27 March 2006

Wine Library TV

I think this might be the first wine-related video podcast out there... Gary Vaynerchuk of the New Jersey-based Wine Library (online and brick & mortar store) puts out a series of informational videos on various wine topics. In an e-mail, I told Gary that watching the videos felt like the conversations I have with the more experienced personnel at my local wine shops.

So without further ado, I present Wine Library TV. Check it out and let Gary know what you think in the comments.

Side note: Wine Blogging Wednesday is a lot of fun, but I've always thought it would be cool to do a sort of "book club" thing. Announce a widely available wine, have everyone buy it ahead of time, and then at some designated date and time, everyone uncorks the bottle and starts posting their opinions in the same thread.

26 March 2006

2004 Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Chardonnay

I'm reading Jeremiah Tower's California Dish : What I Saw (and Cooked) at the American Culinary Revolution. Like Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, it's a look at the sex, drugs, and rock & roll atmosphere of fine dining back in the late 70s and 80s. Bourdain's book was angrier; Tower's book is somewhat more fun, and even includes recipes featuring marijuana. Bourdain's book goes all over the place, Tower focuses mostly on the birth of California Cusine.

Anyway, there's a brief passage about trying to start a culinary arts program at Antioch College in Ohio in 1980, and he mentions the committee going through a case of Dick Graff's Chalone Chardonnay, Graff being the founder and chairman of Chalone Vineyard. He didn't say much about the wine, but I'd been impressed with other wines he'd mentioned that I've tried.

A few hours after reading that, I was doing the regular trip from grocery story to wine shop, and while browsing around the racks I came across the 2004 Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Chardonnay. I've always enjoyed serendipity, and for $12 it was hard to pass up.

I cracked it open today, and served it with a French bread pizza. No, I'm not talking about the Stouffer's frozen variety we all loved as kids. I took about a foot of a French bread loaf and sliced it lengthwise. On each half I smeared a generous portion of pesto, topped it with shredded mozzarella, sautéed cremini mushrooms, grilled orange bell pepper strips, and topped off with a healthy portion of herbed goat cheese. Bake at 350° F for ten to fifteen minutes, and slide it under the broiler for a few minutes if desired. I'm in heaven right now, and my breath is atrocious.

I did sample the wine before the garlic bomb, and found it to be quite nice. It's not overly oaked, but instead has a crisp and firmly acidic flavor to it. It's a Chardonnay with some body and sass that will leave your lips tingling for a few seonds after every sip.

The Pour

I've added a blogroll link to Eric Asimov's The Pour. I've enjoyed reading his wine articles and restaurant reviews over the years in the New York Times, and I'm anxious to see how he does in a more relaxed environment.

Of course, the first thing I think of is that I'd like to see Arthur C. Clarke's nephew start a competing wine blog so that the friendly rivalry could survive in this generation.

47 Wine Reviews

That's how far behind I am in typing up my notes from tastings. In order to keep the recent posts here at top, I'm backposting these reviews in one huge post. I realize these laundry lists of wines with brief reviews aren't that exciting to read--I use them more for my own reference that I can check anywhere I've got web access. So if you're interested, click here.

P.S. It took 3 hours to write those up... Good incentive to keep up to date in the future.

24 March 2006

2003 Grizz Red

Here's a wine that's been popping up all over town, generally sold near the register for around $10. It comes in a white variety, but tonight I opened a bottle of the 2003 Grizz Red, a Washington State blend. The bottle doesn't say anything about the contents, but looking at the website reveals the following unusual breakdown: 41.5% Cabernet Franc, 39.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10.6% Syrah, 6% Pinot Noir, 2.2% Merlot. Quite an unusual blend. You never see Pinot Noir mixed with anything (unless we're talking Champagne), and it's rare to see that much Cabernet Franc in anything at this price level. I honestly expected a fairly powerful, tannic red (and naming it after a large and dangerous predator suggests a strong wine). Yet I was surprised at how smooth it was.

