28 February 2011

Xavier Flouret Wines

I love the idea behind Xavier Flouret Wines: using a single brand and design, bottles are pulled from wineries around the world. It's a great way to try wines from small, family-run vineyards that might not otherwise see widespread distribution. There are plenty of companies that do this, but Xavier Flouret fills out the back label with information about the winemaker and winery in addition to the tasting notes.

In the past I've reviewed three of their wines, with my favorite still being that beautiful Nationale 7 rosé. Here are the three most recent releases:

2010 Xavier Flouret Fynbos
Bottelary Hills, Stellenbosch
100% Chenin Blanc
$14, 13.8% abv.

Pineapple and peach with a little apricot on the nose. The flavor is far more restrained, with just a dash of acidity and softer tropical fruit flavors than you're expecting. This would be a lot of fun with an old fashioned shrimp cocktail. Make the sauce yourself, boil up the shrimp, and set out a tray with a lot of ice. Fynbos is Afrikaans for "fine bush", and refers to a certain type of scrub vegetation in South Africa. The winemaker is Louis Roos of Mooiplaas Wine Estate.

2007 Xavier Flouret uQamata
Polkadraai Hills, Stellenbosch
36.5% Cabernet Franc, 36.5% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 12% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon
$20, 14.5% abv.

Nice bright raspberry nose with an undercurrent of chocolate and blueberry. Medium tannins and a rich, spicy finish. It's a great Bordeaux-style wine that gives you a lot of that casual claret experience. And it's nice to see something with so much Cabernet Franc in it--not often that you see Cab Sav down at the bottom of the list with a paltry 6%. The unusual name of the wine comes from the Xhosa supreme deity. Carmen Stevens of Amani Vineyards also happens to be the first black female winemaker in South Africa, something that would have been unthinkable 25 years ago.

2007 Xavier Flouret Quattro Canti
50% Nero d'Avola, 50% Cabernet Franc
$24, 14% abv.

(Normally I'd just use the flag of Italy, but the Sicilian flag was too good to pass up. Medusa? A triskelion? Wheat? Hard to resist.) I really love these two grapes, and it's interesting to see them paired up with each other. It's an earthy wine, with a nose of granite and stewed fruit. On the palate it's decidedly old world--ancient old world. Almost no fruit, with dirty flavors and a tannic, bitter finish. It's refreshing to try something in this style, with so many wineries going to the full fruit-forward profile. Not for beginners; this is a wine that I would not have enjoyed during my first few years of wine drinking. Quattro Canti (four songs) also comes via a female winemaker, Stefania Lena of Fatascià.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

25 February 2011

2006 Waterstone Cabernet Sauvignon

Here is a brief review of a really lovely wine...

2006 Waterstone Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc
$26, 14.9% abv.

Beautiful tomato leaf aroma, spicy finish, firm tannins, flavors of cassis and plum. It's earthy and vegetal and grabs the primitive lizard part of your brain, making you want to seize that rack of lamb and chew the meat right off the bone. Ahem... I really enjoy those elements in a wine like this, and it's easy to get carried away.

This is a spectacular California Bordeaux blend at a reasonable price. At five years of age it is performing well, but I think it's got a few years left on it.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

23 February 2011

Hannah Nicole Vineyards

Hannah Nicole Vineyards is based in Contra Costa County, due east of San Francisco. Originally planned as an apple orchard in 1999, owners Neil and Glenda Cohn decided to switch to wine grapes and found that to be a much more successful path. The winery has grown to include facilities for weddings and other private events, and over the years they have released a wide range of styles and grapes. Here I take a look at four current releases.

2009 Hannah Nicole Sauvignon Blanc Reserve
Contra Costa County
87.5% Sauvignon Blanc, 12.5% Viognier
$22, 14.2% abv.
Lime curd and granite, with a curious burst of sweetness on the first sip. There is a grassy edge on the aftertaste, which gives it an interesting bitterness.

2009 Hannah Nicole Viognier
This is an inverse of the above wine, with 90% Viognier and 10% Sauvignon Blanc Musqué
$18, 14.7% abv.
Fairly powerful for a white, and this one also has more fruit than any Viognier I've had before. Herbs and peaches, wet rock, balanced acidity. Makes me crave some buttery scallops or a seafood bisque.

2007 Hannah Nicole Merlot Reserve
Contra Costa County
100% Merlot
$29, 14.2% abv.
Cassis, plum, none of the simple cherry flavors you might be expecting. Firm tannins and a medium body make this a decent strength Merlot. Still distinctively California, but complex enough to stand up to heartier dishes.

