29 December 2012

Simply Enjoying Wine

Here's a scene from today's pleasant Saturday lunch. Tacos, served with a Hungarian red and an Italian Prosecco that I've dosed with a little crème de cassis to make a Kir Pétillant cocktail.

I picked up both of these wines at the wine shop because I was in the mood for them, and wanted something I could just enjoy. I love doing wine reviews, but every once in a while you have to just step back and enjoy a wine for its own sake. And thus, no flags, percentages, or reviews here... Though I'm cheating a bit because I've written about both of these before.

I hope that everyone out there takes a moment to just sit back and enjoy wine during the last days of the holiday season. There will be plenty of time for analysis and cogitation after the New Year. Right now it's time to enjoy life, friends, and family. Best wishes to you all.

26 December 2012

Winter 2012

Memphis had been enjoying an unseasonably warm winter for most of the month of December. I spent Christmas Eve with my parents, and then Christmas Day at Julia's parents' house in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The area was under a blizzard warning (a very odd NOAA warning in this neck of the woods). We enjoyed Christmas lunch with her family until about three in the afternoon, when the blustery winter winds finally started delivering precipitation. Best to head east towards home before things start freezing.

Snow came to Memphis later in the evening, delivering a technical but not full white Christmas. However, on the 26th I was able to take Wolfie out for the annual photo of him in the snow. The old man is fourteen and a half years old this December, and while he may take a while to sit down and might sleep even more than usual, his eyes are still clear and he can hear and has a healthy appetite.

It's been a busy month for me, and wine reviews are a little behind right at the moment, but fear not: I have a bevy of sparkling wine reviews to post, and while they will not match Fredric's annual roundup, I don't think there will be a lot over overlap between our reviews.

In the end, I hope that all of you are taking time during this runup to the New Year to enjoy moments with friends and family, open some bottles you've been holding on to for a while, and petting your pups. Stay warm, and there are great things to come in 2013!

24 December 2012

Merry Christmas with The Dalmore

Christmas Eve with my parents was the perfect time to break out this little sampler set from The Dalmore, a Scotch distillery founded in 1839 and located on the Firth of Cromarty in the Highlands near Inverness.

With four different samples, I was excited to share a holiday tasting with my father, who has been to Scotland several times and appreciates the whisky. Julia and my mother both asked to try a sip, and both made awful faces. I think to enjoy Scotch, you've got to be male, over 30, of Scots-Irish heritage, and have worked up a tolerance from lesser whiskies in the past.

This was a perfect tasting kit, involving 50mL vials of various products distilled by The Dalmore. Glass encapsulated with aluminum, just wonderful for getting a great taste of the barley of the Highlands.

Prices are in British Pounds Sterling and for 750mL bottles: for US Dollars, multiply by 1.6 for the conversion rate as of 2012/12/24.

The Dalmore Gran Reserva
£35.49, 40% abv.
Aged in Sherry and Bourbon casks.
Sweet aroma of figs and stewed fruit. Bracing and biting with a little bit of a smoky aftertaste. This is somewhat unusual for a Scotch but it stands out as a distinctive liqueur on its own. Most of the following whiskies are aged in American oak and then finished in Sherry butts.

The Dalmore 12 Year
£38.49, 40% abv.
This is more of a classic Scotch, buttery and smoother, with notes of toasted caramel and a lovely, mild finish.

The Dalmore 15 Year
£49.99, 40% abv.
Leather and oak dominate with some earthy undertones and a clean finish. Quite sippable and pleasant.

The Dalmore 18 Year
£89.99, 43% abv.
It's not just the age, but this is the best of the group. Amazing coppery gold color. Strong beginning with a firm earth aroma and flavor that melts into a delicate vanilla finish. Really wonderful.

Note: This whisky assortment was received as a sample.

21 December 2012

Zonin Wines from Southern Italy and Sicily

I get a lot of different offers from publicists and wineries. Most just say, "Here's this wine, would you like to try it?" Others represent many different brands, and ask me what I'd like to try. I skip past the expensive, most well-known bottles, and always request the more obscure grapes, the lesser-known regions, and those that appear to have more of an interesting story behind them. With this batch from Zonin, I got all of those, plus a neat little 4GB USB drive shaped like a Prosecco bottle.

