Friday, October 31, 2008

A Pinch of This

Tonight Taster A and I will observe our annual tradition of watching Sleepy Hollow followed by Mad Monster Party. I don't have any spooky wine so, we'll just have to play it by ear!

Please enjoy this short Animagic clip featuring creepy cooking. Happy Halloween!


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gary V. Upstaged at WBC?

Yeah, that title is sensationalized--I do that sometimes. I actually have to give props to Gary Vaynerchuk for flying out to Sonoma for the Wine Bloggers Conference on his own time (think he was in the area for one day) to give a keynote to us rabble rowsers. His actions truly are as inspiring as his words (if not more). He's just a hard, hard worker, bottom line.

That being said, I'm afraid this video by Tim Zahner stole the show, just a little bit. Check it out. (Warning: If you've never watched Wine Library TV, you won't get it)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Saralee's Vineyard & the Russian River Valley

Having read about Saralee's Vineyard over a year ago, I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to visit during the Wine Blogging Conference. She's kind of a big deal in Sonoma County. Saralee greeted us and gave us the lay of the land and then handed us off to wine-makers Rod Berglund, and Daniel Moore to lead a hike. They both source grapes from Saralee. Daniel gets the coveted Roller Coaster Ridge Pinot Noir and Rod takes the Pinot Gris from Turkey Hill. Rod does loose some fruit to the wild turkeys if you were curious.

As we walked, Rod and Daniel talked about the local soil types, and the fog patterns that set the Russian River Valley AVA apart stating "fog is the one unifying factor." They also both talked at length about the controversial Gallo petition to expand the AVA. The Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association is taking no official stand on this matter, and I'm sure I don't blame them (*see Wine & Politics). A full write up on this petition before the TTB has been posted at Appellation America.

We were served a tasty spread including homegrown heirloom tomatoes (in homemade wine vinegar), homegrown figs, sandwiches and homemade aioli and mayo. Of course, both wine-makers poured us some of their wines as well.

As we enjoyed our lunch, Saralee came to our table and our Zephyr guide coaxed her into telling us (humbly) of her work volunteering with the student vineyard for El Molino High School. The students grow the grapes and local wineries take care of the vinification and sales. All the proceeds go back into the program. Last year, they sold 50 cases of their Lion's Pride label to the Bohemian Club which I thought was quite something. Some of us at the table were ready to re-enroll in high school! It's just really cool that kids in the valley have the opportunity to be immersed in the wine growing industry that surrounds their community.

image courtesy of Russian River Valley Winegrowers Foundation


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wine Book Club Fifth Edition: Wine & Politics

I don't know why it's always surprising to learn of the profound influence of politics over our lives. From the title, I thought I was in for a rehash of circumstances I was already somewhat familiar with but, I was definitely in for a surprise. For a summary of Wine Politics by Tyler Colman, the subtitle says it all: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink. However, whatever opinion you form about what that content entails is most likely influenced by an understanding of the wine industry that has been shaped by PR to some degree, no matter how much of the sordid history of bootleggers and liquor lobbyists you are familiar with already. In short, this is stuff you probably did not know.

What I found in this book were many stories that I was aware of already from reading Matt Kramer and the like but, with an added layer of detail that illuminated everything from the formation of the French Appellations, to how distributors maneuver in an entirely new light. The author, Tyler Colman (aka Dr. Vino) weaves together many observable and oft discussed conditions in the wine industry with little-known catalysts to form some pretty stark revelations.

He admits in the Forward a tendency toward a dry academic tone but, compared to the book I'm reading right now for a course, I found this book to be a breath of fresh air. It's also short, which makes it an easy read. I am recommending this book to anyone interested in learning about wine.

Thanks to Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 for both choosing this book for review, and for founding the Wine Book Club.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Home from WBC

Wow! I can't believe this is the first chance I've had to post anything about the weekend I just had! I just rolled into Boston this morning at 6:45am from sunny Sonoma County where I attended the first North American Wine Bloggers Conference.

I can't even begin to go into everything that happened in the two and a half short days of the conference, but the biggest highlight for me was definitely meeting a lot of wonderful wine bloggers and industry people who I've only known by avatar up until this point. I just wish there'd been enough time to meet and get to know everyone. There are several people that I respect who's hand I never actually got a chance to shake.