A lot of the vegetal characteristics of the Cabernet Franc come through on the nose, as well as providing a deep color. Prominent dark berry flavors abound, with some peppery tones, medium tannins that dissipate quickly, and a medium aftertaste. Very easy going down. I'm still amazed that something with only 8.2% "soft grapes" is this smooth at such a young age.

I served it along with some Wisconsin goat cheese I recently acquired--a nice little sampler pack of four 4 oz. buchettes from Montchevre. I was really impressed with the cheese as well. Very creamy and savory. In fact, the guests have left and I'm writing this while drinking the last of the wine and snacking on some more goat cheese and crackers. Had I been thinking, I could have incorporated agricultural products from Wyoming and West Virginia to cover all of the "W" states.

Oh, and why is Grizz wine being sold all over town? Well, this is Memphis, home to the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team, formerly of Vancouver. I'm not much of a sports fan, but they are quite popular around here (Memphis is a basketball town), and though the wine is completely unrelated, I'm sure that the name connection hasn't hurt sales. And speaking of basketball, the team from my alma mater has reached the Elite Eight and tomorrow night goes up against UCLA for a spot in the Final Four. So for what it's worth, GO TIGERS!

Beef Stew, North African-style

This post doesn't involve wine, but is one of my briefer food photoessays. My North African Beef Stew isn't purely authentic--the use of bacon and beer are notable breaks from tradition--but making the broth really savory and spicy and serving the resulting stew with couscous certainly makes it stand above a can of Dinty Moore. Some variations are offered in the article.

22 March 2006

The Mystery of The Four Emus

Astute New Zeland blogger Barbara pointed out in the last post that the Four Emus wine is from South Australia. I could have sworn that the website and promotional literature said Western Australia, so I went back to check. And sure enough, I was right. But I happen to do e-commerce work for a living, have an international user base, and have seen many strange things happen. So I logged back into the site, but picked Australia as my country of origin rather than the USA. Sure enough, the Australian website talks about South Australia complete with pictures and text about the region, while the American website has a similar profile of Western Australia. It's more than a mere typo, they're markedly different. And in case anyone is curious, the UK login is identical to the Australian one.

I find this kind of odd--Western Australian wine is kind of a niche product in the States, and someone really interested in that region probably wouldn't be buying an inexpensive table wine. I'd reckon that the majority of Americans (and even those that enjoy bargain Aussie wines) aren't aware of the different states and territories of Australia, much less the specific wine region names. So why would the winery market the wine differently? Is it actually sourced from different regions for different markets, or is it blended from all over?

I've e-mailed the winery for more information--I'll let everyone know what I find out.

16 March 2006

2003 Four Emus Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot

Here's a review of yet another novelty bargain wine that's hit the local shop... Tonight I'm quaffing the 2003 Four Emus Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot with a vegetarian pizza. How long will the "cute Australian animal" trend continue with wine? I think it's marketing genius and am glad that it's helped demystify wine and make it seem less threatening. The first time someone comes out with "Thundering Wombat Shiraz" I'm buying a case. I fear that "Bandicoot Barbera" and "Numbat Nebbiolo" might not look as adorable on a label.

It's made in Western Australia, is connected to the Constellation conglomerate, and is made up of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Shiraz, and 15% Merlot. Personally I think they should have switched the Cab Sav and Shiraz. As it is, it suffers from the inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon curse, which means very simple "red wine" aroma, big mouth-drying tannins, and little flavor. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad, it just reminds me of one of dozens of generic red wines that fail to stand out of the crowd. For $7, it wasn't a bad deal, but I probably won't be getting it again.

This wine is also a screwcap, which was sort of amusing to me on the way home. Not that I have anything against screwcaps--in fact, I love them more and more every day. But after work I first stopped off to buy a new rabbit-style corkscrew. The old rabbit died recently, since it was an early model made with some stress-bearing plastic parts. So I got a new all-metal one, and decided to grab an inaugaral bottle of wine to go with it. So what did I do? I bought a screwcap wine.