While the thumb drives are a far more efficient method of passing along data than CDs or other media, I always zap them and then pass them along to friends of mine who work as teachers, as they always need some easy, portable media for transferring files. As much as I enjoy the gadgets, I like it more when they get to be used in a productive fashion.

Quick side note: five of these wines are 100% representations of fairly obscure grapes, so for anyone looking to add to their ampelographic studies in liquid form, they're definitely worth checking out. Also, I don't have firm prices on these, but most are within the $10-15 range. As always, I will update this post later if I find out more details.

The first trio of wines comes from the big island of Sicily.

2011 Feudo Principi di Butera Insolia
Sicilia IGT
100% Insolia
13% abv.
Exceptionally light and delicate. Just a touch of lemon and yeast. This is quite possibly the mildest and softest Sicilian wine I've ever had, and it's highly recommended.

2010 Feudo Principi di Butera Nero d'Avola
Sicilia IGT
100% Nero d'Avola
13% abv.
Nero d'Avola is one of my favorite pizza and burger wines. Always great for a casual mid-week wine. Black cherry and spice, heavy tannins, tart finish.

2008 Feudo Principi di Butera Symposio
Sicilia IGT
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot
13.5% abv.
A well-balanced Bordeaux blend full of black cherry and leather and a touch of tomato leaf. It doesn't really taste Italian, but it's a solid blend on its own merits.

Puglia is the bootheel of Italy, and is called Apulia in English although it's very rare that you hear that. I'd suggest going by the native name, which is pronounced POO-lee-ah. These wines come from Salento, which covers the lower half of the bootheel.

2011 Masseria Altemura Fiano
Salento IGT
100% Fiano
12.5% abv.
This delightful little white wine has faint notes of melon and mild peach, low acidity and a full body. Strongly recommended for a good chicken salad sandwich that has a couple of grapes in the mix.

2010 Masseria Altemura Negroamaro
Salento IGT
100% Negroamaro
13% abv.
Really mild raspberry aroma, with a tart, ripe raspberry flavor and crispy finish. Low tannins and a pretty light body for a red wine. I've previously enjoyed this in rosé form but it was fun to try it in the full red style.

2010 Masseria Altemura Sasseo Primitivo
Salento IGT
100% Primitivo
13.5% abv.
Black cherry and leather, a touch of smoke and pie crust. While we can talk about the Crljenak Kaštelanski and Zinfandel family line, but this one stands on its own as a deep, tannic, red wine that demands a well-grilled chunk of meat. I enjoyed it with grilled steak over a salad and loved the combination.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

19 December 2012

NV Sandeman Founders Reserve

When you go through a lot of wine bottles, it's nice to stop and take a moment to notice the little details. Port bottles have always fascinated me. That little strip of paper under the capsule that most people ignore and throw aside is a quality guarantee seal issued by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto, an organization that classifies and scores Ports. Behind that little label is a fractured history of various groups in charge of Port rules, punctuated by wars and revolutions up to fairly recent decades. Just two years before I was born, the country went through the 1974 Carnation Revolution, when a military coup with massive public support overthrew the Caetano regime without bloodshed.

Can I say it enough times? Wine is history in a glass, and at this point we haven't even poured anything. We can still admire the frosted green glass and talk about how introducing iron oxide and chromium into the glass produces the color but also prevents dangerous wavelengths of light into the wine, but let's give it a sip...

Sandeman Founders Reserve
Douro, Portugal
Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão
Aged 5 Years
$20, 20% abv.

Stewed fruit, luscious plum and fig aroma, bright blackberry flavors and a tart finish. Big fruit flavors all around but with a smooth and clean finish. The Founders Reserve is a good bargain, makes for a good gift, is easy to find, and is also quite enjoyable for someone who's just getting into Port. If you ever purchase cigars for someone for Christmas or a birthday, consider including a bottle of Port like this as well. It makes for a great combination.

There's many more details on the bottle, like the artwork and the signature from the Scottish founder (I covered that in a previous post). Not every bottle is this exciting or will drive you down fascinating pathways of art and history and science, but you never know unless you take a moment to pay attention to the little things.

Note: This Port was received as a sample.

