Thursday, January 31, 2008

What does chewy mean anyway?

When I see it on a tasting sheet, I ask the pourer what it means. I get some interesting answers. “Well, it is a leather and tobacco quality that the wine has and it didn’t sell well, so we are changing the tasting notes.” Well, that’s not chewy.

Dr. Debs had an interesting post regarding wine-speak. Watching Frasier reruns, one may get the idea that wine aficionados are boorish snobs living in a world of their own, getting all excited about Chateau This and That while their more down to earth father pops open a cold beer.

In fact, my experience is quite the opposite. Wine people are actually down to earth, love what they are doing and are as personable as any other segment of the population.

But there is a terminology to wine. Can’t help it. Would it be as exciting if the reviews looked like this? “Purple liquid that tasted good. I smelled good too. 87”. No we need a vocabulary. "Dark ruby red wine with aromas of cherry, blackberry, black pepper and anise." So far, so good. "With sued-like tannins..." Okay, now you have a description for a Zinfandel. With a little practice, we learn what silky, sued and leather tannis are like in a wine. So tasting wine and comparing notes is important when learning.

One slang term I use is "packie". I try to remember to link to a definition to “packie” which is a Massachusetts term. Packie is slang for a package store or liquor store. I use this when I mean a little mom-and-pop corner liquor store that has beer, hard liquor and wine. This is in contrast to a wine shop. Here I mean a small wine store that specializes in wine. Then there is the big discount store. You get great deals, huge selections and discount prices.

To that degree, here is what I do when I come across a word I don’t understand. I get it defined. One of my favorite on-line places is This is a dictionary search engine that never lets me down.

Second, This is pretty good, but who know who put what were. I like to back this up with other on-line searches. In addition, to the right, we have Italian and French wine term links and a link to Robert Parker's glossary.

So what does “chewy” mean? You can find out here.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Italian Wine Tasting at The Vineyard

Gary Burrell representing Rolivia, Inc. (C)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeThe Vineyard is a wine and cheese shop located north west of Boston, MA. On January 27th, The Vineyard held a tasting of 22 Italian wines presented by Bob McVickers representing the Boston Wine Company, Elizabeth Tamasino representing The Vineyard and Gary Burrell representing Rolivia, Inc.

We’ve attended a few store tasting before. They generally give a small pour into a thimble sized plastic glass which is impossible to evaluate color or aroma. When we arrived after the 50 minute drive through light blowing snow, we were greeted outside the door in the 30 degree weather by Bill Dwyer, the store proprietor. Much to our relief, he had a table set up outside with 50 small, what I consider to be the Italian restaurant burgundy glasses, chilled by the New England weather to a nice temperature for evaluating the white wines.

Bob McVickers representing the Boston Wine Company. (C)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeThe Vineyard was named "New England's Best Wine Store" by WHDH-TV (Channel 7) and "Best of North Shore" in the wine/spirits category by Northshore Magazine.

Bill welcomed us to the shop, made us feel at home and invited us in. The wine shop was small, but very well stocked. We found many of the familiar wines from major appellations, Old and New World. There were three tables set up with flights from all regions of Italy.

For us, this wine store offers a different variety than we have seen in the area. One of our finds was a David Coffaro Escuro Californa Red Wine blend which caught our eye because of Dr. Deb’s posting. We will be reviewing this in the future.

Taking tasting notes was a little difficult due to the number of people and lack of horizontal space. But we did get the highlights of the wines we tasted. Water, cheese and bread sticks were available to keep the palate cleansed.

The wines we will be reviewing in the future will be the Falesco 2006 Sangiovese (Umbria), the Santa Cristina Sangiovese (Toscana) with its tobacco, rose, coffee, cherry and silky tannins. Poggio Alle Sughere 2003 Morellino di Scansanso (Toscana) and the Villa Fulvia 2002 Amarone della Valpolicella (Veneto) with its cherry, leather, elderberry, smoky vanilla and cedar notes.

Gary Burrell representing Rolivia, Inc. (C)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeAnother wine we felt was quite delicious was La Pieve 2002 Bolero (Piemonte) which had fragrant pine, cherry-blackberry characters.

We are grateful for Mr. Dwyer for putting on this fun and educational event. If you live in the striking distance of North Andover, get onto the emailing list. On Saturday, February 9th, there will be another tasting featuring 52 wines.

Table 1: Bob McVickers, Boston Wine
1. Tramin 2006 Pinot Grigio (Trentino-Alto Adige) $14.99
2. Zenato 2006 Lugano (San Benedetto Lugana) $14.99
3. Falesco 2006 Sangiovese (Umbria) $13.99
4. Taurino 2003 Salice Salentino Reserva (Apulia) $11.99
5. Morgante Nero D'Avola 2005 (Sicily) $14.99
6. Corte Giara 2004 Ripasso (Veneto) $19.99
7. Maculan Dinderello (Veneto) $23.99

Table 2: Elizabeth Tomasino, The Vineyard
1. Val D'Oca NV Prosecco Il Blu (Veneto) $14.99
2. La Caplana Gavi (Piemonte) $12.99
3. Tormaresca 2006 Chardonnay (Puglia) $11.99
4. Santa Cristina Sangiovese (Toscana) $11.99
5. Cantina Zacagnini Montepulciano D'Abruzzo (Abruzzi) $17.99
6. Poggio Alle Sughere 2003 Morellino di Scansanso (Toscana) $16.99
7. Tormaresca 2006 "Neprica" (Puglia) $11.99
8. La Caplana Dolcetto D'Ovada (Piemonte) $12.99

