Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From relative obscurity to total oblivion

Hello friends, followers, and random observers. As you may have guessed, the time has finally come to publicly announce the end of Smells Like Grape. It's been a long time coming, though it has been a kick to watch the blog statistics maintaining the same traffic trends we peaked at a year ago week after postless week. Fascinating as that has been, I think we've reached the limit of stat-watching's entertainment value.

My thanks go out to everyone we met along the way through this blog. It has been a lot of fun meeting you all and learning new things. I hope our paths will cross again many times--preferably with wine (no offense, you're great straight. We love you). Okay, without further hoopla, I prepare to click "Publish Post." Gotta do it quick before I change my mind (again).

So long and thanks for all the wine.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Cornerstone Napa Valley Cab 2006

I've been putting this post off for a few days because I wasn't sure what to say about this wine. I'm still not really sure. One word that comes to mind is 'ass-kicker' (is that a word?) I can also say this is a seriously age-worthy wine. I actually regret having opened it so soon. It was part of a sample I received some time ago already and it was tugging at my mind like little Tommy Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life ("s'cuse me! s'cuse me!"). There were actually two bottles of Cornerstone Cab in the sample. Thank God I only opened the one.

I was a little surprised to read on the Cornerstone Cellars website that this wine is "already approachable and will be drinking well very quickly." Okay, that makes me feel a little less like a baby murderer. I should add that Cornerstone also recommends aging their Napa Valley Cabs for three to five years, and failing that, decanting for two hours. All I did was pour it through a cheapo aerator. This feisty little bruiser certainly didn't take that lying down. It waged an all out assault on my tongue, and inspired me to sing a homophonous take on "O Tannenbaum."

Things in the bottle started to mellow out a bit after a day or two.
The nose is full of things like blackberry, black currant and licorice--anything black. Then, take a sip, and BAM! Juniper bush. Straight up. Oh, then there's some more licorice, and black stuff mid-palate that crescendos into a tart and herbal finish. Don't ask me what herb. It's probably a blend. Emeril's Essence or something. As the days wear on, some blueberry and violet start to emerge on the nose. And, that? Could it be? An actual hint of cherry on the finish? Anyway, definitely a contender for rochambeau champ at this stage.

On the whole, a bold, bad-ass wine. But, is it good? Well, the quality is certainly evident. It also needs a good deal more time in the bottle IMHO. I have no idea what another couple of years will do to the flavors in this wine. I could see it getting really meaty and irony like a bloody Chinon. I don't know what that juniper bush will do as it ages--this is where a vertical tasting would come in handy. Anyone done a vertical at the winery? Please share because I'm woefully lacking in comparisons for this bottle. As for the second bottle of Cornerstone Cab waiting in my mini-cellar, that's staying put for now.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Great little go-to white

Here's the current top-pick in our weekly what wine to pour with Sunday chicken quandary. Chicken should be easy to pair, right? Well, red wine lovers that we are, we tend to run lean on the white selection (we've had our fair share of chicken with Pinot Noir nights). Sometimes even red wine lovers want white wine with chicken!

This golden Saumur Chenin Blanc 2008 from Caves de Saumur fits the bill. It offers a nice full mouthfeel for the Chardonnay fans, while still delivering the food-friendly acidity so notably missing from typical Chardonnays. I believe this bottle retails in the $9 to $12 range.

In the glass, aromas of pear and citrus are laced with almond and hay. There's just a wisp of vanilla that quickly blows off. The zingy attack is citrusy: Lemon and grapefruit are followed by mouth-filling apple which then gives way to a slightly mineral finish. It's got a little something for everyone.

We've already enjoyed a few bottles but this is the first opportunity I've had to post about it because the bottle is usually drained before the tasting notes can be written!


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Press Release: Politics, Wine and Fair Trade Collide at Online Wine Auction

Online Fundraising Auction Supports Efforts
to Give Wine Merchants Right To Ship Wine,
Consumer right to buy the wines they want

(Sacramento, CALIF)—Beginning today and running through November 19th, Specialty Wine Retailers Association (SWRA) and are sponsoring the "Wine Without Borders" Online Fundraising Wine Auction. The online auction of wine will raise funds to support the effort to overturn state-sponsored discrimination against online commerce and give wine lovers real access to the wines they want, but can't find at their local wine outlets.

To view the various lots up for bid in the auction, wine lovers can go to: Wine lovers that support free trade in wine can quickly register, start bidding on wines and know they are helping the effort to bring down protectionist wine shipping laws.

"Between 2000 and 2008, more than $65 million was given to state political campaigns by special interests that oppose the idea of wine lovers buying wine online," said Tom Wark, Executive Director of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association. "We shouldn't be surprised then that today, in the 21st century, 36 states help these same well-healed special interests with protectionist laws that ban the shipment of wine into their states."

Among the wines on the block at the Wine Without Borders Online Fundraising Auction are: a 3 liter bottle of 2000 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, Martinelli Jackass Vineyard Zinfandel, Bordeaux futures including cases of 2007 Chateau Petrus and Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a collection of 2004 Syrahs from across California, 1996 Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame Champagne, a 6 liter bottle of 2006 White Cottage Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and many more hard to find and rare wines. In all there are more than 90 lots up for bid.

