Sunday, December 30, 2007

Syrah Pairing: Hearty Minestrone

One of the problems we have is that we generally eat white fish or poultry so we are often forced to open a bottle of white to go with our meal. I like white wine but, this time of year, I just want red.

When we decided we were going to open the Bartholomew Park Syrah, I decided I'd pull some pork spareribs we had on hand out of the freezer just so we wouldn't have to post another "goes good with spaghetti" blog entry. It turned out to be a good match.

The BartPark Syrah has an aroma foundation of tobacco and red berry. When paired with the spareribs, I also picked up a definite cumin note.

(c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeLast night we finished the bottle with some homemade minestrone--another satisfactory pairing. Somewhere between the soup, and the dark chocolate, I took a whiff of my wine and got chocolate-rasberry! We have a few more bottles to 'lay down' (ha ha) and see how they progress. We are also facing the reality of needing to do something about our wine storage... More on that in future posts.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

"Old Reliable" and a Sonoma Valley Syrah

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape
We visited Bartholomew Park Winery last October and tasted some mighty good wine. The wine we present tonight is from Sonoma Valley where Bartholomew Park’s Estate Vineyard is located at the base of the Mayacamas Mountain range, tucked up by the Arroyo Seco. Warm temperatures, constant breezes and excellent drainage make this vineyard ideal Syrah producing land.

The vineyard is on a west facing slope and was planted with clones 877, 470 and Alban Hermitage vines in 2002 on a vertical trellis system. The Syrah is planted in the coolest part of the vineyard, slowing down the ripening of the fruit.

The grapes are hand harvested and fermented with a prepared yeast in stainless steel tanks with gentle pump-overs. The wine is aged in French oak barrels, 30% new for 14 months. The production was 1155 cases. BartPark wines are only available through the winery.

Pictured here is my trusty heavy helix corkscrew. This corkscrew and I go back to my graduate student days when I found it at a yard sale for $0.50. This is one of the best buys of my life and has been with me on moves to six states. This little beauty has never failed to extract a cork for me.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape

Syrah, Estate Vineyard
Bartholomew Park Winery
Sonoma County
Vintage: 2005
AVA: Sonoma Valley
Alcohol: 14.0%
pH: 3.67
Acidity: 0.60 g/100mL
Price: ~$38.00

Color: Ruby Red
Intensity: Moderate
Aromas: Blackberry, cherry, jam, raisin, currant, oak, smoky, earth, struck flint, toast
Flavors: Blackberry, cherry, prune, black current, mint, anis, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, smoked meat, oak, smoky, tobacco
Body: Full
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Dry
Tannins: Suede
Finish: Long

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeSummary: Interesting intense black fruit and suede tannin structure. Very beautiful red color just invites you to admire the color of this wine. The wine kept me coming back to see what would be revealed next. For me, that is what makes a fun wine.

We are having this tonight with oven barbequed baby back ribs. Sometimes when a wine is so good, it is hard to put it down after the meal. Taster B and I decided to experiment with chocolate. Oh, it was so good with chocolate. Tomorrow, we will have Minestrone soup and polish off the bottle. Yeah, it’s that good.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

White Christmas

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape

Merry Christmas
from the folks at
Smells Like Grape


Monday, December 24, 2007

ITHAKI: An Island of Culinary Delight in a Sea of Fried Haddock on Boston’s North Shore

Next time you are north of Boston, treat yourself to a fantastic Greek meal at Ithaki in Ipswich, Mass. We feel very lucky to live in an area with so much great seafood, and yes, fried haddock, but we feel most fortunate to have an authentic Greek restaurant in our area. Dining there really is almost like a mini-vacation to the Greek Isles. Ithaki prides itself on using the freshest organic and local ingredients. To paraphrase my grandmother: Good ingredients make good food.

I’ve never been a lamb fan but Ithaki does it so well that I’ve changed my tune. Its never gamey (mutton) and always fresh and well prepared. I’m not positive but, I think they may make their own yogurt as well. I’ve had good Greek yogurt but, the yogurt they use in their tzatziki and other sauces is a cut above.

We’ve had a few good Greek wines at Ithaki. Most recently a dry red: Katogi Averoff Agiorgitiko which comes from the Nemea growing area where they cultivate Agiorgitiko grapes on an altitude of 250-800m to the southeast of Corinth.

I didn’t take any tasting notes but, found it somewhat similar to a merlot with a mellow almost brandy-like nose. It went very well with the lamb gyro we ordered for lunch.

We’ve never been disappointed at Ithaki: Even when it is not perfect, it’s still fantastic.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Time of Bounty, Palmer Vineyards Cabernet Franc

(C)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeChristmas dinners can be tough for a wine to keep up with. You have a wide variety of aromatic foods with cinnamon, allspice, sage, rosemary and thyme. The traditional sweet potatoes baked with orange slices, cinnamon and clove add another layer complexity. This may all be served with turkey, ham, roast beef or all of the above. Let’s face it, this bountiful time calls for wine that is versatile and complementary.