Table 3: Gary Burrell, Rolivia Inc.
1. Villa Cornaro "Select" 2006 Pinot Grigio (Veneto) $13.99
2. Sensi 2006 Montepulciano D'Abruzzo (Abruzzo) $10.99
3. Sensi 2003 Chianti Classico Reserva (Chianti) $17.99
4. La Pieve 2002 Barolo (Piemonte) $37.99
5. Sensi "Testardo" 2004 Sangiovese/Cabernet (Toscana) $24.99
6. Villa Fulvia 2002 Amarone della Valpolicella (Veneto) $29.99
7. Petrone Limoncello (Please Save this your for last taste) $19.99


Northwest Visions - 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Rex Hill Foil I was eager to open this bottle of Rex Hill Pinot Noir after our recent Riedel glassware acquisition to see if it would make me a Pinot-head (in the past I've found it difficult to coax the aromas from a Pinot out of the glass). I guess it worked because I had no problem smelling this wine.

It reminded me of a Merlot at first. Definite notes of cherry, toast, and earthiness on first whiff. After a few minutes the strawberry and a touch of mint came through. The cherry also came through on the palate, as well as, blackberry. The wine was pleasingly fruity and bright with smoky overtones. As usual, the wine took some interesting tangents as our tasting progressed into dinner (pasta in white wine sauce with sweet onions, yellow peppers, smoked bacon, and salmon) such as; Italian sausage (fennel); and at one point, day-old fruit salad (mushy strawbs and bananas).

2006 Rex Hill Pinot Noir We reluctantly put the last half of the bottle away to try again another day. I spent a good deal of my childhood in the Pacific Northwest and always think on the area fondly. While sipping this wine, I had visions of a family picnic on a sunny meadow near Cultus Lake circa 1975. I can't find a photographic representation so you will just have to let the description, or this wine paint the picture in your mind.

2006 Pinot Noir
Rex Hill
Willamette Valley
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: $26.99

Summer afternoon - Summer afternoon... the two most beautiful words in the English language. -Henry James (1843 - 1916)


Friday, January 25, 2008

Size Matters at the Winter Wine Festival at the Wentworth

An evening at the Wentworth

The Wentworth Winter Wine Festival at the historic Wentworth Hotel in New Castle, New Hampshire is in full swing. Taster B and I decided to have a date night and drive the hour and a half up to the New Hampshire – Maine border to participate in the Riedel (pronounced Reed-L) wine glass demonstration.

Doug Cohn, North East Regional Sales Manager for Riedel introduced the Riedel family history and wine glass making tradition. Arriving in the room, at each place setting were the flight of four wines in four Riedel glasses and an empty “Joker” glass.

The Joker was the non-Riedel glass.The Joker glass was actually good quality glass, according to Mr. Cohn. It is the wine glass used by the Wentworth. To me, it looked like a taller version of a glass that I would serve a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blank in. Clean lines, thin stem, nice shaped bowl with a thin lip. The Riedel glasses will be mentioned with the wines.

The Riedel glasses were from the Vinum series. The Vinum collection, developed by Georg Riedel on the principle that the content commands the shape, is the "Vitrum-Vinothek" for every day use. They are machine made, have laser cut lips that are fire polished.

The wines tasted were introduced to us by a spokesperson from Vineyard Brands, wine importer of Villa Maria Estate wines. Presented were the Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (Wine Enthusiast 90 pts), Private Bin Unoaked Chardonnay (Wine Review Online 90 pts), Private Bin Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Wine Enthusiast 87 pts) and the Private Bin Pinot Noir (International Wine Cellar 88 pts).

Here were the wine/glass pairings in order of the flight:
Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay : Vinum Chablis 416/05
Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc: Vinum Riesling 416/15
Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir: Vinum Burgundy 416/07
Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot/Cabernet: Vinum Bordeaux 416/0

Mr. Cohn instructed us to hold wine glass is by the stem below the bowl with two fingers and the thumb. A good glass is designed to balance so as to not draw your attention away from the wine. Try this at home with your wine glass, hold it and pivot it. Does it feel balanced or does it feel like top heavy or hard to pivot?

The Chardonnay was the first to try. We evaluated the color of the wine in the crystal. Naturally, it was aesthetically pleasing. The swirl action of the glass was nice. With a reasonable swirl, I didn’t worry that I was going to embarrass Taster B by losing the contents of my glass on the lady sitting next to me.

The sniff of this wine was very clean, fruit, melon, tropical fruit. The aromas were easy to get from the glass and discernable. Nice.

The next step was the taste. It was clean, fresh, unoaked. It was a very pleasant Villa Maria Private Bin Hawkes Bay Unoaked Chardonnay 2004. We talked about the flavors and aromas.

Then we were instructed to poor the contents into the Joker. We did the same evaluation. The Joker actually presented the wine very well. The aromas were not as concentrated but still okay. The swirl was a bit more cautious.

Next came the watershed moment. The taste. We took a sip and (this is exactly what happened) I thought, “This is much more acid.” Taster B looked at me and said, “hmmm, it tastes more acid.” What more can I say?

