Summer Stash: A few nice red and whites…

Now onto some of the higher priced offerings that I’ve sampled over the last few months. As many of my long time readers know I don’t drink to many wines in this category as I often find myself disappointed as I expect so much more. Given that I am super selective and each of these comes with their own little story to go along with it. Ready to hear them?
a few nice reds...

I’m a long time fan of Sausal (former club member) and their old vine but affordable Zinfandel. This one is no exception. Warm and inviting on the nose. Big and brambly on the palate. This one didn’t show the restraint I typically find and enjoy but this one was a fine wine nonetheless. Sobon is another winery I am a big fan of and again their Zin’s lead the way. The Rocky Top is one of perennial, affordable ($13) favorites. The Paul’s Vineyard is a big and deserves to be paired with a meal that can handle such a wine. The Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot came recommended by the Wellesley Wine Press. It is full bodied with layers of dark fruit that comes across more big than elegant. Not exactly my kind of Pinot but still an enjoyable bottle. Ah, Casa Nuestra. Visiting them had been on my to-do list since I torn a Matt Kramer article out of the June 30, 2003 Wine Spectator. I finally scratched it off this summer and the Charbono is one of the bottles I acquired on my visit. This one showed some barnyard funk on the nose. In the mouth it was light bodied and juicy with brambly fruit. Cherries and plums intermingled with earthy notes and black pepper spice on the palate. A little sour throughout but with a nice lasting finish. I’m thinking another few years in the bottle would have done this one wonders but it was enjoyable now as well.
a few nice whites...

The 2002 Navarro Gewurztraminer is one of the oldest whites I’ve had. In the glass it was the most elegant gold in color. The nose was big and full of floral and white fruit notes. Very rich and full bodied this one showed a nuttiness throughout. It had turned what I would describe as almost dessert-ish. Given this was a first I have nothing to compare it to but it was an interesting experience. As for the Peju Sauvignon Blanc I came across that one as part of a regrettable visit to their tasting room (a friend’s choice). Fortunately this wine was much more enjoyable. Nice lemon lime notes on the nose. On the palate this one is fruity and smooth with a fuller body than the Sauvignon Blancs I typically drink. While crisp the acidity is not as overpowering as others which make this one a better match for food. This is what I think of as the Californian styled Sauvignon Blanc.

There you have it. The reds were far more interesting than the whites. Have you had any of these? Any favorites from this summer to share? Either way would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

* I paid for all these wines with my very own wallet.

Summer Stash: The Final Four…

Phew! 51 down! How many more to go you ask? Just five, and what a final 5 they were! We will cover four today and these all deserved a post in their own right. Instead they will share the stage here and go down in history as some of my highlights from the summer of 2010. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for my top pick of the summer but before we jump ahead let’s shower these with some accolades…
two reds...

I’m sure you are looking at these price tags and saying wow! I’m certainly outside of my comfort zone here as I don’t drink wines in this category too often. Both of the below were received as samples and I haven’t repurchased them (or any wines whatsoever in this price category) but if I were an active shopper in this price range these would be at the top of my list. First up is the Emblem Cabernet. Here were my notes; “(14.3%) Big and brawny on entry this young buck is still throwing its weight around. Warm and embracing with rich chewy tannins and constrained oak galore. The dark cherry fruit is not yet taking center stage but plays a sublime secondary role with cassis, tobacco and dried herb notes on the mid palate. This leads to a smooth, toasty finish loaded with dusty chocolate flavors that lingers on pleasantly. Rich and powerful yet smooth and balanced. Drink now or later (it will certainly age well) and if you are lucky enough both.” The Three Sticks Pinot was equally as impressive. From my notes; “(14.4%) Wow! Brick brown in color. The bouquet here is so warm and inviting you may lower your nose so deep into the glass you’ll accidentally stick it in the wine. The palate starts juicy, vibrant and floral with a bit of spice. It has an amazingly big but perfectly balanced flavor profile. A nice acidity manages it through the mid-palate and finish where a bit of soft spice emerges before you get some beautiful smooth, tingly tannins that linger on seemingly forever. The depth is outstanding the oak is well integrated adding just a hint of toastiness. A Pinot of epic proportions. Elegant & powerful yet restrained at the same time. It’s all here. I’d welcome another encounter any time…”

two whites...

