30 November 2012

2011 Robert Mondavi Coastal Crush Red

Today's entry in the casual red category comes from the venerable Mondavi label from Constellation Brands. Much ink has been spilled about the Mondavi family wine business and the legacy of Robert, but I've never really focused too much on the behind-the-scenes business aspect of the wine world. It's an important subject, not only to those who buy and sell wine properties and brands, but I don't follow the industry news closely and it doesn't stir a desire for writing. If I wrote about oil painting, I probably wouldn't spend a lot of time talking about fluctuations in the price of alizarin crimson, but more about what I thought of the final work.

This is a red blend that comes from the world's largest wine company and bears an easily recognizable name, but it doesn't mean that it's a boring "macrowine" on the order of Budweiser or Coors. Indeed, I found it to be a tasty California red blend that is affordable, easily available, and yet well enough constructed that you shouldn't ever be ashamed of the $11 price tag. I certainly enjoyed it with an all-American dinner of steak with a baked potato and simple salad.

This wine was provided to me as part of an online Twitter tasting, but due to traffic conflicts on the way home from work, I was unable to attend. But you can go back and read some of the tasting notes and commentary @RobertMondaviPS.

2011 Robert Mondavi Coastal Crush Red
57% Monterey County, 20% San Benito County, 13% Paso Robles, 10% Valley South
67% Syrah, 24% Merlot, 9% Malbec
$11, 13.5% abv.

The wine opens up early with notes of cassis and a touch of chocolate. On the palate it has rich chocolate-covered cherry flavors with very low tannins, a mild body, and a short finish. This is a very mild and easily drinkable red that is definitely ready now. Highly recommended for just a fun and enjoyable wine to open up when you have surprise visitors over the holidays.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

28 November 2012

NV The Naked Grape Harvest Red

A lot of my Thanksgiving wine advice can easily be applied to your Christmas wine, or your Hanukkah celebration, or whichever winter holiday you choose to celebrate. Personally, I've always been a big fan of Festivus, but that's because I like the airing of grievances and feats of strength.

In general, I like to think about perspective and experience. It's maybe not the time to break out the funky South African Pinotage or the twenty year old Barolo (unless your guests share your hobby). It's more the time for crowd pleasers, bottles that are good served chilled, with bright fruit flavors, maybe a little sweetness, and low alcohol. All of those factors are important to making a non-threatening experience for your fellow guests that probably don't make a habit of tasting and spitting a dozen wines in one setting and making catty comments about brett contamination.

It's a win-win scenario, because these simple table wines tend to go well with holiday fare but also, if nobody likes them, you're only out a few bucks won't forever associate a certain Bordeaux with everybody complaining about how it smells like tomato leaves and cigars while you try to defend the style.

The Gallo powerhouse of Modesto has many marques, and one that I've reviewed before is the label known as The Naked Grape

NV The Naked Grape Harvest Red
$9, 12% abv.

I'm sorry to be so light on the details, but I don't know the specific wines and percentages, nor can I tell you upon which side of Dry Creek the light fell when these vines burst forth supple grapes over the course of a magic summer in... some year. I don't mean any of that as an insult. On the contrary, I think there's a great place for a good inexpensive table wine in the spirit of the Languedoc region of France. Something like a Vin de Pays d'Oc that you grab for $5 and enjoy with a picnic.

This Harvest Red Blend falls into the category of a light, fruity wine almost free of tannins. Just a little sweetness, lots of bright berry flavors, and no strong aromas. Sound familiar? Yes. While I'd prefer to have a great Cru Beaujolais that would perform the same way, you're more likely to be able to find a wine like this when enjoying the holidays away from home or as a last minute purchase on the way to dinner. It's smooth, refreshing, and folks found it to be fun.