Between wines, Mr. Cohn had a few things to say. Enough to say that I poured that wine back and forth about five times just to make sure I wasn’t placeboing myself.

The Sauvignon Blanc was evaluated in the same manner. The differences were discernable. In the Riedel glass, aromas of grapefruit and to me, very much like juniper berry. I could not get the juniper berry in the Joker glass.

Next was the Pinot Noir. The bowl on the 416/06 was pretty big and pulled in at the mouth. If you have friends that you want to train to swirl, this is the glass. You can swirl the bajeepers out of that wine and nothing will fling out. I tried. I almost ripped a rotator cuff swirling that wine. Not a drop was lost. Yup, you could train Aunt Millie and Uncle Harry to swirl with these bad boys.

The Pinot Noir was oaked. Fresh, green American oak, I thought too much. Many were enjoying the Pinot Noir, but it wasn’t my favorite. I could hear lots of “m-m-m-m-m-m-s” around the room, and I’m glad people like different wines. But for me, Oaky-smoky. So much so, I had a hard time finding the fruit.

I tried to pour the Pinot Noir into the Joker, but it smell too much of Sauvignon Blank so I just decided to continue this experiment at home. My mind is made up. Like Robert Mondovi and Robert Parker, Jr. and many more that have come before me, yes, I believe that Riedel has a good product. Yes, I want to experience and learn more. Yes, I believe I’d like to share that experience with our readers.

The Merlot/Cabernet Blend was nice, good tannin structure, good flavors, looked real sexy in the glass. MMM-mmm. Good stuff.

At the end of the event, we got to take the glassware home with us. We had a late dinner, I had Cod, Taster B had Salmon. Then it was back into the frozen winter night to drive an hour and a half home. It was a great night. If you have never done a tasting like this, treat yourself.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Liking the Cheap French Wine '05

It felt like it was time to take the plunge last weekend and buy a bottle of French wine we knew nothing about. Well, not nothing: I new 2005 was a good vintage. So, we picked up a bottle of $9 Cotes du Rhone. Turns out this AOC is known for turning out good quality inexpensive wines so, we did okay. There was also a bit of serendipity involved: Taster A was standing right next to the display when the merchandising message for the 2005 Cotes du Rhone came over the loud-speaker. I mean, that kind of thing just doesn't happen every day.

I wasn't expecting such a fruity wine. The aromas and flavors both smack of cherry, raspberry, and blueberry which is another nice surprise: The nose and flavors are actually very well aligned. I also get random whiffs ranging from molasses to licorice in this wine.
Floating on top of the fruit like a thin film is a light earthy/chalky aroma. The pores of the wine give off spice--cumin to black pepper (reminds me of an old roommate of mine). The spice and toast kind of meld into a moist cigar kind of thing.

This is a dry wine (which is to be expected) and with the cigar aroma, I actually got the physical sensation of smoke in my lungs.

Now for some of my wonderful made-up bogus food pairings: Beef Wellington comes to mind. Also spanakopita.

Overall, a well-balanced wine. Not overly complex but fine for $9 I should think.

Domaine Le Pigeonnier 2005
Côtes du Rhône
Alcohol: 13%
Price: $9.29
Color: Deep Ruby-Purple
Grapes: Grenache, Syrah,

Addendum: Former enthusiasm notwithstanding, this puppy went flat within 5 days of being opened...


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Zero Manipulation Red Table Wine 2005

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape The 2005 vintage of the small lot Zero Manipulation is 87% Carignane from the Wildvirfe Vineyard; 8% Mourvedre from the Norton Ranch; and 5% Petite Sirah from the West Vineyard. Wondering how they got this stuff into Massachusetts without the alcohol content on the label..? It is labeled "Red Table Wine" so I guess it must be around 14%.

First thing to hit me upon sticking my nose in the glass is cherry: Black cherry...cherry pie. Get a little vanilla too, and some allspice. Let me check again: Ah! Yes!

...Black cherry.

Now for a sip: There's some leather. I hate to use this word but, I have to say it is chewy. Good acidity and adequate tannins. Also get some herbal/woody notes. Namely rosemary.

This wine confounds me--it seems so interesting and yet terribly simple. Taster A is over here getting all sorts of black/red fruit, mineral and herbs. I feel content to wallow in the cherry...Oh wait, now I'm getting it: It's like something you picked out of the garden that still has some dirt on it--fruit in the middle with mineral around the outside. The nose on this wine has a sultry phase after about 15 minutes in the glass (smells like warm skin). Now we are getting some eucalyptus. Taster A is getting menthol and blueberry jam: Yep, I can see that.

So, time for our wildly original food pairing of homemade pizza. The wine keeps on being what it is throughout the meal despite liberal use of red pepper flakes. Taster A quips "it could hold it's own in a rochambeau contest." Yes, it could. Don't let the cherry fool you: This is a serious mother-father of a wine.

My feeling is that it's a steal at $13.99 and that it's probably a tad young but certainly enjoyable right now.

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape Zero Manipulation
Red Table Wine (blend)
Peterson Winery
Alcohol: ?
Price: $13.99


Friday, January 18, 2008

The Logic of Buying Wine

Or "Why I don't use a point system"
The people that score wine know wine. They know how it is made and they really do a very good job over all. The reader wants to know if the wine he is considering is going to be good or not. But the reader really wants to know whether he should buy a particular wine or not. I have used published points to help me get started when learning about new wine regions, so don't get the idea that I think points are bad.