Specialty Wine Retailers Association is the only national organization that is working to overturn protectionist anti-wine shipping laws, give wine merchants access to the national wine market and allowing consumers to finally gain access to the wines they want by working to change laws in various states.

The proceeds of the "Wine Without Borders" auction will go toward helping fund the SWRA efforts across the country, including lobbying and media relations efforts.

"The 'Wine Without Borders' Online Wine Auction also gives consumers the opportunity to get involved and help with this effort to open up online wine sales across the country," said Wark. "To some this cause seems trivial, but in addition to supporting corruption and blocking wine lovers from accessing the wines they want, states that ban retailer to consumer shipping are losing millions of dollars in tax revenue that could be earned by simply letting their citizens buy wines from out of state wine retailers when they can't find them at home."


Friday, October 16, 2009

Bring Back Summer

I heard there is already snow on the ground not thirty miles from here! *gag* I'm not ready for another long winter. With luck, I think we can still squeeze out a few days of New England autumny goodness before winter sets in.

Enter Truro Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay.

We probably wouldn't have been able to procure this bottle from the 2007 vintage if it hadn't been a sample since Truro has been sold out for some time. I do wish we could have gone in person last summer to sample the wines and I'm sure we will some day. I think wine always tastes better at the winery, and I don't mean that in the cynical way. You just can't help but really enjoy drinking a wine within a few hundred yards of where it was produced. We didn't make it to the Cape this summer, but I reckon the only thing better than summer on the Cape is fall on the Cape. ;-)

Anyway, I can't recall having many Chardonnays grown in this part of the world other than a few we tried in Long Island so I don't have much to compare it to. Many local wineries choose to buy grapes from California. This Estate Grown Chardonnay was quite lemony with a little oak in the background. Even with the oak, I think it was much more refreshing than your average overly-buttery flabby chard. There were also some hay notes to balance out the citrus, and a smooth glycerin mouthfeel. A great summer wine, but also good for this time of year--like a crisp cold apple. I can honestly say it's the best New England chard we'd tried, and would pair nicely with any of our local seafood.


Monday, October 5, 2009

A good Pinot under $10? Hellz ya.

That's right folks, this is the best Pinot Noir under $10 that I can remember having. Of course it's French (the best source for food-friendly Pinot IMHO), and also of course a Vin de Pays.

This is seriously good fall food wine: Dynamite with beef stew or butternut squash lasagna. Not sure if you can tell from the picture, but the bottle is empty...yeah so...don't really have much in the way of tasting notes for you other than that it tastes like Pinot: Nice bright fruit on the attack with lots of subtle beef-stew-complimenting cocoa and spice in a mellow yet undulating finish.

We never buy wine by the case but, we might just have to get at least a half a case of this stuff. I love love love butternut squash dishes in the fall and sure, any Pinot would be good with butternut squash but, *this* Pinot is GOOD and CHEAP. What's not to love?

Bouchard Aîné & Fils

Vintage: 2007
Grape: Pinot Noir
Appellation: Vin de Pays D'OC
Aromas: Cherry, garrigue, vanilla
Flavors: good, try it.


Monday, August 3, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Go-to Garnacha

Here is another damn fine under ten dollar wine from Bodegas Borsao (Campo de Borja D.O.). We paid $8 but, I've seen it for as low as six and change.

The 2007 vintage is all about the blackberry: A hint of tobacco and stewed cinnamon stick and blackberry, blackberry, blackberry. It's super fruity but still shows best when paired with bold spicy dishes with lots of garlic. Great pizza wine!

This is my new favorite go-to eight dollar red!


Monday, July 27, 2009

The Spirit of Cape Ann, Ryan and Wood Distillieries

My good friend Joey is the driving force behind the community blog Good Morning Gloucester. Joey has a lot of love for Gloucester and the small businesses of Cape Ann and is quick to promote others. Recently, he did a series of interviews at Ryan and Wood, Inc. Distilleries. The interviews give you a sense of how a distillery is set up, the fermentation process, and how the stills work. I hope you enjoy these.

Part I
Courtesy of Good Morning Gloucester, ©2009 GoodMorningGloucester and is used with permission.
Part II
©2009 GoodMorningGloucester and is use with permission.
Part III
Courtesy of Good Morning Gloucester, ©2009 GoodMorningGloucester and is used with permission.
Part IV
©2009 GoodMorningGloucester and is use with permission.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Quest to Quench: Beer vs. Wine

Enduring Wine/Beer Stereotypes:

Wine = swirl; sip; savor
Beer = gulp; knock back; down

Not having any Sapporo or the like in the house this afternoon to pair with our seared tuna on soba with dashi broth and seaweed salad, we opted to open a bottle of white. Oops, the ignominious discovery is made that we have only two chilled bottles to choose from: A kick-ass value Chenin Blanc or an Italian Riesling. So, wanting to reserve the Chenin for more serious consideration, I opened the Riesling.

This was one of those wines where, upon initial sampling, one's first thought is that this 56 degree wine would benefit from further chilling. This kind of observation is often linked with having served a wine which is on the plonky side. Out came the trusty cooler sleeve, and the heaps of of big mushy apple crisped to more refined honey, pear, and lemon. Not an unpleasant wine overall, but one which left a lot to be desired when compared to the memory of a clean Alsace.

