29 October 2014

2012 Collazzi Libertà & 2009 Cune Rioja Reserva

Here's a glimpse behind the curtain of the wine writing world. A lot of people think that a sommelier shows up at your door, knocks politely, and then proceeds to poor a perfectly curated selection of wines that are all related to each other. Three vintages of a specific Chateau, for instance.

In reality, it is common to receive completely unrelated wines, but these are often linked by importer or distributor, or sometimes by grape or style. Thus the pairing shown here of two hearty reds in the $20 range.

2012 Collazzi Libertà
Toscana IGT
55% Merlot, 30% Syrah, 15% Sangiovese
$24, 14% abv.

Syrah and Sangiovese really dominate with the Merlot playing a surprisingly background role. Big tannins, spice, black pepper, and a long finish. Don't save this one for pizza night--make a marinara sauce from scratch and boil up a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs. This wine deserves a home cooked meal.

2009 Cune Rioja Reserva
Rioja, Spain
$20, 13.5% abv.
85% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano, 5% Garnacha Tinta

Light chocolate and leather profile, smooth body with mild tannins. Delightful balance and an elegant finish. Rioja remains an outstanding bargain across many producers and you'll see what wonders a mere five years of aging is able to accomplish with these grapes. Serve with a thick, medium-rare roasted pork chop that is heavily marbled and you'll never forget the meal.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

26 October 2014

Romanian Dinner

Recently, a Romanian winemaker named Georgetta Dane who has worked for Kendall-Jackson and Big House and other California brands posted a link on Facebook about Romanian food. And I realized that 1) I haven't been doing a lot of cooking recently due to a busy day job and 2) I really needed to taste something different. Dinner at the Benito table for one was going to be ciorbă de fasole cu afumătură and ardei umpluţi.

Both required long cooking but not a lot of effort. The dishes were basically a bean and bacon soup accompanied by a trio of stuffed peppers. My soup incorporated the following ingredients: cannellini beans, salt pork, Vidalia onions, Swiss chard, carrots, parsnips, and chicken broth. For the stuffed peppers, I used little yellow Hungarian peppers and filled them with a combination of pork sausage, onion, rice, and paprika. The sauce was made from sour cream and tomato paste thinned out with water. The peppers were roasted for a good hour and I was able to scoop up the sauce to spread over them.

I was very happy with the results, and think that the soup in particular will be useful to anyone bringing home winter vegetables from the farmer's market. The salt pork was delicious, but in the future I'd probably use a smoked ham hock or similar pork product, and I'd probably cook it longer to allow for the bones to provide an increased depth of flavor.

23 October 2014

Welcome, New Readers!

If you're seeing this blog for the first time, it's probably because of a Canadian study about analyzing content on wine blogs using new software called Leximancer. My wine blog was one of five chosen for a study published in the International Journal of Wine Business Research. The other four blogs used in the analysis were Vinography, Dr. Vino, 1WineDude, and Wannabe Wino.

Becca over at The Academic Wino blog wrote up a nice summary of the paper. Be sure to check it out as well as her many other fascinating articles about the world of wine research.

Check out the links to the left for the quick intro to my blog. Favorite Posts is self-explanatory, Press covers various media appearances and awards, and Other Publications goes into my freelance work for a number of different websites.

Welcome to Benito's Wine Reviews, and I hope you enjoy it!

21 October 2014

2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black

Usually when you've got a blended red table wine and a blended white in your portfolio, the next entry is always going to be a blended pink. Gnarly Head decided to go in a different direction with black. Pair it with a trendy orange wine for a festive Halloween theme. The suggested music pairing is blindingly obvious.

The wine is not, of course black, no more than a Pinot Noir is really noir. But it is a deep, dark shade of red thanks to a lot of Petite Sirah in the blend and a lot of skin contact. I've always enjoyed the rich depths of the smallest red grapes, bottles made from Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and of course, Petite Sirah. They're not always the same, being made in a wide range of styles but distinctive for being noticeably darker than your average Merlot.

2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black
Lodi, California
Proprietary blend dominated by Petite Sirah
$12, 14.5% abv.