Check this out. Forming a decision about a wine with Boolean two valued logic (yes or no, good or bad, right or wrong) is not how our decisions are formed. Even a three valued logic doesn’t quite describe the process either. "Yes, I want Merlot", "No, I don’t want Merlot" or "Maybe I want Merlot". And being stuck in a "Maybe" never gets anything done. Once you decide, “forget Sideways, I want Merlot”, you have flipped to a Yes state. If you decide No, then no it is.

I prefer an infinite valued logic, Yes at one end, No on the other and a full spectrum in between. For instance, you have a bottle of Merlot in front of you, you read the year, determine the producer and check for back for tasting notes. From your education and experience you conclude, “This is going to be good.” (High degree of Yesness.) Or you may say, “I don’t know, but I’m going to take a chance.” (More Yesness than Noness.) Or you may say, “I’m having flounder tonight, I think it will be too fruity, where is that Sauvignon Blanc?” (A high degree of Noness.) Or you may say, “Not even at gunpoint!”

In the end, you may do as I do… "Hey Taster B, what do you think of this one?” (Lots of Yesness, but need more data.)

And that brings me to topic:
Wine scores. I was just reading an article on large wineries producing small lots to tap into a growing market. “Robert Parker, Jr. rated the Louis Martini 2003 Lot No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 91 points, and Martini says the micro-winery's 2004 wines have also received high scores from Parker, though Wine Spectator rated the 2003 Lot No. 1 only 82 points.” “Holy subjective wine scores, Batman!”

Yes, I like Robert Parker, Jr. Yes, I pick up a copy of the Wine Spectator when I’m in the barber shop and read it cover-to-cover and think, “Why the hell don’t we get this?” And I really enjoy reading my fellow bloggers’ postings. Some score and some don’t.

Why don’t I score even a Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down? (You spotted that is Boolean logic, didn’t you?) It’s easy. I write about the wines that I care to share with people. If I have a wine that I didn’t like, I wouldn’t want to share it with my friends, which includes you for reading through this article which is drier than an Alsace Riesling. We work hard, life is too short to drink bad wine and it is certainly too short to blog about it.

In closing, I spend all day as an engineer assigning numbers to physical universe stuff. When I get home, I just want to enjoy my wine without pulling out the meters. Speaking of meters, you should see the cool wine thermometer Taster B gave me for Christmas! I wonder how the new loft cellar is working? Let's see, 2003 Chateau Carignan 61.8 deg F. 2003 Vendemmia Barbaresco, 61.9 deg F. Bergess Napa Valley Cab, 61.9 deg F...


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What a difference a year makes... Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio *2006*

We did our WBW #41 posting which included a Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio 2005. After Taster B did the posting, we found a 2006 in one of our local packies. I found the 2005 to be a bit oaky-smoky. It was not our favorite and had it not been for WBW, we most likely would not have posted it.

Part of the assignment was to find 2006 wines. We logged over 75 miles, visited 6 packies and two wine shops. This bottle was a little more expensive partly because we bought it at a packie as opposed to the discount wine place that we found the 2005.

The folks at Fork and Bottle were right, 2006 does represent a better vintage, at least by the Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio. The wine is more of an expression of the grape. I’m drinking it with a bit of Cajun Dirty Rice. We feel that the price we paid for the 2006 would have been too much for the 2005. The 2006 is smooth and buttery in the finish, the 2005 is a bit harsh.

It is worth noting that the 2005 had a composite cork and the 2006 had a screw cap.

Our Italian lesson for the day is the word Lumina. Lumina means "Illumination of the moon". Ruffino is the producer. Here’s what I got:

Pinot Grigio
Venezia Giulia IGT 2006

Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: $13.99

Color: Yellow
Intensity: Pale
Aromas: Lemon, melon, pineapple, a bit of green vegetable, nutmeg, slight vanilla and butterschotch
Flavors: Lemon, grapefruit, apple, pear, pineapple, stone, slate, butterscotch
Body: light
Acidity: Crisp
Sweetness: Dry
Finish: Moderate

Summary: Not as “complicated” as the 2005. Citrus forward aromas, a tiny bit green veggie, lots of melon and pineapple. Very smooth and elegant. I little nutmeg as the wine aged in the glass, then it shifted towards lemon. This wine is fun.

Dear Diary,
I hope you will forgive me for not doing a photo shoot. I know it would look more professional but it is mid week and I had to stay late at the J.O.B.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Monte Antico Toscana IGT, 2004

This Super Tuscan caught my eye because I’m trying to learn what the Super Tuscan hubbub is all about. The tag said it was a rated as a best value by one of the magazines, which I promptly forgot as soon a I got half way home. I thought it would be a good one to try and see how Taster B would like it.

What I like about this wine is that it has the nice Italian Sangiovese floral characteristics with the support of the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has fruit, acid, structure, mouth feel and for a wine in this price point, it is a great introducer to wines of this style in a higher price.

Researching this wine, I learned that the fermentation was at approx. 77° F, followed by maceration for 15-20 days followed by Malolactic Fermentation in stainless steel vats for 7 days. The wine was aged 1 year in oak (80% in Slavonian barrels, 20% in barrique) and at least 6 months in the bottle.

