29 December 2012

Simply Enjoying Wine

Here's a scene from today's pleasant Saturday lunch. Tacos, served with a Hungarian red and an Italian Prosecco that I've dosed with a little crème de cassis to make a Kir Pétillant cocktail.

I picked up both of these wines at the wine shop because I was in the mood for them, and wanted something I could just enjoy. I love doing wine reviews, but every once in a while you have to just step back and enjoy a wine for its own sake. And thus, no flags, percentages, or reviews here... Though I'm cheating a bit because I've written about both of these before.

I hope that everyone out there takes a moment to just sit back and enjoy wine during the last days of the holiday season. There will be plenty of time for analysis and cogitation after the New Year. Right now it's time to enjoy life, friends, and family. Best wishes to you all.

26 December 2012

Winter 2012

Memphis had been enjoying an unseasonably warm winter for most of the month of December. I spent Christmas Eve with my parents, and then Christmas Day at Julia's parents' house in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The area was under a blizzard warning (a very odd NOAA warning in this neck of the woods). We enjoyed Christmas lunch with her family until about three in the afternoon, when the blustery winter winds finally started delivering precipitation. Best to head east towards home before things start freezing.

Snow came to Memphis later in the evening, delivering a technical but not full white Christmas. However, on the 26th I was able to take Wolfie out for the annual photo of him in the snow. The old man is fourteen and a half years old this December, and while he may take a while to sit down and might sleep even more than usual, his eyes are still clear and he can hear and has a healthy appetite.

It's been a busy month for me, and wine reviews are a little behind right at the moment, but fear not: I have a bevy of sparkling wine reviews to post, and while they will not match Fredric's annual roundup, I don't think there will be a lot over overlap between our reviews.

In the end, I hope that all of you are taking time during this runup to the New Year to enjoy moments with friends and family, open some bottles you've been holding on to for a while, and petting your pups. Stay warm, and there are great things to come in 2013!

24 December 2012

Merry Christmas with The Dalmore

Christmas Eve with my parents was the perfect time to break out this little sampler set from The Dalmore, a Scotch distillery founded in 1839 and located on the Firth of Cromarty in the Highlands near Inverness.

With four different samples, I was excited to share a holiday tasting with my father, who has been to Scotland several times and appreciates the whisky. Julia and my mother both asked to try a sip, and both made awful faces. I think to enjoy Scotch, you've got to be male, over 30, of Scots-Irish heritage, and have worked up a tolerance from lesser whiskies in the past.

This was a perfect tasting kit, involving 50mL vials of various products distilled by The Dalmore. Glass encapsulated with aluminum, just wonderful for getting a great taste of the barley of the Highlands.

Prices are in British Pounds Sterling and for 750mL bottles: for US Dollars, multiply by 1.6 for the conversion rate as of 2012/12/24.

The Dalmore Gran Reserva
£35.49, 40% abv.
Aged in Sherry and Bourbon casks.
Sweet aroma of figs and stewed fruit. Bracing and biting with a little bit of a smoky aftertaste. This is somewhat unusual for a Scotch but it stands out as a distinctive liqueur on its own. Most of the following whiskies are aged in American oak and then finished in Sherry butts.

The Dalmore 12 Year
£38.49, 40% abv.
This is more of a classic Scotch, buttery and smoother, with notes of toasted caramel and a lovely, mild finish.

The Dalmore 15 Year
£49.99, 40% abv.
Leather and oak dominate with some earthy undertones and a clean finish. Quite sippable and pleasant.

The Dalmore 18 Year
£89.99, 43% abv.
It's not just the age, but this is the best of the group. Amazing coppery gold color. Strong beginning with a firm earth aroma and flavor that melts into a delicate vanilla finish. Really wonderful.

Note: This whisky assortment was received as a sample.

21 December 2012

Zonin Wines from Southern Italy and Sicily

I get a lot of different offers from publicists and wineries. Most just say, "Here's this wine, would you like to try it?" Others represent many different brands, and ask me what I'd like to try. I skip past the expensive, most well-known bottles, and always request the more obscure grapes, the lesser-known regions, and those that appear to have more of an interesting story behind them. With this batch from Zonin, I got all of those, plus a neat little 4GB USB drive shaped like a Prosecco bottle.

While the thumb drives are a far more efficient method of passing along data than CDs or other media, I always zap them and then pass them along to friends of mine who work as teachers, as they always need some easy, portable media for transferring files. As much as I enjoy the gadgets, I like it more when they get to be used in a productive fashion.

Quick side note: five of these wines are 100% representations of fairly obscure grapes, so for anyone looking to add to their ampelographic studies in liquid form, they're definitely worth checking out. Also, I don't have firm prices on these, but most are within the $10-15 range. As always, I will update this post later if I find out more details.

The first trio of wines comes from the big island of Sicily.

2011 Feudo Principi di Butera Insolia
Sicilia IGT
100% Insolia
13% abv.
Exceptionally light and delicate. Just a touch of lemon and yeast. This is quite possibly the mildest and softest Sicilian wine I've ever had, and it's highly recommended.

