30 September 2013

William Hill Estate Winery

While tasting a pair of Napa reds from William Hill Estate Winery on a quiet and rainy September afternoon, I found myself craving munchkin burgers. I know I've covered them many times in the past, but my dinner guests love eating them and I love making them. A little red onion marmalade, some smoked Gouda, mesclun greens... So simple yet so delicious, and while these are serious wines, I feel that the preparation of these little burgers demands something substantial.

2010 William Hill Estate Merlot
Napa Valley
100% Merlot
$30, 14.5% abv.
5,000 cases made

Classic California Merlot with aromas and flavors of cherry and black pepper. Medium tannins and a gentle finish. As it opens up it becomes a little softer with deeper plum flavors.

2010 William Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Petite Sirah, 1% Merlot
$40, 14.8% abv.
6,874 cases made

Of the two wines, I preferred this bottle with its clever blend. It opens up with a nose of plum and leather, coffee, chocolate, and a touch of spice. Firm tannins and one that rewards a thorough swirling of the glass. It matched particularly well with the rich onion marmalade and I think would go great with a thick porterhouse, cooked medium rare and carved for several people.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

27 September 2013

2011 Noble Vines 1 Red Blend

The inner math geek in me loves the numerically named wines from Noble Vines. This one is simply called 1, which would bring to mind a pleasant song by U2 and a somewhat more jarring song by Metallica. Honorable mention goes to The Oneders The Wonders with their one hit "That Thing You Do".

2011 Noble Vines 1 Red Blend
Proprietary blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel
$15, 13.5% abv.

This is a mix of the 181 Merlot clone and 337 Cabernet clone from Bordeaux (but grown in Clay Station), as well as the Costamagna Zinfandel clone from Lodi. It has a plum and spice nose with deep dark blackberry flavors. Overall a strong dark fruit profile with low tannins and a long, slightly sweet finish. I've been learning a lot about clones recently and it's amazing when winemakers can dial in the perfect combination with the right soil and latitude. In this case, a fun and tasty big fruit wine was desired and it delivered on time. I licked my lips after the first few sips.

Nice little Thursday night pizza wine while watching some of the new TV shows as all the sitcoms emerge from summer hiatus. I'd like to say that I spend my nights translating Horace from the original Latin, but after a long day at work sometimes you just have to unwind with mindless entertainment.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample.

25 September 2013

McGah Family Cellars

McGah Family Cellars is operated by the family that founded and ran the Oakland Raiders franchise from 1960-2005 in various forms. I can't really speak much to the football portion of this review except that I tried these the day after Oakland lost to Denver 37-21. I did not have a dog in the fight, as I am a fan of the Cleveland Browns and accept all arguments that come with that position. Why do I not root for my hometown Tennessee Titans? Well, when the Houston Oilers spent a season in Memphis they didn't get a lot of love, knowing that they would find their final home in Nashville. Besides, Memphis is a town where everyone roots for a different sports team, and it's not even city specific. You'll find a Steelers fan who loves the White Sox and wears a Hartford Whalers jersey when appropriate. It's all mixed up. During the year I spent in the great city of Cleveland, Ohio, or as I prefer to call it, the Metropolis of the Western Reserve, I finally discovered what it was like to be in a city where you could walk through a neighborhood and, depending on the season, there would be flags of the Indians, the Browns, or the Cavaliers flying from every door stoop.

With that being said, let's move on to the wines.

2011 McGah Family Cellars 1070 Green Sauvignon Blanc
Rutherford, California
91% Sauvignon Blanc, 9% Semillon
541 cases made
$25, 14.2% abv.

Interesting Bordeaux Blanc blend that has a lot of New World elements. Lots of lime pith and fresh grass with bright acidity and a long, lingering herbal finish. One that needs to be served cold with a platter of raw shellfish and no other accompaniment.

2010 McGah Family Cellars Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon
Rutherford, California
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
267 cases made
$60, 14.9% abv.

