Friday, November 28, 2008

Can a Merlot Man Survive in Oregon?

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape, ShootingMyUniverse
I took a trip to Portland, Oregon to visit relatives. I was pleased to spend some time with my mother who flew out with me. Unfortunately, Taster B had to work and couldn’t make the trip.

Mom and I had some free time and I decided to take her out wine tasting. This was going to be an adventure because I know next to nothing about the wine regions of Oregon and have not been to the area in some 15 years.

The hotel had a Washington-Oregon wine region booklet, but I wasn’t finding much joy. I though that the graphics were nice, but that was about it. I did decide that Ponzi Vineyards might be within distance of the hotel and decided to consult the GPS. It was an 18 mile trip through Portland and should make a nice little day trip.

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape, ShootingMyUniverse
We arrived at Ponzi Vineyards at 10:30 in the morning. Stepping out of the car, the air was crisp and moist and the vineyards had the strange appearance of moss. This is truly the Pacific North West. Ponzi has a beautiful vineyard and a great tasting room. We were greeted by a little sign that said "please ring the bell." The voice cheerfully greeted us and the opened the tasting room. Our host was David Nielsen who introduced us to the flight and chatted with us.

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape, ShootingMyUniverseThe first wine was a Pinot Noir Rosato with lively flavors and very refreshing taste. So impressed was I, that I photographed the bottle.

Next was a Pinot Noir, which was an absolutely classic Pinot Noir followed by a really intriguing Chardonnay. In order to give you a reference point, I prefer Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay. I have had too many Chardonnays that disappointed me. This Chardonnay was so extraordinary that I forgot to photograph the bottle!

Our host David chatted with us about sniffing corks, serving wines, and wine making styles. This was among the top wine tasting experience that I’ve had and I would recommend Ponzi wines. If you are going to the area, put Ponzi on your short list.

David gave us instructions to visit Dundee, Oregon and stop into the Dundee Bistro. The restaurant is owned by the Ponzi family and is just a great place to have a fun dining experience. I had the Beer Battered Ling Cod and my mom had local sturgeon. The food was excellent, the service was great and the wine selection was fabulous. And remember, I live in a fishing village, so when I recommend a restaurant where I’ve had fish, it’s nothing to “throw back”.

I’ve learned a lot about what makes a good Pinot Noir on this trip. My former lack of excitement about this wine has been exacerbated by having lack luster Pinot Noir wines. Now that I have a good reference point, I’m more interested in Pinot Noir wines.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday Wine & Tunes Pairing

Let’s take a break from the holiday wine and food pairing frenzy for a moment, and look at a jazzy pairing of wine and, you guessed it, jazz (oh, did I give that away?)

First, just look at the parity between the label art and the album art here from the Verge 2006 Syrah, and the Verve very best of Christmas jazz album. The artwork alone should be enough to tell you that this is a good pairing. Then there are the names: Verve and Verge--Only one letter difference. Coincidence? Well, yes...

Verve is a cool jazz record label going way back. Verge is new cool wine label on the scene (and I’m saying that even before receiving the t-shirt I’ve been promised—also very cool, which is why I want one).

You can read all about Verge on their website but, here’s the skinny: Verge specializes in wild-fermentation small-lot hillside Sonoma Syrah from “the fringe.” I had the opportunity to sample some of the 2006 Syrah in October and I would say that Verge won the distinction of being distinctive in a room full of Sonoma Syrahs. There were herbal notes of lavender, and other scribbles I can’t make out from my notes, as well as, caramel, and orange infused chocolate. That's right--Not chocolate and orange separate. This is the chocolate orange you get in your Christmas stocking I'm talking about.