2010 Feudo Principi di Butera Nero d'Avola
Sicilia IGT
100% Nero d'Avola
13% abv.
Nero d'Avola is one of my favorite pizza and burger wines. Always great for a casual mid-week wine. Black cherry and spice, heavy tannins, tart finish.

2008 Feudo Principi di Butera Symposio
Sicilia IGT
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot
13.5% abv.
A well-balanced Bordeaux blend full of black cherry and leather and a touch of tomato leaf. It doesn't really taste Italian, but it's a solid blend on its own merits.

Puglia is the bootheel of Italy, and is called Apulia in English although it's very rare that you hear that. I'd suggest going by the native name, which is pronounced POO-lee-ah. These wines come from Salento, which covers the lower half of the bootheel.

2011 Masseria Altemura Fiano
Salento IGT
100% Fiano
12.5% abv.
This delightful little white wine has faint notes of melon and mild peach, low acidity and a full body. Strongly recommended for a good chicken salad sandwich that has a couple of grapes in the mix.

2010 Masseria Altemura Negroamaro
Salento IGT
100% Negroamaro
13% abv.
Really mild raspberry aroma, with a tart, ripe raspberry flavor and crispy finish. Low tannins and a pretty light body for a red wine. I've previously enjoyed this in rosé form but it was fun to try it in the full red style.

2010 Masseria Altemura Sasseo Primitivo
Salento IGT
100% Primitivo
13.5% abv.
Black cherry and leather, a touch of smoke and pie crust. While we can talk about the Crljenak Kaštelanski and Zinfandel family line, but this one stands on its own as a deep, tannic, red wine that demands a well-grilled chunk of meat. I enjoyed it with grilled steak over a salad and loved the combination.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

19 December 2012

NV Sandeman Founders Reserve

When you go through a lot of wine bottles, it's nice to stop and take a moment to notice the little details. Port bottles have always fascinated me. That little strip of paper under the capsule that most people ignore and throw aside is a quality guarantee seal issued by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto, an organization that classifies and scores Ports. Behind that little label is a fractured history of various groups in charge of Port rules, punctuated by wars and revolutions up to fairly recent decades. Just two years before I was born, the country went through the 1974 Carnation Revolution, when a military coup with massive public support overthrew the Caetano regime without bloodshed.

Can I say it enough times? Wine is history in a glass, and at this point we haven't even poured anything. We can still admire the frosted green glass and talk about how introducing iron oxide and chromium into the glass produces the color but also prevents dangerous wavelengths of light into the wine, but let's give it a sip...

Sandeman Founders Reserve
Douro, Portugal
Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão
Aged 5 Years
$20, 20% abv.

Stewed fruit, luscious plum and fig aroma, bright blackberry flavors and a tart finish. Big fruit flavors all around but with a smooth and clean finish. The Founders Reserve is a good bargain, makes for a good gift, is easy to find, and is also quite enjoyable for someone who's just getting into Port. If you ever purchase cigars for someone for Christmas or a birthday, consider including a bottle of Port like this as well. It makes for a great combination.

There's many more details on the bottle, like the artwork and the signature from the Scottish founder (I covered that in a previous post). Not every bottle is this exciting or will drive you down fascinating pathways of art and history and science, but you never know unless you take a moment to pay attention to the little things.

Note: This Port was received as a sample.

17 December 2012

Wines of Marie de Beauregard

French wine is often seen as threatening or difficult to understand. That's unfortunate, because there's a lot of great casual and inexpensive wine from the country that just requires a little bit of knowledge and exposure. You don't even have to go there to enjoy the many wonderful valleys and lesser-known AOCs. For example...

The 9th generation Saget La Perrière winery in the Loire Valley makes some of my favorite styles of wine. Cabernet Franc from Chinon? Chenin Blanc from Vouvray? Sancerre??? I didn't get to try the Sancerre from this group, but I will be looking for it in the future.

2010 Marie de Beauregard Vouvray
Touraine, Loire Valley
100% Chenin Blanc
$16, 12.5% abv.

This wine had a big, fruity body dominated by white peach and floral elements. Just a touch of sweetness, balanced acidity, and a long, pleasant finish. Julia really enjoyed this wine, and Vouvray has been a longtime favorite of mine.

I served it with shrimp and grits, a simple salad, and a side dish of homemade cranberry sauce. How can a region so far from the coast produce wines that go so well with shellfish? I have no idea, but I won't argue with it. In theory, this meal was built as sort of a low country Thanksgiving. The grits were cooked with chicken stock and Duranguese cheese, while I quickly sautéed the shrimps with butter, vermouth, and Rogan Josh seasoning. All in all a delightful Saturday lunch, and I had plenty of leftovers, though the wine somehow managed to empty out...

2009 Marie Beauregard Chinon
Touraine, Loire Valley
100% Cabernet Franc
$19, 12.5% abv.

Oh, this was a wonderful Cabernet Franc, and while Julia was not a fan of it, I kept sniffing the glass over and over again. Strong green pepper and eucalyptus, with tobacco, licorice, leather, and black cherry. Loads of great Cab Franc character with fairly mellow tannins. Long finish. Highly recommended. One of the best things about a 100% grape wine like this is that you can understand how it contributes to other Bordeaux blends.