I should probably be embarrassed to even mention that I used my glass of wine to wash down a vitamin pill: Hey, now... What ensued was a fulled-bodied palate cleansing sensation with a rear-palate echo of the flavors of the meal; namely sesame and the richness of the tuna. Now, I'm familiar with the concept of quaffability but, this was something new: A wine that is actually best gulped--not so as to lessen the duration of it's influence on the palate but, to accentuate it!

With a rather dull attack which faded almost instantly to nothingness when sipped, this wine found a higher calling as a substance to be swashed willy-nilly between the back molars and over the gullet. Truth is, I could have had a beer, but the house beer is Sam's Summer Ale; too sweet and hoppy for this meal. In a sense, this so-so wine took the place of a beer but without the carbonation or bothersome "too-full" feeling.

I'm not particularly recommending this wine, but I do recommend opening up to the possibility of discovering the best in a wine by experimenting with how it's swallowed, swigged, swilled, or guzzled.


Monday, July 6, 2009

California Wine Hike with the California Wine Hiker

I haven't been much of a wine blogger lately. Just been short a couple buckets of inspiration. Happily, there are always more inspiring wines out there which gives a wine blog a pretty good shot at longevity, dry spells notwithstanding. We've discovered a lot of new and wonderful wines since starting this blog twenty plus months ago. However, the biggest unforeseen benefit of wine blogging has been getting to know other wine bloggers. It all started with twitter, and then the Wine Bloggers' Conference in Sonoma in October 2008. It's been a fun and rewarding couple of years to say the least.

Russ Beebe, the "winehiker" has been one of my all time favorite wine blogging and twitter personalities since the beginning. We met only briefly at the WBC so, of course I was very excited when he suggested we join him on a wine hike while visiting the Bay Area. Russ has been hiking local trails for years and years and is really knowledgeable about local plant and wildlife species. He's been doing the wine hikes for about four years now and says his concept of wine hiking is not to bring a bottle on the trail but to hike a trail that ends at a winery. Picchetti Ranch and Winery fits the bill perfectly.

There aren't many properties like Picchetti Ranch which offer real open space hiking trails within close proximatey to a tasting room. Russ is hoping to see that change. He says there is an untapped market for wineries willing to cut some real trails and offer outdoor enthusiasts more than just the typical vineyard walk. Picchetti Ranch has grounds with wonderful rustic charm and a perfect post-hike picnic area adjacent to the tasting room. Russ likes to take groups there because the two mile trail that starts on the property offers plenty of year-round interest in terms of flora and fauna. He pointed out several wild flower and tree species including the wonderfully aromatic mugwort and bay tree leaves.

The wines of Picchetti overall are on the rustic side (in keeping with the surroundings), and fruit features prominently. Some had a little too much fruit concentration on the nose for my taste, and leaned toward prune and other port-like aromas. We quite enjoyed the 2006 Merlot which will hopefully benefit from aging to unify the components. We bought a bottle to lay down. Right now its displaying a lot of cherry and a very rich finish which reminded me of white truffle oil soaking into the tongue.

After a pleasant tasting with Smiler at Picchetti, Russ led us down the road to the Cinnabar Tasting Room in downtown Saratoga. These wines were more refined in contrast to Picchetti but still exhibited some of the same flavors of black fruit and licorice which seem to characterize Santa Cruz Mountain wines. Cinnabar just released an interesting Petite Sirah from a new vineyard that shows some promise for future vintages. My favorite was the Cabernet Franc which was just good. I can't really say more than that since I tend to lose track of pulling out individual flavors when a wine is well integrated and not overpowering in any aspect as was this Cab Franc. I think it would definitely show favorably against some of the Long Island Cab Francs we recently sampled.

If it had been any day but a Monday, our adventure wouldn't have stopped there. But, alas, Saratoga businesses seem to have agreed to take Monday off so we didn't get to finish off at the wine bar as hoped. We bid Russ the wine hiker adieu until our dinner later in the week, and thanked him for a most excellent tour.

Just a little plug here: Russ the California Wine Hiker also organizes and leads corporate group hikes--That would be my kind of team building event! Support your local wine blogger and seek him out!

p.s. Sorry the picture is fuzzy--A nice lady who'd just finished her tasting took it! That's Russ on the left.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Backyard Sipper

Happy Fourth! Right at this moment we are sipping the 2008 Zolo 'Gaucho Select' Torrontes. We don't generally take wine recommendations from cowboys, but maybe we should start because we're all liking this.

On the nose we found orange blossom, ripe melon (honeydew), honeysuckle, and pineapple--really ripe tropical pineapple. It's very clean on the palate with a nice lime essence pooling and spreading from the mid-palate. Very floral too with a long finish.

We enjoyed this wine with cheeses and even found it paired well with cherries! The bottle says the grapes were sustainably farmed and it was imported by Epic Wines of Aptos, CA: Aptos is one of my favorite home towns, so I like this wine all the more for the hometown connection.

We didn't buy this wine but, I understand it normally retails for around $16 but, this particular bottle was purchased on special for under $10. A great wine for a perfect summer afternoon!


Monday, June 1, 2009

The Dining Alternative

Two Saturday's ago we had the pleasure of dining at the home of Chef Peter Ungár with Richard from The Passionate Foodie and his wife. Several wine and food lovers were also in attendance including Dale Cruse, Mary Reilly, Keri of The Wine Bottega, and Jacqueline Church.