13 March 2006

2003 Hayman & Hill Meritage

Does the word Meritage rhyme with heritage or triage? According to the Meritage Association, it rhymes with heritage. In any event, it's basically a Bordeaux or claret blend made in California. Typically a Meritage starts at around $20 and goes up, but tonight I found one for $12 from a producer I've enjoyed in the past: the 2003 Hayman & Hill Meritage. (No website found.)

This Monterey County blend is 41% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petite Verdot, and 4% Malbec. There's a little tobacco on the nose, good black cherry flavors on the tongue, and surprisingly firm tannins. I think it could do with another year in the bottle, but it's definitely drinkable now. Good to go with a steak, a burger, or similar hearty fare. I really love Bordeaux-style blends but don't always feel like spending $20-40 to satisfy that craving. This is a nice alternative.

I still prefer their Shiraz-Viognier, but this is a close second.

04 March 2006

47 Wine Reviews - Long Post

Tasting Notes for Saturday, January 28, 2006
Theme: "Wines from Places Where It's Warm"

Wine 1: Finca La Linda Brut NV. Argentina. Made by Luigi Bosca. This is the second time I've had this, and I wasn't as impressed. Yeasty and crisp, but too tart for my tasts. Ashy aftertaste. Very well could have been an off bottle or a bad temperature. $19.

Wine 2: 2004 La Bamba Chenin Blanc-Riesling. Argentina. What an odd combination. It's got a Riesling nose, though it's very thin and slightly tart. Not sweet, but overall dull. $8.

Wine 3: 2004 Redbank Sauvignon Blanc. Victoria, Australia. Some grapefruit flavors, but thin for a Sauvignon Blanc. Tastes more like a Pinot Grigio. $11.

Wine 4: 2005 Elderton Unwooded Chardonnay. Barossa, Australia. This white had more body than the previous bottles, but very acidic. I found it off balance, and I generally like unoaked Chardonnays. $14.

Wine 5: 2004 White Knot Chardonnay. McLaren Vale, Australia. Better balance, mild acids. Good fruit flavors, probably great for fish. Well rounded finish. Good little wine. Also, this is the first wine I've seen in person that featured a Zork enclosure. $12.

Wine 6: 2005 Craneford Viognier. Adelaide Hills, Australia. Hints of spice cake on the nose, bold fruit flavors on the tongue. No touches of grass or herbs, but I liked it a lot. Almost like a Riesling. $18.

Wine 7: 2004 Kim Crawford Pinot Noir. Marlborough, New Zealand. Strawberry and cream aromas, light and fruity, tart and delicious. $16.

Wine 8: 2004 Boekenhoutskloof "The Wolftrap". Franschhoek, South Africa. Get this: a combination of Merlot, Grenache Noir, Malbec, Syrah, Ruby Cabernet, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cinsault. We were all pretty excited about tasting this oddball, but I was a little disappointed. It had a woody, toasty aroma, a surprisingly light beginning and slight bite on the finish. Ultimately thin tasting. $11.

Wine 9: 2004 Terrazas Alto Malbec. Argentina. From the Argentine outpost of Moet Hennessey. Plum flavors, mild tannins. Well balanced with a slightly bitter finish. A great bargain Malbec. $12.

Wine 10: 2000 Bleasdale Cabernet-Shiraz. Langhorne Creek, Australia. Light mint aromas, full bodied with black cherry flavors. Well rounded and balanced--an excellently crafted wine. $18.

Wine 11: 2003 Antis Cabernet Sauvignon. Argentina. Roast beef aromas, slight peppery flavor and a short finish. Interesting and affordable Cabernet Sauvignon. $15.

Wine 12: 2001 Bellevue Estate Tumara Titan. Stellenbosch, South Africa. Deep cherry aromas, forward fruit and mild tannins. Really wonderful. A Bordeaux blend, broken down as 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec, and 5% Petit Verdot. $17.