I grilled a burger and topped it with white onion marmalade, Muenster cheese, tomato, arugula, and served with a side of fries. The fries were a little disappointing, but the burger and wine were perfect matches for each other.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

14 December 2012

2010 Girard Artistry

There are few absolute rules of quality in wine. "Dry is better than sweet." Rebuttal: Tokaji and Sauternes. "Single grapes are better than blends." Rebuttal: Bordeaux. "Blended grapes are better than single grapes." Rebuttal: Burgundy. Cross Examination: Champagne.

While we all have our favorite combinations of grapes, geography, oak, and age, there is no One True Path to the perfect wine, and I always think that it's better to make the best wine given the grapes and tools and climate and traditions available.

This "Napa Red" from Girard Winery is a great example. A great blended, Bordeaux-style wine made in the Napa Valley and aged well. I admit that I have a particular affection for such blends that take advantage of all five permitted Bordeaux red grapes, and I'm even happier when the percentages of non-Cabernet Sauvignon and non-Merlot are substantial.

2010 Girard Artistry
Napa Valley
58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot
$45, 15.1% abv.

This wine has a deep and stately nose with elements of coffee, leather, and cassis. Big tannins and a tart, long finish indicate that while this is currently great with grilled steak, it should mellow out over the next three or four years to allow for more delicate dishes. Overall it is a delightful California wine that incorporates the best of France with a New World twist.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

12 December 2012

Mud House Wines

Mud House Wines was founded in 1996 and operates two wineries on the South Island of New Zealand, one based in Marlborough on the extreme northeast, and one in the coastal Waipara Valley just south of Marlborough. Additional, Pinot Noir is sourced from the cool southern region of Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in the world. At 45° south latitude, it's at the antipodal level of Bordeaux. Sure, Pinot Noir would probably grow a little better at 47° (on the level of Burgundy), but that would require planting on tiny Stewart Island, home to only 400 people.

I've written about this before, but that wine belt that passes through the wine regions of France, Germany, New York, and the Pacific Northwest is pretty tiny in the Southern hemisphere. You go through the tapered end of South America in the valleys of Chile and Argentina, barely scrape the southern tip of South Africa, and catch the south coast of Australia. Go any farther north and it's too hot and wet. Go any farther south and you're just in the cold ocean between civilization and Antarctica. Soil and modern viticulture can allow you to grow wine grapes practically anywhere, but making really decent wine requires specific amounts of sunlight defined by the latitude as well as the effects of ocean currents, two things that farmers can't control.

I'll update this later if I get the US prices, but for now everything is listed in New Zealand Dollars.

2009 Mud House Riesling
NZ$19, 13% abv.
I haven't tried a lot of New Zealnd Rieslings, but this one was wonderful. Honey and green pepper aromas, an alluring combination. Dry and tart with a crisp lemon finish. Light and refreshing, and overall a very sunny wine. Highly recommended for next spring.

2011 Mud House Sauvignon Blanc
NZ$19, 13% abv.
Julia asked me, "What's that aroma?" Not in a bad way, but she didn't recognize the scent. "Gooseberries," I replied. "Lots and lots of gooseberries." There's that unique citrus-like smell combined with grass and hay and some darker notes. Really complex and interesting to sip on, as it had been quite a while since I'd had a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc like this.

2010 Mud House Pinot Noir
Central Otago
NZ$24, 13.5% abv.
A clean and smooth Pinot Noir with a dominant ripe strawberry character. Mild body with just a little tartness. This is a great roast chicken wine, and I'd suggest a lot of rosemary in the bird and the fingerling potatoes that you should pan fry along with it.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

10 December 2012

Six Lodi Wines

Lodi, California is both a city and an American Viticultural Area located east of San Francisco and smack dab between Modesto and Sacramento. While I've had lots of table wines from the region in the past, I was surprised to get a batch of samples featuring a wide range of grapes that reminded me a bit of the experimentation in other regions like Paso Robles. There's the expected Zinfandel and Syrah, but look at that Graciano, Tempranillo, and Vermentino! Who knew? Given the Spanish and Italian immigration in the region it's not completely out of the question, but these appear to be much more recent plantings. I'm glad that people are looking for the next Malbec or Carménère: a second- or third-tier grape that can really flourish in an environment far from the vineyards of its birth. (One day my Memphis AVA Grechetto will rock the wine world!)

2010 d'Art Wines Zinfandel
Mokelumne River, Lodi
$22, 15.5% abv.
300 cases made from 85 and 55 year old vines
This classic Zinfandel is soft and rich with notes of black plums and cake. Mellow tannins and a gentle plum flavor follow.

2010 Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel
Mokelumne River, Lodi
$24, 14.7% abv.
175 Cases Made
French, Hungarian, and American Oak
A stronger Zin with tea, black pepper, and deep blackberries. Deeper flavor, stronger tannins, but still well balanced. Should be great in a few years.

2010 Kidder Family Winery Duet
57% Graciano, 43% Tempranillo
$24, 14.9% abv.
Light raspberry and black tea notes on the nose, with a dark plum flavor and spicy tannins. A really interesting blend from California, and one that went exceptionally well with some BBQ pork.