The food was absolutely stunning with more courses than you could shake a fork at. Chef Ungár presented every dish and how it was prepared in detail. Among the most unusual concoctions: A watermelon oyster gelee which served as the base for a blue point oyster topped with salmon roe; the white anchovy tempura on a tiny roasted shallot boat; and a tomato sorbet with aged balsamic and basil oil. (photo courtesy of The Dining Alternative)

It's hard to pick a favorite course because everything was so good, but I probably most enjoyed the way the kobe beef ball crunched like a cadbury mini egg (Thanks Keri for that analogy). I also particularly enjoyed the walnut mustard. If I did have to pick a favorite, it would be the braised bison shortrib with white peach compote. Oh, I almost forgot the amazing trumpet royale mushrooms in the seared tuna dish--they were an epiphany.

Sommelier Scott Weinstein, brought some killer wines to pair with our meal. Top picks for me were the Martinsancho Verdejo 2004 which had a certain understated quaffability combined with a Masamoto finish; the Wakatake "Demon Slayer" Daiginjo sake for the seared tuna and green tea soba noodles, which could only be described as a digital liquid chocolate-dipped banana; and finally the heady South African Sequillo Red 2003 of which Scott brought his last two bottles. What a guy. That was some kind of sacrifice I can assure you.

The whole evening was a treat and Taster A and I enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We both commented afterward that we felt like we were on an episode of Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie. It just felt like the kind of avant-garde scene they would feature. I think this may actually be the start of a new movement of gourmet in-home dining. Hey, Chef Ungár, when is Gourmet mag showing up? ;)

Being hep to the multi-media social 2.0 scene, The good people at The Dining Alternative put together this little vid showcasing the entire evening's menu. Take a peek, but try not to drool!


Friday, May 15, 2009

Wine and Community: Applications Now Being Accepted

Markham Vineyards, a pioneering Napa Valley winery with a history of community involvement, is looking for applicants for the 2009 Mark of Distinction, a program designed to empower individuals to make positive, tangible change across America. Building on its history of community involvement and the tradition that began with the program launch last year, Markham will again award $25,000 to two passionate and inspiring individuals to complete a project that makes a positive, visible impact on their community.

To enter, go to the Nominations page before June 30, and submit a proposal of no more than 300 words that describes the initiative, the rationale and inspiration. A brief budget detailing how project funds will be used must also be presented.

Beginning July 27, 10 finalists and their dream projects will be selected and posted on the Web site. The public will then vote to determine two winners, who will be awarded $25,000 each to make a lasting local change – a “Mark of Distinction” – in their communities.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Taking the "Blah" Out of "Wine Blog"

Right, so this week I was supposed to post that $9 Côtes du Ventoux I couldn’t face last week, but…oops! Somebody drank it all. (wasn’t me!) As I recall, it smelled like Grenache and tasted like grapefruit. If I were tasting it blind, I may have guessed it was a white wine. Well, Côtes du Ventoux is known for being a light red so, I guess this one was right on the money. I have nothing to compare it to though as I have not had another Côtes du Ventoux. At any rate, this particular bottle was not really my style. It seemed surprisingly flabby with food but, apparently it was quaffable (judging by the now empty bottle).

Meanwhile, one week and two days after TasteCamp East, I think I’m almost ready to open another bottle of wine! In all honesty, I think I got in over my head going to Long Island with a bunch of professional wine tasters. Okay, okay…only half of them were actual professional wine tasters in the sense that wine tasting is listed in their job description—the other half totally could be professionals though. One thing they all have in common: They all got chops!

Yep, I was spitting [almost] everything at TasteCamp but, I think the wine was somehow soaking into my bloodstream through my cheek tissue or something (I believe I’ve heard of that kind of thing happening). Anyway, I have spent the last week+ just trying to dry out. Rest assured people: I’m pretty sure I will drink wine again. I am merely unable to venture a guess as to when. Soon, I’m sure! But, on that note, I would like to announce a change to the $10 Tuesday format.

Life's too short to drink cheap wine.

…Cheap wine; bad wine; no matter how you phrase it, nobody wins from the Tasters A & B tossing the dice on a $10 bottle of wine and losing. It seems to me that there actually are a lot of pretty uninteresting wines available in the $10-and-under category and finding one that is worth mentioning is luck of the draw. Being as we don’t have the resources (or inclination) to taste through dozens of $10 wines every week in order to distill the field down to a weekly gem, $10 Tuesday will no longer be a weekly feature.

Worry not value-minded Reader: whenever we do run into a fun or interesting $10 wine, we’ll post a $10 Tuesday to let you know about it. I’m just not going to kill my liver trying to seek one out every single week. If you know of a producer or a region producing attention-worthy wines in the $10 price range, please feel free to pass your recommendations on to us. We’re always happy to find such values in wine. In the meantime, I’ve got a cellar full of 15-35 dollar wines that needs my attention. ;)


Thursday, May 7, 2009

An Awesome Blogger Needs Our Support.

My friend Hardy is going for the brass ring and he needs your help! If you have 2 minutes to spare, please watch his application video and vote for him in the "A Really Goode Job" competition to fill a six month Murphy-Goode Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent contract.