2007 Hannah Nicole Meritage
Contra Costa County
49% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec
$29, 14.1% abv.
Always nice to see a Meritage with all five Bordeaux red grapes represented. (Okay, so technically there are six, but Carménère is mostly a Chilean thing these days.) Leather, chocolate, green bell pepper, a whiff of cedar... All present but very mild. The tannins have mellowed a good bit, and there is a light red cherry flavor to the wine with a mild body and soft finish. I think this would be phenomenal with venison, where the vegetal and cedar character would go nicely with the game flavor.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

21 February 2011

2008 Antigal Uno Malbec

I've spoken about Malbec many times, and while there's more of it than ever before (and fears among some for an Australia-style backlash), a $10 bottle from Argentina remains a great bargain for the pizza and burger fare. It's easy to forget sometimes that there are better bottles out there, though still pretty easy on the wallet.

2008 Antigal Uno Malbec
Mendoza, Argentina
100% Malbec
$20, 13.8% abv.

This wine has initial aromas of chocolate and blackberry, a touch of leather, and a little spice as it warms up. The chocolate and blackberry flavors follow the nose, and this medium bodied wine finishes very smooth with mellow tannins. It is still substantial enough to pair well with all sorts of grilled meat, and it's a good opportunity to serve a little steak and lamb, maybe with some cured pork products on the side. I found that it went particularly well with maple-cured bacon.

The bottle is distinctive and stands out on the shelf. When it's full, the bottle is almost solid black with orange text painted directly on the bottle. In place of a label or printed logo is a metal number one glued to the glass. (I haven't seen dozens of this bottle, but I've never seen the metal badge applied at a skewed angle.) You can pry it off pretty easily. It's not copper or bronze, that's a distress ink that's applied to what looks like aluminum. Regardless, I like the industrial appearance of the metal having been riveted to the bottle.

As you can see in the top photo, this wine is also available in a gift container. It looks good, but when I was pulling it out of the box I thought someone had sent me a bottle of Scotch. It's a nice looking bottle, and I think it stands on its own much better.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

18 February 2011

Austin Hope & Liberty School

Hope Family Wines of Paso Robles produces wines under five different labels: Austin Hope, Liberty School, Candor, Treana, and Westside Red. With this review, I've covered everything except for Treana--most recently, the casual red Troublemaker, and earlier with a review of Liberty School and Candor. The divisions represent different styles as well as different price points, so if you're a fan of their winemaking you have a fairly broad range of options to choose from.

The Liberty School wines are at the bargain level of the product line, and are widely available throughout the country. There is also a Syrah and a red blend called Cuvée.

2008 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Paso Robles
$12, 13.5% abv.
Rich and spicy with black cherry and cloves. Full bodied with a short, neat finish. Classic pairing for a grilled steak, though it's going to work well for a meaty pizza.

2008 Liberty School Chardonnay
95% Chardonnay, 5% Viognier
Central Coast
$12, 13.5% abv.
Round and fruity with elements of peach and apricot. There's a touch of oak, not too heavy on the butter or vanilla. Good all-purpose Chardonnay for salads and poultry dishes.

At the top end of the product line are those bearing the name of winemaker Austin Hope. Coming from specially selected vines, these are produced in much smaller quantity, less than 10,000 bottles of each. Both of the current releases are great Rhone-style wines, and would benefit from aging for a couple of years. Go for Southern French food here, with lamb and olives and dashes of rosemary and lavender wherever you can get away with it.

2009 Austin Hope Grenache
Paso Robles
$42, 15.5% abv.
Very mild, low tannins, strawberry, cassis, a little spice. Round but not particularly fruity. If Paso Robles makes you think of bold, full flavored wines, be sure to give this delicate and restrained wine a try.

2009 Austin Hope Syrah
Paso Robles
$42, 15.55 abv.
Lots of black pepper and black cherry, firm tannins, little bit of tartness. While all of the classic Syrah elements are here, they are properly balanced and allow you to really sit back and enjoy a grape that has gone in some crazy directions recently.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

16 February 2011

James Oatley Tic Tok Wines

Despite the popular jokes and misconceptions, not everyone who went to Australia in the 18th & 19th centuries was a criminal, and England certainly enforced the punishment of transportation by sending convicts to America before the Revolution. But this is the first time I've seen an Australian wine named after such a person. James Oatley was a British clockmaker who stole some bed linen and earned himself a one way ticket to the other side of the world.