A seasoned and serious Napa Valley Cab. Black cherry and green bell pepper aromas emerge at first, while elements of leather and tobacco develop as it opens. Deep berry flavors on the palate with a strong and medium tannic finish. Certainly one that you will want to save for a dry-aged steak topped with red wine butter.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

23 September 2013

Castello di Amorosa Wines

The idea behind Castello di Amorosa began in Calistoga, California 20 years ago. The passion project of building an Italian castle in Napa Valley finally opened to the public in 2007. Though I have not visited the property, I had the chance of sampling three of their white wines recently.

2012 Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer "Dry"
Anderson Valley, Mendocino County
$25, 14.5% abv.
2,392 cases made

The bottle opens up with rich honeysuckle aromas and gentle honey flavors though it is completely dry. Touch of spice on the finish with medium acidity. Highly recommended, and an excellent match for Thai or Indian food.

2011 Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay
Napa Valley
$28, 14.4% abv.
1,424 cases made

Classic California Chardonnay with the oak providing rich butter and caramel aromas. On the palate it has a round body with a creamy finish. Serve with gently roasted pork medallions and roasted potatoes.

2011 Castello di Amorosa "Bien Nacido" Chardonnay
Santa Barbara County
$38, 14.8% abv.
1,344 cases made

A little brasher than the former wine, this one has dominant notes of vanilla and popcorn, with mild yellow apple flavors and medium acidity. I'd recommend serving this one with a heavily spiced grilled seafood dish, like red snapper with a mango salsa.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

20 September 2013

2011 Murrietta's Well Los Tesoros Zarzuela

Last night I participated in an online tasting with winemaker Phil Wente and Chef Matt Greco of Wente Vineyards in the Livermore Valley of California due east of San Francisco. We tried The Whip and The Spur, two interesting blends that show new combinations each year depending on what mix is working well. I've written about many Wente wines in the past, but on this particular occasion got a chance to try one that shows the unique imagination of the winemakers.

Along with the wines the internet tasters received a small jar of the chef's homemade chorizo spice rub. It's not ground up dried pork sausage, but rather a dry rub based on the flavor combinations of that delicious Spanish treat. I have not used it yet, but once it cools down a bit I will be rubbing it on a bone-in pork loin and slow smoking it. Mmmmm...

2011 Wente Vineyards Los Tesoros Zarzuela
Livermore Valley
32% Souzão, 22% Petite Sirah, 21% Tempranillo, 13% Barbera, 11% Graciano, 1% Touriga Francesa
$45, 13.2% abv.

Lovely dark fruit flavors, deep with plum and a touch of leather and chocolate, with mild tannins and a long, lingering finish. Nicely tart bite to it as it warms up a bit, then earthy, then herbal, then fruity... there is a little bit of everything in this wine. Even bay leaves. Definitely a thinker, and one that I would pair with mildly seasoned lamb or game, allowing the earthiness of the dish and wine to shine through.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample.

18 September 2013

2012 Campo Viejo Garnacha

This little wine showed up with full latitude and longitude coordinates on it. Someone asked if this referred to the winery or the vineyard, but the satellite view indicates both: N: 42°28'48" W: 02°29'08". (My first search used east longitude by accident, pointing to an area in the extreme southeast of France, leading to a lot of confusion.)

I've sampled many Campo Viejo wines over the years, and the orange and red waiter's corkscrew with their name is still my favorite. Something about the color and the chrome makes it look like a 50s hot rod.

I enjoyed this wine on a quiet Sunday afternoon with a burger topped with red onion marmalade, sautéed mushrooms, and smoked Gouda. In the photo you can see the red onion, garlic, and Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato that all went together for the tasty lunch.

2012 Campo Viejo Garnacha
100% Garnacha
$14, 14% abv.

Dominant aroma of blueberries with following elements of blackberry and red cherry. These continued on the palate with big berry flavors but low tannins and a soft finish. There's probably a great authentic Spanish pairing for this, and I need to study the cuisine more, but I have to admit that it served as a perfect burger wine.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample.

16 September 2013

Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and Oysters

Is this a dagger which I see before me?