2010 Klinker Brick Winery Farráh Syrah
100% Syrah
$20, 14.9% abv.
French Oak
Coffee and black cherry aromas, with a little spice. Deep black cherry flavors with just a tinge of black pepper. Long, smooth finish, and while it's got strong fruit flavors, it's still a little restrained. This one begs for flank steak with a spicy rub.

2010 m2Wines Tormenta Tempranillo
Kirschenman Vineyard
$24, 14.5% abv.
California Tempranillo. Wow! Black currant and touches of leather and coffee. Medium tannins with some flavors of bitter tomato leaf on the finish. Really fascinating, and very mild overall. This is definitely one of the more exciting wines I've tried this year, and definitely worth checking out.

2011 Uvaggio Vermentino
22% Gayla's Vineyard, 78% Bella Vigna Vineyard
$14, 12.5% abv.
2,370 Cases Made
This is probably the lightest and most delicate out of the group, and having tried several Italian Vermentinos I couldn't wait to try this one. It has a light peach aroma with crisp acidity and a mineral finish. Try it with a light pasta dish in a cream sauce or a thin crust vegetarian pizza.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

07 December 2012

Ventisquero Wines

When it comes to Chilean wine tasting, most of my experience involves the marathon Wines of Chile tastings. Eight or a dozen bottles grouped around a common theme, enjoyed with webcasts and online messaging and Twittering.

While I definitely enjoy those events, it's also nice to try them on a smaller scale. Such was the case when I received a pair of wines from Viña Ventisquero. While the winery was founded in 2000 in the Maipo Valley, the company has expanded their sources to include other valleys like Leyda, Colchagua, and the Casablanca, which produced the grapes used in the two wines below.

Both of these are affordable wines with a good quality-price ratio, inexpensive wines that are well made but are also suited for casual lunch consumption or a simple midweek dinner.

2010 Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc
Casablanca Valley
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$13, 13.1% abv.

Grass, lime peel, and a salty sea spray aroma... Medium acidity and a round mouthfeel with a tart, tangy finish. I enjoyed it with smoked chicken and a simple spinach salad.

2011 Ventisquero Reserva Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley
100% Pinot Noir
$13, 13.5% abv.

A thin-bodied but tart Pinot Noir with loads of raspberry characteristics. Loads of acidity, low tannins. Very light red color, almost like Gamay. A curious wine, but perfect with an appetizer platter of cheeses and olives and nuts.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

05 December 2012

Labor Wines

Coincidence is an interesting thing, and while I bow to the math involved knowing that the relativity of simultaneity can be calculated using Lorentz transformations, the primitive lizard brain still gazes in wonder when such events occur.

I got an e-mail from Michael Oppenheimer, a second generation radio executive here in Memphis who offered to pour me the Labor Wines made by his father, Dick Oppenheimer, who ran radio stations in Austin, Texas for many years and recently retired and got in the Oregon wine business. Dick had heard of me from a California winemaker who recommended my website. A meeting was set for a Saturday afternoon, and I looked forward to trying the wines.

Before I got a chance to try them, Fredric published a review of the two bottles based on a pair of samples from a local distributor. Two small production Oregon wines, ending up in the same city 3,700 km/2,300 miles away mere days apart. Let's drop the physics and call it kismet.

2010 Labor Wines Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
100% Pinot Noir
$28, 12.5% abv.
336 Cases Made

Very mild aromas of raspberry and pencil shavings, with good acidity and light tannins. Very Burgundian in profile and a wine that would be an excellent match for salmon.

2009 Labor Wines Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
100% Pinot Noir
$28, 14.4% abv.
280 Cases Made

The 2009 is a stronger and deeper wine, with more of a wild strawberry aspect and deeper oak flavors. While more substantial, this vintage retains great balance and is highly recommended with veal or lamb.

Both wines are enclosed with convenient screwcaps, and both are the sort of mellow berry deliciousness that Oregon has made famous. And at under $30 each, they're pretty affordable if you can find them.

Michael and I enjoyed a long conversation about wine, radio, cigars, and other matters over the course of the afternoon. We tasted the wine from some family stemless glasses pictured at right, and it reminded me of the big crystal pitcher my parents got as a wedding gift that had a gothic calligraphy "C" etched on the side.

Those of us who tread the wine road often sip and spit and dash off quick reviews of wines, but it's always nice to get the opportunity to step back, spend some time, and enjoy the family connection of a business that, when you get down to it, is about digging in the dirt and hoping that the weather treats you right.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

03 December 2012

2010 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vines Zinfandel

The weather here in Memphis is doing weird things. It's been near freezing at night for the past couple of weeks, but now the days are well into the 70s. Makes it difficult to eat or drink seasonally.

On a Sunday afternoon, I was tired and not interested in doing any additional cooking (beyond the breakfast I made at seven and the casserole I assembled at noon). So I ordered a pizza from Jet's Pizza, a somewhat national chain that specializes in Detroit-style deep dish square pizza. It's not Chicago deep dish, it's not like the Pizza Hut version, but there's lots of delightfully greasy and crusty bread with plenty of toppings. I ordered a Hawaiian pizza, and when nosing through the stable of samples I thought that a Zinfandel would be the perfect pairing.