As much as we all love wine, this meal is not about the wine. It’s about sharing with family and friends. The wine should be good but we all have a dirty little secret. We are not about to open that very special bottle knowing that Aunt Millie and Uncle Harry have been know to put ice in their box wine at home.

Cranberry sauce can befuddle a holiday wine pairing. (C)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeLooking across the table you see the cranberry sauce. I make mine with whole cinnamon, allspice, clove and anise. I put thinly slice oranges in the bottom of a glass bowl. (Okay, people rave about my cranberry sauce. My second holiday dirty little is quick, simple and looks like I fussed for hours. Take one cup of water, one cup of sugar and bring to a boil. When I’m feeling wild and crazy, I’ll add the juice of one orange. Add one bag of cranberries. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 or 20 minutes with the spices mentioned above. Put in a glass bowl with thinly cut orange slices for looks. Set aside to cool.)

Now you have a meal that is a real challenge to pair wine with, sweet, sour, savory and pungent. Do I hear someone knocking at the door? It's Aunt Millie and Uncle Harry with a cheese platter, Brie, Blue, Jarlsberg and Havarti. Oh my! Let’s not freak out.

Here’s what I’d do. I’d pull out a Cabernet Franc, a Sauvignon Blanc, and a Merlot. All these wines are inexpensive, easy going and pair well with just about anything on the table. But the bottle I’d keep close to me would be the Cabernet Franc. We found a nice New York State bottle that just shined through a meal like this. There is just enough hint of spiciness, red current, cherry, earthiness and just the right acidity to go with everything on the table.

(C)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeMerry Christmas, and may your wine pairings be flawless in the coming New Year.

Cabernet Franc
Proprietor’s Reserve
Palmer Vineyards
Long Island, New York
Vintage: 2003
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: $14.42

Intensity: Meduim
Aromas: Cherry, earth, rose, spice
Flavors: Cherry, red current, cranberry, pomegranate,
Body: Medium
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Moderately dry
Finish: Medium

Summary: This wine will compliment a festive meal without dominating it. The balance of earthiness and fruitiness played off of the turkey, sweet potatoes and cranberry. It went well will with both white and dark meat.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Chateau ST Jean, Fumé Blanc

Our trip to Sonoma did not include a trip to Chateau St Jean but we understand it is a beautiful winery to visit with its large grounds and nicely appointed tasting room. When planning a tasting trip, it is always, “so many cabs, so little time.”

We certainly recognized the winery by name in Sonoma and were happy to try their Fume’ Blanc. This wine is softer than most whites you will find. It is blended from primarily French oak and a bit of American oak. What I like about this wine is that it is soft and smooth and about the grapes. The oak aging is complementary, not dominating.

Fumé Blanc,
Chateau ST Jean
Sonoma County
Vintage: 2006
Blend: Sauvignon Blanc blended with a small amount of Semillon
and Viognier
Alcohol: 13.6
Harvest Sugar: 24.5 brix
pH: 3.28
Price: $10.00

Color: Straw
Intensity: Pale
Aromas: Litchi, quince, pineapple, lemon, vanilla, hay, nutmeg
Flavors: Quince, lemon, pineapple, fig, melon, vanilla
Body: Light
Acidity: Crisp
Sweetness: Moderately dry
Finish: Short

Summary: This is a delightful wine subtle flavor from the French and American oak barrel aging. Very smooth and relaxing. The aromas and flavors are almost one for one with no surprises. This wine has tropical fruit qualities, just enough dryness and finish to complement delicate dishes such as Dover Sole and sushi. This is fine on its own or served with lighter cheeses. What I like to do with this wine is just pour into a medium sized glass, one third full, kick back and relax with it.

Dear Dairy,

Finally, I’m back on my palate after being down for a week with a cold. It’s great to be able to taste and smell again.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Green Salads and Wine

Vinegar can compete with wine. It’s been a problem for me all my life, getting through the salad course so I could enjoy my wine with my meal. Rule: If you are going to serve a salad with a wonderful vinaigrette, simply do not serve a wine with the salad course. That is all there is to it. Or try a dry German Riesling with you salad course. It will work with many good dressings.

Here are two dressings that will help with the problem if you use good quality white wine vinegar. You can give your wine a chance to stand up to a dressing if you include the wine in the dressing. These are for your favorite green salad. Shown above is a salad Taster-B made with spinach, feta and quince.

White Wine Vinaigrette
3/4 cup of dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste.

Blend together and store in a covered jar in the refrigerator.

Fennel and Wine dressing
Here is a dressing that I have been experimenting with. I like the Sauvignon Blank because of the bright citrus notes.