17 December 2012

Wines of Marie de Beauregard

French wine is often seen as threatening or difficult to understand. That's unfortunate, because there's a lot of great casual and inexpensive wine from the country that just requires a little bit of knowledge and exposure. You don't even have to go there to enjoy the many wonderful valleys and lesser-known AOCs. For example...

The 9th generation Saget La Perrière winery in the Loire Valley makes some of my favorite styles of wine. Cabernet Franc from Chinon? Chenin Blanc from Vouvray? Sancerre??? I didn't get to try the Sancerre from this group, but I will be looking for it in the future.

2010 Marie de Beauregard Vouvray
Touraine, Loire Valley
100% Chenin Blanc
$16, 12.5% abv.

This wine had a big, fruity body dominated by white peach and floral elements. Just a touch of sweetness, balanced acidity, and a long, pleasant finish. Julia really enjoyed this wine, and Vouvray has been a longtime favorite of mine.

I served it with shrimp and grits, a simple salad, and a side dish of homemade cranberry sauce. How can a region so far from the coast produce wines that go so well with shellfish? I have no idea, but I won't argue with it. In theory, this meal was built as sort of a low country Thanksgiving. The grits were cooked with chicken stock and Duranguese cheese, while I quickly sautéed the shrimps with butter, vermouth, and Rogan Josh seasoning. All in all a delightful Saturday lunch, and I had plenty of leftovers, though the wine somehow managed to empty out...

2009 Marie Beauregard Chinon
Touraine, Loire Valley
100% Cabernet Franc
$19, 12.5% abv.

Oh, this was a wonderful Cabernet Franc, and while Julia was not a fan of it, I kept sniffing the glass over and over again. Strong green pepper and eucalyptus, with tobacco, licorice, leather, and black cherry. Loads of great Cab Franc character with fairly mellow tannins. Long finish. Highly recommended. One of the best things about a 100% grape wine like this is that you can understand how it contributes to other Bordeaux blends.

I grilled a burger and topped it with white onion marmalade, Muenster cheese, tomato, arugula, and served with a side of fries. The fries were a little disappointing, but the burger and wine were perfect matches for each other.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

14 December 2012

2010 Girard Artistry

There are few absolute rules of quality in wine. "Dry is better than sweet." Rebuttal: Tokaji and Sauternes. "Single grapes are better than blends." Rebuttal: Bordeaux. "Blended grapes are better than single grapes." Rebuttal: Burgundy. Cross Examination: Champagne.

While we all have our favorite combinations of grapes, geography, oak, and age, there is no One True Path to the perfect wine, and I always think that it's better to make the best wine given the grapes and tools and climate and traditions available.

This "Napa Red" from Girard Winery is a great example. A great blended, Bordeaux-style wine made in the Napa Valley and aged well. I admit that I have a particular affection for such blends that take advantage of all five permitted Bordeaux red grapes, and I'm even happier when the percentages of non-Cabernet Sauvignon and non-Merlot are substantial.

2010 Girard Artistry
Napa Valley
58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot
$45, 15.1% abv.

This wine has a deep and stately nose with elements of coffee, leather, and cassis. Big tannins and a tart, long finish indicate that while this is currently great with grilled steak, it should mellow out over the next three or four years to allow for more delicate dishes. Overall it is a delightful California wine that incorporates the best of France with a New World twist.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

12 December 2012

Mud House Wines

Mud House Wines was founded in 1996 and operates two wineries on the South Island of New Zealand, one based in Marlborough on the extreme northeast, and one in the coastal Waipara Valley just south of Marlborough. Additional, Pinot Noir is sourced from the cool southern region of Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in the world. At 45° south latitude, it's at the antipodal level of Bordeaux. Sure, Pinot Noir would probably grow a little better at 47° (on the level of Burgundy), but that would require planting on tiny Stewart Island, home to only 400 people.

I've written about this before, but that wine belt that passes through the wine regions of France, Germany, New York, and the Pacific Northwest is pretty tiny in the Southern hemisphere. You go through the tapered end of South America in the valleys of Chile and Argentina, barely scrape the southern tip of South Africa, and catch the south coast of Australia. Go any farther north and it's too hot and wet. Go any farther south and you're just in the cold ocean between civilization and Antarctica. Soil and modern viticulture can allow you to grow wine grapes practically anywhere, but making really decent wine requires specific amounts of sunlight defined by the latitude as well as the effects of ocean currents, two things that farmers can't control.