And this holiday season, it's worth remembering that you can have fun with your wine.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

26 November 2012

2010 Wine Guerrilla Releases

Wine Guerrilla produces some amazing Sonoma Zinfandel. Not only do the individual wines have their own unique characters, but I really love the label artwork by Sean Colgin. In previous reviews I've gone into more detail about the artwork, and I still admire the overall aesthetic as well as the little double dots in the typeface. A label shouldn't be your primary deciding factor when buying a wine, but I always appreciate it when a winery puts forth the extra effort and makes their product beautiful.

The Wine Guerrilla wines are made in small quantities, but if you get a chance to try them you won't be disappointed. And it's a lot of fun to serve three or four wines made from the same grape and let your guests see how different they can be.

2010 Wine Guerrilla Mounts Vineyard - Cypress Block Zinfandel
Dry Creek Valley
95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah
$35, 15% abv.
300 Cases Made
Blueberries and spice dominate the first sniff, with an undertone of black cherry. Very mild body with a light and delicate finish.

2010 Wine Guerrilla Monte Rosso Vineyard Block E44 Zinfandel
Sonoma Valley
$42, 15% abv.
200 Cases Made
The nose has a lot of deep cassis and blackberry aromas. Dark fruit flavors, low tannins, but a big, round body. Long finish.

2010 Wine Guerrilla Conte Vineyard Zinfandel
Russian River Valley
Field blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, and Carignane.
$35, 15.6% abv.
120 Cases Made
This has an initial profile of blackberries and plum with a big fruit flavor and a spicy, tart raspberry finish. I appreciate a properly made field blend, and this is a great California mix. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

23 November 2012

Holiday Rieslings

There's the question about what wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner, and then there's the followup question: What did you drink with Thanksgiving dinner?

I ignored my own advice because I can, and because in addition to wanting something good to go along with the meal, I also have a duty to sample the samples. And it was with great pleasure that I was able to bring two bottles of German Riesling to the city of Jonesboro, Arkansas where I celebrated the holiday with Julia and her family. We enjoyed a classic meal of turkey and stuffing and assorted side dishes, with the addition of her uncle's smoked ribs. Dessert included baked apple dumplings... Pork and apple and RIESLING! Perfect!

I don't know the American prices or availability of these wines, but if I find out later, I will update the posts. Thanks once again to the folks from Wines of Germany for their quarterly shipment of one sweet and one dry Riesling.

2010 G.H. Mumm Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland "Erstes Gewächs"
Rheingau, Germany
€25, 13% abv.

This is the style of German Riesling that I adore: completely dry with balanced acidity and aromas of petrol and wet stones. Not everyone was as much of a fan, but several enjoyed experiencing such unusual aromas coming from a wine. "Nothing's wrong with it, that's how it's supposed to smell!" There's a long, mellow finish to this wine that only improves as it warms up over time.

2010 Max Ferd Richter Riesling Kabinett Veldenzer Elisenberg
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany
€18, 9.5% abv.

This winery exists because in 1813, Franz Ludwig Niessen paid Napoleon 3,000 Tahlers to prevent the destruction of two nearby towns. In gratitude, the Richter family was awarded additional land full of grey slate and quartz. This was the big hit of the gathering, full of light apple and pear aromas with a medium sweetness and a light, crisp finish. Really perfect for turkey and pork and everything else we had. Highly recommended for your Christmas dinner, which should include similar foods.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

21 November 2012

Pali Wine Co.

Pali Wine Co. takes its name from the neighborhood of Pacific Palisades near Los Angeles, but the grapes are sourced from places well beyond the City of Angels. While I'd like to think that I've got a pretty decent vocabulary, I just realized that I have no idea what a palisade is. With the name of the town it seems to refer to a series of cliffs that resemble the staked defensive fences of the classic palisade definition. I looked up an old palisade and thought, "Oh, it's the same as a kraal in KwaZulu-Natal or an old West stockade." Funny how simple engineering methods keep popping up independently around the world throughout the millennia.

The winery focuses on their favorite west coast Pinot Noir vineyards, and here I got to taste two of their entry level wines.