And, what would a Wine Bloggers conference be without wine. As this week progresses, I will post about some of the over two hundred wines (no I didn't even come close to sampling them all) wines on offer that stood out for me. But, for now, I'm closing in on 25 hours since I slept in an actual bed, and I'm looking forward to going to sleep in my own timezone. Nightie-night!


Friday, October 17, 2008

Albariño by the Sea

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape
Good Albariño is grown near the sea on the Atlantic Coast. Rias Baixas is located on the Northern Portugal boarder. This offers Atlantic breezes to cool the grapes during the evening. The Albariño wines are softly perfumed, have real depth and interest. The grapes are grown on a system where the vines are strung overhead in a canopy fashion with the grapes hanging down. This keeps the blistering sun off the grapes and allows good circulation. Albariño vines tend to be low yielding and the wines may tend to be a little pricy. This bottle is not a concern. I’m happy to pay the price for what we received.

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrape
A minor factoid; this Albariño started out on the western coast of Spain on the Atlantic. Taster B and I are enjoying it on the eastern coast of Massachusetts. Pictured here is the Albariño with a background of the Atlantic with the peach colored sunsets that we get here this time of year.

(c)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeAlbariño

Vintage: 2007
Rias Baixas Denominacion de Orixe
Alcohol: 12.5
Price: $14.99

Color: Straw
Intensity: Pale
Aromas: Melon, peach, pear, guava, vanilla, mushroom, ash, hazel nut, pineapple
Flavors: Lemon, grapefruit, nutmeg, kiwi, passion fruit, guava, peach.
Body: Medium
Acidity: Crisp
Sweetness: Off dry
Finish: Moderate

Summary: This is our first Albariño. It is crisp, light, bright, zesty and complex. It is like a Pinot Grigio/Gewürztraminer blend. The flavors and aromas explode out of the glass. This is a really fun wine.

Tonight we had this with dirty rice. I would recommend this with salmon, haddock, seared tuna, chicken picante, or pasta primavera. This would also do well with cheese and crackers. A very versatile wine.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's Gonna be Good

It's hard to believe that one week from tonight I will be en route to the first North American Wine Blogger's Conference in Sonoma! It's been a year since Taster A and I were last in Sonoma. I'm really excited to meet all the wine bloggers that I've been getting to know on Twitter for the last ten months. Sadly, Taster A has to stay home and work but, the good news is I get to share a room with Sonadora from Wannabe Wino which should be a blast!

Technically, the European Wine Bloggers Conference at the end of August was the first conference of wine bloggers. That conference was held in Rioja and a lot of wine bloggers watching from this side of the pond started to get really excited about the upcoming conference in Sonoma when we saw how much fun they were having! The conference agenda is packed and guest speakers Gary Vaynerchuck (last time I checked) and Alice Feiring definitely have attendees all fired up! I hope to learn a lot and come back with lots of ideas about how to make this blog *even* better.

Also one week from tonight is the fourth Twitter Taste Live featuring Jed Steele! I have to miss it because I'll be in-flight but plenty of tweeps in the wine 2.0 community will be participating and if last month's event is any indicator, it should be a riotous good time. Anyone can participate but time is running out to order the packs from Bin Ends. Even if you don't have the wines, it's still fun to tune into the twitter-stream and watch the progression of tipplings and tweets.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Tomiolo Pinot Grigio della Venezie

We’ve had Tomaiolo wines in the past. They are not high quality wines, but they have never disappointed me when I put them into a table wine class. For their price, they are very good wines for a picnic, a barbeque or in our case, just a lazy Sunday evening. I prefer Pinot Grigio in the warmer months and will switch over to Fume Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc when I need a white in the colder days.

Tomiolo Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio

Vintage: 2006
AVA: Venezie I.G.T.
Alcohol: 12%
Price: $5.50/half

Color: Straw
Intensity: Pale
Aromas: Peach, lemon, pineapple, pear
Flavors: Lemon zest, pear, tangerine
Body: Light
Acidity: Citric
Sweetness: Dry
Finish: Moderate

Summary: This wine seems a bit austere. There is a citrus aspect to this wine but it didn’t quite make sense to me until the chicken came out of the oven. This wine needs food to bring out the qualities. With dinner it smoothed out and took on a more floral and vanilla quality. We had it with roasted chicken, and Basmati rice with greens. The acidity provided good palate cleansing. Will this be the last Pinot Grigio until next summer?