I'll update this later if I get the US prices, but for now everything is listed in New Zealand Dollars.

2009 Mud House Riesling
NZ$19, 13% abv.
I haven't tried a lot of New Zealnd Rieslings, but this one was wonderful. Honey and green pepper aromas, an alluring combination. Dry and tart with a crisp lemon finish. Light and refreshing, and overall a very sunny wine. Highly recommended for next spring.

2011 Mud House Sauvignon Blanc
NZ$19, 13% abv.
Julia asked me, "What's that aroma?" Not in a bad way, but she didn't recognize the scent. "Gooseberries," I replied. "Lots and lots of gooseberries." There's that unique citrus-like smell combined with grass and hay and some darker notes. Really complex and interesting to sip on, as it had been quite a while since I'd had a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc like this.

2010 Mud House Pinot Noir
Central Otago
NZ$24, 13.5% abv.
A clean and smooth Pinot Noir with a dominant ripe strawberry character. Mild body with just a little tartness. This is a great roast chicken wine, and I'd suggest a lot of rosemary in the bird and the fingerling potatoes that you should pan fry along with it.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

10 December 2012

Six Lodi Wines

Lodi, California is both a city and an American Viticultural Area located east of San Francisco and smack dab between Modesto and Sacramento. While I've had lots of table wines from the region in the past, I was surprised to get a batch of samples featuring a wide range of grapes that reminded me a bit of the experimentation in other regions like Paso Robles. There's the expected Zinfandel and Syrah, but look at that Graciano, Tempranillo, and Vermentino! Who knew? Given the Spanish and Italian immigration in the region it's not completely out of the question, but these appear to be much more recent plantings. I'm glad that people are looking for the next Malbec or Carménère: a second- or third-tier grape that can really flourish in an environment far from the vineyards of its birth. (One day my Memphis AVA Grechetto will rock the wine world!)

2010 d'Art Wines Zinfandel
Mokelumne River, Lodi
$22, 15.5% abv.
300 cases made from 85 and 55 year old vines
This classic Zinfandel is soft and rich with notes of black plums and cake. Mellow tannins and a gentle plum flavor follow.

2010 Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel
Mokelumne River, Lodi
$24, 14.7% abv.
175 Cases Made
French, Hungarian, and American Oak
A stronger Zin with tea, black pepper, and deep blackberries. Deeper flavor, stronger tannins, but still well balanced. Should be great in a few years.

2010 Kidder Family Winery Duet
57% Graciano, 43% Tempranillo
$24, 14.9% abv.
Light raspberry and black tea notes on the nose, with a dark plum flavor and spicy tannins. A really interesting blend from California, and one that went exceptionally well with some BBQ pork.

2010 Klinker Brick Winery Farráh Syrah
100% Syrah
$20, 14.9% abv.
French Oak
Coffee and black cherry aromas, with a little spice. Deep black cherry flavors with just a tinge of black pepper. Long, smooth finish, and while it's got strong fruit flavors, it's still a little restrained. This one begs for flank steak with a spicy rub.

2010 m2Wines Tormenta Tempranillo
Kirschenman Vineyard
$24, 14.5% abv.
California Tempranillo. Wow! Black currant and touches of leather and coffee. Medium tannins with some flavors of bitter tomato leaf on the finish. Really fascinating, and very mild overall. This is definitely one of the more exciting wines I've tried this year, and definitely worth checking out.

2011 Uvaggio Vermentino
22% Gayla's Vineyard, 78% Bella Vigna Vineyard
$14, 12.5% abv.
2,370 Cases Made
This is probably the lightest and most delicate out of the group, and having tried several Italian Vermentinos I couldn't wait to try this one. It has a light peach aroma with crisp acidity and a mineral finish. Try it with a light pasta dish in a cream sauce or a thin crust vegetarian pizza.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

07 December 2012

Ventisquero Wines

When it comes to Chilean wine tasting, most of my experience involves the marathon Wines of Chile tastings. Eight or a dozen bottles grouped around a common theme, enjoyed with webcasts and online messaging and Twittering.