His great-great-grandson is the famous winemaker Bob Oatley, whose wines have been reviewed here several times. Moving on down the family lineage, Bob's grandson shares the name James, and he designed the label for this product line. The three triangle motif comes directly from a pattern that was stenciled on to convict uniforms of the time.

What does the name remind me of? Three very different things: Harlan Ellison's classic short story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman". There's also Tik-Tok, the clockwork soldier of Oz who was part of the main group in Disney's horrifying Return to Oz movie. But because I listened to a lot of pop radio in the early 90s, I can't see the words "tick tock" without thinking of Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up". "To The Tick Tock Ya Don't Stop, To The Tick Top Ya Don't Stop". There, now it's stuck in your head as well! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

All of the following wines are enclosed with convenient Stelvin screwcaps. Additional information can be found at the Robert Oatley website.

2008 James Oatley Tic Tok Chardonnay
Mudgee, New South Wales
$14, 12.8% abv.
Peach and vanilla, floral, tart, firm acidity with a smoother finish. Great with grilled fish.

2009 James Oatley Tic Tok Sauvignon Blanc (60%)/Semillon (40%)
Western Australia
$14, 12.5% abv.
Bright and citric, lots of grapefruit, honey, etc. The Sauvignon Blanc is really dominant here, but as it warms you can get more of the Semillon character. Good with roast chicken.

2009 James Oatley Tic Tok Pinot Grigio
South Eastern Australia
$14, 13.5% abv.
Nice pale gold color, thin body with a squirt of lemony acidity. Needs something really mild as a pairing, like a tuna salad sandwich.

2009 James Oatley Tic Tok Shiraz
Mudgee, New South Wales
$14, 14% abv.
Plum and blackberry with a touch of spice, jammy and tons of fruit with a little sweetness. Ultimately it has low tannins and a smooth finish. Tried this with a ribeye, where it performed quite well.

2009 James Oatley Tic Tok Merlot
Mudgee, New South Wales
$14, 13.5% abv.
Sort of closed, residual black cherry flavors. Mild tannins, low fruit. Very restrained in its profile, which means that it's a pretty all-purpose red.

2009 James Oatley Tic Tok Cabernet Sauvignon
Mudgee, New South Wales
$14, 14.5% abv.
A little leather and coffee, dark fruit aromas, medium tannins and a tart finish. I didn't have any lamb on hand, but it was what I was thinking about while trying the wine.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

14 February 2011

Bear Flag Dark Red Wine and Barefoot Sweet Red

Clever labels, cute names, sweet profile... There's a place for some casual, inexpensive, entry-level red wines like these. They're not going to win in a head to head competition with aged Burgundy, but such wines are crowd pleasers and a good way to introduce people to red wine. You can't just throw a hearty and young Cabernet Franc at a newcomer and expect them to love it at first sip. Sometimes it takes a little sugar to get over the reigning oenophobia that we have in this country. (More on that topic in a future post!)

NV Bear Flag Dark Red Wine
This new California wine from Gallo is a proprietary blend of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, and Tempranillo.
$9, 13% abv.
Dark purple composition, heavy fruit profile, mostly blackberry, with a touch of chocolate. Low tannins, hint of sweetness.

Some of the articles about this wine talk about the unusual combinations of grapes in this product line, but this blend probably isn't too far off from some of the standard California table reds of the pre-Prohibition era.

The artwork is by Eduardo Bertone, and this curious label has a lot going on. Elements like the required health warning, alcohol content, and others are scattered around the label that nearly goes all the way around the bottle (there is a small gap with die cut edges that are incorporated into the design). Also, the bar code wraps entirely around the neck, which is not something you see often. Full detail of the neck and label can be found at Bertone's website.

NV Barefoot Sweet Red
Proprietary blend of Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Grenache, and Petite Sirah. Modeled at right by Paul's rescue dog Bella, whose blending percentage is also unknown.
$7, 10.5% abv.

Despite the name, it's not powerfully sweet. I was expecting something almost candy-sweet like Brachetto d'Acqui. Lots of cranberry and raspberry flavors, almost no tannins, and a tart finish. While this is still much sweeter than what I prefer, I think it would be a hit at BBQs this summer, and the low price means you can throw a few bottles in the ice chest to take care of the folks that are just moving up from White Zinfandel.

