Monday, January 31, 2005

Tatachilla Winery

Tatachilla Winery, Grenache Shiraz "McLaren Vale" 2000 ($11) -- Australia. 70% Grenache, 30% Shiraz. A very nice blend of soft fruit flavors (the Grenache) and complex structure (the Shiraz) with a medium finish. Wonderful wine from a good producer for a great price! After a few years of bottle age this wine is drinking at its prime. Enjoy with food or by itself.

Castle Rock Reserve Chardonnay

Castle Rock, Reserve Chardonnay Napa Valley 2003 ($18) -- California. I kid a lot about drinking something other than Chardonnay, but there are times when it is the perfect match for the food or the time. Also, we have many customers who only drink this varietal. (I try, I try!) So, here is a step up from your everyday Chardonnay. The winemaker notes are as follows:

We have carefully handcrafted only 2,800 cases of the Castle Rock Reserve Chardonnay. The grapes were harvested from vines grown in the Russian River Valley, one of California's most prestigious grape growing appellations. The wine, comprised of 100% chardonnay grapes, was fermented for 11 months in French oak barrels coopered in Burgundy, most by Francois Freres.
Our Castle Rock Reserve Chardonnay is a crisp wine displaying remarkable depth and integration. Its slight sweetness rounds the wine out perfectly, and its flavors of pear, vanilla, butter and spice slowly unfold on the palate. It is perfect for drinking now, and will maintain its excellent quality through 2007.

Castle Rock Winery is a fast-growing negociant wine maker (145,000 total cases sold in 2003, up 113% from the previous year) that buys its grapes from the best sources throughout California, and rents its production facilities to keep overhead and prices low. They are adept at taking advantage of the current grape glut in California and passing the savings and quality onto their customers as evidenced by recent reviews:

Restaurant Wine (Issue 103 – October 2004) awarded Castle Rock’s 2003 Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay 4.5 stars (very highly recommended) and nominated it as the top pick in its medium-priced Chardonnay category.

This wine is a wonderful example of the best Chardonnay that California has to offer at a great price!

[See! I did survive the Late Harvest Mourvedre last night!]

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Late Harvest Mourvedre

Cline, Late Harvest Mourvedre "Big Break Vineyard" Contra Costa County 1999 ($21 for 375ml) -- California. This is my first taste of a late harvest Mourvedre so I am hard pressed to compare this producer to others. My first impression is that it reminds me of Port, although the alcohol is only 14%, which is less than a modest Chardonnay these days. The residual sugar is 8.4 grams and the Brix at harvest was 37.8. The grapes were left on the vine an additional five weeks to "gain ultimate maturity and ripeness."

The nose is a heavy, sweet dark berry aroma, and the flavors are sweet, full-bodied and Port-like. The finish is not terribly long and the mouth-feel is thinner than a typical Port. However, this is a good dessert wine and paired well with Polly's Mom's cookies (Bless her heart! Thanks Molly!). We will see tomorrow if this has the same punch as a Port. If there are no posts Monday, you will know!

If you can find this wine (810 cases produced), I would suggest bringing to your next dinner party for a change of pace.

Houge Cellars Chenin Blanc

Houge Cellars, Chenin Blanc "Columbia Valley" 2003 ($10) -- Washington State. Balanced, clean, soft pear and melon fruits with just a hint of residual sugars. Paired with grilled pork chops with onions and garlic and an avocado salad. (See, I can cook!) Delightful wine! If you like Vouvray, you should try this as it is the same varietal.

Blind Tasting #1 -- Invitation

2001 California Cabs -- We will be hosting a blind tasting of six 2001 California Cabernets in the $30 range to rank them by a panel of wine afficionados (read winos). We are looking for volunteers. (Out of town bloggers are welcome to attend. You can stay at my place if you are not allergic to cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters or snakes -oooh! In fact, I will pay airfare to any out-of-town food bloggers who are willing to prepare dishes consisting of same animals!)

Details are being formulated but it will take place on Tuesday February 15th (I had originally picked the 14th but was quickly reminded that some romantic Holiday falls on that date!) at a local restaurant, probably at Cumin if I can talk Yajan into this. (As of last night, he has approved. I only had to buy the first round at Beluga's.) I think 8 to 10 tasters should do it.

I Bet It Was Chardonnay!

As reported by the "New York Daily News":

Julie's has been raking in about $3 million a year for a decade, a police source said. The hookers charged between $200 and $400 for a variety of sex acts, cops said.