Julia and I were not disappointed. I'll also note that I've always admired the Ravenswood logo, with its Celtic interlocking and simple design.

2010 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vines Zinfandel
$9, 13.5% abv.

The nose has deep black cherries with hints of of chocolate and oak. On the palate are bright berry flavors, tart acidity, medium tannins and a lingering finish. A great middle of the week casual red wine.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

30 November 2012

2011 Robert Mondavi Coastal Crush Red

Today's entry in the casual red category comes from the venerable Mondavi label from Constellation Brands. Much ink has been spilled about the Mondavi family wine business and the legacy of Robert, but I've never really focused too much on the behind-the-scenes business aspect of the wine world. It's an important subject, not only to those who buy and sell wine properties and brands, but I don't follow the industry news closely and it doesn't stir a desire for writing. If I wrote about oil painting, I probably wouldn't spend a lot of time talking about fluctuations in the price of alizarin crimson, but more about what I thought of the final work.

This is a red blend that comes from the world's largest wine company and bears an easily recognizable name, but it doesn't mean that it's a boring "macrowine" on the order of Budweiser or Coors. Indeed, I found it to be a tasty California red blend that is affordable, easily available, and yet well enough constructed that you shouldn't ever be ashamed of the $11 price tag. I certainly enjoyed it with an all-American dinner of steak with a baked potato and simple salad.

This wine was provided to me as part of an online Twitter tasting, but due to traffic conflicts on the way home from work, I was unable to attend. But you can go back and read some of the tasting notes and commentary @RobertMondaviPS.

2011 Robert Mondavi Coastal Crush Red
57% Monterey County, 20% San Benito County, 13% Paso Robles, 10% Valley South
67% Syrah, 24% Merlot, 9% Malbec
$11, 13.5% abv.

The wine opens up early with notes of cassis and a touch of chocolate. On the palate it has rich chocolate-covered cherry flavors with very low tannins, a mild body, and a short finish. This is a very mild and easily drinkable red that is definitely ready now. Highly recommended for just a fun and enjoyable wine to open up when you have surprise visitors over the holidays.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

28 November 2012

NV The Naked Grape Harvest Red

A lot of my Thanksgiving wine advice can easily be applied to your Christmas wine, or your Hanukkah celebration, or whichever winter holiday you choose to celebrate. Personally, I've always been a big fan of Festivus, but that's because I like the airing of grievances and feats of strength.

In general, I like to think about perspective and experience. It's maybe not the time to break out the funky South African Pinotage or the twenty year old Barolo (unless your guests share your hobby). It's more the time for crowd pleasers, bottles that are good served chilled, with bright fruit flavors, maybe a little sweetness, and low alcohol. All of those factors are important to making a non-threatening experience for your fellow guests that probably don't make a habit of tasting and spitting a dozen wines in one setting and making catty comments about brett contamination.

It's a win-win scenario, because these simple table wines tend to go well with holiday fare but also, if nobody likes them, you're only out a few bucks won't forever associate a certain Bordeaux with everybody complaining about how it smells like tomato leaves and cigars while you try to defend the style.

The Gallo powerhouse of Modesto has many marques, and one that I've reviewed before is the label known as The Naked Grape

NV The Naked Grape Harvest Red
$9, 12% abv.

I'm sorry to be so light on the details, but I don't know the specific wines and percentages, nor can I tell you upon which side of Dry Creek the light fell when these vines burst forth supple grapes over the course of a magic summer in... some year. I don't mean any of that as an insult. On the contrary, I think there's a great place for a good inexpensive table wine in the spirit of the Languedoc region of France. Something like a Vin de Pays d'Oc that you grab for $5 and enjoy with a picnic.

This Harvest Red Blend falls into the category of a light, fruity wine almost free of tannins. Just a little sweetness, lots of bright berry flavors, and no strong aromas. Sound familiar? Yes. While I'd prefer to have a great Cru Beaujolais that would perform the same way, you're more likely to be able to find a wine like this when enjoying the holidays away from home or as a last minute purchase on the way to dinner. It's smooth, refreshing, and folks found it to be fun.

And this holiday season, it's worth remembering that you can have fun with your wine.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

26 November 2012

2010 Wine Guerrilla Releases

Wine Guerrilla produces some amazing Sonoma Zinfandel. Not only do the individual wines have their own unique characters, but I really love the label artwork by Sean Colgin. In previous reviews I've gone into more detail about the artwork, and I still admire the overall aesthetic as well as the little double dots in the typeface. A label shouldn't be your primary deciding factor when buying a wine, but I always appreciate it when a winery puts forth the extra effort and makes their product beautiful.

The Wine Guerrilla wines are made in small quantities, but if you get a chance to try them you won't be disappointed. And it's a lot of fun to serve three or four wines made from the same grape and let your guests see how different they can be.

2010 Wine Guerrilla Mounts Vineyard - Cypress Block Zinfandel
Dry Creek Valley
95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah
$35, 15% abv.
300 Cases Made
Blueberries and spice dominate the first sniff, with an undertone of black cherry. Very mild body with a light and delicate finish.