No, it is an oyster knife, something I've always wanted to own. I don't think I've ever seen one for sale around here, and it's not something that I thought about ordering online since I don't open a lot of oysters. This is a crucial kitchen tool for opening what looks like an inedible rock and also one of the murder weapons available in the New England release of the board game Clue [citation needed].

Structurally, the knife is not sharp and while it is possible to hurt yourself, it is engineered to work more like a woodworking tool than anything you keep in your tidy knife block on the counter. With the palm-sized rounded wooden handle and short flat blade, it operates more like an awl or a chisel.

The knife came packaged with a set of four Sauvignon Blancs from Wines of Chile and the suggestion to pair them with oysters. I leapt at the opportunity and immediately grabbed a dozen oysters from the international market to practice. It's a little hard to explain the technique, but you just use the point to coax it open a little and then the rest is a twisting motion. If you just stab at it blindly you're liable to drive it through your palm.

For the occasion, I made a traditional mignonette sauce with sherry vinegar, white wine vinegar, and minced shallots. I also tried a little of the Gold's prepared beets and horseradish. The former was delicious, while the latter provided a curious if messy treat.

The bright white wines proved to be a good balance against the buttery, salty molluscs. Here are brief reviews of the quartet:

2012 William Cole Columbine Special Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
Casablanca Valley
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$15, 13% abv.

The lightest of the tasting, this one was tart and lemony with good minerality. My favorite wine with oysters is Sancerre (also made from Sauvignon Blanc), and this one was the closest to that style.

2012 MontGras Reserva Sauvignon Blanc
San Antonio Valley
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$9, 13.5% abv.

Got a little whiff of asparagus on this one, not quite a sulfur taint but more of a pyrazine herbal quality that I enjoyed. Restrained grapefruit aromas and flavors with a clean finish.

2012 Cono Sur Bicicleta Sauvignon Blanc
San Antonio Valley
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$9, 13% abv.

There's a touch of sweetness that slides into medium acidity with a soft mouthfeel. Particularly good with some of the tangy mignonette sauce.

2012 Mayu Sauvignon Blanc
Elqui Valley
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$15, 13% abv.

This was our favorite of the four. Light and mild with gentle citrus aromas and flavors, and a smooth and round body that was pleasant and easy to drink. Outstanding balance in all directions.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

13 September 2013

Nobilo Wines

Nobilo Wines was founded in 1943 when Croatian immigrant Nikola Nobilo started making wine in New Zealand. He and his wife Zuva had arrived in 1936 and helped initiate the NZ wine industry.

I've tried many Nobilo wines in the past and recently got the opportunity to sample three recent releases.

2012 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$8, 12.5% abv.

Aromas and flavors of gentle citrus with medium acidity and a short finish. Quite tasty with an afternoon tuna fish sandwich.

2012 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$14, 13% abv.

Bright and fruity with tons of grapefruit. Floral nose, high acidity, long finish. Good match for grilled amberjack with a tangy Asian slaw.

2012 Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir
$15, 13% abv.

Lovely ripe cherry aromas with a little hint of baked pie crust underneath. Tart but with mild tannins, low acidity, and a long finish. I enjoyed this pleasant little red with a steak sandwich full of onions. Nice to play the vibrant fruit flavors against the earthy onion elements.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

11 September 2013

MacMurray Ranch Wines

MacMurray Ranch began as a cattle ranch in the Russian River Valley when actor Fred MacMurray purchased the property in 1941. The star of My Three Sons and many memorable Disney live action movies focused on cattle until his death in 1991. The family sold the ranch to Gallo in 1996 to grow grapes under the MacMurray Ranch label.

I first became acquainted with this wine around 2003 when a wine shop owner told me that the wine was personally grown and made by Fred MacMurray (who had been dead for a dozen years at that point), and I thought it would be an interesting conversation starter for a dinner party. It was the first Pinot Noir I ever purchased, and at $20 it was a bit of a splurge at the time. I remember that I served it way too warm, and with a really heavily seasoned steak, which was not the way that Pinot needs to be treated. Ten years later, I get the opportunity to try it again.