3/4 cup of Sauvignon Blank
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of fennel seed ground in a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon of dry mustard
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 teaspoon of honey to taste
Sea salt to taste

This works well if you prepare the dressing ahead of time. I like to freshly grind the fennel seeds to a fine powder. I place all into a mason jar with a lid and shake it until it emulsifies. If you have the patience to clean your blender, this works better. Refrigerate overnight to let the fennel do its magic or use straight away.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Heart NY Whites - Riesling (Finger Lakes)

So far we are two for two on the New York wines we picked up on our recent visit to the state. Taster A asked me to post my impressions of this 2006 Riesling out of the Finger Lakes region since he's not a big Riesling fan in general. However, he did say this would be an excellent summer wine, and I agree.

Dry Riesling
Finger Lakes

Vintage: 2006
Price: $14.32
Aromas: pear, honey, butter
Flavors: pineapple, grapefruit, lemon/lime
Body: light
Acidity: crisp
Sweetness: off dry
Finish: moderate

Definitely a great summer wine with a fruity palate and slightly fizzy mouthfeel. Would pair nicely with fish. Also wasn't bad with the goat cheese and proscuitto appetizer (pictured above). Comparable to the
Alsace Riesling (Trimbach) we tasted in October.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dogajolo, an introduction Super Tuscan wine.

Cling to enlarge (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape
Introduction to Italian Wine
When I was young and without a care, Chianti came in the ubiquitous fiasco or basket covered bottle. It was inexpensive and great with spaghetti, pizza and lasagna. On a graduate student stipend, it was a great treat to have something different than Carlo Rossi. Today, I can afford a good bottle of wine. But the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty and doubt) would kick in and I’d avoid the modern Chianti wines because they had gone from being inexpensive wines to wines above my $6.00 price point. (I’m looking at the early ‘90s when I stopped buying Chianti operating on the datum that Chianti is cheap Italian red table wine and not worth the asking price.) But I have Sangiovese in my blood! Spurred on by our experience with the Piemontese Blend, I’ve decided to start wrapping my wits around some Italian wine.

At the wine shop, Taster B was over by the Pino Noir, I wandered off to the Tuscany section and browsed around. What are these wines like? Let's find out!

In order to understand the significance of Super Tuscan wines, we have to take a look at some history. Italy is a huge producer of wine. Wine in Italy is food. You drink it with breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is the culture. I mean this warmly and with admiration. There is a wine making tradition that goes back thousands of years.

Click to enlarge.There are 20 regions and 96 provinces. The main regions are Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto. The Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C.) controls the production and labeling of wine. The D.O.C. laws went into effect in 1963.

    These law regulate:
  • The geographical limits of each region

  • The grape varieties that can be used

  • The percentage of each grape used

  • The maximum amount of wine that can be produce per acre

  • The minimum alcohol content of the wine

  • The aging requirements

In 1980, the Italian board took quality control one step further and added a G for Garantita, D.O.C.G. This states that the wine meets standards through tasting control boards and they absolutely guarantee the stylistic authenticity of a wine.*

What is a Super Tuscan wine?
Wine makers wanted experiment with other grape varieties as they did in California. Super Tuscan wines are Sangiovese blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These wines were outside the laws of the D.O.C. so they had to be labeled as Vino da Tavola (Table Wine, an official designation). Today, Vino da Tavola can be inexpensive table wine or wines that are outside of the current style and variety laws. Thus a high quality wine may carry this designation.

We found a Super Tuscan that we think you will enjoy. This label is in English and serves as a good introduction to reading Italian wine labels.

Let's take a look at this label.
Carpineto, the producer, is a partnership between winemakers Giovanni C. Sacchet and Antonio M. Zaccheo. Their original mission was to produce a world-class red wine from the Chianti Classico appellation. This was a radical departure from the marketplace of the times when most Chianti was still produced in the traditional winemaking style.

In the center of the label, we have the name chosen for the wine and a pronunciation key. We see that it is classified as a table wine. On the Italian label, it has Vino da Tavola.

In the bottom right corner, we see the vintage, the winery, the growing region, and the volume. Now that we understand the label, let's review our tasting notes.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeDogajolo
Vintage: 2005
Alcohol: 13.0%
Price: $11.33

Color: Ruby Red
Intensity: Dark
Aromas: Current, violet, rose, earth
Flavors: Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, olive, earth, struck flint, anise, coffee
Body: Medium
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Dry
Finish: Moderate to long

Summary: This is a very delicate wine. When first poured, not much happened. With a little persuasion, the wine opened up with the smell of roses. Very delicate berry, earth, smooth, silky tannins. The floral of the Sangiovese and the spice of the Cabernet Sauvignon makes a delightful wine.

Pairings: From, “Given its fruitiness, Dogajolo can be paired with first courses and white meats, but shows at its best with full-flavored dishes such as roasts, grilled meats, cold cuts and Tuscan regional specialty.”

We will be posting notes on other Super Tuscan and Italian Wines. You may click on these labels below to select these postings.