2011 Pali Charm Acres Chardonnay
Sonoma Coast, California
100% Chardonnay
$21, 14.1% abv.

This Sonoma Chardonnay is mild with notes of cream and vanilla, apricots and dried fruit. Dry but fruity with balanced acidity and a long, creamy finish. It was a perfect match with the dish mentioned below.

2011 Pali Alphabets Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
100% Pinot Noir
$21, 13.3% abv.

I love Oregon Pinot Noir, and this one starts out with a nose of buttered toast and overripe wild strawberries. The palate is smooth and balanced with a good strawberry profile and low levels of tannins and tartness. It went particularly well with the ham in the dish, and I think it could hold up well with mild meat dishes like veal or light pork preparations.

For lunch with Julia on Saturday I made crêpes stuffed with poached chicken thighs, ham, Swiss cheese, and a rich sauce Mornay.

This recipe is dead simple, and I'm not going to write out every detail, but I will note that you'll have everything you need to make this dish on the day after Thanksgiving. Hint hint.

My crêpe batter is just 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, ¾ cup flour, mix and let sit for a half hour, and then dollop onto a medium skillet a third of a cup at a time. Sauce Mornay is just Béchamel with shredded cheese, like you make for homemade macaroni and cheese. The fillings should be easy enough to scavenge from the fridge of leftovers. If you're comfortable with sauces and pancakes, you can easily make this dish with no special equipment and still wow friends and family with a gourmet interpretation of the spoils of Thanksgiving dinner.

And these crêpes are amazing with good wine, which should also be available if you've stocked properly for your holiday meal.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

19 November 2012

Silver Buckle Cellars

I recently received a wide range of samples from the Napa-based Rutherford Wine Company. They produce wines under eight different brands, and I'm grouping them like that.

First up is Silver Buckle Cellars, paying homage to the cattle farming background of the vineyards and decorated with an ornate silver belt buckle featuring a bull surrounded by grape leaves. I actually own a wide leather belt with a big buckle on it (featuring an angry buffalo, natch), but I don't often have occasion to wear it. Nor the handful of bolo ties I own, come to think of it.

2011 Silver Buckle Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay
Lodi, California
$18, 13.5% abv.

Tropical fruits with some floral notes on the nose, bright tartness and a round, slightly sweet mouthfeel. I had this with the Ethiopian dish doro wat mentioned in Friday's post. I found that the sweetness and acidity went well with the berbere and ginger heat.

2010 Silver Buckle Ranchero Red
Syrah, Merlot and Malbec
Central Coast, California
$20, 13.5% abv.

The bottle opens with lots of blueberries and a touch of spice. Big berry flavors continue on the palate with medium tannins and a short finish. This would be a perfect match with some fatty meat and a bit of char on it, like beef short ribs.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

16 November 2012

Ethiopian Restaurant

I live in the northeast suburbs of Memphis, and often bristle at the downtown/midtown criticism of my neighborhood as nothing but a sea of chain restaurants and those kind of people that still use forks at Chinese places. Sure, these things exist, but the spaces in between reveal a wealth of gastronomic diversity and enthusiasm, as well as a diverse immigrant population that might surprise you if you don't live in the area.

In an area that is associated with a car culture, I have amazing choices within walking distance (2 mile radius): two Thai places, one Vietnamese, a giant international grocery store, an independent bakery, three Middle Eastern restaurants, two Indian, and much more. Just last week I was going past the movie theater (half a mile away) when I noticed a brand new Ethiopian restaurant (right next door to the grilled fish and chicken place owned and inspired by a South African), and a couple of doors down from the fun dim sum joint, and within view of the Taiwanese bubble tea cafe.

The name of the restaurant is, simply:
Ethiopian Restaurant
1134 N. Germantown Parkway, Ste. 107
Cordova, TN 38016
(901) 283-8161
Open Tuesday - Sunday

Takeout is available, but I'd really suggest eating at the restaurant and bring some friends. I fell in love with Ethiopian food years ago at Abyssinia in Midtown, and learned the joys of true communal dining. Not just eating at the same table, but from the same large dish with hands and injera.