Click to Enlarge. (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeThe label on this wine is fairly straight forward, produced for the English market, so not much to learn here, Monte Antico meaning Ancient Mountain, Toscana IGT and the blend.

Tasting Notes:
Toscono IGT
Monte Antico
Vintage: 2004
Blend: 85% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: $8.99
Source: Discount Wine Store

Color: Ruby Red
Intensity: Moderate
Aromas: Cherry, prune, rose, lavender, anise, vanilla, oak, smoky, tobacco, chocolate
Flavors: Raspberry, blackberry, cherry, rose, olive, mint, anise, allspice, cedar
Body: Full
Acidity: Crisp
Sweetness: Dry
Tannins: Suede
Finish: Long

Summary: This was uncorked and poured, fruit forward, slightly astringent. Nice floral notes, good tannin structure. Slight olive, mint, spice, cedar like mouth feel. The Sangiovese is the dominant contributor with the Cabernet Sauvignon adding some extra structure and complexity. The dominate floral notes are pleasing. The oak is interesting, but makes me think that they are targeting the Americans. This wine goes for $11.00, I paid $8.99 at a larger discount liquor store. This is a very good value and a nice drinking wine. Yup, I’d buy another bottle!

We enjoyed this with spinach and cheese ravioli with a vegetarian red sauce.

And how did Taster B like it? She did! I think I'm about ready to bring her into to the Chianti Classico fold. Saturday she highly encouraged me to buy a $33 bottle of 2003 Barbaresco DOCG at a high-end wine shop. (She’s a keeper!)


Friday, January 11, 2008

WBW #41: Friuli-Venezia Giulia white wines

We are very excited about our first Wine Blogging Wednesday entry. So excited that we botched it a little!

Finding the Wine
I had hoped to find a 2006 Friulano Blanco as recommended by Boulder sommelier Bobby Stuckey in this month’s issue of Runner’s World (since we lived there for 8+ years), but as our hosts at Fork and Bottle indicated, it was not easy to find any Friuli-Venezia-Guilia at the recommended price point in any of our usual shops.

We started by trekking down to one of the larger liquor stores in our area and could only come up with an $8.99 bottle of Ruffino. So, by the following weekend, when after another unsuccessful shopping trip at an actual Wine Shop I found a bottle marked “Friuli” at a small package store, I leapt for it. The next day, we finally went into our neighborhood ‘Liquor Locker’ where we found at last the coveted bottle of >$18 Friuli-Venezia-Guilia.

Only after we got all three bottles together, did we realize that one didn’t fit the profile. We included it anyway!

The Flight:
Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio 2005
First impression was oak and grapefruit zest, followed by mineral--reminiscent of a Chardonnay.

Albola Pinot Grigio 2005 (the renegade!)
First impression was of brie, and fig and reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc.

Bortoluzzi Pinot Grigio 2006
First impression was that it was very similar to the Albola: More stinky fromage, and fig, as well as Clementine. This one however, was more like a Riesling than a Sauvignon Blanc with a fizzy mouth feel.

Second Impressions
After going back to the Ruffino, the nose has gone harsh, almost chemically. Taster A smells heavy toast and I smell carbonized lighter fluid. Taster A suggests it smells like over-toasted pine-nuts. Let’s find out! We burned some pine-nuts over the stove and took a whiff: I then smelled the Ruffino and now it smelled like burnt nuts with tree fruit. More pleasant than a chemical fire but, still not my item!
I thought the Bortoluzzi, with its Riesling character would pair well with baklava—it definitely has a honey aroma. Taster A said “no way.” So, we got out some honey: I think it worked. Taster A thought it made the wine taste sour.

With the undeniable odor of cheese from the Albola and Bortoluzzi, I figured a natural choice would be brie. The Albola actually stood up to the brie better than the Bortoluzzi. That leaves us with only the theoretical pairing of Mu Shu pork for the Bortoluzzi, or anything that you would pair with a dry Riesling.
The Albola went well with brie, and also with split pea soup. The Ruffino wasn’t bad with split pea soup either (think liquid smoke).

Final Thoughts
Quality followed the price point pretty consistently with the Ruffino being the most rustically manipulated, and the Bortoluzzi the most refined. For our money, the Albola at $12.99 and with a little more backbone than the Bortoluzzi was the best choice (oops! the non-Venezia-Giulia took the prize--the Bortoluzzi was the winner in the Venezia-Giulia division :))

We were really happy with our flight of three Friuli wines which gave us a chance to get a feel for the broad range of flavor characteristics that can be achieved with one varietal: Pinot Grigio. We had the charry chardonnay-like Ruffino, the taut Sauvignon Blancesque Albola, and the eloquent Riesling-reminiscent Bortoluzzi.

The Details
Ruffino Lumina
2005 Pinot Grigio
Venezia Giulia IGT
Alcohol: 12.5%
Cost: $8.99

2005 Pinot Grigio
Friuli Aquileia DOC
Alcohol: 12%
Cost: $11.99

2006 Pinot Grigio
Venezia Giulia IGT
Alcohol: 13.5%
Cost: $19.99


3,200 bottles of California Wine Destroyed in Belgium

This article by by Jane Firstenfeld just came in from Wines and Vines.