While I definitely enjoy those events, it's also nice to try them on a smaller scale. Such was the case when I received a pair of wines from Viña Ventisquero. While the winery was founded in 2000 in the Maipo Valley, the company has expanded their sources to include other valleys like Leyda, Colchagua, and the Casablanca, which produced the grapes used in the two wines below.

Both of these are affordable wines with a good quality-price ratio, inexpensive wines that are well made but are also suited for casual lunch consumption or a simple midweek dinner.

2010 Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc
Casablanca Valley
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$13, 13.1% abv.

Grass, lime peel, and a salty sea spray aroma... Medium acidity and a round mouthfeel with a tart, tangy finish. I enjoyed it with smoked chicken and a simple spinach salad.

2011 Ventisquero Reserva Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley
100% Pinot Noir
$13, 13.5% abv.

A thin-bodied but tart Pinot Noir with loads of raspberry characteristics. Loads of acidity, low tannins. Very light red color, almost like Gamay. A curious wine, but perfect with an appetizer platter of cheeses and olives and nuts.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

05 December 2012

Labor Wines

Coincidence is an interesting thing, and while I bow to the math involved knowing that the relativity of simultaneity can be calculated using Lorentz transformations, the primitive lizard brain still gazes in wonder when such events occur.

I got an e-mail from Michael Oppenheimer, a second generation radio executive here in Memphis who offered to pour me the Labor Wines made by his father, Dick Oppenheimer, who ran radio stations in Austin, Texas for many years and recently retired and got in the Oregon wine business. Dick had heard of me from a California winemaker who recommended my website. A meeting was set for a Saturday afternoon, and I looked forward to trying the wines.

Before I got a chance to try them, Fredric published a review of the two bottles based on a pair of samples from a local distributor. Two small production Oregon wines, ending up in the same city 3,700 km/2,300 miles away mere days apart. Let's drop the physics and call it kismet.

2010 Labor Wines Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
100% Pinot Noir
$28, 12.5% abv.
336 Cases Made

Very mild aromas of raspberry and pencil shavings, with good acidity and light tannins. Very Burgundian in profile and a wine that would be an excellent match for salmon.

2009 Labor Wines Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
100% Pinot Noir
$28, 14.4% abv.
280 Cases Made

The 2009 is a stronger and deeper wine, with more of a wild strawberry aspect and deeper oak flavors. While more substantial, this vintage retains great balance and is highly recommended with veal or lamb.

Both wines are enclosed with convenient screwcaps, and both are the sort of mellow berry deliciousness that Oregon has made famous. And at under $30 each, they're pretty affordable if you can find them.

Michael and I enjoyed a long conversation about wine, radio, cigars, and other matters over the course of the afternoon. We tasted the wine from some family stemless glasses pictured at right, and it reminded me of the big crystal pitcher my parents got as a wedding gift that had a gothic calligraphy "C" etched on the side.

Those of us who tread the wine road often sip and spit and dash off quick reviews of wines, but it's always nice to get the opportunity to step back, spend some time, and enjoy the family connection of a business that, when you get down to it, is about digging in the dirt and hoping that the weather treats you right.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

03 December 2012

2010 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vines Zinfandel

The weather here in Memphis is doing weird things. It's been near freezing at night for the past couple of weeks, but now the days are well into the 70s. Makes it difficult to eat or drink seasonally.

On a Sunday afternoon, I was tired and not interested in doing any additional cooking (beyond the breakfast I made at seven and the casserole I assembled at noon). So I ordered a pizza from Jet's Pizza, a somewhat national chain that specializes in Detroit-style deep dish square pizza. It's not Chicago deep dish, it's not like the Pizza Hut version, but there's lots of delightfully greasy and crusty bread with plenty of toppings. I ordered a Hawaiian pizza, and when nosing through the stable of samples I thought that a Zinfandel would be the perfect pairing.

Julia and I were not disappointed. I'll also note that I've always admired the Ravenswood logo, with its Celtic interlocking and simple design.

2010 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vines Zinfandel
$9, 13.5% abv.

The nose has deep black cherries with hints of of chocolate and oak. On the palate are bright berry flavors, tart acidity, medium tannins and a lingering finish. A great middle of the week casual red wine.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.