Customers were told to call an hour ahead. Then they were directed to one of several locations, including four Manhattan apartments - three in the Clinton/Theater District area and a fourth in Murray Hill.

One of the apartments raided by police yesterday was a basement unit on W. 51st St. near Eighth Ave. A queen-sized poster bed filled the bedroom. Among the items left behind were a tube of lubricant, antiseptic towelettes and an empty bottle of white wine.

Saturday, January 29, 2005


This is very distressing even if you are not a fan of French wines!

The plan to distil more than 266 million bottles of Appellation d’origine contrôlée wine, to become ethanol for vehicles or other products, conjures up the bizarre concept of European drivers filling their tanks with 2004 Bordeaux — and other vintages.

It is a symptom of the plight of growers in Bordeaux, Burgundy and other traditional wine regions as they face their worst crisis since the phylloxera disease killed many of the country’s vines a century ago. The world’s drinkers are turning away from complicated and uneven French AOC wines which bear the names of obscure châteaux in favour of simply and memorably branded tipples from the New World. At the same time the domestic market is shrinking as the French heed medical advice and the threat of the breathalyser and cut down on their consumption.

Why don't they start working on some labeling we Americans can understand! Can't they make some wines for export only that are user-friendly with producer names clearly stated (you know, to build brand loyalty) and winemaking notes on the back label to tell us what's in there and how it was made? Seems to make more sense than burning all that juice as gasoline! "I'm getting a slight nose of petrol here, followed by a hot finish due to the high alcohol."

Pietra Santa Cabernet

Pietra Santa, Cabernet Sauvignon "Cienega Valley" 1999 ($11) -- California. Couldn't find many details on how this was made, but for $11 we don't need to over-analyse this one. Dark redish-purple colors and a little funky on the nose when first opened. After breathing the wine for 15 minutes, I got a slight dark berry nose, and then a smooth structured finish with good tannins. Not overly complex but a great mid-week food wine that you will gulp down. Remember, only two glasses! Right! You could serve this on the weekend and you will fool your guests. Marked down from $21, but I would put up blind against $30 California Cabs. It may not place in the top three out of ten, but it will compete.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Vanya Cullen

Cullen, Margaret River "Mangan" 2003 ($42) -- Australia. 47% Malbec, 47% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot. 13% alcohol. You would never guess this wine was from Australia as it is not brash or over the top. (No offense mates!) It is a beautifully crafted and elegant wine with a long finish that tastes like a fine Bordeaux. After a brief decanting, I got a subtle fruit nose and then perfectly balanced flavors. Here are the winemakers notes:

The Cullens are delighted at the success of this wine, which represents a unique blend of three of the Bordeaux grape varieties. The precise contributions made by Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot are varied each vintage to take into account the quality and cropping levels of each variety. The blend for the 2003 Mangan comprised 47% of both Malbec and Petit Verdot and 6% of Merlot.

The Mangan was always intended to be a high quality fruit driven style that capitalised on the rich power of the Malbec, the length of the Petit Verdot and the fine tannins provided by Merlot. Thus, in 2003, only 20% of the Mangan was matured in wood and this was restricted to a period of eight months.

This is the fourth Cullen wine I have tasted recently. Each one caused me to stop and take notice of the great winemaking skills. I would not be surprised to see these wines move up steeply in price as people recognize what great wines these are. This is a wine that disappears down your throat eventhough you are sipping slowly to judge the quality, and then you eagerly re-fill your glass. And then sadly, it is all gone. One should buy as much of the wines from this winemaker as one can afford. Amazing stuff!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Bad Wacky Wine Wednesday

Two Hands, "Bad Impersonator" 2003 ($41) -- Australian (of, course). From the land of off-beat, cute wine names (must be due to the oceans of Fosters beer down there), comes a great wine from a "hot" producer. Except for the wacky Zinfandel names in California (in particular, Santa Cruz), I think Australia would have the highest percentage of "wacky" names. I know I am supposed to pair this wine with dinner (probably due to the meddling influence of the food bloggers in this group), but I am more of a wine guy and my wife thinks the stove is where you store all the pots and pans. OK, so I finished my Ritz crackers and Velveeta cheese (at least it wasn't the spray stuff) and I am ready for the wine. Skipping meals around here allows me to get to the dessert wines sooner!