“Anvers, Belgium -- Belgian customs authorities seized and destroyed a shipment of more than 3,200 bottles of André sparkling wine on Jan. 8. The wines, produced by E. & J. Gallo Winery of Modesto, Calif., bore labels referring to "California Champagne" and "André Champagne Cellars," direct violations of EU laws that prohibit the use of "Champagne" on wines produced outside of France's Champagne region. A statement released by E. & J. Gallo today said the shipment had been sent by a third party."

"According to a statement issued by the Office of Champagne, USA, "Any U.S. product that misuses the Champagne name and seeks to enter an export market that protects consumers from misleading labels is considered counterfeit. To avoid greater legal liabilities and legal procedures, the owner of the merchandise agreed to abandon it for immediate destruction." The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) today held a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, and released a video of the wine's destruction."

Read the entire article on Wines and Vines.

I think this sums it up. Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) representative and Champagne producer Bruno Paillard said, "This wine was of so low a value that the producers decided to abandon it, a good illustration of the value of that wine….Don't you think it was a provocation just to send it?"

My sentiments exactly. What was this third party shipper thinking? Haven’t we assaulted France enough with our McDonald’s “French fries” and putting Chablis and Burgundy on our jug wine bottles? What do you think, is it okay to produce sparkling wine in the States and call it Champagne? Can't we stand on our own marketing two feet?


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tick-tick-snap-tick, the Sound of the Future. (Say it taint so.)

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape
I’ve been putting off this article for a month now. I think it is time I just bite the bullet and write it. It is much more fun to write about the last wine we discovered than to talk about problems. But it is part of what we are learning and therefore legitimate fodder for the blog.

Going into the wine store and selecting a wine, I still get the willies when I see a screw cap. I immediately think of Thunderbird, Annie Green Springs and Boones Farm. When I see a screw cap, it better have a jug wine under it, not my $23.00 bottle of Pinot Grigio!

Well, this is not the point. Producers are starting to push back against tainted wine. Wine drinkers are becoming more sophisticated and with today’s open communication lines, they are being less intimidated than in the past. “What if I complain to the sommelier about this wine and look like a fool?” Well, what if it isn’t earthy mushroom but wet cardboard and newspapers you smell? You may have a “corked” bottle. A bottle tainted with TCA (trichloroanisole).

TCA is a chemical produced by mold growing in a tainted cork. It is totally harmless, but it is detectable in one part per trillion! To put that in perspective, that is one drop of TCA for every 1,000,000,000,000 drops of wine. Most folks cannot detect this low of a level, but can detect 10 ppt. (In order to give you a sense of one part per trillion, this is like having your first name spoken once for one second in 43,000 years and you being able to hear it.)

In one case, TCA was blamed for an off-flavor component in eggs and broiler chickens. In that case, the chemical appears to have originated as a contaminant in feed and litter that was transformed to 2,4,6-TCA through microbial action. In the case of cork taint, it is presumed that 2,4,6-TCA originates from the chlorination of lignin [a wood component]-related compounds during chlorine bleaching in the processing of cork. (1 )

TCA poses no harm to humans, however it is the ruin of many a bottle. The cork industry will say that 7 in 1000 corks will foul a wine bottle, but the wine industry has claims as 1 in 10 bottles show some signs of being corked.

Wine Spectator reports the number typically ranges from 1 percent to 15 percent of all wines, depending on whether it comes from closure manufacturers, vintners or another source. Wine Spectator's Napa office tracks the number of "corky" bottles in tastings of California wines, and the percentage of defective corks routinely runs at 15 percent. At the magazine's California Wine Experience in 2004, the team of sommeliers who screened the wines for the seminars reported that the occurrence of “corky” bottles was 4 percent to 12 percent. The cork industry has a different estimate of cork failure: typically 1 percent to 2 percent.

TCA most frequently occurs in natural corks and is transferred to the wine in bottle from the cork closure. Other sources are pressure treated wood products and interaction with chlorinated chemicals. These non-cork generated TCA sources can find their way into vats, bottling equipment and through corks during aging. If a complete lot is contaminated, it is most likely the winery is contaminated, and that can spell disaster for the winery.

The presence of these compounds in cork can be associated with their use as wood preservatives and pesticides or with the use of chlorinated derivatives, commonly used as disinfectants of water, equipment, and work areas. Wineries must be constantly on the alert or a whole production lot could be lost. In order to eliminate whole lot contamination, wineries must rid themselves of pressure treated lumber products, some paints and sources of chlorine. Its sounds simple, but just try that in your home. This is why it is important to know your cellar contractor and know what materials are being used.

Mold Wars could be a solution?
There may be a biological solution to the problem. The use of Chrysonilia sitophila (a particular strain of mold) in cork stopper manufacture was studied and a simulation of the industrial processing of cork stoppers was performed. C. sitophila does not produce 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, guaiacol, or 1-octene-3-ol on cork slabs incubated for 66 days.(2) This approach is similar to using a dominate yeast in a fermentation or in the production of cheese.

Alternative Closures
There have been strides made by the cork industry, but we are seeing new types of closures come to the market place. Synthetic corks or Stelvin closures and screw caps are taking the lead in alternative closures.

The Stelvin closure can be engineered for optimal oxygen permeation, but may impart a chemical taste to the wine. The Stelvin closures also do not degrade in the environment, meaning that we will see them washing up on the beaches in the near future. Screw caps have been around for a while, but are resisted by consumers.