Tasting Notes for February 11, 2006
Theme: Valentine's Day

Wine 1: Villa Giada Moscato d'Asti. Piedmont, Italy. Not too sweet, some honeysuckle and apple flavors. Moscato d'Asti was one of the first wines I fell in love with, and though I don't drink it much these days it always brings a smile to my face. $18.

Wine 2: 2001 Argyle Brut. Oregon. Sparkling wine made from 45% Pinot Noir & 55% Chardonnay. No real nose, little bitter, tart and crisp. Not overwhelmed, particularly at the price. $23.

Wine 3: Bouvet-Ladubay Rosé Excellence NV. Loire, France. Made from Cabernet Franc. Herbal and bitter, not great. This was my second tasting of this wine, and my opinion has remained the same. $16.

Wine 4: 2004 Solitude Chardonnay. Carneros, California. Butter and oak, a little vanilla and cake. A classic California Chardonnay. $28.

Wine 5: 2003 Georges Dubœuf Borgogne Aligoté. Burgundy, France. I sampled this back in November, but today it was served as a Kir, with a splash of Crème de Cassis. Odd flavor, I wasn't really impressed. I wasn't a fan of the wine on its own either. $14.

Wine 6: 2003 Georges Dubœuf Saint-Amour Domaine de la Pirolette. Beaujolais, France. Some strawberry flavors, soft tannins, mild and drinkable. Good example of a Cru Beaujolais. $15.

Wine 7: 2004 Queen of Hearts Pinot Noir. Santa Barbera, California. Soft tannins, light berry flavors, really not bad for a bargain Pinot Noir. $15.

Wine 8: 2002 Raymond Reserve Merlot. Napa, California. Raspberry flavors, thin, not exciting. Very short finish. $20.

Wine 9: Folie à Deux Menage à Trois Red. Amador, California. A blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Merlot. Strawbery jam dominates, though this isn't as sweet as previous years. Better balance. $12.

Wine 10: 2001 Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa, California. Black cherry nose, deep composition, dry and with lovely tannins. A spectacular wine. $35.

Wine 11: 2003 Novelty Hill Syrah. Columbia Valley, Washington. Peppery aroma, very light tannins for its age, delicious berry flavors. Wonderful wine. $20.

Wine 12: Le Rive Birbet Frizzante NV. Piedmont, Italy. Made from Red Muscat, this is sweet, almost like grape juice, slightly syrupy. Apple and cranberry flavors were lovely. I found myself really liking this unique wine. $18.

Tasting Notes for Saturday, February 25, 2006
Theme: Blends

Wine 1: 2004 Kitfox Foxy White. Salado Creek, California. An interesting white blend of 50% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 15% Viognier, 10% Sauvignon Blanc, and 5% Orange Muscat. Muscat on the nose, some pear flavors. I found it a little too sweet. Short finish, medium tartness. $13.

Wine 2: 2004 Basa. Rueda, Spain. Combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, and Viura. Very grassy nose, taste, and finish. Some lemon, very herbal. Fascinating wine. $10.

Wine 3: 2003 Chateau Bonnet Entre-Deux-Mers. Bordeaux, France. A white Bordeaux made from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. Very mild, soft and with a short finish. Not exciting, too thin. $14.

Wine 4: 2004 Hedges Cellars CMS. Columbia Valley, Washington. Chardonnay, Marsanne, Sauvignon Blanc. Bigger fruit flavors than the previous wines. Tastes mostly of Chardonnay. Short finish. $13.

Wine 5: 2001 Louis Bernard Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Rhone, France. I think this might be the first white Châteauneuf-du-Pape I've had. Made from Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, Marsanne, and Viognier. Odd aroma of candied peel and fruit, apple cider. Unique flavor and full bodied feel. Quite nice. $29.

Wine 6: 2001 Chateau de Callac. Bordeaux. France. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc. Lovely deep color, crisp cherry flavors, tart and mouth-drying tannins. $20.