Thursday, October 9, 2008

How to be a Perfect Wine

I've had a few really good technically perfect wines, and they always remind me of the body of a sports car; smooth, fluid, luxurious and seductive but, likewise, slightly impenetrable in their high-gloss gleam. They're nice, but for me, they don't necessarily provide what I'm looking for in a great wine. I suppose you could call what I'm after "character" but, then again, I don't want to say a Ferrari wine doesn't have character. Although, I did say on Twitter the other day that in terms of wine, I'd prefer a gypsy housetruck to a Ferrari... I guess what I'm really looking for in a great wine is the unfolding of a narrative hitherto unimagined. I prefer a mystery machine.

I know I’m not the first one to ponder perfection versus personality in wine (or art) but, I think the notion bears repeating. I’m sure a lot of us have heard similar comparisons drawn between wine and music, such as, what is more stirring, a technically perfect execution of a Mozart concerto, or an emotional interpretation? I guess it's debatable. The other night on NPR for example, classical music critic Tom Manoff praised pianist Andras Schiff for not "wallowing" in emotion and for letting Beethoven's music shine through...

Anyway, I’m all for perfection in machines and other man-made structures; cars, blenders, architecture, government, etc. Yeah, I know wine is “man-made” to a point, but I prefer to think of a winemaker more as the steward of the grape’s transition from soil to fermented juice, and less as the designer--even if economic pressures render that vision somewhat compromised in reality. Ideally though, the job of the winemaker is to facilitate this transformation, with the goal of allowing the wine to achieve its fullest expression without training it to some predetermined blueprint. Housetruck from Nambassa Trust and Peter TerryOh sure, intervention may still be called for if the juice hits a crisis along it’s way, but other than that, it’s allowed to be who it is, and who it is is for it to know, and us to find out. That's what I really mean when I say I prefer a one-of-a-kind rambler of a wine to a precision performance wine...

Or maybe it's just that, deep down, I'm a sucker for a sweet tricked out conversion van.

Image by: Nambassa Trust and Peter Terry


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dogtown, WBW #50

This is a being posted simultaneously on SMU

Click to Enlarge (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeFor those reading in on Shooting My Universe, Wine Blogging Wednesday is a monthly tradition where wine bloggers all over the world blog on the same topic. Our WBW host this month Russ, from Winehiker Wititculture wants us to come up with a hike and a matching wine for this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday.

Click to Enlarge (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeOn Harry Chapin’s first album Heads and Tails, he had a song Dogtown. Dogtown is an actual location in Gloucester Massachusetts. Harry liked to write songs that told stories. Taxi, Cat’s in the Cradle, Mr. Tanner, Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas just to name a couple.

Well, Dogtown is a song about a woman who is widowed in Gloucester and it gives a little history about the area. I didn't understand the song when I first heard it, but when I rediscovered it after moving to Gloucester, I had an epiphany.

Click to Enlarge (c)2008 SmellsLikeGrapeToday, Dogtown is set aside for a watershed and for hiking, horseback riding and biking. You can read about this interesting chunk of land on the Dogtown Massachusetts page on

During the depression, a man named Roger Babson commissioned out of work stone cutters to carve inscriptions in rocks in Dogtown. These have become known as Babson Rocks.

I’m still clearing out the effects of the flu that hit me last Friday. My sensory capabilities are not up to speed yet. I had a wonderful Heitz wine picked out for this posting, but we’re saving it for when my nose isn’t in a sling and my tongue isn’t on crutches. I do have a wine that I bought two bottles of last January. I’m going to have a glass while I sort through some photos I took in Dogtown.

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

You can read about Domaine Le Pigeonnier 2005 on our earlier post.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

WBW #50 Tomorrow: Wine and Wilderness

Okay, you guys, I need your help with this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday. Our favorite Wine Witiculturalist Russ, from Winehiker Wititculture wants us to come up with a hike and a matching wine for this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday. Russ conducts Wine Hikes in California and I can't think of anything more perfect than a nature walk in wine country followed by a great local wine. I think this month's WBW theme is a great idea and great way of getting Wine Bloggers out on the trail!