If you're unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, you have to start with the odd light brown spongy bread that lines the bottom of platters and is used to pick up food. This is injera, a sort of light sourdough pancake traditionally made from teff, but also made from regular wheat flour. Injera is not as strong as tortillas or naan. Closer to crepes but with way more bubbles, and often the size of a medium pizza when fully unrolled and uncut. Using only your right hand, you tear off pieces of injera to grab thick stews and vegetables and other goodies, and then eat the bread when it gets soggy (and delicious). I particularly love the leftover pieces at the bottom of the platter that have been soaking up the stew juices for the entire meal. I'll reach a point of sensible satiation and decide to stop eating the protein and vegetables, but will still continue nibbling on injera.

It's so much fun to eat together from the same platter, especially since everyone will have different favorites and different combinations, and there's a gentle combination of trying to enjoy the heavily seasoned meat without depriving your fellow diners.

When I found the restaurant, I didn't want to wait to recruit some fellow food enthusiasts in the Memphis metro area. So close to my house and it's been so long since I've had Ethiopian? I'm there. But I'd never eaten it alone, and wasn't sure how this would work. Thankfully, the restaurant is well-equipped for the solo diner. If you're eating in a group they will plate everything more traditionally, but I was delighted with my large platter that ran me a mere $12. I ordered beef tibs--a grilled beef dish that's normally reserved for special occasions back in the home country. The beef was cooked with onions and berbere (a chile/ginger/garlic spice blend) and served with stewed potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, a little salad (sort of a dry salsa with parsley, onion, garlic, chiles), and creamed corn. Peeking out of the bottom right is stewed spinach, which is often combined with a kind of ricotta-like cheese.

The waitress asked me if I needed a spoon, but I politely declined and dove in with the injera. The food was amazing and while I didn't quite scrape the plate clean, I got close. So many wonderful, exotic flavors, and such a different style of dining, all amplified by the Ethiopians around me speaking solely in Amharic. This kind of experience really fires up the food lover soul on every sensory level.

A few days later, I had to go back but this time I tried takeout. I decided to go with the doro wat, the most famous Ethiopian dish. There's a dense chicken stew served with the above sides plus a whole boiled egg. The doro wot was delicious, but consuming it out of a styrofoam container wasn't quite the same.

Right now the menu is temporary, and I can't wait to see what they offer in the future. Check it out, and if you eat there, let me know what you think.

14 November 2012

2011 Ruta 22 Malbec

While Mendoza is the wine powerhouse of Argentina, there are other regions within the country that are not as well known here in the Northern Hemphisphere. This wine comes from the Neuquén Valley of Patagonia, south of Mendoza and west of Buenos Aires. The chalky soil means that most of the country's sparkling wine is made there, but they also produce Argentina's most well known grape, Malbec.

The name Ruta 22 refers to a national highway that runs from the east coast port of Bahia Blanca and ends in the western vineyards of Neuquén. The brand is in the portfolio of the Chilean-Argentine partnership Dos Andes, who also make one of the most delightfully named wines ever: Lai Lai from the Bio Bio region.

2011 Ruta 22 Malbec
Neuquén Valley, Patagonia
100% Malbec
$11, 14.5% abv.

There's a nose of ash and wet stone with black plum notes underneath. Full dark fruit flavor with firm tannins and a long aftertaste. Not jammy, but fairly well balanced. I served this with grilled cheeseburgers, and think that it would work well with lots of casual fare.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

12 November 2012

Quartet of Cavas

I will once again offer my standard Thanksgiving wine buying advice. Think PIGS: Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain. There are loads of bargains from these four countries, wines that are meant to be drunk young and consumed with a wide range of foods. And within that range, you should always grab a few inexpensive sparkling wines and serve them with the meal, not just as something for toasting alone.