One final note: Syrah is a big jolly red wine. Santa is a big jolly man in a red suit. Yes, the parallels just go on and on... This wine and tunes pairing gets a groovy chill smiley-grape.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Silly Chambert


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Vignoles in the Fall

Jewell Towne Vineyards in the Fall.  Click to Enlarge. (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape

I’ve had several discussions with Peter Oldak, owner and wine maker of Jewell Towne Vineyards. He has a good heart and soul for what he does. He likes to make what he calls “honest wines”. Oaking and smoking wine is not his style, and in this age or formulating for wine scores, it seems that Peter is blissfully oblivious to that trend.

Peter uses all stainless steel fermentation and storage. Many of his wines are “American table wines", and I get excited about his whites and I think they are worth talking about. This is the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border we are talking about. This is ideal for cold climate grapes.

If the whites are worth mentioning, Peter expands his skills and makes a killer port and a kick-butt Vidal Ice Wine 2005. Some cold and snowy night, I’ll share the port with you, promise.

Tonight’s wine is his Vignoles table wine not to be confused with the 2007 Vignoles which we will pop open later.

Vignoles (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeVignoles
Jewell Towne Winery

New Hampshire Table Wine
Alcohol: 11.0%
Price: ~$10 to $12

Color: Golden-yellow
Intensity: Moderate for a white
Aromas: Honey, pear, straw, butterscotch, apple, litchi,
Flavors: Lemon, melon, honey, butterscotch, pear, guava, tangerine, hint of tobacco
Body: Moderately full
Acidity: Crisp
Sweetness: Sweet
Finish: Moderately long

Summary: Mmmm, an interesting combination of tropical, citrus and butterscotch. It has a very round mouth feel, but also a cleanness, with explosive flavors. It is 25 deg F outside, not what I think would be white wine weather, but I’m just enjoying this. As with many Jewell Towne Wines, it is on the sweet side, think lemon sorbet. Nice and refreshing.

I heard Taster B say this would go good with spicy Asian food. I think I’m happy to have this on its own, just as an aperitif. I’m thinking about a warm fire with a cold wine and good music going. Just turn off the tube, close the laptop and enjoy.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Third Thursday Twitter Taste Live

Twitter Taste Live at the original time (third Thursday of the month) is tomorrow and this time Dr. Vino puts a green spin on things. We're drinking local and saying no to Nouveau!

Then check in on the same channel on Friday night for the Twitter Taste Live Drink Charitibly event featuring wines from Humanitas!


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fall Line 2004 Horse Heaven Hills Red

This is a wine that my wine shop proprietor recommended based on my request for "something nuanced." He told me it is one of his current favorites. There's no doubt about it--this is an exceptionally well made wine. A blend of 42% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc, and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, this Bordeaux-style blend is both subtle and strong. In fact, it was so enjoyable that I didn't bother taking notes so now I have to go by spotty memory...

Fall Line Winery Red Wine

Variety: Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Blend
AVA: Horse Heaven Hills
Alcohol: 14.8%
Price: $30-$35
Aromas: Plum, cherry, lavender,
Flavors: Lavender, tomato, boysenberry, spice

Summary: A nicely balanced wine with layers of distinct aroma and flavor (hence the nuance). While the nose is a little bit reminiscent of a new world style Côtes du Rhône, the flavor has hints of a Loire Cab Franc. It doesn't hit the hard-core level of iodine of a Loire red but the savory tomato characteristics are there combined with woody herbs like lavender, and soft flavors of purple berry. This wine gets a smiley-grape.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Wine Paraphernalia

Wondering what to give the wine lover in your life? There are dozens of cool wine gadgets and serving pieces to choose from, the problem is, the person you're shopping for may already have all that stuff! I'm still trying to figure out a tactful way of sending my Amazon wishlist to the people on my gift exchange list, but that's another story...

Consumables are a safe bet. If the wine lover on your list lives in a ship-to state, a gift certificate from a cool online wine boutique like Domaine 547, or a wine outlet like Bin Ends Wine is the perfect gift. Bin Ends can legally ship inside Massachusetts too--bonus!