2012 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris
Russian River Valley/Sonoma Coast
100% Pinot Gris
$20, 14% abv.

Light citrus aromas with high acidity and a bold body. A few tropical fruit notes as it opens up. This is a much bigger wine than Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon yet has its own unique New World expression that reminds me a bit of a few New Zealand Pinot Gris bottles. Good match for well-seasoned shellfish.

2011 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir
Central Coast
100% Pinot Noir
$23, 13.8% abv

This is the more recent vintage of the wine I had lo those many years ago. Initial aroma of strawberries with undertones of stewed fruit. Firm fruit flavors with a slightly tannic finish. Serve with roast lamb and a mild cream sauce.

2011 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir
Russian River Valley
100% Pinot Noir
$35, 13.8% abv.

This bottle was much milder than the previous Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavors that focus more on raspberry with some touches of earth. While still Californian in character, it's pointing more in a French direction with a more delicate presentation. Light enough for salmon, but also one to be enjoyed with a tender veal chop.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

09 September 2013

New Wine Refrigerator

In 2010 I reviewed a thermoelectric wine fridge from NewAir. That model is still in service here at Casa de Benito, but several months ago they sent me a larger model to try out.

Unlike the smaller model, the NewAir AWC-270E ($320) operates on a traditional compressor. The tradeoff is that it's not silent like the thermoelectric cooler, but there's just a gentle hum of white noise that easily fades into the background. I keep it at 16°C/60°F, and even during a hot summer it's kept a consistent temperature for several months now.

The AWC-270E has wire rack shelves that hold 27 bottles, though you may be able to squeeze in a few more depending on the angles. It's deep enough to support tall Alsatian or German Riesling bottles, though as with any wine storage system you might need to do a little adjusting to fit rounder Champagne bottles. In addition to temperature controls and a digital temperature display, it also includes an interior blue LED that looks awesome at night.

While I still like the smaller one, over time I found that I wasn't really using the two-zone cooling all that much, and particularly when receiving a flurry of wine samples, a single large chamber proved to be better for organization (instead of keeping reds and whites in separate sections, I need to keep bottles together as they were shipped). For serious collecting or long term storage, you're going to need something much bigger or even a dedicated room. But I like a wine fridge for the purposes of keeping my main refrigerator dedicated to food and for convenient serving during a dinner party.

As a cocktail lover, I also appreciate the wine fridge as a great place to keep vermouth and a few other delicate ingredients. Even now, all of my various bitters live on top of the fridge, which is a lot better than having them tucked away in a box.

I keep this wine fridge in the living room, but it's compact enough to keep in the kitchen or even in a home office. I like the stainless steel and glass door, and visitors to the house have commented appreciably on it. Overall, highly recommended and sturdy enough to stand up to years of service.

Note: This product was provided as a sample.

06 September 2013

End of Summer Update

Did you Have a Summah? Despite the calendar, I don't really consider summer over until I start seeing leaves drop from trees. Seeing as how many of us here in our fair River City can still be mowing the grass in November, it's hard to believe that summer ended on Labor Day.

In previous years, I've written about summer doldrums, but this year it's the exact opposite. I'm sitting on ten wine reviews (3-4 bottles each), and more showed up today. On top of that, I got to write a really fun article about pork for Serious Eats.

Oh, and I received a little award from Millésima, a French website that sells Bordeaux futures. The US arm of the site claimed me as their Favorite Wine Tasting Blog for 2014.

Finally, I field tested these red Solo cup wine glasses and found them to be perfectly serviceable. Don't be afraid to have a little fun with your wine from time to time.

04 September 2013

Cape Classics Wines of South Africa

This particular batch of samples came as a result of my participation in the Snooth PVA Wines of South Africa tasting in New York City. It turns out that the PR specialist who contacted me for these wines was in the room that day, but because things were a bit rushed, we didn't get a chance to meet. I will make a note for all future encounters with winemakers, public relations personnel, and salespeople: even if I look serious and determined (perhaps even unintentionally grouchy) while tasting, I am always happy to meet people in the business and exchange cards. In that particular instance, I missed out on great opportunities to talk about my collection of African stamps and my love of the adventure novels of South African author Wilbur Smith.