With the first sip, I immediately began to think about sangria. Lots of different ways to make it, but I just splashed together some of the Sweet Red, some orange juice, and white rum until it tasted right. Throw it over some ice and you've got a quick and easy sangria that doesn't involve soaking pieces of fruit in brandy overnight. I thought it worked out well here, because, strangely, more of the grape character came through. I've never liked heavily tannic reds with sangria and when you're just using the dregs of a dozen bottles that have been sitting out, well, that doesn't taste great either. I'll be honest, I probably wouldn't purchase this to drink with dinner, but I'll pick up a few bottles for making more sangria once it gets hot this spring.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

11 February 2011

Valentine's Day & Domaine Carneros

Ah, Valentine's Day... One of the interesting aspects from within the wineblogger perspective is that for the month leading up to the holiday, every wine gets pushed as being the perfect romantic wine. A press release will state, "Tell your special lady that you love her with the 2007 Angry Viking Bloodthirsty Red. And be sure to pick up a bottle of our Late Harvest Naval Blockade Fortified Wine. It will put hair on your chest, and it goes great with chocolate! Join us in singing the Drikkevise: Det kom ein bondemann ridande til by’n det var trudd at han skulle på fylla..."

The truth of the matter is that there's no perfect wine out there to impress the ladies. They all like different things, and just like with flowers, the quickest way to get into trouble is to assume that Girlfriend #12 has the same tastes as Girlfriend #11. (Even worse if the two of them are friends... Oy. Also, if halfway through a blind date you realize it's a mail-order bride scam from Eastern Europe, trying to talk about the wines of Ukraine doesn't get you very far. Trust Uncle Benito on that one.)

Assuming that your lady isn't a wine fanatic and you don't already know that she only consumes South African Steens from specific vintages, the best advice is to go dignified (no Fat Bastard or Bitch) and go for something that will be pleasing to even the novice palate. Which is why I was highly impressed with the Valentine's Day selections from Domaine Carneros.

Sparkling wine is an obvious choice, and restaurants move a lot of terrible fizz this time of year. They might as well be offering Haut-Sept or Dew de la Montagne. Skip whatever is included with the price of the meal, and try something tasty, even if it's the only time during the year that you drink real bubbles.

NV Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour
58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay
Carneros, California
$35, 12% abv.

This has a beautiful pale salmon color, but don't let the pink color throw you off. This rosé is dry and tart with a crisp raspberry profile. The bubbles are big and fizzy, although a delicate foam forms in the flute. I found this sparkler to be substantial enough to stand up to a meal, so if you're going for poultry or shellfish, this would be a very fun wine to pair along with the food. Likewise, it would be excellent as a starter or with dessert. People often forget how versatile sparkling wines and rosés are, and this classic California bubbly combines the best of both worlds.

If you're opting for the steak or salmon for dinner, I'd highly recommend their Pinot Noir.

2008 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir
Carneros, California
$35, 14.2% abv.

Light aroma of wild strawberry, tannins are gone. Smooth and silky, very mild. Like I said, this will work with red meat if you've decided to shell out for the beef tenderloin, but it's light enough to work with heartier seafood dishes. The real benefit here is the near absence of tannins: even someone that is terrified of red wines will be able to drink this without puckering or feeling the need to run to the restroom and brush the teeth before the date ends. It's got a few years of age on it, but you can tell that it started out delicate and has only mellowed with time.

* * *

Can I provide any other advice to the wine novice gentlemen who might be reading this post before a big date? Don't go crazy and buy the $100 bottle. Later on you'll figure out what's worth that price and what's just riding on an expensive reputation. Don't assume that the $4 bottle covered in gold foil will fool anybody. Do read up a bit on whatever wine you select by reading the wine list online ahead of time. If you pick the wrong wine and don't like it, admit to it, and laugh it off. Relax, and start planning for 2012. When you've opened a few dozen bottles and learned what you're doing, all the pressure will be gone and you and your special someone can comfortably sip the wine, in the way that it was meant to be enjoyed.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

09 February 2011

2010 Graffigna Centenario Pinot Grigio Reserve

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this on the blog before, but I am fond of spotting wild birds. I don't have a notebook, or a life list, and I've never traveled specifically to see if the rumors of some rare tropical bird being blown into North Texas by a storm are actually true. But if I see a bird that's not part of the everyday flock, I'll quietly sit and watch it as long as I can, jotting down details, and look it up later. Here's an American Kestrel (a tiny hawk of this region) I spotted a while back. The kestrel isn't rare, but one happened to move into my neighborhood in 2003 and I was always glad to see him in a tree, scanning the vacant lots for scurrying mice or flitting dragonflies.