Hardy is the man behind Dirty South Wine and is one of the most original, PR-savvy, creative wine bloggers I've met. I want him to get this job. I'm gonna be straight with you: I'll probably be a little jealous when he gets it but, really, I can't think of a better candidate. Won't you vote for Hardy? He's hilarious--and it's good karma!

A link to the voting is available from the "Dirty for Goode" badge on the right!


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Côtes du Ventoux...maybe

The last thing I wanted to do Monday after returning from the palate equivalent of the iron man was open a bottle of wine. Actually, the thought of it made me cringe a little. Duty calls though so I did open something. However, I decided after tasting it that posting my present impressions wouldn't be very responsible. It's probably only fair to let my palate reset so I'm not comparing a $9 wine to the $40-$60 wines I was tasting all weekend. I'll post it next week. I still may not love it, but at least it won't have the deck stacked against it by being judged out of context.


The way I see it.

B and I had the pleasure of meeting up with a band of East Coast wine bloggers last weekend, exploring the Long Island North Fork region. Lenn did a wonderful job putting this together and setting up a weekend stuffed with meeting other bloggers, wine makers, growers and producers.

This is the way I saw the event. I was coming off of a bout of springtime allergies and was not top tasting form, yet this event provided me an opportunity to experiment with other styles of photography which was equally important to me as trying other styles of wine. The weather was cloudy, slightly foggy and drab. Not a good time for shooting outdoors, but we do need photo content for SLG so a healthy self-dosing of quityerbitching tonic was in order. Let’s see what came through the lens toss in some observations about the area.

The first challenge was the available light shots of Raphael which has a wonderful open, spacious tasting and function room beautifully appointed with wood, tile and marble. The textures were fabulous and proved irresistible for playing with the existing light.

Mid spring in the North East is a time when the leaves emerge on the trees. The trees are not only spring green but also many pastel shades. The vineyards are devoid of greenery other than the green cover crop.

Long Island is flat. The soils are sandy-loam. The water is plentiful. Grape vines do very well in these conditions, too well. It can be difficult to get the vines to shut down and produce quality fruit. It is a struggle for the vineyard to keep the canopy in check while preventing too much moisture on the vines. Because the land is flat, the breezes are primarily from the ocean and are damp. This is tough on the growers because diseases are a constant threat. Thus, Long Island producers must be vigilant for molds and apply fungicides. This fact alone has made it difficult for farmers to go completely organic.

You will see dandelions in the vineyards of Long Island. Dandelions have deep tap roots that naturally till the land, keeping the soils open and aerated. This is a shift in thinking and may freak out those that are addicted to having putting greens for lawns, but dandelions are a beneficial force of nature. The experience of the growers and studies by Cornell University labs in these very vineyards have shown that the natural cover crops of grasses, dandelions, clover and other plants have not caused deficiencies in the vines.

This is the time of bud break on Long Island.

The wines have wonderful colors, winemakers can get a beautiful extraction. Merlot is the major crop and Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and a little Pinot Noir are also grown as well as other blending varieties.

There are less than ideal growing conditions on Long Island. Mid-Atlantic coastal weather is fickle. Merlot seems to be doing the best. I see a region trying to become an entity on its own, yet still align themselves with Bordeaux and trying not to be another California.

I was having a hard time accepting the quirkiness of the Long Island wines. I fully understand the desire to be unique and a wine region of stature. I was having a difficult time with the funk that sat on top of many of wines and the unbalanced tannins. This funk may be part of Cab Franc’s green, cabbagy reputation, but it is a distraction for me that was creeping into the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

At long last, it came to me. These Long Island wines are not wines that stand on their own. More than any other region I’ve explored, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, California, Argentina, Chile, Australia, these Long Island wines need to have food eaten with them. Yes I know, you should generally have food with wine but there are wines that I like without food. During the Merlot Alliance dinner, a wine was poured that I tasted earlier and was dreading tasting again. But paired with food, the fats cut down the tannins and helped balance out the wine. The same thing happened at lunch the next day. Then all of the sudden, I got it. These wines need food.

Talking with the producers in the area, I see that they are emerging in a region that they are still figuring it out. They are trying to mend the farmlands beaten by the prior agri-chemical farming. Those that want to do away with chemicals are making inroads and are on the correct path. There is a strong desire to have a distinct style as well as improving sustainability. I’m sure that they will figure it out.

In the mean time, I’m looking for my next shot. Hey, there's a cool truck.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Back from TasteCamp East

Barrel tasting at PaumanokWe just got home from the first TasteCamp East organized by Lenn Thompson and this is the first chance I've had all weekend to post something. Actually, I'm totally wiped from a marathon tasting Saturday of over one hundred wines and five separate wineries (and several more represented) so, this is going to be brief. I just want to put up a few pics and impressions from the weekend.

Before this weekend we'd tried less than five Long Island wines. I was impressed by the overall level of quality of the wines tried this weekend but more so, I was impressed by how attuned the wine makers seem to be with the land. The weekend's featured wineries may not represent the whole of Long Island winemaking but, the philosophy was echoed often enough to indicate an obvious trend in Long Island toward sustainable and bio-dynamic farming practices. Anyone can make wine in a test-tube but it takes a certain commitment and zeal to make it in the vineyard.