The wine has a bold profile of blackberry and chocolate, though it is not particularly tannic thanks to 12 months of oak aging and a little decanting ahead of the tasting. It has a round body with a focus on dark fruit elements and a long, lingering finish. There were times when I was reminded of fruit wines made from blueberry or blackberry but without the usual sweetness. Pair with slow-smoked pork ribs.

Note also the prominent placement of Lodi on the label. I have noticed this on Gnarly Head wines going back several vintages, but increasingly wineries that source from Lodi for traditionally "California" wines are starting to specify where the grapes came from. Expect to see more of this in the future, even from brands that may surprise you.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

18 October 2014

Leaf Vodka

Michigan's ironically named Temperance Distilling Company produces Leaf Vodka, a new brand in the specialty spirits market. Both of their products are distilled from organic wheat, with the ethanol making up 40% of the bottle, while the remaining 60% comes from distinctive water.

There are a lot of studies out there debunking the ability to differentiate various vodkas as well as various waters in a blind tasting environment. To be fair, some of the more public denunciations involve innocent civilians who are just trying to be polite. Vodkas can and do have individual aromas, and if you ever want an example, purchase the cheapest one you can find and enjoy the alluring aroma of lighter fluid.

As for water, not all H2O tastes and smells the same, and this can be proven by any 3 year old who is taken on vacation to a different state: "The water tastes weird!" You don't even have to travel far from home before the tap water starts to strike you as noticeably unusual. Hard, soft, fizzy, mineral, sulfurous, sometimes it's a shade other than perfectly clear... I think the worst I ever experienced was in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the water smelled so horrible I wanted to take a shower after my shower.

Leaf Vodka
Certified Organic
$17/750mL bottle, 40% abv.

I tasted these two on my own as well as in a blind environment. In both cases it was easy to distinguish between them.

The green bottle is made using Alaskan glacier water, while the blue bottle comes from a Rocky Mountain mineral spring. The Alaskan is sweeter with a touch of citrus, and more of a pronounced grain aroma. The Rocky Mountain version has a darker, more stony and drier profile that reminds me of great Austrian Grüner Veltliner. Both are quite smooth, however I fear that the subtleties will be lost in cocktails. But for the price, these are both fantastic bargains.

Note: These bottles were provided as samples for review.

14 October 2014

Fee Bros. Cardamom "Boker's Style" Bitters

The story of Boker's bitters is a familiar one in the history of American alcohol production. For nearly a hundred years from the early 1800s until Prohibition, Boker's was popular in the United States as well as throughout the world, and then the company went out of business and multiple generations passed. Perhaps the most popular implementation was the Japanese Cocktail from the 1860s, which calls for two dashes of Boker's bitters. That means that since 1920, no one who is dedicated to strictly following recipes has been able to make this brandy-based beverage.

Fee Bros. has recently come out with a Cardamom bitters, subtitled as "Boker's Style". Only a few people in the world have actually sampled the few rare remaining bottles of Boker's, but they contributed to the development of this cocktail flavoring.

I'm not sure of the exact recipe, but the short version would be a delightful cross between gin and root beer, which is to say that there are lots of different botanical aromas including, from my sniff test: cardamom, pepper, sassafras, orange peel, coriander, and more. I won't ask for the secret recipe, but rest assured that you can add a few drops to a shot of vodka and you've effectively made a shortcut version of gin.

I tried it in a gin and vodka martini, and preferred it in the latter where the flavors didn't clash with the established spice combination in the gin. I have not tried it yet in a Japanese cocktail, mainly due to my residual irritation at making homemade orgeat syrup, the third ingredient beyond brandy and Boker's. However, I have many old cocktail books and will find the perfect one with which to use this rare and antiquated ingredient. I'll keep you posted.

Note: This bottle was provided as a sample for review.

13 October 2014

"Where've you been, Ben?"

The scene is a dentist's office in 1993. Dana, the dental hygienist, asks me, "Where've you been, Ben?" and laughs. Even I, a fan of puns, cringe slightly.

It was a joke that I heard roughly once a month for five years as I dealt with the regular schedule of tightening braces. Towards the end I could actually sleep through the procedure. It was also a pediatric practice, so I was the only patient driving himself to appointments.