As you know, I am adjective-challenged, but here goes. I was going to select "Gnarly Dudes" as the wacky wine but when I went to the distributor last month this wine caught my attention. "Is that Groucho Marx on the label of that wine?!" As it turns out the "Gnarly Dudes" never came in, so you are spared the stories of me growing up in Los Angeles in the 70's hanging out with the surfer "dudes" in Malibu. Trust me, it was funny and dangerous, especially the part about the gasoline cocktails.

So "Bad Impersonator" is a wacky wine with a wacky label and it is one bad dude! 15% alcohol with a nose that will knock you down. The name comes from the winemaker's intent to make an Australian Shiraz that does not taste Australian, but tastes more like a French Syrah. The picture on the label is not Groucho, but the winemaker in costume. I would say that the winemaker has accomplished his goal of not tasting like a typical Australian, but it is more like a French Syrah on steroids! It is a big wine with legs like Betty Grable due to the almost Port like alcohol content (anyone can borrow the Grable phrase, if they dare!), but it has "refined elegance, depth and complexity." I can't say that it tastes like a French as I am not a student of that region. I would say that I am going to enjoy the rest of the evening hanging with this bad dude!

Say the secret word! Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"The Best $10 Red Wine"

Las Rocas de San Alejandro, Grenache 2002 ($22) -- Spain. Eric Solomon Import. (The price is restaurant pricing.) I just tasted at JeanRo's Bistro for lunch. A wine rep from a competing wine distributor ordered and said, "Flat out, this is the best $10 red wine!" Nice endorsement! I completely agree and then I find out I can't buy it in a store as it is on restaurant lists only. I understand this business model for the mid to higher end wines, but please let me buy some. Please!!! Here is a write-up from fellow blogger, Dr. Vino:

Las Rocas de San Alejandro, old vine Grenache, 2002, $7.79 Las Rocas "may be the greatest wine value I have ever tasted" according to Robert Parker who bestowed 91 points on this Grenache from 75 year old vines in the remote Calatayud region. With many great wines under $10 available, Parker’s comments may seem hyperbolic, but the Las Rocas does have has (sic) certain stand-out characteristics. Most notable is an ability to evolve in the glass that is rare for wines of this price. When first opened, the wine is closed, without striking aromas or flavors. But left to open up for an hour, the wine’s aroma becomes more complex with a sweet black cherries and smoke and a long, pleasant finish. Decanting essential. Eric Solomon, importer.

Hey Doc, got any extra bottles?

[Post Script: After much begging I was able to secure some 2003. The 2002 is gone, or is in short supply and is being held back to suport the wine list. The '03 seems to have more of a Grenache (read fruit and cherry) nose and is well balanced with a bit more tannins. It sounds crazy to suggest cellaring a $10 wine for a year or so, but I think this will improve with age. Or decant as recommended above. For $10 it is a great buy!]

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Now Who Took My Wine

Three Thieves (CB, JG & RS), Sauvignon Blanc California 2003 ($9) -- I tend to prefer the California Sauvignon Blancs more than the ones from New Zealand and France due to the softer, fruitier flavors. I am not big on grapefruit or tart acids. For my tastes, this is a well-made, balanced wine with more melon and pear than grapefruit and a nice finish. Not a big nose, but then again it's a Sauvignon Blanc. I have tasted the Joel Gott Sauvignon (and liked it) but now I can recommend the Three Thieves also. Very Good! And a steal at this price.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Brezeme Cotes du Rhone

Eric Texier, Cotes du Rhone "Brezeme" 2001 ($13) -- France. Imported by Vintner Select. There are no winemaking notes so I have no idea what's in here or how it was made. (Hint, Hint!) A medium nose with a hint of petrol (?) and some earthy fruit, pleasant fruit flavors, and then a somewhat smooth finish with a little acid. Not a good drinker by itself, but with the right food pairing would be fine. (Attention Food Bloggers, we need some help here!) A reasonable value.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Hey Julio, Want Some Vino?