The Graf Hardegg was sent to me as a sample and served as a beautiful message as to why I need to further educate myself on Grüner Veltliner. That said I don’t have a lot of tasting experience with this varietal but I sure did like this one. From my notes; “(13%) Awesome lemon rock on the palate with a full white fruit flavor profile. Incredible depth with a nice stony structure which leads to a nice, tingly, mineral finish. Extremely crisp with a nice tartness throughout. Everything I want in an offering and a wine I wish I could find again…” As for the La Clarine Farms Grenache Blanc I noticed a number of people whose palates I respect tweeting @LCFWino) about their wines I decided to seek them out and boy am I glad I did. From my archives; 2008 La Clarine Farms Grenache Blanc “(13.5%) My wife cracked this one and guzzled the first half+ with a friend while taking the kids on a play date proclaiming “I thought it would be okay since it was a screwcap” when I called here on it. Light and golden in color. A sweet, rich floral honeyed nose with pollinated orange blossoms and peach notes. The palate is full and floral with a nice mineral backbone; like a flower bed growing in the middle of a rocky creek. From there it has an almost coal-like smokiness and hints of an oaky creaminess with a slightly spiciness and lingering tannins on the finish. Pure and enjoyable. This Grenache Blanc is now long gone 2008 La Clarine Farms Grenache Blanc(only 48 cases made) but looking forward to trying more of La Clarine Farm’s offerings soon…”

There you have it. Have you tried any of these? Did any wines make your summer of 2010 highlight reel? Either way would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

*all of these wines were received as press samples other than the La Clarine Farm which was purchased with my own real American dollars…

Value hunting at Trader Joe’s

I’d been meaning to get over and do some wine shopping at Trader Joe’s for quite some time. Yesterday on the way home from work I finally made it. There were two wines in particular I was looking to grab; the Picket Fence Pinot and Steelhead Zin. Let’s see what else jumped into my cart along the way…

a few new reds...

  • 2007 Picket Fence Pinot Noir ($8.99) – I’m way late to the party on this one. It’s praise has been sung in the comments, my friend Bob Dwyer chronicled this as a winner over on the Wellesley Wine Press and in pulling this post together I noticed that joshiemac gave it a thumbs up over on Grape Stories/Cellar Tracker. With that many positive accolades it seems I was lucky to still find this at all. Glad I grabbed two bottles but wondering if perhaps I shouldn’t have grabbed a few more. This one will make its way to the dinner table very soon but don’t wait for me to post a review because it will likely already be too late. Get it while you can.. By the way kind of crazy they only made 500 cases of this (per the bottle) but Trader Joe’s managed to make this one available on this east coast, good for them!
  • 2008 Dos Brotos Ranch Red ($6.99) – I’ll admit it, the classic label got me here. First I saw the Chardonnay and you see my wedding anniversary is just around the corner and my wife happens to be a Chard lover. I passed knowing her undying love for La Crema then came across the red. I’ve had a lot of luck with wines from Lake County and have mentioned a few times I think it is a tremendous place to look for value. Based on that I decided to give this a shot. This one is a kitchen sink blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, and Tempranillo which I learned courtesy of my friends at the TTB is made by the folks over at Coppola. Hopefully it delivers! Stay tuned…

From there my decision making got a bit iffy and the wheels started to fall off…

a few value hopefuls...

  • 2009 Marqués de Montañana Garnacha ($4.99) – I had read the latest Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (pdf) and really wanted to get the Steelhead Dry Creek Zinfandel that was on offer but alas it was out. This one was in the flyer too so I decided to give it a shot. That said expectations are low so hopefully that will result in me being pleasantly surprised! In the mean time I am still hoping to track down that Steelhead Zin.
  • 2009 Chariot Gypsy White ($4.99) – Comments began appearing a while back that a Chariot Gypsy white would be on the shelves. I had a Sauvignon Blanc from them a few years back and didn’t love it so I wasn’t running to the store. That said, once at Trader Joe’s I had to give it a try. The white Gypsy is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli and Marsanne. Angela has already done us the favor of reviewing this one and gave it a 12th bottle rating. Can’t imagine my opinion will be much different so I’ll just consider this a $5 deposit for my ’09 Gypsy red allocation.
  • 2009 The White Ribbon Sémillon ($5.99) – Hmm… I grabbed this because I mistook if for the Sancerre Angela had mentioned. On coming home I see this one was actually in the latest Fearless Flyer (link above) as well. I like Australia and I like Semillon so perhaps I will luck into something here.

So that’s what I got. Now the more important question. What did I miss? Have you found any new favorites of late? If so please let me know if the comments below.

Wedding Wine and Trader Joe’s?