For example, Cava from Spain. These are made in the méthode champenoise or metodo tradicional, the same production methods used in the Champagne region. Cava is a much younger product, only going back to 1850 as opposed to the 1531 creation of Blanquette de Limoux.

I really enjoy casual sparklers, and they're a great reminder that you don't have to wait for a special occasion to enjoy wine with bubbles.

NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva
50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo
$10, 11.5% abv.
Large bubbles with a delicate floral and citrus nose. A good bargain, and perfect for making various sparkling wine cocktails.

NV Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad
67% Macabeo, 33% Parellada
$25, 12% abv.
Crisp and refreshing with mild mineral tones under a splash of lemony acidity. The bottle is very beautiful and distinctive, and worth re-purposing as a flower vase or olive oil container.

NV Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut
$12, 40% Parellada, 35% Macabeo, and 25% Xarel-lo
12% abv.
Toasty nose with a hint of honey. Clean, refreshing flavor with a flinty edge. The iconic black bottle should be familiar to everyone. I enjoy it with olives and hard cheeses before dinner.

NV Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut
40% Chardonnay, 30% Macabeo, 20% Parellada and 10% Pinot Noir
$18, 12% abv.
Very different grape composition in this one, and the profile reflects it. It's a lot like an entry-level Crémant de Bourgogne with a nice aroma of butter and spice on top. This bottle has the smallest bubbles of the four but maintains a crisp, tart acidity. Really great with a bowl of steamed clams.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

09 November 2012

Advertising Notes, and Happy Tempranillo Day!

Advertising on this site has always been minimal, and I've primarily just used the Amazon Associates program with links in the sidebars. They're a well known company and millions of people feel comfortable shopping online with them. However, with the launch of Amazon Wine, I've got an opportunity to solve a big problem I've had in the past. Lots of readers e-mail me asking where they can buy a wine featured here, or if I can sell them a bottle. I've always been hesitant to link to specific online retailers, mainly because there's nothing in it for me and I can't personally vouch for or against them. For right now, Amazon can ship wine to the following states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and the District of Columbia.

I'm going to play around with the ads and figure out the best way to incorporate them without looking obnoxious. I will continue to link the name of the wine to the specific winery or American distributor whenever possible. My advice to all of my readers is to always support your local wine shop first--if you can't find a specific wine, they should be able to suggest a good substitute. If that doesn't work, check the link to the winery and see if they ship to your state. And if that doesn't work or it's not a domestic wine, follow the links at the bottom of the post and help support your humble wineblogger. If I start seeing positive results, I'll take the time to go back and add purchase links to older posts.

UPDATE Nov. 11, 2012: Looks like Amazon is not paying referrals on wine. Goodbye links!

Now, back to the wine!

Thursday, November 8, 2012 is International Tempranillo Day, coinciding with International Stout Day, which I had to pass on because I stick to either wine or beer--I've found the palate doesn't work with a combination. Also because there's only so much time for tasting between getting home from work and going to bed.

The most notorious wine PR holiday is the Beaujolais Nouveau release, but lots of others have been started like Champagne Day or the lesser known Öküzgözü Day on April 4 in celebration of Turkish grapes. I was happy to join in on this one because of my love of Spanish wines. They are generally tasty, food friendly, and inexpensive: a perfect trio.

On top of this, I also received four Cavas, which I'll be writing about later. Stay tuned!

2011 Tapeña Tempranillo
100% Tempranillo
Tierra de Castilla, Spain
$10, 13.5% abv.
The nose has a touch of cinnamon and black plum. On the palate it's rich and fruity with firm tannins. This is a great middle of the week wine that will go well with casual burgers and pizza fare, and is a great bargain at a sawbuck.

2009 Vaza Rioja Crianza
100% Tempranillo
Rioja, Spain
$15, 13.3% abv.
This is my favorite of the three, and yes, I'm a little biased towards Rioja. The profile here is full of black cherry with a hint of eucalyptus. Mild tannins and balanced fruit and black tea on the tongue. Serve with roast pork and grilled vegetables and be in heaven.