*16 Feb 08 Editor's note: As with all rules, there is the exception...the Chianti D.O.C.G. is covered in a later post. Also, there is a Chianti Classico D.O.C.G. which produces some of the finest wines from Italy.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Oonapais, Sonoma Mountain Red by Benziger Family Winery

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeSometimes when I talk to my friends about wine, they confess that they have some hesitation about trying a higher price point wine. The fear, uncertainty and doubt creeps in. “What if I buy an expensive bottle and I don’t like it.” “I don’t know what I’m doing in here.” “If I ask the owner, he’ll take me for a ride.” “What if I find out that this was the worst vintage in the history of Bordeaux?”

Buying wine is not about impressing the staff, showing off how much you know or throwing big chunks of money around because you got tired of lighting cigars with it. No, it’s about learning about you. What do you like, what don’t you like. How do you perceive the wine.

Start out with an on-line wine course that you can do in your own home. You will be instructed what style to buy, what price point to pick and how to do the tasting. The course we did instructed us to purchase wines in a good price point and what to look for so we would have a positive experience.

If you are ready to try a wine in a $50.00 price point, here is a sure bet.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeAs you know by now, we are big fans of Benziger Family Winery. If you are skittish about trying a luxury wine, I would suggest you try Oonapais. This is a big red wine that will appeal to just about anyone with a pulse.

Oonapais is estate grown and bottled from the Sonoma Mountain subappellation . This tiny region is on the western edge of the Sonoma Valley AVA. It has poor, rocky soil, gets lots of sun and cool temperatures at night. This is perfect for growing top notch grapes. Sonoma Mountain is home of Benziger’s flagship wines; Tribute, Joaquin’s Inferno Zinfandel and Oonapais.

Oonapais is a good introduction to high end wine. It is smooth, balanced, complex and just plain good. If you are comfortable at this price point, you will recognize the value. Buy this bottle to drink today or buy a case and lay it down for a decade.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrapeOonapais
Benziger Family Winery
Sonoma Mountain Red
Vintage: 2005
Blend: 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 14.5%
Total Acidity: 0.68
pH 3.82
Retail Price: $50.00

Color: Purple
Intensity: Dark
Aromas: Jam, raisin, current, mint, black pepper, smoked meat, chocolate
Flavors: Strawberry, blackberry, cherry, plum, current, mint, earth, struck flint, anise, black pepper, cedar, chocolate.
Body: Full
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Off-dry
Tannins: Silky
Finish: Long

This is a very well crafted wine, well balanced and expressive. The tannins are silky smooth. Think of this wine as you would think of Barbara Stanwick in the Big Valley. Bright, intelligent, balanced, strong yet soft and very classy.
You have great fruit notes, earth, spice, cedar, chocolate, everything you want in a Cab blend. But the key here is Barbara Stanwick, classy and a pleasure to be with.

Serve with Yankee pot roast, Moroccan, Lamb, Red Deer Wellington, or game.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape

Dear Diary,

I sit here tonight listening to blues guitar, eating roasted chicken and working on that bottle of Lamoreaux Landing Chardonnay I opened over the weekend. I’m writing about Sonoma and Benziger, living the dream. It’s time I gave these poor presbyopic eyes a break and go to bed. I got my day job in the morning. Maybe I’ll get to that posting for the Super Tuscan I cracked open the other night while I was redesigning the blog’s layout.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Finger Lakes Chardonnay

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, we visited my parents in the Albany New York area. On Saturday night, we had some time to kill so we asked, “Where do you get your wine?” They directed us to the Exit 9 Wine and Liquor in Clifton Park, NY. This is a large discount wine store. They price their bottles by the case price, meaning you don’t get a case discount, but you get an excellent deal. We found some wines that we know well and noted the prices to be very competitive.

Now I was on a mission. Our readers may recall that my first wine was a New York Catawba. I was used to producers such as Great Western and Taylor from my youth. I wanted to find out if New York was capable of producing wines that are interesting, fun and something that would keep me going back to my wine glass with strong interest. Can New York produce a wine that would make me shut out the rest of the world as I savored the universe held in my hand?

I told the sales associate that I have been away from the east coast for the last 20 years and I want to know what is being produce locally that is worth while. The week before, they had 20 New York State producers in the shop giving tastings. He pointed me to three wines that fit our request, Lamoreaux Landing was one of them.

Lamoreaux Landing
Finger Lakes
Vintage: 2005
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: $9.76

Color: Yellow
Intensity: Pale
Aromas: Pear, melon, litchi, banana, orange blossom, slate, earth, vanilla, oak.
Flavors: Lime, apple, pear, pineapple, grass, mineral, butterscotch.
Body: Light
Acidity: Crisp
Sweetness: Off-dry
Finish: Short

Nice explosive fruit forward, very aesthetic color, tree fruit sensations with lime mid tongue tastes. Earthy slate taste. As the wine opened up, the vanilla and oak flavors joined the chorus. Taster B exclaimed, “We need to get a case.” As the wine warmed up in the glass, (I served it a tad too cool), the vanilla and oak flavors just permeated my glass.

For the price, this wine is an excellent value. When we started discussing the wine, we wondered what we paid. I thought it was about $15.00. When I pulled the receipt, we both were stunned! This Chardonnay is oak aged, but it is very subtly done and complements the wine. Very pleasant.