2010 Wine Guerrilla Monte Rosso Vineyard Block E44 Zinfandel
Sonoma Valley
$42, 15% abv.
200 Cases Made
The nose has a lot of deep cassis and blackberry aromas. Dark fruit flavors, low tannins, but a big, round body. Long finish.

2010 Wine Guerrilla Conte Vineyard Zinfandel
Russian River Valley
Field blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, and Carignane.
$35, 15.6% abv.
120 Cases Made
This has an initial profile of blackberries and plum with a big fruit flavor and a spicy, tart raspberry finish. I appreciate a properly made field blend, and this is a great California mix. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

23 November 2012

Holiday Rieslings

There's the question about what wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner, and then there's the followup question: What did you drink with Thanksgiving dinner?

I ignored my own advice because I can, and because in addition to wanting something good to go along with the meal, I also have a duty to sample the samples. And it was with great pleasure that I was able to bring two bottles of German Riesling to the city of Jonesboro, Arkansas where I celebrated the holiday with Julia and her family. We enjoyed a classic meal of turkey and stuffing and assorted side dishes, with the addition of her uncle's smoked ribs. Dessert included baked apple dumplings... Pork and apple and RIESLING! Perfect!

I don't know the American prices or availability of these wines, but if I find out later, I will update the posts. Thanks once again to the folks from Wines of Germany for their quarterly shipment of one sweet and one dry Riesling.

2010 G.H. Mumm Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland "Erstes Gewächs"
Rheingau, Germany
€25, 13% abv.

This is the style of German Riesling that I adore: completely dry with balanced acidity and aromas of petrol and wet stones. Not everyone was as much of a fan, but several enjoyed experiencing such unusual aromas coming from a wine. "Nothing's wrong with it, that's how it's supposed to smell!" There's a long, mellow finish to this wine that only improves as it warms up over time.

2010 Max Ferd Richter Riesling Kabinett Veldenzer Elisenberg
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany
€18, 9.5% abv.

This winery exists because in 1813, Franz Ludwig Niessen paid Napoleon 3,000 Tahlers to prevent the destruction of two nearby towns. In gratitude, the Richter family was awarded additional land full of grey slate and quartz. This was the big hit of the gathering, full of light apple and pear aromas with a medium sweetness and a light, crisp finish. Really perfect for turkey and pork and everything else we had. Highly recommended for your Christmas dinner, which should include similar foods.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

21 November 2012

Pali Wine Co.

Pali Wine Co. takes its name from the neighborhood of Pacific Palisades near Los Angeles, but the grapes are sourced from places well beyond the City of Angels. While I'd like to think that I've got a pretty decent vocabulary, I just realized that I have no idea what a palisade is. With the name of the town it seems to refer to a series of cliffs that resemble the staked defensive fences of the classic palisade definition. I looked up an old palisade and thought, "Oh, it's the same as a kraal in KwaZulu-Natal or an old West stockade." Funny how simple engineering methods keep popping up independently around the world throughout the millennia.

The winery focuses on their favorite west coast Pinot Noir vineyards, and here I got to taste two of their entry level wines.

2011 Pali Charm Acres Chardonnay
Sonoma Coast, California
100% Chardonnay
$21, 14.1% abv.

This Sonoma Chardonnay is mild with notes of cream and vanilla, apricots and dried fruit. Dry but fruity with balanced acidity and a long, creamy finish. It was a perfect match with the dish mentioned below.

2011 Pali Alphabets Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
100% Pinot Noir
$21, 13.3% abv.

I love Oregon Pinot Noir, and this one starts out with a nose of buttered toast and overripe wild strawberries. The palate is smooth and balanced with a good strawberry profile and low levels of tannins and tartness. It went particularly well with the ham in the dish, and I think it could hold up well with mild meat dishes like veal or light pork preparations.

For lunch with Julia on Saturday I made crêpes stuffed with poached chicken thighs, ham, Swiss cheese, and a rich sauce Mornay.

This recipe is dead simple, and I'm not going to write out every detail, but I will note that you'll have everything you need to make this dish on the day after Thanksgiving. Hint hint.

My crêpe batter is just 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, ¾ cup flour, mix and let sit for a half hour, and then dollop onto a medium skillet a third of a cup at a time. Sauce Mornay is just Béchamel with shredded cheese, like you make for homemade macaroni and cheese. The fillings should be easy enough to scavenge from the fridge of leftovers. If you're comfortable with sauces and pancakes, you can easily make this dish with no special equipment and still wow friends and family with a gourmet interpretation of the spoils of Thanksgiving dinner.

And these crêpes are amazing with good wine, which should also be available if you've stocked properly for your holiday meal.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

19 November 2012

Silver Buckle Cellars

I recently received a wide range of samples from the Napa-based Rutherford Wine Company. They produce wines under eight different brands, and I'm grouping them like that.