Engineering a closure for wine does have its challenges. Screw caps work well for Seven Up. You are not aging Coca-Cola. We do not know what will be the result of aging Bordeaux style wines with screw caps.

We just purchased a Ruffino 2005 Pinot Grigio and a Ruffino 2006 Pinot Grigio. The 2005 came with a composite cork, the 2006 with a screw cap. It is coming, maybe faster than we may want.

I’m sad, say it ain’t so. There is something that I like about opening a bottle of wine, the anticipation. Will the cork break? Will it be everything I hoped for? Were my instincts right? Will it go with dinner? Will Taster B like it? And the soft pop of the cork as it is pulled out of the bottle. The wine goes into the glass and the first swirl and sniff…ah, it’s going to be a good bottle.

It just ain’t going to be the same with a screw cap. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just being neurotic? And what about our children? Will they ever know the joy of popping open a good bottle of wine or will they think I’m being an old fart messing around with “Old Reliable?”

Will they ever hear the pop of a real cork or just tick-snap-snap-tick?

(1) Science News 121.25 (19 June 1982): 409-409. EBSCO.

(2) Role of Chrysonilia sitophila in the quality of cork stoppers for sealing wine bottles, Pereira, et. al., Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology (2000) 24, 256–261. EBSCO.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Concept of Terroir

What is terroir? Of course, it’s a French word that literally translates to “soil” but beyond that, it seems to be indefinable. According to a 2007 article in New Scientist1, attendees of a 2006 viticulture conference at UC Davis attempted and failed to define the term.

The French have another phrase: je ne sais quoi”Now, I’m no Francophile but I think this concept can shed some light on the French concept of terroir.

I’ve seen the “terroir debate” characterized in many ways: globalization versus localization; science versus nature; industry versus tradition, but all of these characterizations can be reduced down to this simplicity- material versus intangible.

Science in viticulture and enology seeks to discover the building blocks and blueprint that will produce a consistent result, and Terroiristes attack what amounts to a materialistic approach on a variety of platforms. I don't happen to subscribe to the scientific approach with wine but, do some Defenders of Terroir go too far? Maybe Roger Scruton deriding globalization as a vehicle to ordinary drunkenness for the classless and mediocre is clouding the issue.2Perhaps, the reductio ad absurdum depiction of a brave new GM-wine world in a recent Economist article,where wine “tasting” is no longer necessary thanks to genetic sequencing data which tells you exactly what flavors are present in wine is too sardonic but, seriously though...what is the point if you break every thing down to the molecular level?

It’s tempting to go sci-fi at this point with musings on whether androids dream of Red Bordeaux... However, I think there is enough room between the extremes for me to comfortably occupy: Somewhere in the middle ground between gross generalization about drinkers of non-Terroir wine, and the obtuse insistence on defining terroir in scientific terms, there’s where you’ll find me; enjoying whatever good glass of wine I have the good fortune to drink.

1"Terroir." New Scientist 193.2592 (24 Feb. 2007): 54-54. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO.

2 Scruton, Roger. "In Defense of Terroir." American Spectator May 2007: 42+. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I'm just a lucky guy

I was just having an off line communication with Wannabe Wino. I was explaining to her that the name of the blog was Taster B’s idea, it comes from what some guy would whisper in her ear in the tasting room, “…hmmm, tastes like grape.” If you have read my profile and read my welcome page, then you know I’ve been drinking wine for a long time. I’ve come a long way since I’ve found Taster B who has just been a joy to learn to appreciate wine with. I couldn't imagine taking this journey without her. I'm just a lucky guy.


Monday, January 7, 2008

Buying a Refrigerated Wine Cabinet

When we decided to buy a wine cabinet recently, I was surprised to find very little in the way of a Wine Cabinet Buying Guide online. I started at where I did manage to find one or two models with a decent number of good customer ratings. Unfortunately, all of the bad reviews seemed to revolve around shipping problems and damage and horrible manufacturer customer support. With that bit of data, we decided we better shop for one locally. I began scouring websites like epinions, and bizrate but found very few models have been rated at all. I also did a search of the Consumer Reports archives—nothing; Wine Spectator--same thing.

It seemed that any consumer information available was reserved for the upper-end models: I was not going to get any help selecting my McChiller (did I hear somebody say ‘free gun rack with purchase’?). Finally, we decided to hit our local Home Appliance stores where we soon discovered wine refrigerators were not even in stock. Home Depot had a “Magic Chef” unit (yeah, I never heard of it either). My searches yielded a few discussion boards from around 2005 where the majority of Magic Chef owners had picked the unit up on sale for between $149-$177. My HD was selling it for $449. Moving right along…

What have we learned so far?

1. Shipping a wine cabinet can be risky
2. wine cabinets damaged during shipping may take months to get repaired
3. Buying a wine cabinet locally in ‘North East New England’ is not an option

What are we left with? Find a reputable retailer online. That’s exactly what I did. I went to the Wine Enthusiast website where, happily, they have a January free shipping special on a few models. I found a model with 14 good customer reviews. I also opted to purchase the 3 year warranty since most of the rants I read out in cyberspace indicated the trouble started in the 2nd year.

What have your wine storage/cabinet shopping experiences been? Does anyone reading have any recommendations to add or expand on? One tip I found more than once was: Whatever you think your storage needs will be, plan on exceeding it. I know this unit is small but, we are limited by space, and we are in a temporary situation so, it's only gotta get us through the next year or two.