The pairing of this wine, of course, gnocci in vegetable broth, light chicken dishes, and tonight, it was excellent with poached haddock with herbs and rice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Magic Food, Sometimes you have to Pull a Rabbit out of a Hat.

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape
No, I’m not making hasenpfeffer, it is late, there is next to nothing left in the pantry and I’m hungry. Taster B is coming home from work at 7:30 and although she doesn’t expect dinner, I like to let her know I’m thinking of her.

So there I was, standing in front of the fridge for 5 minutes thinking, "I have nothing to work with". The pantry was missing the emergency tomato sauce. That saved my butt last night. I pride myself on always being able to pull a rabbit out of my hat when it came to matters in the kitchen, but I was ready to give up and to run up to the corner for a pizza. (Oh, that bottle of Super Tuscan is starting to sound good.)

Then out of the corner of my eye, I spied a bottle with a bit of white wine. I’m SAVED! I grabbed two carrots, a handful of kale, two medium onions, two sticks of celery, a finger of ginger, some fresh parsley and got to work.

The vegetables were rough-chopped and put into a five quart pan, covered with water and the remains of two bottles of white wine saved for cooking. This made about two or three cups of wine. The kale is cut fairly fine in long strips. The onions were caramelized in a frying pan with some olive oil and two cloves of garlic while the other vegetables were boiling like mad in the stock pot to which I added some marjoram, rosemary, a half of teaspoon of cayenne pepper, ground black pepper, sea salt, a big cube of peeled ginger, and dill.

I had some frozen gnocci that we bought from a local Italian deli. Oh, this is going to be good.

Cook the veggies until they are done (I mean really done). I let this boil hard, covered for 20 minutes. Usually, I’ll simmer for a couple of hours. Your vegetable stock should be ready now with the color extracted from the kale and carrots. Remove the vegetables (most would have you pitch the veggies because you just want the flavor--I’m going to put some rice vinegar on them and serve them as a salad tomorrow).

Now bring the stock back to a boil and put the gnocci in and cook for five to seven minutes. Oh, this came out perfect. The white wine gave it a citrus flavor, with the ginger in the background and slight taste of cayenne.

Pair it with a New York State Chardonnay and you’ve got a gourmet meal. Save a little for the photo props and you have your snack set aside for later. I'll talk about the Lamoreaux Landing Chardonnay in the near future.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Click to animate.Click to animate.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Can’t Ship There from Here.

It’s an old New England witticism, particularly in Vermont where I hail from, “How do I get to Barre?” asks the stranger to the farmer. “Can’t get they-ah from he-ah.” “Well then,” protests the stranger, “where does this road go?” “Why, I’ve lived here for fifty-eight years, and it ain’t gone no-way'ah yet.”

On our trips to Sonoma, Paso Robles and the Russian River, we’ve been running into the problem of how much can we purchase and still get it home. Since our state is so difficult to ship to, many of the small producers we visit cannot direct ship to us. The problem becomes, how can we purchase the wines that we tasted on out trip at home? Can’t ship they-ah from he-ah.

How can this be?

It all can be tracked back to Prohibition. As a child I heard the stories told by my aunt’s husband, about his uncle’s car being riddled with bullet holes when he crossed the Canadian border with a trunk full of hooch. When I was about five years old, we were visited by great uncle Walter (who also married into the family). He was telling a story at the dinner table about his adventures playing banjo in a speak-easy and getting raided by the cops.

If I knew these people from only one or two degrees of separation, then perhaps these activities were not uncommon and booze was very prevalent during Prohibition. Not to mention my grandmother and her siblings sledding great-grandfather’s spent grappa mash to the river on their sleds in the middle of the night to covertly dispose of the evidence.

So how does this answer the question of how did direct wine shipping became so discombobulated in the US? During Prohibition, the alcohol industry was pretty much a vertical monopoly. The major markets were supplied by organized crime. The same mobsters produced, distributed, ran the clubs and sold the product.

At the end of Prohibition, politicians were faced with a problem. The supply chain that they were getting their libations from were run by criminals. In order to weed out the criminals, it was necessary to make it illegal for anyone with a criminal record to play a role in the industry.

Producers were required to be bonded by the federal government. Wholesale distributors were required to be bonded by each state government where they did business. Every retailer and restaurant was required to be licensed by the government of that state subject to review by local authorities. Further, one can not hold a distributor’s license and a retailer’s license. You can be a producer or a distributor, but not both. Thus the supply and distribution channels became split up.

In order to get the states’ support, they were given the responsibility of controlling the sale of alcohol as they saw fit. Some states even delegated responsibility down to the county level. In some states, you have no choice but to by your liquor and wine from state owned stores.

Check your states direct shipping laws.In all of our trips to wine countries, we have found one winery that can ship wine to our door. They bundle direct shipments together to our state and ship it to a distributor in our state...for a fee. The distributor then ships to our home. This adds to the price of the wine. But we feel it is damn good wine that we cannot get locally.

