign of a lack of body. Not very dry which is ok but not great for a napa zin.
Finish: dryness appears at the back of the tongue and on the finish. there is some green stemmy hints that linger.

Overall I was unimpressed with my first selection. I'm a big fan of California Zinfandel (the Cline Ancient Vine Zins from 2003 - 2005 are some one of my favorites) but the 2002 Storybrook Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel was slightly limp and flacid and only a so-so.

This zin from the Mayacamas Range in Napa listed for about $56 a bottle at the restaurant where I had it. For the price, even in Manhattan, you can do better.

Still, Raise a Glass!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Foppiano Petite Syrah 2003 wine review by (PB)

This Russian River Valley Wine has a heavy garnet color that you can see on the swirl with a dark fruit bouquet which lies under a layer of cedar or menthol.

It is full bodied and hyper tannic, bone drying, suck the saliva out of your mouth dry, tight and closed.

With breathing this wine is masculine and bold with very ripe blackberry plum with dried cherries with a tang! It is steely and dry as dust with toast notes. This wine is a WWA wrestler’s kind of wine and needs a food pairing that is up to the challenge. Not a wussy wine to say the least. I received it for my birthday from my aging hunting partner who is a deer’s best friend...I have a reference price of $18. If you’re in the right mood, raise a glass!

Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 wine review by (PB)

This Sonoma wine is a pretty ruby with big fresh fruit bouquet of black cherries.

The palate is tight all around but with breathing it opens to a wine with good structure. The flavors are big and balanced and varietal with some spice and loads of black cherry/berry fruit. A nice inexpensive example of the grape and a big value at $13. Raise a glass!

Cotes Du Ventoux 2003 (Jaboulet Isnard) wine review by (PB)

It is lighter red in color and tart bouquet with shallow fruit. In the mouth it is better than the bouquet might indicate.

With air, it is juicy marked by pepper and dried cherries. It is a good example of a southern Rhone wine. I paid $6 for it and saw it for $11 in another shop the same day. Raise a glass.

Perrin Reserve 2004 Cotes Du Rhone wine review by (PB)

Crisp garnet in color with gentle but fragrant bouquet marks this Southern France wine. It is really closed on opening with peppery and hot tones.

With air, the wine is full of pepper and classic old world wine. It is made from 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 10% Cinsault. It does not taste like Grenache but its not bad. Wine Spectator rated this wine 84 points--not the 87 I had originally thought--which is a fair review. For $9, it is just “okay.” (Note--comments below)

Columbia Crest Cabernet/Merlot Two Vines 2002 wine review by (PB)

This is just one more value wine from the Washington State producers who just turn out quality wine at bargain prices almost flawlessly. This wine is uncomplicated with rich dark fruit and a deep garnet color.

It is sweeter in style on the palate with toast but a bit rough on opening.

With some air, the bouquet is pronounced with tart cranberry notes. It is a bit puckery in the mouth but for $6, it’s pretty nice! Raise a glass.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 wine review by (PB)

This Washington State wine was anotyher of our many Thanksgiving wines. It is garnet to the rim with a bouquet of restrained berry fruit.
In the mouth this wine has full flavors of dark berries, toast, solid tannins on opening.

With some air time, the tannins are tight with strong berry flavors. Nothing stands out, just an all around solid wine in the new world style. I paid $16 for it on sale. Should run around $18. Raise a glass.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Felton Road Pinot Noir 2003 wine review by (PB)

For variety, friends of ours and (NW’s) who spent some time in New Zealand brought this Central Otago New Zealand Pinot for Thanksgiving dinner.

It has a raspberry bouquet with a slight Pinot Noir “stink” that often accompanies “good” Pinots. Behind it all is a layer of deep spice.

In the mouth this wine is slightly tart—pleasantly so—with a touch of black pepper and fruit on opening. This wine is well made and high quality. Breathing only intensifies everything mentioned. This is why New Zealand is gaining ground on the rest of the world. It just keeps producing some really nice wines and even at $45, this was a solid value and another great pairing for Thanksgiving dinner. Raise a glass to K and E R!

Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 wine review by (PB)

This wine from (NW’s) cellar was in a magnum format. (a magnum of wine equals two regular 750 ml bottles)

It had a nice ruby color with a fruity bouquet of currants and ultra ripe blackberries.
In the mouth the wine is essentially perfect with respect to balance, age, maturity, but needs a little time to breathe out of the bottle.

With some air, there is fruit galore with some nutmeg in the finish. This is good example of a “round” wine. It paired quite well with our turkey dinner. Raise a glass!

Le Brun Serveny 1995 Brut Millesime Champagne wine review by (PB)

When it comes to sparkling wines, I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t seem to review them very purposefully. There—you have full disclosure. I have had a fairly old Dom Perignon and could tell you it what it was like accurately and I know a “bad” sparkler when I taste it, but as far as knowing what is mediocre from good from exceptional, there is something about my palate that just isn’t there! Maybe I just haven’t had enough of them. All that being said, (NW) broke out this 11 year old champagne for Thanksgiving. It is 100 % Chardonnay and is considered a superior wine value in vintage champagnes. (That’s from my research—you couldn’t prove it by me nor do I even know what it cost.)

The bouquet was chocked full of nuttiness with pin-prick bubbles that were in short supply; a product of its age???

In the mouth the wine is quite mellow and nuanced with citrus and more nutty flavors. It was “good” but whether it was really good, great, or just O.K. read someone else’s review and then raise a glass!

Friday, December 01, 2006

L’Ancien Beaujolias Nouveau Jean Paul Brun Terres Dorees 2006 wine review by (PB)

I have never seen this Nouveau anywhere so when I spied it in Boston for $11, I grabbed it. It has a real purple pour which it should in light of it being fresh squeezed form the vines as all nouveau is but others tend to be more cherry in color.

The bouquet of this wine was really nice with strawberries and a little raspberry touch with bubble gum—I’m serious—in the background. It is classic Gamay in the mouth with solid structure, good flavors and just plain delicious. Better than the ubiquitous DuBoeuf Nouveau you see everywhere. Grab one of you see it and slosh it down; its refreshing! Raise a glass.

Champalou 2004 Vouvray (La Cuvee De Fondreaux) wine review by (PB)

This French Chenin Blanc is pale straw in color with a nice bouquet of pineapple and minerals with citrus and apple.

It pushes green apple fruit on the palate. Nice! This was great with the appetizers we served and the longer it was open the better it became.

For the $14 I paid for it (it was on sale from $16) it was a really nice food wine and fine all by itself. Raise a glass!

Rosenblum Zinfandel 2001 Richard Sauret Vineyards wine review by (PB)

One of our plethora of Thanksgiving wines we had to commemorate our thankfulness for all the blessings we enjoy and is holding steady with a solid garnet color to the rim. It has a room filling bouquet of juicy fresh black cherry fruit. In the mouth this wine has a luxurious texture and heft. It is tight on opening and needs some time to come around but even still has juicy tannins and plush flavors waiting to burst forth.

With 15 minutes of air raisins are coming up with cedar or eucalyptus in the nose.

With some breathing this wine became a little more chewy which is unusual and more raisins on the palate. Close to 40 minutes of air time and chocolate layer with big blackberry fruit emerges with a wonderful caraway finish. I loved it! Be sure to scroll down and catch (NW'S) review of the same wine. Raise a glass!