Tres Picos, Borsao Garnacha 2003 ($14) -- Campo de Borja, Spain. Imported by Cutting Edge Selections. Jorge Ordonez. Powerful strawberry, cherry nose with full fruit flavors and good finish. Delicious! During the party last night, the favorites were the Tres Picos, the Saint John's Road Shiraz, the Gelida Cava (chicks dig bubbles!) and the Wightman '98 Cab (duh!). 800 wine lovers can't be wrong! I heard the food was great, but I was buried at the wine table pouring wine as fast as I could pull corks! In the beginning we were offering wine tasting notes for each wine served. By 8 o'clock, we were asking, "Red or White?!" Party of the year, maybe the New Millennium! I don't think it can be topped!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Tsunami Relief Effort of Cincinnati

On Wednesday, January 19th from 5:30 to 10:30pm, more than twenty of the best restaurants in Greater Cincinnati will offer their cuisine at the Hilton Hotel in downtown to raise funds for the "tsunami" victims by donating the proceeds to the Red Cross. To date, Cumin, Pho Paris, Boca, Beluga, Teak, Mt Adams Fish House are in, but the list grows by the hour. (I just don't have that list in front of me!) As this event is being put together very quickly, more details will follow later. Besides contributing to a great cause that needs immediate attention, the event will offer the finest foods and wines and beers that the city has to offer. In addition, restaurants over the next few months will be hosting other events to continue to raise funds and awareness. Stay tuned!

Go to their web-site for more information:

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Confessions of a Crackberry Addict

Last weekend, I upgraded the old Samsung for a Blackberry 7100t, and there is no going backwards now. As I am a new addict I will boast about the features. I am sure that in two months I will self-consciously be hiding my obsessive e-mailing at restaurants and soccer games. It's a telephone, of course, but also gets email and has my calendar and address book (once I can figure out the synch thing -- time to hire a 15 year-old to program it) and Web Browser and IM. Now, if it can only play my MP3's and give me Parker ratings on the fly, I would be set. Maybe I can dip it into a glass of Pinot and it will provide all those adjectives I just can't come up with, and a food pairing would be nice too. Someday! I bet they're working on it as we speak!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Cuvaison Winery

Cuvaison, Pinot Noir Napa Valley Carneros 2000 ($26) -- California. I am in the process of reviewing all the Cuvaison wines as I recently learned that an old 10th grade classmate and college roomate was the winemaker there for 20 years. Who knew? I guess I should have gone to more of those reunions! I may not be entirely objective here, but the Pinot is great from the seductive nose to the complex flavors and long finish. This is an eleagant and beautifully crafted wine! I knew John had wine connections when we used to run up to Napa to wine taste and visit his family's vineyard, and he did know the best jug wines (as that was our budget back then), but I am impressed with his skills! Great job! I hope you haven't entirely given up your winemaking activities, because that would be a shame!

Odd Lots

I am trying to catch up on some odds and ends that I have sampled recently. Some are wine store finds, one is on sale from the distributor, two are Sauternes, two are Italian, and one scares me!

  • Domaine la Remejeanne, "Les Arbousiers" Cotes du Rhone 2002 ($11) -- France. Light nose with balanced fruit flavors and structure. Somewhat tannic but would improve greatly with decanting, but I didn't have the time and was not going to finish off the bottle. Not a lot of complexity. Nice wine for a nice price.
  • Beni di Batasiolo, Barbera d'Alba 2002 ($11) -- Italy. Light nose and the flavor was out of balance with too much acid. Pass!
  • Marchesi di Barolo, Barbera d'Alba "Ruvei" 2002 ($16) -- Italy. Smokey, earthy nose with pleasant fruit. Light to medium weight and short finish. Improved after an hour and would be good for food, but not as the main course.
  • "Chateau du Violon", Saternes 2001 ($12 for 375ml) -- France. 60% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon (Blanc?) and 20% Muscadelle. The winemaker notes state that the aromas are honey, apricot and nectarine and that is about right and I definitely got the Semillon component on the nose. The flavors are pleasant but not lasting. Half bottle is a perfect size for this after dinner treat.
  • Barton & Guestier, Sauternes "Tradition" 1999 ($24) -- France. Bordeaux white wine. Dark golden hue. Heavy Semillon nose with full-bodied flavors of apricot with a long honeyed finish. I like this wine after a day of sampling 10 reds, as it cuts through the sensory fatigue. Maybe this is why these wines gets such high marks from the wine critics. After a full day of swirling, sniffing, snorting and sipping, the Sauternes offer a superb change of pace. One day I will have to break out that bottle of 1994 Chateau d'Yquem, if no one buys it, to see what all the fuss is about.
  • Gerstackers, Christkindles-Markt Gluhwein, Nurnberger NV ($6) -- German. I was rooting around a friend's cellar to help him make room for some new additions by cleaning out some dead wood. (Yes, the '92 Mondavi Chardonnay with the dark raisiny hue has to go!) I was offered the Gluhwein because I liked the novelty. This bottle was a gift from his friend from Germany (the back label was all in German). I did like the freulien on the front label with the golden curls and crown, but I will probably never drink this one either. I have had Gluhwein after skiing when it is served hot and it was great 30 years ago, but I used to like tequilla shots too.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Mount Riley Sauvignon Blanc