2010 Valdubón Cosecha
100% Tempranillo
Ribera del Duero, Spain
$15, 14% abv.
This wine is pretty young, as right now it's full of cassis and oak with really firm tannins. However, I think it should be great in two years and I'd love to serve it with braised oxtails.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

07 November 2012

A Dozen Chilean Wines

Recently it was time once again for a big Wines of Chile blogger tasting. 12 bottles, 60 bloggers, 6 winemakers on the video webcast from Santiago, and one very crowded computer desk here in Memphis. My photos are not accurately broken up per the tasting, which included three bottles each of four different grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Carménère, and Cabernet Sauvignon, each chosen to display the unique terroir of Chile's many valleys.

The organization picked out some great wines for this tasting, and I was able to enjoy the copious leftovers for days afterward. I really like this selection as it provides a nice range of wines. A lot can be learned from tasting eight Sauvignon Blancs in a row, but then you're left with a lot of Sauvignon Blanc in the house.

#1: 2012 Nimbus Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Casablanca Valley
$13, 13.8% abv.
Overall herbal profile with grass and lemon peel and a bitter edge. Crisp and tart with a brief finish.

#2: 2011 1865 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Leyda Valley
$19, 13.5% abv.
Similar to the first but with more of a lemongrass and grapefruit peel aroma. Not quite as tart and a longer finish.

#3: 2011 Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Colchagua Valley
$19, 13% abv.
Crisp and bitter edge with more grapefruit pith than peel. Some floral aromas emerge once it warms up.

#4: 2010 Novas Gran Reserva Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley
$19: 14% abv.
This organic Pinot Noir has notes of bacon fat and ripe wild strawberry. Chilean Pinot Noir is getting better every year.

#5: 2009 Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley
$32, 14.5% abv.
Mild, delicate, and easy sipping with light aromas of red cherry and prune. Similar to Oregon in profile, and I would love to pair this with salmon.

#6: 2009 Morandé Gran Reserva Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley
$18, 14% abv.
Mild nose of raspberry with a touch of tartness. Low tannins and a long finish.

#7: 2010 Marques Casa Concha Carménère
100% Carménère
Rapel Valley
$22, 14% abv.
The Carménères have always been interesting, but I tend to prefer more of a blend than a single grape bottle. This one was herbal and vegetal with a black cherry aroma. Firm tannins.

#8: 2010 Carmen Gran Reserva Carménère
100% Carménère
Apalta Valley
$15, 13.8% abv.
This is more of a classic Carménère. Deep and slightly bitter with green tomato leaf flavors and a dark plum background. This one is especially good after about an hour of breathing.

#9: 2009 Koyle Royale Carménère
85% Carménère, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec
Colchagua Valley
$26, 14.5% abv.
Firm coffee and tomato leaf aroma with dark plum flavors. The additional grapes really help balance out the primary variety. Highly recommended.

#10: 2009 Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon
97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot
Maipo Valley
$29, 14.5% abv.
Deep and dark with green bell pepper, leather, and blackberry notes. Medium tannins, and it could probably take a couple more years of aging.

#11: 2010 Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Colchagua Valley
$19, 13.5% abv.
Plum and leather aromas with medium tannins and balanced fruit flavors of cassis and plum.

#12: 2009 Le Dix de Los Vascos
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, rest is Syrah and Carménère
Colchagua Valley
$65, 14% abv.
This one definitely stood out from the pack with its French style label. It also has the most Bordeaux-like profile of any Chilean red wine I've ever had. It's only released in good years and I was excited to get a chance to try this for the first time. Great cassis and tobacco with a hint of cedar. Rich black cherry flavors that go deep with balanced tannins and a long finish. Highly recommended, and break out the rack of lamb.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

05 November 2012

Cattlemen's BBQ Sauce

Cattlemen's® BBQ Sauce is a brand of food service sauces made by French's, of yellow mustard fame. I recently decided to try their "Memphis Sweet" and "Carolina Tangy Gold" sauces after smoking a pork shoulder this weekend.