Now here's something I really need and I wouldn't mind finding in my stocking at all: Wine Wipes! Yes, some may scoff at the idea of portable teeth/lip wipes, but I think it's brilliant! I hate trying to laugh with my mouth closed after drinking a mega-purple wine! Who wants to go around looking like an extra in one of those films set in eighteenth century Edinburough?


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Vintage Gold Seal Chablis Nature

Here's another goofy wine commercial vintage 1979 for Gold Seal Chablis Nature reminiscent of the Miller Lite/Reese's Peanut Butter Cups genre (you'll see what I mean). The French Wine Masters referenced in this ad were actually Charles Fournier, from Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin, and Dr. Frank. Check out this article from the New York Times archives for a little more of the history of New York wine.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WBW #51: Madeirized

This month Joe over at 1WineDude is hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly event where wine bloggers write on a theme chosen by the host. This month's theme is cooked wine (not the bad kind). Madeira is unique in that it is exposed to heat during the wine-making process as well as being fortified. The fortification stops the fermentation process, and raises the alcohol level making it perfect for those bothersome long sea voyages aboard a man-of-war. Oh... Perfect because it resists spoilage, of course. It was one of the favorite imports of Great Britain and her colonies in the 18th century. In fact, Madeira actually owes its style to its sea-faring past: Vinho da roda was Madeira that had made the roundtrip on a sea voyage and its transformed flavors were preferred to the stuff straight off the island. So, producers developed methods to imitate on land, the jostling and heating effect of a voyage at sea.

By the way, I had the pleasure of meeting the Wine Dude, along with Mrs. Dude and the little dudette (such a chill baby) at the Wine Bloggers Conference in October. Joe is one cool cat, so check out his blog if you haven't (which you probably have because it's notorious).

Anyway, back to the Madeira. We tried the Blandy's Verdelho Reserve. According to wikipedia, Verdelho is characterized by smokey notes and high acidity. Reserve just means it was aged for a minimum of five years and the classification is 'bottom of the barrel', so to speak. The classifications go up from there. The name pretty much says it all for the Blandy's Verdelho: Blandy. Rhymes with brandy. It has a brandy-like nutty aroma nose, and the flavor? Bland. Sorry, I guess that is to be somewhat expected with Verdelho which is a milder style but, this pretty much tasted like fancy juice-box. I didn't find it smokey and the acidity was about the equivalent of apple raspberry Juicy Juice. A little harsh maybe but, I guess I'm still a little pissed that I spent thirty bucks on this grog. Unfortunately, it was either this or a $40 bottle of Blandy's.

I could see using this Madeira for canning cherries or marinating fruit, or pouring over a fruit cake or something. At $2.31 a gallon, I could also see filling my gas tank with thirty dollars, but hey, what's done is done.

Thanks again to 1WineDude for hosting this month's theme. I'm sorry I couldn't pick a winner Joe, but I hope you are enjoying yours.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nero My Heart to Thee


Grape Variety: Nero d'Avola
IGT Sicilia
Alcohol: 14%
Price: $35
Aromas: blackberry, bramble, floral, smoked meat
Flavors: cherry, blackberry, fig, blueberry, tomato

Summary: This is a fun wine. There are lots of yummy layers of fruit and spice on the nose along with a floral component that reminds me of Bounce dryer sheets. The flavor is really savory like tomato but also has lush fruit components, and just the right balance of tannins (I'm so burned out on tough wines right now). The finish is long and playful, with pure blueberry aftertaste. I love this wine. This wine makes me happy. You can't put a price tag on that.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Drink Charitably with Humanitas and Twitter Taste Live


(Forgive me, having a little illumation moment there...) A really big Twitter Taste Live event is scheduled for November 21st. What is Twitter Taste Live? It's a monthly (sometime bi-weekly, sometimes weekly) virtual live wine tasting event, and it is the brain-child of Bin Ends Wine.

Who can participate in Twitter Taste Live? You! Me! Everybody!