Mount Riley, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2002 ($6) -- New Zealand. On sale, this is, I think, a typical Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with crisp, tart grapefruit aromas and taste. A good quencher for a great price. Marked down from $15. Would be a good addition to a mixed case for those who haven't tried this varietal. Out with the old, in with the new!

Coteaux D'Ancenis Malvoisie

Jacques Guindon, Saint-Gereon par Ancenis, Coteaux D'Ancenis, Malvoisie 1997 ($6) -- France. As a Post Off from the distributor at $6, I took a flyer. I overlooked the vintage when ordering and then worried that it was over-the-hill when I first opened as it had a bit of a raisiny nose. After a few minutes it blew off and presented itself as a slightly sweet, fruity aperitif or after dinner treat with dessert. I wouldn't consume mass quanties but a glass hits the spot. Here are some notes I found on a google search:

Malvoisie des Coteaux d’Ancenis Located on the right bank of the Loire in the Nantes region, on the border of the Loire Atlantique and Maine et Loire departments, there is a small V.D.Q.S (label guaranteeing the quality of a wine) appellation: the “Malvoise des coteaux d’Ancenis”.From the famous Pinot Gris vine, this fine wine is a real gem as it is only produced by a handful of wine growers.Fruity and slightly sparkling, it is best drunk as an aperitif or is perfect poured over a fruits of the forest salad in summer.

For $6 it is cheaper than an over-sized Bud at Happy Hour, but it is much more delightful!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

ABC Tasting

Anything But Chardonnay -- Attention Chardonnay drinkers! On Saturday, January 15th at 2pm we will offer four safe alternatives to your usual white wine that won't upset your Chardonnay sensibilites. Come on in, the water (er, wine) is fine! Trust me, these wines taste great, and will broaden your horizons. It's OK, we are still selling some Chardonnay around here, and you can buy some to take home, if you need to slip back into the comfort zone. If you are really hooked on oak and butter, you can buy some and watch the figure skating on the big screen TV while everyone else gets crazy on the following:

  • Saint John's Road, Old Vine Semillon 2003
  • Joel Gott, Sauvignon Blanc 2003
  • Rex Hill, Pinot Gris 2001
  • Bonny Doon, Vin Gris de Cigare 2003

Friday, January 14, 2005

Pietra Santa Sassolino

Pietra Santa, Sassolino Cienega Valley 1998 ($12) -- I first tasted in Park City and paid $44 and loved it. Of course, the company and food were great and may have colored my perception. I thought this wine was from Italy when I ordered it from the menu as it was listed under "Italian Varietals" and was proclaimed to be a "Super Tuscan", but it is from California although that designation is not listed on the bottle. Here are the winemaker notes for the 1999 vintage:

"Sassolino" means "little stone" in Italian, a reference to the Pietra Santa estate's gravel-rich soils. The 1999 Sassolino's ripe, juicy raspberry and blackberry fruit mingled with cinnamon, allspice and vanilla oak notes in this enticing and deeply gratifying blend of Bordeaux and Tuscan varietals. It is ready to enjoy or cellar, delicious with food of by itself.

The color was lighter than I remembered and I suspected that it too may have turned, as had two other wines I sampled today from the same delivery, but the nose was pleasantly appealing with complex fruits and the taste was elegant, smooth and had a good finish. I enjoyed this wine as is and would think that it would be great with food , as it was that night in Park City. I had vowed to find this wine upon returning to Cincinnati and I did. It gets better! This wine is now marked down from $20 to $12, and I just ordered the last 9 cases!

Down Under Pinot

T'Gallant, Pinot Noir 2000 ($30) -- Mornington Penisula, Australia. In a recent warehouse tasting, this one knocked me off my chair. Strap your seatbelts on, the nose is huge with smoke and earth, and the taste is full-mouthed with a beautiful balance and long finish. This is a great wine. It has no faults! I was told that Mornington is a penisula on the southern coast that offers cool nights and is home to the best Pinots. The winemaker's notes for the 2001 are skimpy:

T'Gallant Pinot Noir is a blend of five North facing vineyards. Each wine is made in open fermenters, and usually pressed after only 4-5 days skin contact to retain a slippery textured palate. A rich and spicy, velvet textured Pinot Noir.