David Page of Shinn EstateMacari and Shinn seem to be well on their way to organic certification. The area has it's difficulties which has made it a particular challenge to move away from chemical pesticides and fungicides. The practices at Shinn and Macari are even informing Cornell's organic viticulture experiment which nearly "failed" but has ultimately achieved some success thanks to Barbara Shinn's coaxing. They are changing the vineyard management paradigm over there.

John and Megan at the Bedell tasting barThere was such a number of tremendous wines (plenty so-so wine too) that I don't even know where to start. My tasting notes fizzled after Roanoke where they had the foresight to seat us at a table (note-taking surface) and bring the wine to us (kudos Roanoke). I will say that as an outsider, I think the biggest challenge for Long Island wines is their price to quality ratio. Yes, they are making some kick-ass wines but a lot of them are priced beyond their peers in other regions. Most (emphasis on the most) are staying true to the region and not trying to mimic another style, so perhaps with time the QPR will improve.

shinn vineHaving said that, I think Shinn will be able to fetch a tidy sum for their 2007 Cab Franc once it's released. This is a wine that goes deep. At the end of the day, we found the best QPR for our money at Lenz. Eric Fry wine maker and all-around character*, seems to be on a mission at Lenz. When you visit Eric's tasting room, he will not impose his preconceptions (or your own for that matter) on you by doing anything so covertly influencing as announcing the varietal being poured. That would be mind control and Eric doesn't do that. But wait, there's more: He is a die-hard protagonist against the evil Astrigent Tannins. He has also taken it upon himself to age his wines for consumers (because if he doesn't do it, chances are nobody will). All of this adds up to some mighty fine juice (depending on the vintage). He likes it. We kinda did too.

* Sorry, we were too distracted to capture any photos of Eric Fry


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Eagerly Anticipating a Heady Blend of Wine Country and Bloggers

Ever since the Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma last fall, I've been looking forward to the next gathering of wine bloggers. It seems like the bloggers out in California get together all the time, but on the east coast, we are somewhat more isolated. Enter TasteCamp East: A Long Island wine country excursion planned by bloggers for bloggers! Actually, Lenn of LENNDEVOURS did all the work, and is already talking about accomodating more bloggers in another (bigger) TasteCamp East next year!

Of course, there is a full schedule of tastings designed to give us as much exposure as possible to a lesser known wine region. We'll be visiting the tasting rooms at Roanoke, Paumanok, Bedell, Lenz, Shinn Estate, and perhaps Wolffer Estate (time permitting). We'll also taste dozens of other wines over the course of a few meals. Perhaps it is also fitting to mention (given recent wine writer related maelstroms) that all the bloggers are paying their own way to travel to, and stay in Long Island, as well as for the majority of meals (I think there are two sponsored meals). Well... All, except Lenn who managed to finagle a TasteCamp in his own back yard. ...I kinda wish I was going on a junket... Anyway, I am SUPER PSYCHED about this thing and can't wait to see my old pals and meet some new ones. Look for some post-TasteCamp summary posts next week.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Tempranillo

This week's ten dollar wine is actually only eight bucks. What a deal! We love red wine, and we really like some of the lighter reds like Tempranillo that you can drink on a warmer day without getting cottonmouth.


Vino de la Tierra de Castilla
Vintage: 2007
Grape: Tempranillo
Alcohol: 13%

Aromas: Cherry, bramble, spice, strawberry, neroli
Flavors: Cherry, strawberry, allspice,fig

Summary: This country wine is not bad for eight bones. It's not terribly complex and it's a little shy on acidity which makes the tannins seem a little more dominant but, these are small quibbles. Really, there's not much bad I can say about an eight dollar Spanish Tempranillo (yes, I'm biased). The only thing that I didn't like about this wine was that it seemed kind of yeasty.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bodega Aljibes Visits New England

We were fortunate Friday night to be invited to a Spanish wine dinner at Zorvino Vineyard with visiting winemaker Javier Fernandez Sanz from Bodega Aljibes in Spain.

It was our first time to one of Zorvino's events and it was nice to see that there was a healthy turnout. Most of the other guests were first-timers too, so I guess the word is getting out about Chef Philip Carolan. He pretty much runs a one-man kitchen, yet still finds time to do things like blanche and peel fresh cherry tomatoes to go with the seared skewered beef, and bake 70 mini soufflés. He also grows some of his own greens and herbs on the property which I think is just awesome. I know that's pretty standard in other areas but it's pretty revolutionary in these parts.

Javier was kind enough to fly in all the way from Spain just for this event. I admit I did heard him say something about going to New York on this trip too but, I'm sure New Hampshire was the highlight of his trip.

Javier walked us through his selections starting with the 2007 Viña Aljibes Blanco: An entry-level blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. This wine was very easy-drinking and a nice blend of mineral and fruit. The acidity really sparkled when paired with a calamari salad. This was followed by the Vina Aljibes Rosado 2007 which Javier explained was developed for the Holland clubbing market (apparently, in Holland clubbers drink Rosé at the disco). The criteria for this market is pink and smells nice which it was and did--like strawberry and pineapple.

Next we had the 2004 Aljibes red: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot (33%). I wish I had taken notes. Some found it perhaps too rustic for the average palate but, I thought it was quite graceful with deep dark fruit, layers of chocolate, spice, and tannins that tasted more herbaceous than bitter.