Wine 7: 2002 Ferrari-Carano Siena. Sonoma, California. Interesting combination of Sangiovese, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep plum and dark fruit aromas, succulent fruit forward flavor, mild tannins and easy finish. Well crafted wine. $20.

Wine 8: 2003 The Lucky Country GSM. Barossa, Australia. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. Not much of a nose, but full fruit flavor. Easy drinking and not too heavy, but I thought it needed more Syrah. $15.

Wine 9: 2002 Hendry Meritage. Napa, California. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot. Inky dark purple, full fruit with lots of dark plum and some cherry. Good claret-style wine. $33.

Wine 10: 2004 Boekenhoutskloof "The Chocolate Block". South Africa. Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Viognier. Deep full colors, little too bitter and tannic for me. Something is off balance, but it might be better with food. $33.

Wine 11: 2002 Ridge Geyserville. Sonoma, California. Great combination of Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. Cranberry juice nose, black currant flavors, deep dark color. All in all a wonderful wine. I'd really love to just sit and enjoy this for an hour or so after dinner. $30.

Tasting Notes for Saturday, March 25, 2006
Theme: Italy (and I forgot to jot down the years on every one of these)

Wine 1: Vernaccia di San Gimignano S. Quirico. Tuscany, Italy. Made from Trebbiano, supposedly the favorite wine of Michelangelo. Slight lemon flavor, barely tart. Nice and refreshing. Makes me long for summer. $15.

Wine 2: Principessa Gavia Gavi. Piedmont, Italy. Made from Cortese. A little grapefruit, but otherwise a clean, thin white. $15.

Wine 3: Giovanni Almondo Roero Arneis. Piedmont, Italy. Arneis is the grape. Clean and fruity, not tart but a little bitter. $20.

Wine 4: Bollini Pinot Grigio. Trentino, Italy. Mild lemon flavors, some minerality, ends up like a flat mineral water with a slice of lemon in it. $13.

Wine 5: Di Majo Norante Cabernet Sauvignon. Osci, Italy. Jammy Zinfandel-style nose. Mild tannins, creamy flavor with good spice notes. Fun wine. $13.

Wine 6: A Mano Primitivo. Puglia, Italy. The ancestor of Zinfandel. Black cherry, good fruit forward wine. Medium tannins. $13.

Wine 7: Virna Dolcetto d'Alba. Piedmont, Italy. I think this is the first Dolcetto I've had, and it wasn't anywhere near as sweet as I'd heard. Mild and dry, with plum peel flavors. The host suggested serving it with Indian food. $15.

Wine 8: Dante Rivetti Barbera d'Alba. Piedmont, Italy. Mild, a little thin, not really complex. I was left wanting more. $24.

Wine 9: Monte Antico. Tuscany, Italy. 100% Sangiovese. Nice dark color, big tannins and mild fruit flavor. $13.

Wine 10: Falesco Vitiano. Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Raspberry aromas, medium tannins, well balanced. $17.

Wine 11: Colognole Chianti Ruffina. 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino. Smoky tones on the nose, dark berry flavors. Well balanced. $17.

Wine 12: Castello di Lucignano Chianti Classico. Tuscany, Italy. 95% Sangiovese and 5% Canaiolo. Nice and dry, good fruit with medium tannins. $23.

01 March 2006

Montepulciano Profile

Several months ago I submitted a brief description of the grape Montepulciano for the website Appellation America, comparing the grape to the proprietor of a little family restaurant in Italy. And the profile is up with a fitting illustration to boot. I like how the guy looks like a friendly Tony Soprano.

Which puts an odd thought in my head... It wouldn't really fit with the idea of the show, but imagine if Tony and crew met at a cellar housing old and incredible Italian wines instead of Satriale's butcher shop. And instead of talking about the quality of the mortadella, they were arguing with one another over the Barolo. Actually, they could have done something like this and have it fit in with the Furio character that was on for a while. Mainly I'm just glad that the Sopranos is coming back on the air, and even though the series is ending I can't wait to see it.