This is a really special TTL because Humanitas Wines,,, and have joined to bring Drink Charitably to Twitter Taste Live! The wines for the event can be purchased directly from Humanitas for $45 and include:

2006 Sauvignon Blanc-Monterey
2007 Chardonnay "Oak Free"-Monterey
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon-Paso Robles

Who will benefit from your participation in Drink Charitably? Humanitas donates all the profits from their wine sales to chapters of America's Second Harvest, Habitat for Humanity and Reading is Fundamental in the wine purchaser's local region! So, the beneficiaries of your participation are your local community and YOU!

What do you have to do to participate? You will need a free Twitter account, and you'll want to follow @LENNDEVOURS, @twittermoms, and @binendswine at a minimum (oh, and @smellslikegrape!) You can also track all the hip hashtag action on the live #ttl stream over on the official Twitter Taste Live site. There's also a complete list there of participants to follow on Twitter. Alright, this post is positively lousy with links so, I'm going to stop now. Just one last thing: These events are fun, fun, fun! Where else can you taste wines with a bunch of cool bloggers and wine lovers from the comfort of your own home?


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Albariño Lícia

This Albariño is also from the Rias Baixas region of Spain. Very similar to the Burgaño and equally as appealing so check out that post for trivia. I would recommend this wine. It’s a bit pricy but remember that the Albariño grape needs some extra T.L.C.

Rias Baixas Denominación de Origen
Vintage: 2007
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: $19.99

Color: Yellow
Intensity: Light
Aromas: Melon, lemon, passion fruit, apple, litchi, mushroom, hay
Flavors: Lemon, grapefruit, fig, hazelnut, butter, wet stone
Body: Light
Acidity: Crisp
Sweetness: Dry
Finish: Moderate

Summary: This is a very refreshing wine with a citrus-Granny Smith quality. Nice and tart. The wine then mellows in the mouth with a buttery quality. This is very palate cleansing, much like a sorbet.

I would serve this with lightly seasoned food. I would just love to have some Baked Haddock right now. Or some Crab Louie or Snow Crab claws, red snapper, lox and capers or perhaps, pasta primavera. Another dish that would be fun to have with this is Chicken Picante, or shrimp cocktail, and maybe if you want to go nutso-cuckoo, antipasti.


Friday, November 7, 2008

A Year of Wine by Dr. Vino

Another book by power wine blogger and professor Tyler Colman (AKA Dr. Vino) is hitting the shelves just in time for the holidays. I had the opportunity preview A Year of Wine this week. My initial impression of A Year of Wine is that it is like a print version of a wine blog, except rather than being organized by region or grape variety, it's organized by season and month.

There's a little bit of everything in this book--all pretty basic stuff for the most part but, not without its interesting tid-bits. Wish you knew what to serve at your Super Bowl party? Flip to February. Looking for the perfect hot-dog pairing? Flip to June. The book is laid out and formatted like a textbook oriented around the months of the year, and provides plenty of room in the margins for taking notes!

I liked Colman's emphasis on context for drinking wine. The following passage from the introduction sets up the focus for the rest of the book: "...too often, a wine itself is taken as fixed and unchanging because of a numerical rating that a critic gave it and that it carries with it from meal to meal, year to year." The text is also spiked with several one page Sommelier Surveys that reveal a variety of viewpoints on wine drinking context, and seasonal wine pairings to keep this theme in focus.

Besides specific wine recommendations for each season, Colman throws in a lot of his practical tips and advice on everything from wine accessorizing to bargain hunting. He also makes mention of a number of online wine resources that wine lovers may not be familiar with if they haven't spent much time reading wine blogs.

The book is written in a breezy somewhat "bloggish" style which is a departure from the style of Wine Politics. I think confirmed wine enthusiasts will get more out of Wine Politics than they would from A Year of Wine. Still, fans of the Dr. Vino blog will certainly want to have this book around for a handy reference, or buy it as a gift for the wine newbie on their list.