Finally, we had a 2006 Cab Franc paired with our chocolate soufflé and banana... Okay, can we talk about this banana for a second? I was expecting your average mushy poached banana but this thing had a delicate crisp caramelized coating, and was warmed through without being cooked to mush. Oh, and the soufflé..? We're supposed to be listening to Javier talk about this Cab Franc, and it was all I could do to not be distracted by the aroma of melty, bakey chocolate sitting under my nose. Some guests yielded to temptation and devoured all traces of the dessert before Javier had even stopped talking. I felt kind of bad for him--I hope the Chef saved him one so he left knowing that the chocolate was to blame. The Cab Franc was a great pairing with the dessert, by the way. The chocolate brought out a nice bright strawberry flavor in the wine.

All in all, a very pleasant evening with some great food and interesting wines. It was nice to have some Spanish wines introduced by the wine maker himself right here in New England...Not as nice as having them in Spain but, this was a pretty good substitute and the folks at Zorvino are fun. I'm going to keep an eye out for the 2004 Aljibes red blend in the local wine shops so I can try it again.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Golubtsy in my Glass!

What is golubtsy, or galumpkis you ask? Oh...don't ask me. Basically, they are cabbage rolls but, why there are dozens of names for this basic stuffed veg dish, I could not tell you. But, why is it in my glass? It's not! Not really...It's this crazy Cab Franc Carménère blend I'm drinking.

I was jonsing for a Greek red, or a Tempranillo or anything with some nice figgy flavors to go with our Med spread the other night. I didn't have any of that so decided to open this bottle of Oops (as in Gal-oopsie) instead. This is a pretty fun wine. The label is pretty good entertainment in itself. I recommend it for light (yet informative) reading next time you're in the Chile aisle at the wine shop.

Anyway, I was very pleased to find a touch of that fig I was looking for on the nose. But, as it opened up, it's true Cab Franc characteristics took charge of the situation. This is where the golubsty comes in. Taster A kept saying "cabbage" and I was like "that's nice dear." Then it hit me: Stuffed pepper? No. Cabbage rolls! Don't let that scare you; it's just to say it's got this meat, tomato, veg, spicy thing going on. There's also some leather, geranium, and there's the fig and some soft berry in the background.

On the palate, more tomato, a touch of dry fig, olive and citrus, and a lot of spice. This wine is just great with food which is what we used it for. If you like sipping fruit-forward wines, I'm going to warn you not to try doing that with this one--you'll be like "whaa??" Oh, and whatever you do, don't pair it with dark chocolate unless you want to see how to make a wine taste like a bitter espresso shot. The wine is a little thin on the back of the palate, but a lingering peppery/smoky finish round it out. Needless to say, it went well with dolmas.


Vintage: 2007
Growing Region: Valle Central, Chile
Blend: Cab Franc (84%), Carménère (16%)
Alcohol: 13.9%
Price: ~$12

Aromas: Fig, pepper, tomato, veggies, leather, geranium, almond, wild strawberry
Flavors: Tomato, fig, olive, citrus, dust, allspice, pepper, juniper berry, tobacco


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

$10 Tuesday: White Côtes du Rhône

We've had this label before in a Rosé and been quite pleased with it so we thought what the heck, let's try the white.

Le Pas de la Beaume
White Côtes du Rhône

Vintage: 2008
Alcohol: 13.5%
Grapes: Grenache Blanc (65%), Clairette (20%), Marsanne (15%)
Price: ~$10

Aromas: Green apple, honeydew, tropical fruit
Flavors: Green apple, lemon, mineral, butter
Acidity: moderate
Sweetness: ultra-dry
Mouthfeel: round

On the nose is crisp green apple, honeydew, and something tropical--like starfruit. But, it could be that I just have starfruit on the brain because dhonig said it...(have I ever even had starfruit?) The flavor is quite starkly mineral, with a rather incongruous buttery finish and, as one observer put it, it is "dryer than a cork." This is a food wine, and does have adequate acidity to serve that purpose.

I don't know, I wasn't all that inspired by this one. It's a decent good table wine that goes well with food, but I don't have much to say about it. I know people who like this wine. I think I prefer the Rosé. I couldn't remember having a Grenache Blanc before but, checking back, I see indeed we have, and it seems we enjoyed that one a bit more.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Perrin Côtes du Rhône

Perrin Reserve
Red Côtes du Rhône

Vintage: 2006
Alcohol: 13%
Grapes: Grenache (60%), Syrah (20%), Mourvedre & Cinsault (10%)
Price: ~$9

Aromas: Bramble, wet stone, garrigue, violet, pepper, raspberry
Flavors: Cherry, orange, coffee, pepper
Acidity: moderate
Mouthfeel: suede

Summary: This is great everyday table wine with plenty of CdR character. The great thing about a cheap Côtes du Rhône is it has so much more interest than a similarly priced mass produced new world wine. It is not as plush and may take some getting used to if you are accustomed to something more homogenized but, I really recommend getting out of your comfort zone and trying something like this with a meal. Personally, I find a lot of the mass produced wines give me heartburn, whereas, a wine like this has the opposite effect. Overall, this is a pleasant, not overly complex or bold wine with a velvety peppery finish.
You can read more about the 2006 harvest over at Beaucastel Blog.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Wine and 'za

After a long (reeeally long) week, what could be better than coming home and flopping on the couch with some homemade pizza and a big glass of red wine? I ask you. Pizza doesn't require anything fancy but, tonight we went a little uptown with this bottle of Isole e Olena 2005 Chianti Classico. As a side note, our friend and fellow blogger Richard, from A Passionate Foodie is a big fan of this wine, and also met the wine maker, Paolo De Marchi earlier this year.