I thought about this phrase recently because I feel like I've been neglecting the wine blog while at the same time doing more writing than I've ever done in my life. Here's what's going on in addition to my previous piece on working with Microsoft and the day job that keeps Bella fed.

I've picked up a freelance gig writing for Snooth.com, the company that has previously sponsored my press junkets to New York and Lodi. My first article for them is about 5 Wines for Prime Rib. I'm looking forward to more work with them in the future.

I'm also writing content for Nomacorc, the synthetic cork factory I visited back in February. I've written several pieces for their new blog, and the two that have been published are interviews with winemakers about five wines they love. One from Michael Honig and one from Ben Mayo.

This main site will always be the clearing house for everything that I write, and as I rapidly approach the ten year mark I am committed to continuing reviews of wines here at BWR. There are many great wines awaiting review downstairs, and I know that many more will be coming in the next two months during the holiday rush.

Thanks to everyone for reading, and be sure to check out my freelance pieces!

11 October 2014

Touring Lodi's Bechthold Vineyard with Microsoft Sway

As part of the Microsoft Office Insiders group, I get the opportunity to test out some new technology. Microsoft is getting ready to release a new Office application called Sway. Disclaimer: I'm receiving no compensation for this test and what you're seeing here is a preview of the technology. It's not completely ready, but I'm excited about it. Sway is sort of like PowerPoint but designed in such a way that you can easily create and display projects on mobile devices. The layout and format of the entire project can be changed with a tap, and it will also adjust itself to whatever device you're using.

For my first attempt at this new application, I thought it would be fun to put together a Sway about the Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi, California. I have lots of pictures that I'd not previously used, and thought that this was a fun way to present them. Bechthold was my first stop on my press tour earlier in the year, and recently we had an online tasting featuring four wines from that small patch of land:

Be sure to click on this link for the full screen experience which is easier to read:

A Sway About the Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

10 October 2014

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay

As much as I love Vietnamese food, I don't eat it as often as I should, especially given the many great restaurants here in the greater Memphis area. Last weekend I stopped by Green Bamboo in my local neighborhood for takeout. Pictured here are hủ tiếu and gỏi cuốn: the former is a savory soup that includes shrimp, squid, and pork, while the latter is a lettuce and shrimp roll dipped in a peanut sauce.

It was my first time ordering hủ tiếu, and I think I've got a new favorite. I've always gone with the beef versions (phở bò viên, phở tái gầu) or the all-seafood implementations (like phở hải sản), but I think that the pork/shellfish/cephalopod model is pretty incredible.

The factor that always brings me back is the use of fresh vegetables. Bright basil, spicy peppers, crisp lettuce, crunchy bean sprouts... It's almost like having salad and soup at the same time and being able to enjoy the best elements of both. Upon arriving home, I decided that I would really enjoy this meal with a Chardonnay...

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay
Central Coast, California
100% Chardonnay
$15, 13.9% abv.

Buttery with a touch of caramel and vanilla on the nose. On the palate it is mild with gentle white peach flavors. Classic California Chardonnay profile. A perfect match with the lunchtime meal and a wine substantial enough to stand up to the bold flavors of the soup.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

08 October 2014

Silly Glassware

I've given this advice in the past, but this is a great time of year to indulge in silly glassware. At right are a pair of glasses that I grabbed at Kroger for about a buck apiece: a goblet festooned with owls and other woodland critters, and a sturdy stemless glass with a frosted leaf.

Why do I keep buying these things, and even still have Champagne flutes emblazoned with 2007 on them?

#1) They're inexpensive. Nice glassware breaks over time, and while I always try to pick the perfect piece of crystal with the appropriate wine, there are far more casual occasions when non-fanatics just want to enjoy a glass, and these are perfect.

#2) They're indestructible. I've watched an expensive piece of Austrian stemware just crumble at the table. These glasses will survive the dishwasher, being employed as water glasses at Thanksgiving/Christmas, and can tip over without showering your dining room with tiny shards of pricy glass.

#3) Wine glasses don't always have to match. True, I enjoy a proper table setting with perfect stemware at all eight seatings. This is rarely how I enjoy wine in the real world.