I had sort of a similar reaction when this wine showed up at my house. There's nothing rare about Pinot Grigio, but I really don't expect it from Argentina. Indeed, even being aware of Italian emigration to Argentina didn't dissolve the cognitive dissonance. Even now, with the name and the label, I still think this is an Italian wine.

2010 Graffigna Centenario Pinot Grigio Reserve
San Juan, Argentina
$12, 13.5% abv.

Oddly chalky, with aromas and flavors of lime peel and cream. There's a good bit of fruit and acidity here, and it's more full-bodied than most of what you see from this grape. The chalky quality isn't a bad thing--it just happens to be the first thing I notice upon tasting, even a day later. I'm happy that it gives it something more distinct and recognizable than the vast, watery PG that's out there on the market.

This wine comes from San Juan, just north of the Mendoza province/wine region. I think almost every Argentine wine I've reviewed has come from Mendoza, so it's nice to try something from the second-most productive wine region. Even then, it's amazing to think that wine has been made there since the first Spanish settlements of the mid-1500s.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

07 February 2011

Austrian Wines & Year of the Rabbit

Constance is my source for interesting Austrian wines, and I was more than happy to try a couple of new bottles. These were sent as a promotion to pair Austrian wines with Asian cuisine as part of the Year of the Rabbit celebrations. I contemplated making a Chinese rabbit dish, but given my limited cooking skills when it comes to an entire continent, I didn't feel like a first attempt here. (I'll get around to studying the culinary methods of the Far East one of these days, stay tuned.) Instead, these wines got paired with normal Benito fare like fried catfish and linguini with clams. Since Constance always includes a little gift inside the box, this time I received a nice pair of chopsticks that have a slow twist carved in the top. I promise I'll use these for something very soon.

2009 Weingut Christ Wiener Gemischter Satz
Vienna, Austria
$24, 12% abv.

This is a field blend made within the city limits of Vienna. (The mind reels at the thought of vines grown between the monuments of Washington, D.C.) Originally these Vienna wines were consumed in local taverns as table wines, but recently they've become popular and even trendy. I don't know the precise grapes or percentages. One source suggests that the blend is Grüner Veltliner, Neuburger, Riesling, Weissburgunder, Welschriesling, Traminer, Roter Veltliner, Silvaner, and Zierfandler, which just happen to be the names of Mozart's first cousins. You'll see the phrase Gemischter Satz translated as "mixed sentence", but that's not accurate. It's just the German phrase for "field blend", and might be literally translated as "mixed type or style".

This wine has a bewitching aroma. Wet rocks, honey, talc, and vanilla. Tart beginning, slightly fizzy mouthfeel (though no bubbles are present in the glass), and firm acidity. Dry as a bone with little to no fruit. The finish is short and stony, and Gott im Himmel, I love me a rocky wine.

2010 Domäne Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Grüner Veltliner
Wachau Valley, Austria
$18, 12% abv.

Federspiel is the middle grade of the Wachau classification, between Steinfeder (table wines) and Smaragd (the finest wines), and Terrassen refers to the terraced vineyards found in the valley.

Coming from a region directly west of Vienna, this Grüner Veltliner has a huge fruit presence, more so than I've ever seen from this grape. Lots of cantaloupe and pineapple, dry with a tart, long finish. Later, at room temperature, there's a little wet limestone character, but the fruit continues to dominate and the acidity is more pronounced. I felt that it worked well with the linguine and clams, although it should be good with all sorts of seafood dishes. You'll want something salty or with lots of strong flavors to stand up to the wine, because it would completely cover up something like simple poached salmon.

Both wines are enclosed with a convenient screwcap that bears the red circle and white striped banderol of Austrian Qualitätswein.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

04 February 2011

Tamás Estates Wines

Here's a lineup of some relatively new wines from the California producer Tamás Estates. Jeff Lefevere of Good Grape: A Wine Blog has called this style of wine marketing a velocity label, a separate brand with unique marketing targeted toward a specific demographic. In this case, the parent company is the venerable Wente. As he points out, wineries offering bargain versions of their wines is nothing new, but it's usually under the same branding umbrella, with distinctions made using Reserve, Estate, Private Selection, or some other designation for the higher-priced bottles.

The marketing seems to be aimed at the "backpack through Europe" crowd, with talk of touring the world via their wine, passports, and the "Hop on the Bus" slogan. Had a few youth hostel flashbacks while going through it all. The press kit included a trendy messenger bag (see below), as well as a first for me in wine collateral material: a rub-on tattoo, which lasted for about a week on my left bicep.