Isole e Olena
Chianti Classico DOCG

Alcohol: 13.5%
Grape: Sangiovese (blended with less than 20% Syrah depending on the vintage)
Price: $19.99

Aromas: Sandalwood, cherry, tomato, violet
Flavors: Anise, allspice, pomegranate, cherry, tomato, sandalwood
Acidity: Tangy
Mouthfeel: Clean

This is an unusually light-bodied Sangiovese but, flush with floral aromas with deep woody bottom-notes. If I were a man, I'd splash this stuff on as aftershave. On the palate, bright red-fruit flavors are subdued by mouth-filling savory notes giving the wine a mellow tang--it definitely has the umami goin' on. It did fine with the pizza, but I think with the delicacy of flavors we have in this wine, it actually was better to drink it on it's own after the pizza had been devoured.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

$10 Tuesday, Zorvino Winery

Those of you that follow this blog will remember that I just had a jones this spring. I just had to go back to my roots and get to a maple sugar house and stick my head into the steam. I found a sugar house up in Chester, New Hampshire one Sunday that was sugaring and I just had to go. B was doing homework and I was on a mission to find an arc, feel the heat on my jeans, smell the sap boiling and after 30 years, just find someone else that just understands what it means to sugar.

Driving up the back road in Sandown, New Hampshire, just five miles from my target I saw a sign by the road that said, “Wine Tasting”. I almost sprained my ankle jumping on the breaks. What is this, I’m in the middle of Southern New Hampshire? Well, let me fill you in about Zorvino Vineyards.

I walked into the tasting room and got a cheery, hello and welcome from Rue (right) and Sally who were operating the tasting room. We sat down and started to chat about the wines and the vineyard, and what I learned rocked my universe about business models for making wine.

This part of New Hampshire is not buffered by the ocean like Jewell Towne is, so the weather is, well New England weather. Thus it is difficult to find a grape to produce quality wines. But you are Jim Zanello, and you have a heritage of wine making. What do you do? You source your grapes. You source your grapes from Tuscany, Northern California and South America. Check this out, it’s like having two harvest seasons! Right off the bat, I have affinity for this winery. But can they make wine? Yes.

Zorvino Vineyards makes small batches in stainless steel. They are using modern techniques, to make wines in a style that are very flavorful, full bodied, beautifully extracted and just great values.

They are very open about where the grapes are sourced. On the tasting sheet, they list the growing region. They do not barrel age, but they do use chips. The result is a very mildly wooded wine that is similar to the styles of Chile, Argentina and Italy.

I brought two bottles home, the 2007 Chardonnay made with grapes sourced from the Curico Valley of Chile and the 2008 Carmenere, grapes also sourced from the Curico Valley of Chile.

Chardonnay 2007
Zorvino Vuneyards

Alcohol: 12.3%
Price: $10.00

Color: Straw Yellow
Intensity: Pale
Aromas: Vanilla, melon, honey, butterscotch, malt, oak
Flavors: Lemon, mango, butterscotch, oak, mineral, stone, lime zest
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Dry
Finish: Long

Summary: This is a rather refreshing experience. Here in central, southern New Hampshire, I have found a chardonnay that I actually like. I’m not a big Chardonnay fan, I prefer Sauvignon Blanc. Here is a Chardonnay that is moderately buttery, mildly oaked, ever so slightly toasted that was very enjoyable. Nothing in this wine is overpowering. It is not trying to be the world’s best Chardonnay. Like a good friend that stopped over to shoot the breeze, it’s just a pleasurable experience.

We are having this tonight with baked potatoes. This will go good with anything you’d serve Chardonnay with, and you’ll like it.

Back at the Vineyard, I tasted the Dry Mascato, Pinot Grigio, the Chardonnay (above), Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Merlot. Chatting with Rue, I told him about my Italian heritage and how I have Sangiovese in my blood. At that point, he took me back to the tank for a special barrel tasting of the Sangiovese that Zorvino is making. It’s going to be real gooood and I’ll have to make a trip up when it is released.

Zorvino Vineyards

Vintage: 2008
Alcohol: 12.5
Price: $15.00

Color: Garnett
Intensity: Dark
Aromas: Cherry, blueberry, smoked meat, black pepper, hay, American oak, rose
Flavors: Cherry, chocolate, licorice, tobacco, allspice, cinnamon, blueberry,
Body: Full
Sweetness: Dry
Tannins: Soft
Finish: Moderately long

Summary: This is a big surprise. Who would have thought that a good carmernere could be made in New Hampshire. We opened this wine with a tomato based vegetable pasta dish. It complemented the spicy dish very well. The flavors are bold even though the aromas are a little tight. Once it opened up, it became floral. The wood notes are complimentary, not dominant, meaning that it is not overpowered oak and smoke. This leaves the flavors and aromas unfettered by over oaking.

This is a good valued table wine made by an emerging winery, right here in New England.

I would have this with Mediterranean lamb dishes, Italian tomato or roasted meat dishes, pizza or Mexican. It is an easy wine to have with heavier foods.