#4) You'll always have extra glasses. Sometimes a friend comes over with a dozen bottles, or you're a wine writer and you receive three dozen bottles in one week and don't want to swirl and spit from the same glass all afternoon. It's helpful to have some generic red glasses, white glasses, and then assorted oddballs for dessert wines and sparklers that require thorough rinsing before sampling other types of wine.

#5) They're fun. I've always wanted wine to seem like a less threatening topic for the novice, and sometimes pouring the really nice, well-aged splash of Burgundy in a goofy glass covered in owls is the best way to make someone feel comfortable. I've seen people get really nervous around expensive stemware and end up breaking it, while a cheaper goblet style is more approachable and, referencing point #2, unlikely to break under normal conditions.

When it all comes down to it, the holidays are a time to have fun with friends and family. But I'm not suggesting you run out and buy Thanksgiving and Christmas glassware--the time is right to buy glasses covered in spiders, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night.

06 October 2014

Pink Bordeaux

As summer draws to a close and colder weather approaches, it was a pleasure to sample a pair of Bordelais rosés on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Bordeaux gets so much attention for its red wines that it is often easy to overlook the white, pink, and sparkling wines from the region. Here is a quick look at two bottles to try before the sun disappears for its winter vacation...

2013 Vieux Château Lamothe Rosé
Bordeaux, France
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot
$9, 12% abv.

Thin and clean with a light Rainier cherry flavor. Delicate floral nose. Spectacular with turkey and avocado on a croissant.

2013 Jean Medeville Rosé
Bordeaux, France
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$14, 12% abv.

Nectarine and watermelon aromas and flavors abound with bright acidity. Pale and austere appearance, and it goes well with garlicky steamed clams.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

03 October 2014

Fall Wines of Germany

Time once again for the quarterly delivery of two bottles from Wines of Germany. Over the years I've really enjoyed their sample system: always two bottles, one sweet, one dry, yet always demonstrating the impressive diversity that comes out of Germany with just a handful of white grapes.

The holidays are approaching, and low alcohol Riesling always has a place on the Thanksgiving or Christmas table. The Pinot Gris presented here is not my preferred style--I like it more austere and with a mineral focus--but is still tasty and approachable for both the expert and novice.

2013 Villa Wolf Pinot Gris
Pfalz, Germany
100% Pinot Gris
$12, 12.5% abv.

Just 75 km/45 miles from the French border, this winery was established in 1756 but revitalized by Dr. Loosen in 1996. This particular bottle is crisp and tart with tangy green apple and pear flavors. Dry and refreshing with a short finish. With a nod towards Thanksgiving, this would be my go-to bottle for a sandwich of leftover turkey and cranberry sauce on Friday while I am sitting at home reading rather than fighting with the crowds out shopping.

2011 Louis Guntrum Niersteiner Rehbach Riesling Spätlese
Rheinhessen, Germany
100% Riesling
$25, 10% abv.

The Guntrum estate was founded in 1648 and is currently managed by the 11th generation family member Louis Konstantin Guntrum. In 1945, General George S. Patton occupied the winery for the last months of WWII. I'm sure this was a purely strategic decision. This particular bottle is mild and sweet with low acidity and a round body. Round white fruit flavors with a gentle, clean finish. Good balance and a low alcohol percentage make this one an excellent candidate for the wine novices at your holiday table, while at the same time appealing to those who know a lot more about wine. I got a serious craving for baked ham and deviled eggs while sipping this one.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.

01 October 2014

2013 Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc

Founded in California in 2007, the Cecchetti Wine Company produces wine under five different brands: Austerity, Backhouse, Exitus, Redtree, and the source of this bottle, Line 39. As I mentioned in my 2013 review, this label is named after 39°N latitude, which runs right through Lake County, north of Sonoma and Napa.

Most people think of Sauvignon Blanc as a summer beverage, but I find it refreshing in the darker, colder days of fall. It's a reminder of sunshine and green grass and picnics. And a bottle invariably ends up on the Thanksgiving table, where it provides a tart accompaniment to ham and turkey.

2013 Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc
Lake County, California
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$11, 13.1% abv.

This Sauvignon Blanc opens up with aromas of grapefruit pith and lime peel. Tart and crisp with a quick and tangy finish. Perfect with a smoked chicken salad full of grapes and diced apples.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.