2008 Tamás Estates Zinfandel
Central Coast
$15, 14.5% abv.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich: nutty, toasty, and jammy all at the same time. Very mild tannins, and in fact they are almost nonexistent. A quirky but fun Zin that matches up easily with a burger or pizza.

2009 Tamás Estates Pinot Grigio
Central Coast
$12, 13% abv.

This is a pretty standard domestic Pinot Grigio: light and lemony with just enough acidity to get your attention, but overall a very mild profile. Easy drinking, good with pasta salad.

2008 Tamás Estates Double Decker Red
Central Coast
Proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbera
$13, 13.5% abv.

Spicy and tannic, it ends up having sort of a simple Chianti-type character. And because of this, I found it a wonderful pairing with a casual dinner of spaghetti and marinara sauce.

In the interest of disclosure with the FTC regarding gifts, the shipment also included a branded promotional messenger bag from Timbuk2. It took me a little while to figure out how it all worked, since it's got more straps and buckles than Victorian lingerie. But I started using it as a laptop bag, and I'm pretty impressed with it. There's a waterproof lining on the inside, as well as various interior zipper compartments, and it's comfortable to wear either slung over one shoulder or across the back.

I'm not really reviewing luggage here, but I thought messenger bags were just for bicyclists and hipsters, and never realized just how handy they could be. Also, despite regular exposure to four different dogs whose fur ranges from white to yellow to red to brown, I didn't have to brush the bag off before I took the photo. Yes, there's some fur caught in the velcro under the main flap, but otherwise it looks respectable when I chuck it in the car or haul it around in public.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

02 February 2011

R. Müller Riesling & Currywurst

2011 新年快乐 ! This week we celebrate Chinese New Year and enter the Year of the Rabbit. In honor of the holiday, here's a rabbit-themed wine, and it doesn't hurt that Riesling can pair well with spicier Chinese food (at least, the Americanized Chinese food we mostly consume over here).

I've tried several of the Octavin boxed wines by this point, and I still like the philosophy behind it. Rather than just putting cheap juice in a plastic bag, several of the wines are also available in bottle form. We're still talking mostly table wines here--not something meant for long term aging, but great quality for the price, and I'd be comfortable serving them at a party.

2009 R. Müller Riesling
$24/3L box, 9.5% abv.
Landwein Rhein Region

I had an Albrecht Dürer rabbit staring at me from the wood-paneled wall of my childhood living room. The marketing for this box refers to it as "Rabbit Riesling" or "Bunny Wine". Sounds a little cute, but as always I applaud making German wines more approachable and easier to recommend. A similar attempt that I think missed the mark a bit is the Dr. Peter Poontinger Riesling, so named after the German word for a jackalope. (Somewhere around here I've got a Wyoming State Hunting License that permits me to hunt the mythical creature.)

Nose of apple and honey with just a touch of lemon peel. Light apple flavors, good balance of acidity, and light sweetness. It's a good compromise for a party, picnic, or other casual event--sweet enough to appeal to the white zin crowd, but dry enough that you can enjoy a glass or two without feeling sugar build up on your teeth. Having had some of it over the course of a week and with some friends, it's as easy drinking and refreshing as lemonade. The low alcohol content helps tremendously.

I tried it with a variety of dishes--salads, pulled pork, eggs, etc., but while nosing around the kitchen at Paul's I discovered that I had all the ingredients necessary to make Currywurst, a beloved street food from Germany. The dish emerged after WWII, when American servicemen were eating steaks slathered in ketchup (blasphemy!), and the much poorer Germans made do with putting ketchup on their sausages. Over time, the sauce was improved with curry powder, and traditionally the dish is served with either fries or bread, all placed in a little paper dish with a tiny plastic fork or pick stuck in the sausage. If you want to learn more, you can always visit the Deutsches Currywurst Museum in Berlin.

I used the Currywurst sauce recipe from Saveur magazine, and used kielbasa for the sausage. (Knockwurst or Bratwurst would have been more authentic, but I love a good kielbasa.) I cut back on the onions and sugar in the recipe by half, and the result is a spicy curry sauce that is curiously recognizable if you've spent much time at Indian lunch buffets. I served it warm over the sliced sausage, and it held up well enough for days after. I assume it would be great on all sorts of things, and I've considered making and freezing a larger batch in the future.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.