First up is Silver Buckle Cellars, paying homage to the cattle farming background of the vineyards and decorated with an ornate silver belt buckle featuring a bull surrounded by grape leaves. I actually own a wide leather belt with a big buckle on it (featuring an angry buffalo, natch), but I don't often have occasion to wear it. Nor the handful of bolo ties I own, come to think of it.

2011 Silver Buckle Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay
Lodi, California
$18, 13.5% abv.

Tropical fruits with some floral notes on the nose, bright tartness and a round, slightly sweet mouthfeel. I had this with the Ethiopian dish doro wat mentioned in Friday's post. I found that the sweetness and acidity went well with the berbere and ginger heat.

2010 Silver Buckle Ranchero Red
Syrah, Merlot and Malbec
Central Coast, California
$20, 13.5% abv.

The bottle opens with lots of blueberries and a touch of spice. Big berry flavors continue on the palate with medium tannins and a short finish. This would be a perfect match with some fatty meat and a bit of char on it, like beef short ribs.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

16 November 2012

Ethiopian Restaurant

I live in the northeast suburbs of Memphis, and often bristle at the downtown/midtown criticism of my neighborhood as nothing but a sea of chain restaurants and those kind of people that still use forks at Chinese places. Sure, these things exist, but the spaces in between reveal a wealth of gastronomic diversity and enthusiasm, as well as a diverse immigrant population that might surprise you if you don't live in the area.

In an area that is associated with a car culture, I have amazing choices within walking distance (2 mile radius): two Thai places, one Vietnamese, a giant international grocery store, an independent bakery, three Middle Eastern restaurants, two Indian, and much more. Just last week I was going past the movie theater (half a mile away) when I noticed a brand new Ethiopian restaurant (right next door to the grilled fish and chicken place owned and inspired by a South African), and a couple of doors down from the fun dim sum joint, and within view of the Taiwanese bubble tea cafe.

The name of the restaurant is, simply:
Ethiopian Restaurant
1134 N. Germantown Parkway, Ste. 107
Cordova, TN 38016
(901) 283-8161
Open Tuesday - Sunday

Takeout is available, but I'd really suggest eating at the restaurant and bring some friends. I fell in love with Ethiopian food years ago at Abyssinia in Midtown, and learned the joys of true communal dining. Not just eating at the same table, but from the same large dish with hands and injera.

If you're unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, you have to start with the odd light brown spongy bread that lines the bottom of platters and is used to pick up food. This is injera, a sort of light sourdough pancake traditionally made from teff, but also made from regular wheat flour. Injera is not as strong as tortillas or naan. Closer to crepes but with way more bubbles, and often the size of a medium pizza when fully unrolled and uncut. Using only your right hand, you tear off pieces of injera to grab thick stews and vegetables and other goodies, and then eat the bread when it gets soggy (and delicious). I particularly love the leftover pieces at the bottom of the platter that have been soaking up the stew juices for the entire meal. I'll reach a point of sensible satiation and decide to stop eating the protein and vegetables, but will still continue nibbling on injera.

It's so much fun to eat together from the same platter, especially since everyone will have different favorites and different combinations, and there's a gentle combination of trying to enjoy the heavily seasoned meat without depriving your fellow diners.

When I found the restaurant, I didn't want to wait to recruit some fellow food enthusiasts in the Memphis metro area. So close to my house and it's been so long since I've had Ethiopian? I'm there. But I'd never eaten it alone, and wasn't sure how this would work. Thankfully, the restaurant is well-equipped for the solo diner. If you're eating in a group they will plate everything more traditionally, but I was delighted with my large platter that ran me a mere $12. I ordered beef tibs--a grilled beef dish that's normally reserved for special occasions back in the home country. The beef was cooked with onions and berbere (a chile/ginger/garlic spice blend) and served with stewed potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, a little salad (sort of a dry salsa with parsley, onion, garlic, chiles), and creamed corn. Peeking out of the bottom right is stewed spinach, which is often combined with a kind of ricotta-like cheese.

The waitress asked me if I needed a spoon, but I politely declined and dove in with the injera. The food was amazing and while I didn't quite scrape the plate clean, I got close. So many wonderful, exotic flavors, and such a different style of dining, all amplified by the Ethiopians around me speaking solely in Amharic. This kind of experience really fires up the food lover soul on every sensory level.

A few days later, I had to go back but this time I tried takeout. I decided to go with the doro wat, the most famous Ethiopian dish. There's a dense chicken stew served with the above sides plus a whole boiled egg. The doro wot was delicious, but consuming it out of a styrofoam container wasn't quite the same.

Right now the menu is temporary, and I can't wait to see what they offer in the future. Check it out, and if you eat there, let me know what you think.

14 November 2012

2011 Ruta 22 Malbec

While Mendoza is the wine powerhouse of Argentina, there are other regions within the country that are not as well known here in the Northern Hemphisphere. This wine comes from the Neuquén Valley of Patagonia, south of Mendoza and west of Buenos Aires. The chalky soil means that most of the country's sparkling wine is made there, but they also produce Argentina's most well known grape, Malbec.

The name Ruta 22 refers to a national highway that runs from the east coast port of Bahia Blanca and ends in the western vineyards of Neuquén. The brand is in the portfolio of the Chilean-Argentine partnership Dos Andes, who also make one of the most delightfully named wines ever: Lai Lai from the Bio Bio region.