In closing, and by way of offering a small preview, below is my favorite bit of jauntiness from A Year of Wine which is actually a heading from the February chapter:

"Rose Champagne: It's not just for heart-shaped jacuzzis anymore" -Tyler Colman, A Year of Wine


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pink and Meaty (Like Turkey!)

Oh boy, it's time for the agonizing over what wine to serve with turkey again! What is it about turkey that makes us sweat the wine pairing? Is it just the combination of white and dark meat on the same carcass? The hefty weight of tradition, perhaps? Or, maybe it's just the anticipation of impending scrutiny. Will you serve the old standby Beaujolais Nouveau? Or, something more trendy, like a Pinot Noir? I cannot advise you in such delicate matters. In some cases, lives may be at stake.

Speaking of white meat/dark meat, last month in Sonoma County I tried a dry Rosé of Sangiovese. It kind of made me think of turkey actually: It had the firm richness of a Sangiovese, and the juiciness of a Rosé. Okay, time to talk turkey:

Alexander Valley Vineyard

Vintage: 2007
AVA: Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
Alcohol: 13.8%
Price: $12
Aromas: Peach, vanilla, amaretto
Flavors: Grapefruit zest, peach, melon

Would have liked to spend more time with this wine than I did but, there were about 50 others to taste. It has nice aromas, flavors and mouthfeel and I would definitely buy a bottle or four of this Rosé for a relaxed family gathering over an ecclectic holiday spread.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ban on Cheesy French Wine Ads

I find pretty much all wine advertising cheesy but, if this ad is any indication of what TV viewers in France have endured, why should legislators stop at banning alcohol advertising on the internet? I wouldn't blame them if they banned wine ads completely! Si vulgaire! ;)


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

East Coast Merlot

We picked this bottle up last spring when we visited the Hudson Valley. It's actually a Long Island wine but, Rivendell sells wines from all over New York and we'd been happy with a Cab Franc we had from this producer before.

If you're into trying New York wines, I think this bottle is worth the $10.50 we paid. Do I sound a little hesitant? Okay, the truth is, this isn't a stellar example of varietal character. I got Long Island wine blogger Lenn Thompson's (from take on it: He asked me what vintage it was, and whether the label said "North Fork" on it. I replied that it was a 2004 and it did say "North Fork." He explained that in 2003/04 Palmer had to get a lot of fruit from California because of a poor harvest, and that it was a cool year. He also said the Palmer wines sells for around $20 at the winery. Good to know--I'm glad I consulted him.

So, what we have here is a true North Fork vintage, but from a cool year. Luckily, it wasn't $20, it was $10.50 which is only a few dollars more than you'd pay for a homogenized, mass-produced fermented grape-juice product. Here are the tasting notes:

Palmer 2004 Merlot

ABV: 12.8%
Price: $10.49
Aromas: Cranberry, cherry, smoked meat, barnyard
Flavors: Tart cherry, veg, licorice

Summary: This wine isn't particularly Merlot-esque and I guess the cool 2004 temps are partly to blame for that. It's a little brighter and more vegetal than what you'd find in a typical soft and rounded Merlot. The nose on this wine is a blend of tart red fruit and herbal notes with some barnyard in there as well. On the palate there is quite a lot of cherry: Tart cherry on the front, and canned cherry on the moderate finish with a hint of black licorice that almost goes toward petrol. Good balance of acidity and tannins that mostly carries through to the finish. By the second day, I pick up some tomato on the nose, and some of the tartness and finish has dissipated. It's definitely ready to drink now--some visible oxidation can be seen at the edge in the glass. I haven't had many New York wines, but this seems pretty true to type for the region if not the variety. A solid NY wine for the price.


Monday, November 3, 2008

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

...Or maybe it means what you think it means, and I don't know what it means. So, what is the word, and what does it mean?