BBQ sauce is a complicated topic. I've made many sauces from scratch and enjoy doing so, but there are times when it's quicker to use a pre-made sauce. As the above brand name suggests, Memphis sauce is associated with thick, molasses-heavy dark sauces that are low on acidity. While it is my hometown sauce, I'm not always in the mood for it. Sometimes I want a thinner vinegar sauce, sometimes I just want heat, and sometimes I want to explore something unusual like the Alabama white sauce for chicken. It's also quite common in this area to take store-bought sauces (even from local producers) and modify them slightly before serving. Add a little Worcestershire or apple cider vinegar and you can't quite call it your own, but you can find your ideal sauce for that particular occasion.

Mustard-based sauces are not popular in the Mid-South but I really like them. And the Carolina Tangy Gold was quite good, though halfway through that sandwich I added a little hot sauce to punch it up a bit. Frankly I think it will be a great condiment for ham sandwiches or other mustard applications. The Memphis Sweet was precisely what you'd expect from a food service BBQ sauce: adequate but not intriguing.

I served my chopped pork shoulder sandwiches with cole slaw, potato salad, slow cooked baked beans with bacon, and grilled buns. And since there are a few more pounds of shoulder downstairs in the fridge, I'll be eating BBQ for dinner for the next few nights, paired with some delightful sparkling Spanish wines that have arrived as samples. I'm so looking forward to it.

02 November 2012

Wente Blind Tasting

October 30, 2012: I attend an online wine event and say, "Who the hell drops a Souzao in a blind tasting? This is the best Halloween trick ever."

September 28, 2009: I serve a Mexican wine blind to my friend Fredric.

I have mixed feelings on blind tastings. I used to do them pretty regularly, and actually got good at one point. In order to be decent at the activity you need to taste frequently and do your homework. It can be fun amongst friends, and sometimes instructive amongst newcomers. Sometimes my nose is just way off and it's damned near embarrassing. This Wente Vineyards event was interesting. Participating winebloggers received four bottles tied in black bags, along with a Carnival black eye mask and the admonition not to peek at the labels.

Wine #1: I think it's Syrah. Black cherry and pepper with a little tannic bite and some tart raspberry aftertaste.

2010 Wente Sandstone Merlot
Merlot with Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot
Livermore Valley/San Francisco Bay
$15, 13.5% abv.

These blends were throwing me off, but you've got to warm up a bit. I've taken a punch, I'm ready to deliver an uppercut. On its own, I enjoyed the leftover Merlot with a ham sandwich on rye with lots of stone-ground mustard. Delightful.

Wine #2: I'm guessing Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot. Bigger tannins, cassis, olives, black tea.

2010 Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon with Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot
Livermore Valley/San Francisco Bay
$15, 13.5% abv.

Nothing but net. Great bargain here, and it will class up a thick steak topped with mushrooms.

Wine #3: I was calling this one Merlot heavy, Médoc style. Dark, plum, savory flavors.

2010 Wente Small Lot Cabernet Franc
Livermore Valley
$40, 14.2% abv.

A really smooth and classy Cabernet Franc, which is where I was getting the Médoc notes. Definitely check this out if you ever get the chance, and break out the lamb shoulder for a hearty winter treat.

Wine #4: I suggested Portuguese grapes because of the unique barnyard and black cherry aromas, along with something that reminded me of Douro.

2009 Murietta's Well Los Tesoros de Joaquin Souzao
90% Souzao, 10% Petite Sirah
Livermore Valley
56 cases made
$24, 13.4% abv.

One wineblogger actually nailed it with Souzao, but I'm happy with my guess. This is a great wine that's even better on the next day, where it is light and delicate. Highly recommended if you can encounter one of the 672 bottles produced. Serve this with the best pork you can afford (heritage chops, aged and cured ham, etc.).

Note: These wines were received as samples.