Other wineries that we purchase from ship our wine to my parents in New York. A New York excise tax is applied, (ouch!). With the wine club discount, we still are slightly ahead. Life goes on, so it may as well be a good life worth enjoying. For us, that means a break from the mass market wines from time to time.

The Fear of Flying
Flying wine home? Check the website for the latest rules regarding alcohol. Many wineries have special gorilla proof wine boxes for check-in baggage and there are some great wine carriers available on-line and at wine accessory stores. At the time of this posting, you can carry on a corkscrew.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Obligatory Turkey and Wine Pairing Blog Post

Anybody who's anybody already posted a well researched 'What to drink with turkey' blog so, I will join in for the sake of keeping up appearances but, since I didn't do any of the actual research myself, I will list a Top 3 Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Blog Post list!

This is my 2007 Top 3 Thanksgiving Turkey and Wine Pairing Blog Post list:

Have a great holiday!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Rabbit Ridge, our lucky winery.

In July 2004, we took a drive from Colorado to the Russian River region. We drove through Healdsburg and visited Rabbit Ridge’s northern tasting room. Recently, Rabbit Ridge announced the sale of their Healdsburg properties and is focusing on the Paso Robles vineyards.

On that 2004 trip we picked up a mixed case of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel. The prices of the wines are very reasonable. The wines offer a complexity not often found in their price point.

Our Lucky Winery
Rabbit Ridge became our traditional “celebrate the good news before it comes in” wine. When we feel we have sewn up a big deal or we are expecting to get the job offer, we will pop open a bottle of Rabbit Ridge to celebrate the pending arrival of good news.

This is one of the wineries that we can purchase locally. Tonight I made a vegetarian spaghetti sauce with garlic, onions and the tail end of an unfinished red Bordeaux. We had a bottle of 2005 Zinfandel in the wine rack. Many of our friends ask us to post notes on wines below $15.00, so this wine is a good choice. Expect to pay from $8.00 to $12.00 depending on your wine shop.

2005 Central Coast Zinfandel Barrel Cuvee
Rabbit Ridge Winery

AVA: Paso Robles
Alcohol: 15.0%
Price: $7.99

Color: Ruby red
Intensity: Medium
Aromas: Blackberry, cherry, current, jammy, floral, earth, eucalyptus, black pepper, chocolate
Flavors: Blackberry, boysenberry, current, plum, tobacco, black pepper, vanilla, cedar, chocolate.
Body: Full
Acidity: Moderate
Tannins: Soft
Finish: Long

Very fruit forward. This is a young Zinfandel. Let the finish play out. You will be delighted as the finish goes from fruit to spice to a wonderfully smooth tannin feel. The aromas are big and surprisingly complex for this price point. Maybe a bit sweeter than you average Zin with a 15% alcohol level.

This wine will go with a wide range of cuisines, Moroccan, Italian, and Lebanese. This wine, with its sweetness, will do well with most deserts.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Really Good Wine - Really Great Price!

Click to enlarge. (c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape

We opened up this mysterious bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Creek we couldn't quite remember buying. It was just like Christmas! Great bottle of $15 wine that tastes like a $30 bottle.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
Sonoma Creek

AVA: Dry Creek, Sonoma Co.
Alcohol: 14.5%

Color: Purple
Aromas: smoked meat, vanilla, jam, raspberry, chocolate
Flavors: tar, coffee, blackberry, allspice, rose

Summary: Gorgeous color and wonderful nose. Nice mouthfeel with silky tannins and interesting palate: I was first struck by somewhat bitter notes of coffee and tar which quickly faded to nice round chewy fruit and a subtley floral finish.

Pairings: While I noted down that this would be good with anything with Hoisin Sauce, the actual pairing turned out to be spinach ravioli in a light butternut squash and wine reduction, with chevre and baby greens tossed in balsamic vinegar on sourdough toast. I hope Taster A doesn't put me in a home: I keep repeating the phrase "this is really good wine!"

Friday, November 16, 2007

Out-take from "Night at the Museum"

Click to animate.Click on image to animate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Biodynamic Vineyards

Click to enlarge. (c) SmellsLikeGrapeThere seems to be a movement toward Biodynamic practices in many vineyards. This is a sustainable system that works with the life forces of materials and plants to create a system that is healthy, profitable and high quality without the use of chemicals or destructive practices. But Biodynamics goes beyond the concept of not using chemicals. It is a holistic approach that requires growers to pay close attention to the forces of nature in the vineyard.

The Biodynamic system combines the life force, the cycles of nature, preparations of organic teas and sprays, the nutrient system (consisting of composts and native yeasts and bacteria), the self regulating systems (use of diversified habitat of plants, animals and micro-organisms), traditional farming and stewardship of the land.