At the Wine Bloggers Conference the last weekend of October, I tasted a lot of wines and talked to a lot of winery people. There was a term being bandied about quite a bit with regard to some of the Syrahs and Pinot Noirs. The term?

high toned

Okay, I know that we can probably infer the meaning of this term. Since I was tasting the wines as they were being described, my inference was that high toned means more or less the same thing as when I say a wine tastes bright. I also heard someone say "high toned red fruit" with strawberry as an example. But, I want to know if there's anything more to it. Is this the same thing as talking about top notes in perfume? According to Tanzer's Wine Glossary, and the Wine Lover's Page, "high toned" refers to a low level of Volatile Acidity (AKA aroma of vinegar) that, in excess, is a flaw but that in low levels can heighten the fruity aromas of a wine.

What about that strawberry taste? I looked that up too on Plant Physiology (Thanks AbleGrape!) and it tells me that strawberry (in addition to most fruit) flavor is a Volatile Ester.

So, maybe there's a slight distinction to be made between "high toned" and "high toned red fruit." You could have high toned purple fruit, for example, although nobody ever says that (wonder why?). Anyway, I think we get the gist.

I mainly bring this topic up because there is a tendency to use jargon in any field, and jargon has a tendency to proliferate by inference rather than by explicit definition. When it comes to wine consumers, wine jargon is part of the intimidation factor with wine. So, does asking the definition of a wine term make me or you a wine noob? Maybe, but who cares? The only way to become knowledgeable is to learn, right?

p.s. The title of this post is a quote from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride (1987).


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Where the hell has Taster A been?

A little bit about what is happening in my life. Folks that follow Taster B on Twitter probably know by now that she went to the Wine Bloggers Conference without me. There have been rumors that I have branched out on my own splitting off SMU and ditching Taster B for the more profitable Outdoor/Wildlife photography blogging scene.

Well if the truth be known, the semiconductor equipment industry is in a cyclical downturn, spurred on by the housing-credit card-bank bail-out macro-economic situation. I’ve been forced to take vacations during scheduled shutdowns and didn’t have the extra time to take in October.

What most do not realize is that the teenage market has been saturated with Play Stations and cell phones, thus the chip market has become glutted, prices have dropped and the chip manufacturers are not buying capital equipment. Yes, my job exists to enable teenaged girls to text each other.

With that said, I owe all an apology. One year, three days, four hours and 26 minutes ago, I promised you that I would review the Imagery Sunny Slope Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Sorry to keep you all waiting so long. (If you can wait for the Squirrel Nut Zippers Hell to finish, I think Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk is on queue. That should be more appropriate music to accompany the evaluation this wine.)

Rather than repeat myself (this makes Taster B nervous, thinking that I’m loosing it), you can read about Imagery in our earlier post.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Imagery Estate Winery
Sonoma County
Vintage: 2003
AVA: Sonoma Valley
Alcohol: 14.5

Color: Purple
Intensity: Dark
Aromas: Roses and violets, cherry and cassis. Hints of coffee, stone, vanilla, hay, mild oak.
Flavors: Cassis, dried cherry, raisin, licorice, coffee, tobacco
Body: Full
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Off dry
Tannins: Leather
Finish: Long

Summary: This wine is not overly complex, but what is there I really like. The wine just smells like a garden on a hot summer day conjuring images of bees flying around. This has developed a cassis cordial quality. The cherry is there, but think of dark, dried cherries. I like the Imagery concept and enjoy their wines.

I’m just happy to sit here and drink this wine without food. However, I would pair this with dark chocolate, roast beef Wellington, game dishes such as venison or wild boar.

Post Script: No really, where the hell has Taster A been?
I heard that folks were asking about me in Sonoma and I am touched. In the last few weeks, I have been working on photo projects, one culminated in a posting of 17th and 18th century head stonesfor Halloween. It was tastefully done and folks have responded very well to it. Stop by, if you have a chance.