Party Wine and Trader Joe's
Usually it is a wedding but whether it be a holiday party or summer barbecue I am often asked for recommendations on wines that will please a broad range of palates, some more discerning than others, without breaking the bank. As someone who served a Trader Joe’s wine at their own wedding (the 1999 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon Family Selection) I’ve always felt comfortable offering my thoughts. In many cases these thoughts are shared but the loop is never closed as to how the wines ended up fairing. Did they please? Disappoint? Go unnoticed? So when my sister-in-law recently turned 50 and I was appointed sommelier I had a chance to observe for myself.

My approach? Get 24-30 bottles for approximately $200. I wanted at least two reds and two whites. So what did I end up with?

    Bubbly:

    • 6 Zonin Processco at $5.99 – Bubbly always pleases so make sure you grab some!
    Whites:

    • 6 Overlake Sauvignon Blanc at $4.99 – This was meant to be my all around palate pleaser and was well received
    • 3 Overlake Chardonnay at $5.99 – As much as I want to bag on Chardonnay this was the first wine that was finished
    • 3 Honeymoon Viognier at $4.99 – Grabbed this one as I thought it would deliver for those that preferred something sweeter. Remembered this as slightly syrupy but it was all floral this night. Should have grabbed the Dr. Beckermann Riesling instead…

    2009 Overlake Sauvignon Blanc2009 Overlake Chardonnay2008 Honey Moon Viognier

    Reds:

    • 6 Novella Synergy at $6.99 – This Zinfandel driven blend was meant to be the simple all around palate pleaser on the red side. It was a bit hot and reds were less popular than whites but my perception was people gravitated towards the…
    • 3 Spiral Wines Cabernet Sauvignon at $4.99 – People latch on to California Cabernet like babies do a milk in a bottle. And when you have one that delivers above its price point like this it disappears in a hurry. A must have!
    • 3 Cline Zinfandel at $7.99 – I should have grabbed a Pinot Noir here but couldn’t find anything I liked within my price range and opted for this security blanket (one of my very first favorites) instead. While reds weren’t all that popular given the heat this one was more shunned than poured…

    2008 Novella Synergy2008 Spiral Wines Cabernet SauvignonCline Zinfandel

What did I learn? I reconfirmed my belief that in these scenarios wine is just an innocent bystander. Most won’t notice it at all and even fewer will stop to truly appreciate it so don’t break the bank. In this case I had a few too many options and some were a little off the beaten path for your average wine drinker (Honeymoon Viognier) and others were too similar (Novella Synergy vs. Cline Zinfandel). If I had a chance to do it over again I would whittle the list. As you can see I think people really hone on the varietal. Having a blend on offer seems to just introduce uncertainty so stick to those they know. Given that I would go with the following in equal proportions:

  • Bubbly
  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Sauvignon

There you have it! Did I miss any of your favorites? Need help planning an upcoming event? Whether it be Thanksgiving, a holiday gathering or something else altogether feel free to reach out. I am always happy to assist.

2008 Pacific Rim Autumnus White

This is a guest post from JB who is a frequent commenter here on the site. For those that aren’t familiar he frequently points out the latest and greatest Trader Joe’s finds long before I get to them. When he mentioned the Autumnus I let him know I was unlikely to try it (sounded too sweet) and asked if he might do a guest post. He was kind enough to agree. If anyone else is interested in doing the same let me know in the comments.
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2008 Pacific Rim Autumnus WhitePrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Pacific Rim “Autumnus represents everything that is beautiful about food and wine — bounty, variety and complexity. Washington State provides the ideal terroir for the varietals we’ve selected for our wine: Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer.

The vision for Autumnus was to craft a wine where each component would bring its own individuality and, at the same time, harmonically counterbalance the individuality of the other component. The Riesling brings floral aromatics and bright, fresh acidity; the Chenin Blanc lends a clean minerality and beautiful citrus characteristic; and the Gewüztraminer lends a soft, round mouthfeel with subtle flavors of passion fruit.

Autumnus is crafted to pair with a diverse canvas of foods. Our white blend would be a lovely pairing with fresh, local foods such as a simple spring salad. The bright acidity of the wine would complement more rich foods like grilled fish with a cream-based sauce. While the subtle layered flavor profile of the wine would be a perfect balance to all manner of curry dishes.”