We still have yet to receive the unit. I will definitely post an update here on how it works out for us.

VinoView Silent 35 Bottle Wine Display Refrigerator (Graphite Trim Door) - Available at The Wine Enthusiast
VinoView Silent 35 Bottle Wine Display Refrigerator (Graphite Trim Door)
Available at The Wine Enthusiast


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Medieval Smells Like Grape

Click to animate.
Click to animate.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Castello Di Salle Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape

We frequent a packie just 20 miles south of us. It’s a bit out of the way, but they have a good selection and have bottles priced by case prices (meaning you get the case price if you by one bottle or twelve). While Taster B was looking for a Pinot Grigio, I put my grandpappy glasses on and snuck over to the Italian section to see what could be found.

I’m interested in operating out of my comfy zone and dabbling into some wine that I never tasted. I had good luck with the Dogajolo so I thought I’d try another Super Tuscan or three. What I found wasn't a Super Tuscan but something from the east central coast.

Okay, I really don’t know Italian wine from Adam’s off ox, so I was relying on the information tags. I found three wines that had great reviews. (I like to rely on my own judgment but in this case, I was happy to get help from Robert Parker, Jr. and Wine Spectator. Taster B says that our tastes agree with Robert Parker, Jr. I know better than to argue with her.)

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeLet’s take a look at this label. The first thing I notice is that the label is for an American market, it’s in Italianglish. Castello Di Salle is the brand. The bottler is Sallis Castrum and I’d like to provide you with a link but I’m not having much joy. I’ve had two sites refer me to the Ciccio Zaccagnini winery website, however I’m unable to find Castello Di Salle or Sallis Castrum there.

Let’s continue. Riserva is Italian for reserve and we have a red wine. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is what we have in the bottle. Montepulciano is also a type of wine grape. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a type of red wine made from grapes of the same name in the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy. (Okay, I got that sorted. Cool, this is my first Montepulciano d'Abruzzo!)

Denominazione di Origine Controllata, Denomination of Controlled Origin, an upper level Italian wine classification. This defines a given wine's geographical origin, grapes, and production methods but is no guarantee of quality. Now I’m informed that Riserva is a DOC term and indicates a higher valued wine. Here in the states, Reserve has become a bit trite. A comment is welcome on the subject of DOC and riserva. Can we count on this to lead to a higher quality Italian wine?

I did find a useful review of our wine at I was uncertain about buying a 2001 without knowing if the wine has good bones, but according to this reference, one could lay this bad boy down for 5 more years for continued development. (Yah, we're popping this one open as soon as I can find “old reliable”.) also imports this wine and has information posted.

I'm rather happy to present my tasting notes for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It was a real pleasure to try something new.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva
Castello Di Salle
Variety: 100% Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo
Appellation: Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo D.O.C.
Vintage: 2001
Alcohol: 13.0%
Price: $11.99

Color: Ruby Red
Intensity: Deep
Aromas: Strawberry, blackberry, plum, violet, rose, earth, oak
Flavors: Blackberry, plum, herbal, allspice, white pepper, vanilla, sandlewood.
Body: Medium
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: off-dry
Tannins: Silk
Finish: Moderately long.

Summary: This is a smooth drinking, subtle wine. Pleasant fruit, easy tannins. The wine is like tasting the lazy days of summer when the living is easy. Black fruits of blackberry and plum. This is not a big red cab, no it is a gentle breeze on a lazy day. Everything is balanced, nothing dominates, total harmony.

Drink this by itself, with leg of lamb, Moroccan, rabbit, pheasant, grilled veggies, and with Italian red sauces.

Commenting on Commenting:
We’ve been trying to get commenting to work for a few weeks and I spent Sunday trying to debug the template only to fine that the constants that control the commenting are stored out of the editable part of our skins and templates. If you have spotted an error in this posting, want to leave some friendly Italian wine advice or offer suggestions, please click on the title of this posting and the commenting should become available.

7 Jan 08
Dear Diary,

I bumped into an engineer friend in the hall today. He said that he and his new girlfriend has shared a special Bordeaux together. We struck up a conversation. He said that his favorite Italian wine was a red wine that no one has ever heard of. “Its Mono, no Monton no, that’s not righ...” I said inquisitively, “Do you mean Montepulciano d'Abruzzo?” “Yes!!! That’s it!!!” I told him where he could get it locally. How cool is that?


Champagne and Chinese Take-Out

Click to animate. (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape Happy New Year!


Wine Pronunciation Guide

I just ran across this Wine Lexicon on Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page which is a great resource for all those questionable wine pronunciations. I remembered watching a pronunciation primer on Wine for Dummies where I learned, for instance, that Pinot Grigio is pronounced pee-noe gree-joe not 'gree-zhee-o'. Unfortunately, that example is one of the few I retained in long-term memory, so I'm happy to have found a website I can refer back to time and again: Even if I can only properly pronounce the wine style/varietal in a restaurant or wine shop (nevermind the Chateau), at least I've saved myself some embarrassment!

The creator of the Wine Lexicon has created an extensive glossary with definitions, pronunciation, and a sound file--definitely a handy little guide!

Addendum: I also like this Italian wine pronunciation guide (even if it is from a commercial importer).