Instead of reading more, taste it yourself!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"Keep the Dogs out of the Bunny Yard"

When you see this sign at the back door of our house, you know you have entered a different world. This is the middle of a big city, but you would never know it. Welcome to Polly's world. She was born here and will probably be here years after I have grown cold (please slip a few cases of Spanish Rioja and Australian Semillon, and one bottle of the 1954 Madeira into the coffin before closing it up!). She will be tending her pony and her bunnies and her dogs and cats, not to mention the turtles and snakes and those rat-like creatures, what are they, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, and some creatures that are not even listed on the house census. "The scorpion died yesterday." Well..., great, ... oh,... I am so sorry! How are the tarantulas doing?

Now, it is OK for the cats to play with the bunnies -- like you're going to stop these top-line predators -- because they do play nice together for some reason. In fact, one of the male bunnies really likes one of the male cats if you know what I mean. Fortunately, the cats can climb out of the way of this amourous creature and watch it hop around from above while they smirk in their cat-like way at the mis-directed animal. "What the f&$k is that dumb bunny thinking?"

Kids love the show. The feed bill grows daily. But Polly is happy. God bless her! But please remember to keep the Dogs out of the Bunny Yard!

Sweet Santa Cruz

Bonny Doon, Muscat Vin de Glaciere 2003 ($18 for 375ml) -- Santa Cruz, California. The fact that I went to Cowell College there will have no influence on this review, as I do not remember seeing this wine there in the 70's. I do remember being the designated beer buyer at the time, as I had a really good looking "International" drivers license. And I do remember a donut shop that would not charge you for donuts if you could eat 24 in one hour. I saw many try, but no one finished. Try it sometime. After about 8 you want to gag, and after 12, all you taste is the gooey lard! It's not pretty! You may never eat donuts again.

Speaking of sweet things, I liked this wine for dessert as it is like an Ice Wine. In fact, it is a frozen late-harvest Muscat but costs less than many "Ice Wines". The floral nose gives way to a very well balanced sweet taste with a good finish. This is a great dessert! When you taste it with some sweets, the sugar in the wine disappears and you are left with the long, smooth finish. This is a much better idea than donuts!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 2001 ($37) -- Napa Valley, California. Last month I served a bottle of the 1997 Howell Mountain Cabernet when a friend came by one afternoon and I grabbed a bottle from the wine rack. I had forgotten that I had paid $70 for this gem, but half way through the bottle I remembered that I had meant to save this for a special occassion. Whoops! I love you man!, but not that much! Next time, you get the Mt. Veeder. (Oh yeah, it was very good on that Saturday afternoon! The wine rep who sells Pine Ridge saw the empty bottle and asked me where I got it! "How did you get that bottle, it's allocated?")

The 2001 Rutherford has a deep red color, with a seductive fruit-filled nose and pleasant well-rounded taste with a good, long finish. There's a lot of fresh fruit here, and this is good now as an opening round to dinner, or with a juicy steak! (Vegeterians take heart, I am working on some wine selections for my favorite tofu dish!) This wine can stand to cellar for awhile, but for a 2001 it is tasty now and should improve. Now, I just need to work on that tofu buffalo-wings dish!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Caberbnet Sauvignon 2001 ($15) -- Australia. Dark purple color, strong, musty nose with lots of fruit when first opened -- not all bad though, and a well-balanced, smooth flavor of dark fruits.

The winemaker notes are as follows. The total production is listed at 40,000 cases parenthetically by a wine review on their 'site. So, it's not a supermarket, or a boutique wine:

"The wine offers a boldly flavoured core of ripe berries
wrapped in finely textured, velvety tannins. It has excellent
depth and finesse, with highly integrated oak and a silky,
creamy coffee finish. The overall harmony of fruit
concentration and structure will enable this wine to mature
in bottle for many years, whilst offering very agreeable
drinking in the shorter term."