And 88 points from the Wine Spectator where Harvey Steiman says “Bright and jazzy, with zesty grapefruit peel notes against the light sweetness of lemon custard character. Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer. Drink now” – April 15, 2010

What JB Thinks:

Wow…….After reading what they said, I would think they were describing a God rather than a wine. Looking at the label does little to change that perception. Given I am not a big fan of white, this one is a blend of Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer, I’m initially skeptical. After the first sip of the wine my judgment changed completely (don’t judge a book by its cover). The nose is floral with a nice grapefruit aroma. The flavor is bright with grapefruit and lemon notes that lead to a soft passion fruit flavor. This wine is well balanced, fruity and tart with a nice dry finish. Yum! Given I’ve seen the Autumnus go for $14 it is quite a deal at Trader Joe’s where it can be had for a mere $5.99. That said get it while you can as this one is a hustle buy. With the holidays nearing you may want to grab some for Thanksgiving dinner or stuffing stockings.

JB’s Rating: Buy It (I did!)

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Thanks again JB! Who wants to be the next to do a guest post?

The return of boxed wine?

Oh the glorious memories of high school. If it wasn’t wine in a box it was Bartles & Jaymes (couldn’t resist the commercial) or a 2L of Sun Country or Boone’s or… Well you get the point. Boxed wine has been afforded the same stigma that Rose has suffered at the hands of White Zinfandel. Memories, some good, some bad but all including a wine (or a derivative of it) that you’d prefer not to taste again.

So when I opened the package and found 3L samples of both the Big House Red and Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc you know what initially went through my head. But it appears boxed wine is going retro and as history shows, though rarely, sometimes, the 2nd time is better than the 1st. Reports say that boxed wine sales are increasing at almost 10x the pace of overall wine sales. Couple that with the fact that I am a value seeker at heart and I decided to taste these wines with my eyes wide open. What did I find?
The return of boxed wine?

First off before I even get started I should mention that if you have a serious interest in learning more head straight over to Joshua Sweeney’s site and give his Search for the Best Boxed Wine Wrap-Up a read. Okay, you back?

I served these at my niece’s graduation (thus my lack of formal tasting notes) and the Silver Birch was impressive and is a crowd favorite (see best of above or Drink Nectar’s take). This one is potentially on par with the King Shag which would make it quite the steal. The Big House Red while not impressive was certainly drinkable. The Silver Birch I would be happy to serve to guests again and while I wouldn’t be embarrassed to serve the Big House I wouldn’t go out of my way to talk about either. Perhaps the Black Box Malbec, that Joe Roberts (aka 1 Wine Dude) refers to as “Quite a feat to pack that much blueberry & tobacco spice in that lil’ box. A bargain at less than $7 a bottle.”, would be a better selection. What does this all mean to you?

As I see it there are two potential reasons to buy these wines. The first use case being a social gathering where a large amount of wine is necessary. These wines perfectly serve the purpose of being drinkable while not being wasteful from a quality perspective for the vast majority that may not be paying attention. The second use case being that you don’t drink all that much (and/or don’t crave variety in your wines the way I do). These wines are proclaimed to stay fresh for up to six weeks after opening. If either of these cases matches your needs I recommend giving these a try.

What’s your take? Have you had boxed wine lately? If not, are you willing to give it a chance? If so, which one? What did you think?

*as indicated above both the Big House Red and Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc were received as press samples

Tasting with @garyvee at VinTank

Tasting with GaryV at VinTank

Earlier this month I was invited up to VinTank where they were hosting @garyvee for the day as he interviewed a bunch of wine luminaries in a still undercover content operation that should soon unveil itself on cork’d. As part of this the winemakers obviously brought along the best of their wares to share and @pmabray was kind enough of to invite others (like me) to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I did have the chance to meet Gary and he was every bit as nice as you would think (and hope) he would be. I also meant a gang of other people which made this more of a social gathering than a tasting event and will explain my limited tasting notes below :-) Given that I have four highlights of what I am hoping to become far greater wine experiences to share…