2011 Ruta 22 Malbec
Neuquén Valley, Patagonia
100% Malbec
$11, 14.5% abv.

There's a nose of ash and wet stone with black plum notes underneath. Full dark fruit flavor with firm tannins and a long aftertaste. Not jammy, but fairly well balanced. I served this with grilled cheeseburgers, and think that it would work well with lots of casual fare.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

12 November 2012

Quartet of Cavas

I will once again offer my standard Thanksgiving wine buying advice. Think PIGS: Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain. There are loads of bargains from these four countries, wines that are meant to be drunk young and consumed with a wide range of foods. And within that range, you should always grab a few inexpensive sparkling wines and serve them with the meal, not just as something for toasting alone.

For example, Cava from Spain. These are made in the méthode champenoise or metodo tradicional, the same production methods used in the Champagne region. Cava is a much younger product, only going back to 1850 as opposed to the 1531 creation of Blanquette de Limoux.

I really enjoy casual sparklers, and they're a great reminder that you don't have to wait for a special occasion to enjoy wine with bubbles.

NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva
50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo
$10, 11.5% abv.
Large bubbles with a delicate floral and citrus nose. A good bargain, and perfect for making various sparkling wine cocktails.

NV Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad
67% Macabeo, 33% Parellada
$25, 12% abv.
Crisp and refreshing with mild mineral tones under a splash of lemony acidity. The bottle is very beautiful and distinctive, and worth re-purposing as a flower vase or olive oil container.

NV Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut
$12, 40% Parellada, 35% Macabeo, and 25% Xarel-lo
12% abv.
Toasty nose with a hint of honey. Clean, refreshing flavor with a flinty edge. The iconic black bottle should be familiar to everyone. I enjoy it with olives and hard cheeses before dinner.

NV Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut
40% Chardonnay, 30% Macabeo, 20% Parellada and 10% Pinot Noir
$18, 12% abv.
Very different grape composition in this one, and the profile reflects it. It's a lot like an entry-level Crémant de Bourgogne with a nice aroma of butter and spice on top. This bottle has the smallest bubbles of the four but maintains a crisp, tart acidity. Really great with a bowl of steamed clams.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

09 November 2012

Advertising Notes, and Happy Tempranillo Day!

Advertising on this site has always been minimal, and I've primarily just used the Amazon Associates program with links in the sidebars. They're a well known company and millions of people feel comfortable shopping online with them. However, with the launch of Amazon Wine, I've got an opportunity to solve a big problem I've had in the past. Lots of readers e-mail me asking where they can buy a wine featured here, or if I can sell them a bottle. I've always been hesitant to link to specific online retailers, mainly because there's nothing in it for me and I can't personally vouch for or against them. For right now, Amazon can ship wine to the following states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and the District of Columbia.

I'm going to play around with the ads and figure out the best way to incorporate them without looking obnoxious. I will continue to link the name of the wine to the specific winery or American distributor whenever possible. My advice to all of my readers is to always support your local wine shop first--if you can't find a specific wine, they should be able to suggest a good substitute. If that doesn't work, check the link to the winery and see if they ship to your state. And if that doesn't work or it's not a domestic wine, follow the links at the bottom of the post and help support your humble wineblogger. If I start seeing positive results, I'll take the time to go back and add purchase links to older posts.

UPDATE Nov. 11, 2012: Looks like Amazon is not paying referrals on wine. Goodbye links!

Now, back to the wine!

Thursday, November 8, 2012 is International Tempranillo Day, coinciding with International Stout Day, which I had to pass on because I stick to either wine or beer--I've found the palate doesn't work with a combination. Also because there's only so much time for tasting between getting home from work and going to bed.

The most notorious wine PR holiday is the Beaujolais Nouveau release, but lots of others have been started like Champagne Day or the lesser known Öküzgözü Day on April 4 in celebration of Turkish grapes. I was happy to join in on this one because of my love of Spanish wines. They are generally tasty, food friendly, and inexpensive: a perfect trio.

On top of this, I also received four Cavas, which I'll be writing about later. Stay tuned!

2011 Tapeña Tempranillo
100% Tempranillo
Tierra de Castilla, Spain
$10, 13.5% abv.
The nose has a touch of cinnamon and black plum. On the palate it's rich and fruity with firm tannins. This is a great middle of the week wine that will go well with casual burgers and pizza fare, and is a great bargain at a sawbuck.

2009 Vaza Rioja Crianza
100% Tempranillo
Rioja, Spain
$15, 13.3% abv.
This is my favorite of the three, and yes, I'm a little biased towards Rioja. The profile here is full of black cherry with a hint of eucalyptus. Mild tannins and balanced fruit and black tea on the tongue. Serve with roast pork and grilled vegetables and be in heaven.

2010 Valdubón Cosecha
100% Tempranillo
Ribera del Duero, Spain
$15, 14% abv.
This wine is pretty young, as right now it's full of cassis and oak with really firm tannins. However, I think it should be great in two years and I'd love to serve it with braised oxtails.

Note: These wines were received as samples.