If I had decanted this bottle and could stay up all night, I think I would agree with the above, (eventhough I have never used the word "whilst" ever in a conversation or an essay). However, I just opened the bottle and I did taste after the Pine Ridge, so it does lack complexity and depth, but it is a very pleasant drinker. Will stand up to strong foods, but also offer a smooth finish, even if it is not overly long. I would be proud to drag this to the next picnic. Throw some more shrimp on the 'Barbi!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Australian Cab for $20

Wilson Vineyard, Polish Hill River Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 ($20) -- Clare Valley, South Australia. Dark red color with a good fruit nose, well-balanced flavors with a touch of sweetness, and a medium finish, although a touch thin. I didn't get a lot of depth or complexity, but this is a good food wine for $20. Another wine blogger commented that it was "one dimensinal", but added that it is "very drinkable (and)...very nice with food." I concur.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Finca Sandoval Manchuela

Finca Sandoval, Manchuela 2002 ($40) -- Manchuela, Spain. Imported by Cutting Edge Selections. 91% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre. Deep dark purple color with an exotic fruit-filled nose after blowing off some early funkiness upon opening. Beautifully balanced taste with complex flavors, depth and long, pleasant finish. Polly walked by, grabbed a taste (as she often does as a tasting assistant), started to walk out of the room, and then did a double-take and came back for more. "Wow, that's good!" "Yummy" was the word she also used, but as a semi-professional wine taster I can't use "yummy" in my tasting notes! At $40 this is not an everyday drinker (unless I win the lottery), but on the weekend for a special dinner this will stop the conversation about who the Bengals should draft for next season. You will hear a lot of "Ooohs" and "Aahhs" and an occassional "Yummy".

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Martini versus Vya

Quady, "Vya" Preferred California Vemouth Extra Dry NV ($21 for 750ml) -- Madera, California. 18% alcohol. "Lavender, sage, orris and linden...made from Columbard and Orange Muscat." Lot D-1999-1

I had not considered tasting a glass of pure vermouth, but did so recently to compare the Vya and Martini & Rossi Extra Dry Vermouth (Italy, imported by Bacardi) $5 for 375ml. The Martini (any relation to "The Perfect Martini", I wonder?) was pale with a very light color, had a very slight aroma, and attacked my taste buds on first try. (Thank God I had been mixing it with good gin all these years!) After a few more sips, it was tolerable and someone suggested it smells and tastes like cheap sake. The Martini had little in the way of weight, balance or finish.

The Vya has a slightly orange color with strong fragrances of raisins, oranges and other mysterious aromas, and was at first startling, but when tasted, it was extremely smooth with a long finish and an aftertaste of nuts and wood, maybe a bit of almond. This wine has great balance and carries the high alcohol well. It reminded me of a Spanish Sherry. I could just sip this as is or maybe slip it into a cold glass of gin (see below).

The Vya, like a fine wine, has fragrance, body, complexity, weight and a long finish. I would compare the Martini versus the Vya in food terms by suggesting that the Martini is a McDonald's Quarter Pounder without the cheese, ketchup and fixings, while the Vya is a fine filet mignon grilled to perfection with a tantalizing bernaise sauce. (I give you that analogy to appease all the food bloggers who read this!)

The Perfect Martini

I was challanged recently by a friend on how to make a good martini, so I responded that before I turned into a wine geek, I made a pretty mean martini. (Hey, didn't you see the lit neon martini glass in the bar window! Do you think we're playing games here!) So here goes. I also experimented with the Quady Vya vermouth and must recommend this even at $21 per bottle. What does this add up to per serving compared to cheap vermouth? Ten cents per drink? Max! And if you run out of gin you can drink the Vya. (See above for the cheap vermouth.) The Vya added subtle and intriguing fragrances and seemed to add a luxurious quality to the drink. Maybe it was my imagination, but this martini, the first one in almost a year, tasted great!
  • Start with the best gin. Life is short. I prefer Bombay Sapphire. Period!
  • I like two very large olives, or three medium ones. Not too many as this is not dinner!
  • The glass has been resting in the freezer for a day to properly chill. It is a martini glass, right. I have tried to use, in emergencies, a wine glass, but it's not the same.
  • Splash some vermouth in the shaker (You have a shaker right.) Swirl around then dump the excess vermouth into the sink. Throw and go. (I am not going to spend 10 pages on discussing the best ratio of vermouth to gin here. This is my "perfect martini". )
  • Add a handful or so of cubed (Not Crushed!) ice into the shaker.
  • Add two big shots of gin (3 to 4 ounces).
  • Close the shaker and let it sit while you get the glass out of the freezer and place the olives on a stick and then lay in the glass.
  • Now, gently stir the shaker in a circular motion for about 30 seconds or or until your hand gets pretty cold, and the shaker is too cold to hold.
  • Open the top of the shaker, the hatch, and pour quickly into the chilled glass.
  • You're done. You got it!! It's not that hard!