We got out on the trail but, here's where we need help: See, it's Fall here in New England, and it's, well it's not truly cold yet, but it's crisp. When considering what beverage we would enjoy after our nature walk, we weren't sure but we thought it should probably be from a thermos--and hot. We were coming up with things like mulled cider, or cocoa, but we just couldn't think of a wine for our walk. So, I'm asking you, dear reader, to look at the photos below from our walk at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge and give us some suggestions on what wine you could imagine yourself drinking in this setting. Russ is giving extra credit for local wines (local for us would be Massachusetts) but, anything goes!

The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is located on Plum Island which lies between Newburyport and Ipswich, MA. It is separated from the mainland by an estuary. Our friend, a wildlife photographer from Florida was in town so we met up with him so the guys could do some bird photography (that's them on the trail above).

There aren't that many bird species hanging around this time of year but, a good time was still had by all. We saw dozens of Monarch butterflies gorging on what we believe was goldenrod. They were really tolerant and afforded us some great close-up views. The Plum Island light was erected in 1898 next to the site of an older "Bug" light which had been moved several times due to shifting sand dunes. The lighthouse is accessible without entering the Wildlife Refuge.

Don't forget to add your wine suggestions for a Plum Island nature walk in the Comments, and thanks for your help!


Monday, October 6, 2008

Do You Need Some New Wine Ideas? Don't Listen to Us!

We've been at this blog for a year now and I just realized something: No one is going to buy a $25-$30 bottle of wine because we said we liked it. So, what should you do if you don't love the wine you've been buying and you're reluctant to buy wine you haven't tried? Go to a tasting! Wine shops have them all the time and they are totally a popular affair--as in, suitable to the majority, no reason, whatsoever, to be intimidated. In fact, chances are very high that the blow-hard tasting patron spouting off about lack of balance and such sort actually doesn't know anything about wine beyond what he's read in an old copy of Wine Consumer at the barber shop. As long as you refrain from asking if they mixed cherries into the wine in order to make it smell like cherry--I have heard variations of that question on two different occasions--you'll be good!

Other than that, all you need to taste like a pro is to have your swirl, sniff, sip down. Go early to avoid the crowds. Get there 10 minutes before the tasting is scheduled to start even. Definitely avoid wearing perfume and avoid standing next to people wearing perfume. Many wine shops will provide patrons with a real glass, but some may use plastic cups, so bring your own glass to be on the safe side. You want to actually be able to taste the wine so you can decide if you might want to take a few bottles home (mouthwash cups aren't conducive to tasting).

Finally, stay focused. It can be difficult amidst the din of a big tasting, and distractions take away from your ability to taste the wine. While part of the point is to taste new wines you haven't been exposed to, it can be a good strategy to zero in on a subset of the full offering that you think you might be most likely to buy.

For the most part, wine shops hold tastings for free as a way to get people interested in the wines they carry. Usually a representative for the wine distributor or importer is pouring a selection from the portfolio that they sell to the wine shop. Typically most of the wines on tap at a free tasting sell between $9-$15 a bottle and never exceed $50 (that would get too expensive to pour for a free tasting). The wine shop will generally offer a discount on the wines at the tasting as well, so it can be a great opportunity to stock up on some exciting new wines.

Some of our favorite local shops with tastings are:

Salem Wine Imports, Salem, MA
Ourglass, Saugus, MA
The Vineyard, North Andover, MA
Leary's, Newburyport, MA

A really complete list of local New England wine related events is available on A Passionate Foodie. Richard may soon have news of another new tasting venue in Massachusetts, but we'll wait for that story to break on his blog...


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Follow up to Taster B's wines of the year.

This is a follow up to Taster B's Wines of the Year.

Wow, it was a whirl-wind year. It is amazing how time flies when you drinking good wine. We started out laying down a format in October and took a trip out to Sonoma. We’ve visited some great wine shops, hit up a few packies and met a lot of interesting people along the way.