We learned about Benziger Family Winery and their Biodynamic practices before our recent trip to Sonoma placed them on our “must visit” list. It would be noble of us take the position that we should buy their wines because of their sustainable practices. The plain truth is that they make some very wonderful wines. It should be noted that Bonny Doon Vineyard also is a Biodynamic producer.

The Biodynamic principles may seem strange to some. As for me, I was trained in the science that created the atomic bomb and does not acknowledge the spirituality of man simply because they are not smart enough to look for one. I have learned in life that my body does better with a holistic approach than it does with drugs. I can reason that this is true for grape vines as well.

If you wish to learn more, visit or


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Does Wine Make You Fat?

For anyone thinking "yes, if you drink it with cheesecake" I want you to know that was a lowfat cheesecake featured in Taster A's previous post, and it was damn good if I do say so myself. I am not posting the recipe because it's an America's Test Kitchen recipe (slightly altered) and you can get it there. I just replaced some sugar with xylitol and used really good Greek yogurt instead of standard yogurt. I also used ricotta instead of cottage cheese.

Anyway, for me, I'm afraid the answer is yes: Wine does make me fat. I know there are a lot of articles out there that tout the health benefits of wine which I can't deny. And certainly compared to the average American diet, a Mediterranean diet rich in good fats, and antioxidants from olive oil and wine is a heck of a lot better for maintaining your weight than fast food and hard liquor. Sadly for me, if I add one glass of red wine per day to my diet, I gain weight. Taster A is the opposite (lucky duck!) which corroborates with findings from a study published in the Journal of the American College of Medicine1 which concluded the addition of two glasses of red wine to the evening meal does not appear to influence any measured variable which may adversely affect body weight or promote the development of obesity.

However, there is research to back up my personal observation: In an article published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition2, the researchers concluded that moderate alcohol consumption in the form of red wine and other beverages is associated with beneficial changes in blood lipids and fibrinogen that may help to reduce the CV risk factors, but that the body weight may increase.

The most notable difference between these studies being that the first referenced was conducted entirely on male subjects, and the second was done with a mix of genders with the majority being female. So in conclusion, I will continue to enjoy a glass of wine on the weekends but I may not post Tasting Notes as prolifically as I would like. The good news is wine does make my cheeks nice and rosy.

1. Cordain, L, et al. "Influence of moderate daily wine consumption on body weight regulation and metabolism in healthy free-living males." Journal Of The American College Of Nutrition 16.2 (Apr. 1997): 134-139. MEDLINE with Full Text. EBSCO.

2. Hansen, A S, et al. "Effect of red wine and red grape extract on blood lipids, haemostatic factors, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease." European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition 59.3 (Mar. 2005): 449-455. MEDLINE with Full Text.


Sunday, November 11, 2007


As time goes on, it occurs to me that my arms are too short. Having discussed this with my ophthalmologist, he said that my eyes are 20/20. Whereas this may seem unreal to 80% of the people out there, why I lament about having 20/20 vision is that I once sported 20/15 vision. As to the length of my arms, my right arm seems to be shorter than my left arm. My ophthalmologist, (who seems like a kid, another symptom that I’m suffering from presbyopia*), very tactfully instructed me to go to the drugstore and pick up some reading glasses.

Taster B made a cheese cake. I recruited a slice here for the photo shoot with a few blue berries. The reading glasses are just part of the gag. I have been encouraging Taster B to post the recipe, but we are having a problem deciding what wine would go good with cheese cake. I’m going to take a chance on a bottle of Beaujolais.

*age-related problem with near vision: progressive reduction in the eye's ability to focus, with consequent difficulty in reading at the normal distance, associated with aging. It typically starts at middle age, and is due to age-related loss of elasticity of the lens.
[Late 18th century. < Greek presbus "man of advanced years"]

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Welcome to Smells Like Grape

Bartholomew Park Winery, 2004 Sonoma Valley Merlot.  Original photography by Taster A and Taster B.(c)2007 SmellsLikeGrape
Welcome to “Smells Like Grape”.
I’m delighted that Taster B has created this communication vehicle to document our journeys into the mysterious world of wine. Contrary to the “wine snob” mentality that is supposed to be the norm, we are finding friendly wine shops, wineries willing to share and educate, and lots of resources to help us develop a greater appreciation of wine.

Taster B and I both come from wine loving parents. Taster B grew up in California and I in Vermont. My first taste of wine was when I was 10 years old. It was a New York State Catawba served to me in a glass souvenir jigger with a Canadian Mountie on the side. My instructions were that this was an adult drink and I should sip it.

It was done in a rose style, and I remember it to be slightly bubbly, fruity and particularly to my liking. In today’s society, it would not be accepted to give a ten-year-old wine, but that is just our culture. My grandmother’s family immigrated to Springfield, Massachusetts at the turn of the century from Italy. My great-grandfather would take his four children to the rail yards to pick up grapes. The children’s feet would be scrubbed clean and they would stomp the grapes to make wine.