  • 2009 Natural Process Aliance Sauvignon Blanc ($N/A) – There is a big broader story to be told about NPA but for today let’s stick to the wine which hails from the Russian River Valley (800 cases made). 1/3 of this is fermented with skins, another 1/3 in clusters and the last third on its own. It was bottled the morning before it was delivered/tasted which is the norm for this wine (and quite interesting). Before you even drink this one you’ll certainly notice two things about it. #1) It is bottled in a Kleen Kanteen. #2) You will be taken aback by the cloudy, hazy color this unfiltered wine displays compared to its more translucent peer set. Almost like a summer day in San Francisco if you will allow me to reminisce. Now to the main event, this one starts with a big, fragrant nose loaded with orange fruits: peach, nectarine and cantaloupe; that leave you waiting to get knocked over by the same boldness on the palate but it never happens. Instead you find a wine that is surprisingly refreshing! Loaded with the great flavors of the same aforementioned fruits this one has several more layers that I could spend an evening dissecting and I look forward to doing so. Now I just need to get on @theNPAhardy‘s milk route for a delivery!
  • 2009 Pithy Little Wine Co. Sangiovese Rose ($22) – I was lucky enough to get a chance to taste through a bit of their portfolio and enjoyed all I tried (Chardonnay, Pinot, Syrah and Zin) I must say that while some men are suckers for blonde for me it is all about rose and this (hailing from Paso Robles) was no exception. Jeff mentioned that when they arrived at the custom crush facility that many were surprised to hear they were making a rose with the Sangiovese. Well I am glad they did and guessing you will be as well! The nose on their 2009 was reminiscent of a strawberry jolly rancher (with a bit of watermelon mixed in) that I found delightful. The palate delivers more of the same with loads of strawberry throughout that meet with a crisp, refreshing finish. This is a perfect light bodied summer wine that can be had as an aperitif or served with a nice meal off the grill. That said rumor has it that @winefinesse puts aside a sizable chunk of the 120 cases made for herself so you may have a hard time tracking this one down, but if you do you’ll be glad you did!
  • 2006 B Legacy Reserve Merlot ($60) – Well this one started interesting; you see the VinTank team had set up a visit for me at the Bolen Family Winery about a month earlier but due to technology failure (read dead iPhone battery) I never arrived. I did my best to apologize but upon meeting Eric and his father Mike I was promptly (and rightfully) coined the “a**hole”. That said there were still kind enough to share their wine and their passion with me. Their sole focus is Merlot which allows them to take a different approach than most where it is picked earlier rather than later as Cabernet is the kingmaker. But here they can let the grapes hang. In fact they get many nervous calls from growers wondering when they are going to pick as they are often the last grapes hanging on the vine, sometimes harvesting as late as November. As for the wine itself (hailing from Oak Knoll) it is aged for 26 months in 20% new oak. The nose shows the wines nuances straight away with layers of red berries and spice. On the palate this is surprisingly juicy showing great balance before showering you with an assortment of flavors on the finish with just a hint of warm barrel spices peeking their way through. For someone like me who rarely favors Merlot this was an eye opener. At $60 a bottle it is definitely spendy but if you call yourself a Merlot fan you need to give this one a try or at a minimum get up to the tasting room soon.
  • 2006 Tallulah Les Trois Voix ($30) – Again, here, I was lucky enough to enjoy a few of the wines from the Tallulah portfolio. The Como, a blend of 53% Marsanne, 37% Chardonnay, ~10% Viognier, was toasty and full bodied with a zesty, slightly sweet finish and the Syrah was remarkably approachable. But my favorite of the lot was this Grenache/Mourvedre/Syrah blend which is often associated with the Chateauneuf Du Pape. The 2006, hailing from Shake Ridge Vineyard in Amador County, is composed of 53% Grenache, 29% Mourvedre, and 18% Syrah. With rich fruit and herbs up front this one showed great meatiness and nice vibrant acidity leading to a spicy, earthy, balanced finish. There were only 416 cases made so I’m glad I have a bottle in my possession.

There was many more good wine being poured including Hanzell, Titus, Failla, Modus Operandi, Salinia and Shibumi Knoll which I am bummed I didn’t get to spend more time with. And I missed the Opus One entirely! Next time I’ll have to be faster on my feet. It was a great event, thanks to Paul and the Vintank team for having me!

Port4lio Tasting 2010

Port4lio Tasting 2010

Ever since I missed the 25 Grapes (you’ve never heard of) tasting at Solano Cellars back in late March I had the date for the Port4lio Tasting circled on my calendar. The event brings together 4 importers; Blue Danube Wine Company, Return to Terroir, Siena Imports and Vinos Unico, that more or less bring you the best of the best from across Europe. To put in perspective what had me so excited about this event let me just share this tidbit: “There will be over 125 wines made with 90 different varietals from over 9 different countries!” For those that know me this is the equivalent of taking a six year old to Disneyland. And like children do to their parents I stayed for the very last ride, tasting nearly 70 wines by the time they showed me the exit. My intention was to try and visit all of the importers but as I was amazed at all the new varietals and interesting wines that I never made it beyond my first two stops: the tables of Vinos Unico and Blue Danube. While I could talk forever about this tasting (still even though it was more than a month ago) I’ll share a few highlights from each:

Vinos Unico:

o A load of affordable and refreshing white wines from Portugal. Just about everyone I tasted was less that $12 and a perfect pick for any summer afternoon. As matter fact with the temperature approaching 90 degrees here today I wish I had some handy! Here were some of my top picks:

  • 2009 Trajarinho Vinho Verde – An unoaked blend of 65% Alvarinho and 35% Trajadura this one clean and crisp with nice lemon flavors and a bit of spritziness on a very refreshing finish. At $9 everyone should have a bottle of this in their fridge.
  • 2009 Muralhas Vinho Verde – Another offering from the same cooperative (Adega Cooperativo Regional de Monçao) this one is again unoaked but with 70% Alvarinho and 30% Trajadura. A little heavier in the mouth , no fizz here, more expressive citrus flavors and a firm acid backbone.
  • 2009 Quinta de Soalheiro – This one isn’t as friendly to the wallet ($20+) but was certainly worth the price of entry. Unoaked and 100% Alvarinho this one is made from aged vines (35 years). Beautiful on the nose show great fruit. Fuller in body than I would expect but perfectly balanced with lemon, citrus notes on a mineral backbone with a crisp, racy acidity.
  • 2009 Quinta de Cabriz Colheita – A blend of 40% Encruzado, 20% Bical, 20% Cerceal and 20% Malvasia Fina this is a refreshing wine full of tangerine fruits and peach stones on the palate.
  • 2009 Luis Patos Maria Gomes – Unoaked and 100% Maria Gomes if I had to describe this one in a word it would be “playful”. And by playful I mean there is a lot going on here for a wine in this price range. Some lemon here, floral notes there with almond flavor peeking through. This one is medium bodied with a nice, crisp acidity and a juicy finish. I look forward to spending an afternoon with it sometime soon! Luis Patos also makes some excellent reds as well.

o A few nice red values.

  • 2008 La Nevera Garnacha – Unoaked and 100% Garnacha this one is dark in color with a palate of wonderful bing cherries and a bit of creaminess on the finish. An easy drinking fruit forward wine that is sure to please.
  • NV Urbanite Cellars Redart – Another great offering this one is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and 20% Zinfandel and was made to be an easy drinking table wine and it certainly fits the bill! I already snuck out and bought a bottle of this one. Here were my notes: Big juicy blackberry fruit up front on a creamy vanilla backbone with enough acidity to balance and manage the plush, rich fruit. A smooth, pleasing wine with a warm, toasty finish that linger on nicely. Nice depth/complexity for the price point!

o Meeting the Robledo Family

  • The story behind this family run winery is so compelling I dare not to try and tell it better. Here is a concise version from the Sonoma Index-Tribune regarding Reynaldo Robledo recent attendance at a recent White House state dinner honoring Felipe Calderon: “Immigrant, uneducated farmworker, dirt-poor but field-smart, works his way up to manage whole vineyards, then starts a vineyard management company, then starts his own family winery, wins countless awards, hosts the president of Mexico at his Sonoma Valley estate and, two years later, is invited to a White House state dinner.” And there wines make the story even better. My favorite was the 2006 Red Hills Lake County Cab. I sent off a query to ask President Obama his but have to hear back. If I do you’ll be the first to know!

Blue Danube Wine Company:

o Learning more about Gruner Veltliner

  • I’ve had a few but this was certainly my deepest dive to date and I can certainly appreciate their snappy, refreshing minerality. It has certainly earned a place in my summer rotation. While I enjoyed many my numbering system failed me during this portion of the tasting so can’t share any specific notes. Generalizing my notes I see as expected they showed clean, pure wines with citrus and stone flavor profiles with a snappy, refreshing acidity on the finish. Each had their own complexities from floral notes, smoky and spice. This grape can express itself in any number of ways and I am looking forward to exploring it further. I’ll get you specifics as I taste them. Let me know if you have any favorites in the comments below.

o A bunch of surprising whites from Hungary. Beyond sweet Tokaj, my experience here was limited to a single encounter with the Szõke Irsai Oliver last summer and it was compelling. That said I didn’t realize that there was such a bounty of them available and at great prices to boot! Here are a few I’ll be seeking out again:

  • 2009 Hilltop Cserszegi Füszeres – Another new variety for me this one showed a bit of lemon spritz on a clean, stony backbone with a nice mineral acidity on the finish. I look forward to pairing this one with a hot summer afternoon sometime soon.
  • 2007 Szõke Királyleányka – A sibling offering of the Irsai Oliver I mentioned above this one shows pleasing lemon flavors but driven by floral and mineral components. The structure and body on this wine show quality well beyond the price point.
  • 2008 Patricius Yellow Muscat – My wine of the day and none other than Randall Grahm agreed. Apparently him mentioning it made this wine hard to come by as I was just recently able to track down a bottle. My notes from the tasting had this to say: “very fragrant. I could smell this wine for hours. A star from the first sip. Beautiful lemon custard flavors while remaining dry and crisp throughout.” Can’t wait to open this one up!
  • 2007 Pfneiszl Kékfrankos – Okay you caught me (if you are still reading) this one is actually a red. This one shows a light barrel touch, light in body and very easy to drink with dark berry flavors and a spicy pepper finish. A perfect match for a summer barbeque.

o Being introduced to the wines of Croatia and Slovenia. Earlier this year I had my first wine from Croatia, the Bibich Riserva, and was impressed and eager to explore more. I think what excited me about these wines is much the same as what excited me about the wines of Greece and the Kékfrankos above, they are all lighter in body, weight and alcohol. This has many benefits that start with pairing with a wider variety of foods and finishing with being able to have an extra glass at the end of the night. My exploration yielded two more whites and a red:

  • 2009 Crnko Jarenincan – My first love from Slovenia is not exactly indigenous. A blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, this one comes in a liter bottle delivering tangerine and lemon flavors with a light spritz on the palate and a refreshing mineral acidity on the finish. Fuller bodied than expected at 11%. Crisp throughout this wine is a steal at the price point, perfect for any occasion.
  • 2008 Šipun Zlahtina – Another white from the Island of Krk in Croatia this time this varietal can be found nowhere else. Medium bodied with a floral backbone this is a wine that doesn’t reveal itself in a taste. At least not for me. Stone fruit flavors with a touch of nuttiness on the finish I would enjoy spending an evening figuring this one out.
  • 2007 Dingac Plavac Mali – Great juicy, red berry fruit at the front of the palate that turn dry and floral with a lively acidity on the finish. A playful wine this is not one to pair with a steak dinner but make a salad out of it and this would be a perfect mate.

Phew, that was a lot of wine talk! In closing this is going to cost me a lot of money as I continue to explore these wines but I am sure to enjoy every penny of it. In the Bay Area (and Hollywood) we are lucky as K&L Wines seems to stock a solid number of these offerings. That said I know both of these importers and they are more than willing to help you track them down no matter your whereabouts. Also for good measure as I dive into these I will officially begin maintaining my application for the Wine Century Club. Who wants to go along for the ride? What is your favorite varietal or country from off the beaten trail?

Wine Blog Awards: Vintage 2010

I woke up this morning to the distinct honor of being made aware (Thanks Bob!) that I had been nominated for an award in the “Best Reviews” category. I find it all quite humbling considering the company of those whose names I am appearing besides on the ballot. Almost makes me want to break out my Wayne’s World we’re not worthy chant!

OK, let me take a step back. What exactly are these Wine Blog Awards you may be asking yourself. They were started by Tom Wark and hosted on his blog Fermention in 2007. They quickly grew in prestige with a list of past winners including the who’s who of the wine blogging world. Last year Tom handed the reins over and they are now administered by the Wine Bloggers Conference and awarded each year at their annual event.

First off, a big thank you to all of you for reading, commenting and participating. I would have given up this pursuit many moons ago if I were still writing for myself. It is your support and encouragement that keep this blog healthy & thriving. And while the nomination is more than enough recognition in and of itself I can’t help but want to win. That said the competition is certainly stiff and includes 2008 winner Good Wine Under $20 (a blog I “grew up” reading) as well as 2009 awardee Bigger Than Your Head along with the well written Enobytes and Spittoon. So do me a favor head and head on over to vote for Jason’s Wine Blog. I’ll certainly appreciate you showing your support. Tell a few friends too, I’m going to need all the help I can get!

Celebrate South Africa 2010!

Celebrate South Africa!

With my pipedream of making it to South Africa and the surrounding wine country for World Cup 2010 a distant memory you can imagine how happy I must have been when I found out about the Celebrate South Africa 2010! tasting event. Given that the ability to taste the wine of 50+ producers in one afternoon was almost as good as getting on the plane. Well not really, but you know that lemon/lemonade story. Now being on the west coast South African wines aren’t quite as readily available as I think they might be back east. So while the temptation to try and taste each and every one of these wines loomed large I showed some restraint making the decision to focus (and not wear out my palate) early on. With that in mind I still managed to taste nearly 40 wines. That said rather than bore you all and detail my thoughts on each of these there were six highlights I wanted to share:

  • Being Introduced to Worthwhile Wine: From the slogan “Great Wines. Better Lives” this seems to be an importer who shares many of the same values I do. One of my resolutions for the year was to lower my carbon footprint so every time I grab a bottle from overseas that crosses my mind. So when Tom Lynch, the founder, told me that he purchases carbon offsets for all of his imports I surely paid attention. But the commitment goes well beyond that as every wine they import is sustainably made. And by sustainable they mean protecting the environment and improving the lives of those with whom they interact. The latest addition to their portfolio, Partnership Vineyards is a shining example. Oh by the way, I wouldn’t even be telling you this if the wines weren’t good. Check out their portfolio to learn more or visit their store locator to track down a bottle for yourself!
    2009 Man Vintners Chenin Blanc
  • Terrific White Value Wines: Speaking of the Partnership Vineyards their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is a great place to start, nice and crisp with grapefruit flavors and a snappy lemon tartness. Sure to please on a summer day! My other two favorites were both Chenin Blancs. The 2009 Man Vintners (available at wine.com for $9.99) was crisp and tangy with a mineral backbone and nice nectarine like flavors. The 2009 Painted Wolf “The Den” was crisp with green apple and melon fruit with a little sour lime on the finish. All wines I’m relatively sure you can grab for less than ten bones and each one that I would be quite happy to spend a whole afternoon with.
  • Getting to Know Pinotage: I quickly got the sense that Pinotage is not as big of a part of the South African wine identity as I had imagined. While they were on display, the numbers were no more so than that of Shiraz or the other red varietals that were being poured. That said, I did get a chance to become more acquainted with this grape. Over the course of the day I tasted six different bottles and while none knocked my socks off it was interesting to see the different styles. I am used to what I’ll call the smoky, green, earthy flavor profile but had a few here that were much more fruit driven. To top it off the most memorable of the day was a 2009 Delheim Pinotage Rose.
  • Tasting more of the Boekenhoutskloof Portfolio: For those with a keen memory you may recall that “B” stood for Boekenhoutskloof in my 2009 Year in Review post. There I was enamored by their ’06 Syrah and lamented that I couldn’t try it again three years down the road. As I worked my way towards the table I crossed my fingers that the ’06 might be getting poured today. Alas, it was not but the ’07 was just as memorable showing the same magnificent depth and balance. I also had a chance to taste their Semillon and Chocolate Block, a syrah based kitchen sink kind of blend, which were both compelling (and a bit more affordable) as well.
    2009 Wolftrap Red
  • South African Inspired Red Blends: I had a number of very interesting red blends that like the whites were not only very good but delivered a nice quality to value ratio. Let’s start by sticking with Boekenhoutskloff’s (which I can now spell without looking) second label the 2009 Wolftrap Red (available on wine.com for $9.99), a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Viognier, which had nice bright red fruits and spices. It struck me as a perfect grilling wine. As I already grabbed a few bottles of this one I can let you know if it turns out to be true. Next up would be the 2008 Edgebaston Pepper Pot, a blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Tannat, which was described as a playful side project for the winemaker and playful it is delivering loads of juicy berry fruit on a spicy, pepper laden backbone. This one is worth seeking out, I’ll let you know if I track it down. Finally, the 2007 Black Pearl Oro, a blend of 56% Shiraz and 44% Cabernet, hailing from the slopes of Paarl Mountain which had a fantastic nose full of dark, brambly berries that merged with earthy, spicy flavors on the palate to deliver a balanced wine with a smooth, lingering finish.
  • Meeting the Mullineux’s: Before leaving I was lucky enough to meet the husband (Chris) and wife (Andrea) winemaking team of Mullineux Family Wines who happened to be in the Bay Area. I was fortunate enough to try their Syrah some time back as part of a Hospice Du Rhone tasting event and welcomed the opportunity to try a broader range of their offerings. They were pouring three wines a Syrah, a white blend and a late harvested Chenin Blanc called the “Strawman” and the whole lot of them were outstanding. The white blend, old vine Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette Blanche, really threw me for a loop. I couldn’t decide if it was rich or light/sweet or tart. It seemed almost chameleon like as it was ever changing and I couldn’t put my thumb on it. I’d like to spend an evening with this one to try and figure it out. Fortunately it looks like I’ll have the chance soon as it appears they are close to lining up an importer. Let me know when you do!

Thanks to the folks at Cape Ardor for putting on the event and having me! And likewise thank you to all your readers who actually managed to make it this far. A question for those of you that have, have you had South African wine? Do you have any favorites to share? I’d love to hear as this is a country I would like to explore further.