2011 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded
Coastal Region
100% Chenin Blanc
$15, 13.5% abv.

Known as Steen in South Africa, Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape in the country. This unoaked version is light, crisp, and mineral with a touch of bitter lemon peel. I found myself craving fried calamari, which I think would be a pretty decent pairing.

2012 Indaba Chardonnay
Western Cape
100% Chardonnay
$12, 13.5% abv.

Light peach aromas and flavors, low acidity, round body, and a long floral finish. Fairly delicate from this historic winery, and highly recommended for a simple roast chicken and potatoes dinner.

2012 Bayten Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$15, 14% abv.

Bayten is the new brand name for the more traditional, yet less pronounceable Buitenverwachting. Full of grapefruit but with more complex tropical fruit notes as it warms up. Time to break out one of those salads that has golden beets and goat cheese.

2013 DeMorgenzon Cabernet Rosé
Western Cape
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$12, 13.2% abv.

This winery plays Baroque music throughout the vineyards 24/7 with the belief that the tunes help the vines. I can't speak to that scientifically, but it sounds like it would be pleasant to take a stroll through the property. This rosé has delicious light fruit flavors of watermelon and crabapple. On the palate it is dry and mild with a clean and quick finish. I think that it's a perfect appetizer wine that would pair well with a wide range of flavors.

2011 Kanonkop Kadette
57% Pinotage, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
$15, 14% abv.

Solid, strong red with the Bordeaux grapes providing a nice balance to the Pinotage. Elements of plum and spice with hints of leather and coffee. Excellent with a little breathing, and great with a good rare steak.

2009 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$41, 14.5% abv.

Major complexity from a single grape. The wine opens up early with a nose of tobacco, coffee, and licorice. Chocolate and blackberry flavors follow with medium tannins and a long, dark finish. If ever a wine was made for winter, it was this one, and while it was cold in the Southern Hemisphere when I tried it, I think this one would be perfect up here in November or December with something rich and decadent like roast lamb shanks and a rich dried fig sauce.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

02 September 2013

Mud House Wines and the America's Cup

Mud House Wines is the official wine supplier of the Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2013 America's Cup. Having won the Louis Vuitton Cup, they will go on to challenge Oracle Team USA off the coast of San Francisco.

Starting in 1851, the Cup was won by the New York Yacht Club every year until 1983 when the crew of the Australia II of the Royal Perth Yacht Club emerged victorious. I can remember the excitement in 1987 when the US Stars & Stripes 87 defeated the New Zealand Kookaburra III. Since the 80s, there's been a lot of attention and technological development around this particular race, yet it's nice to know that there's still so much enthusiasm around wind-propelled sea vessels.

2012 Mud House Riesling
Waipara Valley
100% Riesling
$12, 12.5% abv.

The nose is dominated by light green apple and honey, while the flavor is crisp and acidic. Very similar to New Zealand Rieslings I've had in the past, and one that would be perfect with a ham sandwich on a picnic.

2012 Mud House Pinot Gris
South Island
100% Pinot Gris
$16, 13.% abv.

Rich floral aromas that also include peach and apricot. Ripe white fruit flavors and a clean, round finish. Great with a cold chicken salad full of grapes and walnuts.

2011 Mud House Sauvignon Blanc
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$14, 13% abv.

A standard New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with full grapefruit peel aromas and flavors. Touch of spice on the palate and a long, acidic finish. Serve with creamy cheeses and melon.

2011 Mud House Pinot Noir
Central Otago
100% Pinot Noir
$19, 13.5% abv.

In addition to a strong overripe strawberry profile, there is a back end of green bell pepper that I wasn't expecting. It starts out a little harsh, but after an hour of breathing the wine softens considerably and is ready for fare like grilled veal chops. It's a bold enough Pinot Noir that it can stand up to some strong sauces and preparations.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.