My grandmother told me the story of when she was greeted at school by her teacher on a winter’s day. “Why Josephine, you have such rosy cheeks this morning!” “Why yes, that is because papa gives us wine before we come to school.” As grandmother tells me, her teacher was shocked, but this was the family custom based on a different culture.

It would be years before I had my second taste of wine, most likely at Communion. But the understanding of wine and the making of homemade wine with my father has always been a part of my life.

My personal feelings are that wine is a most fortunate creation of nature, controlled by man. Above all, to me, wine represents civilization and family. I do not enjoy wine half as much alone as when I am with people. In recent times, due to the economic climate, I was forced to live 1100 miles from my wife. Alone in an apartment in Tennessee, I went the full 50 weeks on just one bottle of wine.

My Motto
Always remember, the best wine that you ever tasted is the best wine you ever tasted.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

It takes a thief to make luxury wines.

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We had an opportunity to tour a winery facility in San Francisco at the end of harvest. We learned first hand what it takes to make truly first class luxury red wines.

This winery produces wines in small lots, 25 to 1200 cases and often fetch scores in the 90s from the Spectators and the Parkers. The wines are hand crafted. Each berry is inspected and sorted after going through the de-stemmer and before going to the crusher.

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Fruit arrives at the winery from top quality vineyards from Santa Barbara up to Washington. The fruit is then put through a destemmer and sent down along a belt where the berries are sorted. Removing unripe, green berries, stems, leaves and other green bits prevents green vegetable and garlic like notes from creeping into the wine. The crushing process is done with a machine that can be set to break from 0% to 100% of the berries. This decision is made by the wine maker to determine the amount of tannins that will be immediately available during fermentation.

Click to enlarge.The “must” is loaded into sterile T bins. The T bins hold one ton (T for ton) of fruit which will yield approximately two barrels of wine or 45 to 50 cases. The alcoholic fermentation takes place in these T bin. In small lot production, the must will begin to separate and the juice will flow to the bottom and the berries float to the top. This forms a dense cap on the top that must be “punched down” every four hours, around the clock. This breaks up the cap, oxygenates the must and keeps the fermentation going. It also helps the wine maker control the extraction of color and tannins from the seeds and skins.

Click to enlarge.After the fermentation is complete, the wine is ready to be barreled. The free run is siphoned off from the bottom of the T bin. This is generally the higher quality wine. In large wineries, this is sent off to be finished as higher quality wines. In this operation, because the quality of the fruit is higher and the methods used, the wine will be carefully pressed. The winemaker must be careful not to press so hard that excess tannins are pulled from the skins and seeds. If the client has several barrels, the free run may be fermented separately and blended at the end with the pressed wine.

Click to enlarge.Taking a sample of this future Bordeaux style wine from the press, we see the impression the thick Cabernet Sauvignon grape skins imparted on this ferment. Coming out of the press, the wine is cloudy, very acid, tart and quite fruit forward to say the least. But you can start to discern the characteristics of the wine. This wine already has the tannin structure, color, and flavor components of a really great wine.

Oak tannins are important to the structure and mouth feel of the wines. Wines without a good tannin structure will not be suitable for aging. This can be by design. A winery maker can impart a tannin structure with maturity at bottling time so the wine is drinkable in the near future, or give it a structure for aging. Much of this is dependent on the type of barrel. New barrels will impart heavy oak, used barrels will impart little oak but allow the wine to mellow in structure. Wineries such as Heitz, will start with an American barrel and switch to French oak to finish the barrel aging. Barrel sample are taking for time to time to determine if the wine is on the right path or needs an intervention to ensure that time and wine converge into the desired style.

American oak will give the wine a very strong oak, wild component. American oak barrels costs about $300 to $400 a piece whereas French oak barrels range from $850 to $1000. As mentioned for luxury wines, American oak is used intentionally for flavoring.

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Once filled, the barrels are stacked in a temperature controlled rooms to control the secondary fermentation and aging. Oak aging allows a small amount of oxygen to enter the wine and transform the tannins into their final, drinkable form. At this stage, the tannins are still harsh, the wine is very fruit forward, sweet and a bit unbalanced. The oak will allow some the moisture to evaporate out of the wine. The barrels are topped off, (about a cup or so) every two to three weeks.

Click to enlarge.At the end of fermentation, the winemaker has more decisions to make. Which type of barrel to use for final aging, how long to barrel age and what adjustments are needed for the final state of the wine. Now the wine tastes young, slightly unbalanced and still tannic. Our winemaker inserted a thief (glass tube device used to sample barrels) into a barrel and drew off a sample of Zinfandel that was at this stage. Taster B and I knew that we tasted a very special wine that will be a delight when it is ready to bottle. It has all of the components in place, the aromas, fruit forward, smoother tannins and good mouth feel that one would expect from a big Zinfandel.

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When the wine is ready, final blending will take place. There are thirty to forty decisions that go into luxury wine production. From what varietals to what yeast, to what barrel to what label. The care and craftsmanship that goes into a luxury wine is extensive and labor intensive. For us, we gained a true appreciation for what it takes to make a great wine.

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