Monday, January 03, 2005

Saint John's Road Early Settler's Shiraz

Saint John’s Road, Early Settler’s Shiraz 2003 ($20) -- Barossa Valley, Australia. From a very strong producer of super-premium Australian wines from the region that produces great wines, such as Penfolds' "Grange". Unlike most peppery-nosed Shiraz wines, this one has an earthy, almost Rhone-like, nose with a very smooth, full-bodied flavor with a hint of blackberry (?). In the mouth it has the zest and spirit of a typical Shiraz. Very approachable and appealing. I heard another rumor that this may get discounted to a ridiculous price. If it’s true, buy as much as you can before you tell your friends! In Ohio, we don't get too many great deals. This is a steal!

[It's official! Now on sale for $12!]

Santa Duc Heritage 2000

Domaine Santa Duc, Heritage 2000 ($20) -- Rhone, France by the winemaker Yves Gras (Earl Gras Edmond et Fils); a Robert Kacher Selection. Although it has a slightly hot nose due to the 14.5 % alcohol, this 100% Grenache is smooth and elegant in the mouth with a very nice finish. Has good structure and balance. Gras is a talented young winemaker known for his excellent Gigondas from old vine Grenache and Syrah. There is a rumor that this wine will be on sale very soon at a great price. It will fly off the shelf and is in limited supply.

[On sale for $16!]

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Is This a Truck or a SUV?

Cline, Sonoma Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2001 ($15 aprox) -- California. I carried this lone survivor back home to Ohio from Utah after the ski trip, and in doing so, probably broke multiple state regulations, but the evidence is now gone! A big fruity jammy nose with robust flavors. I guessed 15% alcohol and was close (15.5%), although it is well balanced after opening up after an hour. I tried the Cline Mourvedre earlier this week and liked it, so I was looking forward to it. I was not disapointed. I like the Red Truck series, but these wines are better and more complex.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Out With 2004, In With 2005

I am back from Park City after a week of skiing with friends and family. The snow was great and the family fun even better. It warms my heart to see the next generation skiing and playing together. You know they are having a good time when all 12 kids are sitting at a dinner table grinning at each other! And then they tear off en masse to go sledding. As for the older generation, it was wonderful to spend a week with my sisters on a ski vacation after a 30-year hiatus of ski trips. We grew up together with friends and family on ski vacations in Colorado since we were in elementary school. They were the most memorable times I ever spent with my family. (We are still trying to confirm that Polly was at the "Crystal Palace" in Aspen in 1967 at the same night that my sisters and I were there, when her cousin Peter and my cousin George got into major trouble by flinging butter pads on the ceiling with their napkins. We both have the same memories of a wild evening there, this long before we would run into each other 30 years later and be married. The parents were downstairs in the front row while the kids were at a very large table upstairs. At one point, all fifteen kids in unison began making our water glasses sing by rubbing our fingers around the rim. We stopped the cabaret show that night. Our waiter was really pissed! Thirty-seven years later I can still see him running up the stairs, screaming at us, "Stop It! Just Stop It!")

On New Year's Eve this year at "Windy Ridge", all the kids tried to get their water glasses to sing until the parents stopped them. This time the parents and children were at the same table, as times have changed, and there was no show or pissed-off waiter. And then the kids found the helium balloons. Everyone was laughing in tears as each one took a huge breath of helium and then squeaked forth something inane. The refrain from "The Wizard of Oz" in very high "C" got everyone rolling. "We represent the Lollipop Kids, the Lollipop Kids, the Lollipop Kids ... we represent the Lollipop Kiiiiiids, and we do welcome you to Munchkin Land". I didn't even know that my kids watched this movie, as they seem fixated by the likes of "Mortal Combat" and "Harry Potter". Finally, the children implored the parents to play the helium game although the results were anti-climatic. I believe that everyone there at that table, from 10 years old to 50 plus, will remember this evening for a very long time, as Polly and I remember the dinner at the "Crystal Palace" in Aspen 37 years ago.

And so we pass it on to the next generation.

Happy New Year!