The economy has raised hell with our travel plans. Plant shutdowns have forced me to vacation at odd times, thus we will not be vacationing together for a while. The ramifications are that we did not visit as many wineries as we planned and it looks like that will be true for this year also.

What are my favorites? Since we have zero brand loyalty in this house, my criteria was simple…how much of a lasting impression did the wine make. This is a quality, not a quantity so there are no numbers here, no “this wine was true to the varietal” or anything that high church.

Leonetti Sangiovese 2003 We had so many great Italian wines. I’m a big Sangiovese fan and I love good Italian wine. This was one of my favorites.

Boony Doon 2005 Ferraris Piemonteses Blend We tasted this at Bonny Doon Vineyard last year. This wine was unique and different. I was able to sense flavors and aromas that I’ve never found in a wine before. It gave me the confidence that I really could do this blog thing.

Château Pesquié Terrasses 2007 This wine was reminiscent of the Rosé wines I used to drink before the White Zinfandel scourge damaged the image of Rosé seemingly beyond repair.

Jewell Towne Vineyards Traminette It was a tossup between this, the Seyval and Aurore. Maybe it was the lobster paring that tipped the scales? Clinton Vineyards produces excellent Seyval also.

Proprietá Sperino Uvaggio 2005 I agree with Taster B. This was the most memorable wine of the year.


The Best Wines of the Year

Today marks our one year anniversary here on Smells Like Grape (Happy Anniversary to us!) and what better way to mark the occasion but with a look back at our year in wine?

I considered an egalitarian selection of one favorite from each of five different grape varieties or regions. And, what with current economic woes, I even considered doing a Top Five Under $10 list. But, then I decided that any such contrived list would be diluted and meaningless, and what I really want to say is what were the best wines we drank all year, hands down. Now, I didn't consult Taster A before posting this list, so he might have different ideas.

My criteria for picking my top favorites is loosely based on the Miles Raymond wine rating system which consists of three classifications:

  1. F'ing Raid
  2. Quaffable, but far from transcendent
  3. Haunting and brilliant

So, all of the wines that follow fit under #3 above: Haunting and brilliant (and transcendent).

Third Runner Up is an unassuming Côtes du Rhône and also happens to be the most affordable of the winners. To be honest, this one didn't come to mind immediately when considering wines for this list but, looking over past posts, I saw that this wine inspired some pretty vivid imagery; any wine that inspires poetics gets high marks in my book.

Third Runner Up
Rubis 2005

The Second Runner Up is a wine that imprinted itself in my mind by it's pure immediacy mixed with something timeless. It made quite an impression on both of us.

Second Runner Up
Bonny Doon Monferrato Rosso

First Runner Up is a wine we waited far too long to try. Oh sure, we'd tasted Pinot Noir before but, we never had a Pinot Noir, really, until this wine.

First Runner Up
Louis Latour Beaune Premiere Cru 2002

Finally, our First Place winner of the Smells Like Grape Top Wine of the Year Award goes to Proprietà Sperino Uvaggio for being a totally unique taste sensation. The subtle blending of light toast and berry culminate into a BBQ peach aroma, with dark chocolate on the palate. It reminded me of what might happen if you poured a savory sauce over ice cream. In a word; decadent. This became an instant favorite of ours and I can't wait to try it again.

First Place
Proprietà Sperino Uvaggio


Friday, October 3, 2008

Montagny: The Gateway Chard

We got to try this wine thanks to our wine shop owner friend. It was a sample that he decided not to carry--mostly because he's not a big fan of buttery chards. I thought it was quite good despite evident oak. Don't let the butter scare you though: It's not a Cali butter-bomb.

Montagny 1er Cru

Producer: J.M. Boillot
Vintage: 2006
Appellation: Montagny, Burgundy
Price: ~$23
Aromas: Banana/pear oil, oak, marzipan, orange blossom
Flavors: Lemon zest, oak, butter

Summary: Do you have friends or family who are reluctant to diversify away from their California Chardonnay? Have your attempts expand their horizons been met with turned up noses? Don't despair. Here's is an excellent gateway wine that will get them out of their comfort zones completely comfortably! If you don't show them the bottle, chances are good that they won't even realize how far they've strayed.