Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turkey Time or Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Myths Debunked

Greetings, wine-lovers!

It’s Thanksgiving this week, and more wine will be sold in the United States than in any other week of the year. This also makes it the most important week of the year for people in my line of work … not because of the sales to be made, but because of the vast number of people who need our help. For many, Thanksgiving is the only meal of the year where wine is served. Even for those of us for whom a glass of wine next to the dinner plate is as ubiqutious as flatware, pairing wines can still be daunting. It’s a tricky meal, with a lot of different kinds of flavors, many of them quite rich. Not to mention there’s your mother-in-law’s palate to worry about, or cousin Barney who only drinks Franzia.

But never fear. Your Wine Wench is here to help – not with specific tasting notes this time, but some sound theory to help you make the choices that suit your family best, and debunk the myths that make wine-pairing with Thanksgiving harder than it needs to be.

The most notorious of these myths is: “You can’t serve red wine at Thanksgiving.”

This is just plain and simply NOT TRUE.

Thanksgiving tables have a lot of big, rich flavors, and a big, rich wine can be just what the doctor ordered. You just have to be careful about tannin, but that isn’t an issue with many red wines, including one of my all-time favorites for Thanksgiving ….

Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais is a small region of Burgundy, in France. While Burgundy is known primarily for Chardonnay (White Burgundy) and Pinot Noir (Red Burgundy), in Beaujolais they grow a fruity little cousin of Pinot Noir called Gamay Noir. This they use to make Beaujolais Villages, a light red wine with almost no tannins and a lively fruity character that I find positively delightful.  That would be wonderful on a Thanksgiving table as well. But Beaujolais Nouveau is just plain FUN. It’s the first wine of the harvest, a very very young wine released traditionally on the third Thursday of November as a sort of preview of the vintage. Since Thanksgiving in the US is the fourth Thursday of November, this just seems like perfect timing – especially since this young, fresh wine is so perfectly suited to Thanksgiving. For starters, it has almost zero tannins to interfere with your flavors, but it does have a nice lively acidity that will help you carry each bite from turkey to stuffing to mash to what-have-you. Its light body makes it suitable for any palate – even those accustomed to white should be able to enjoy this red. Not to mention the lovely fruit flavors are approachable for almost every palate. It’s not sweet by any means, but it certianly isn’t bone dry. Every winery in Beaujolais makes one, but the most widely avaailable is the one produced by Georges Duboeuf. For my money, I go with Maison Joseph Drouhin – a bit pricier ($15 instead of $10) but well worth it for the perfect level of harmony achieved by every Drouhin wine.

Maybe you like the idea of a nice light red with your meal, but your discriminating palate  requires a bit more complexity to keep it interested. No problem. My next choice is Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir may be the perfect food wine, because it’s just so darn versatile. It can be made light and fruity, dark and earthy, or a perfect blend of both. It can be sweet, dry, or (more often) balanced. If you’re willing to spend, you can even find some with big chewy tannins and heavy flavors … but those ones aren’t for this meal. If light, fruity, and elegant is your speed, I recommend La Crema from California. ($18) It may be the ideal Pinot Noir, with delicate flavors of cherry, raspberry, cola, caramel, and violet blossom. The best part for me, though, is the vibrant acidity that leaves your mouth fairly singing through the finish. Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse is just a stone cold pro, period. For an earthy Pinot, check out Bearboat’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – NOT the Russian River available under the same label. It’s delicious too, but it’s fruity. Now, the Sonoma Coast Pinot, on the other hand … dry as a bone, with a cascading symphony of sauvage flavors – forest floor, pine cone, dried leaf, rosemary, cedar. I love it. And it’s only $15, which is kind of a ridiculous deal.           Can’t decide between fruity and earthy? Want to have your cake and eat it too? Or maybe you just need to make peace between the War Of Different Palates within your family? Have no fear, because the following two recommendations toe the line perfectly without sacrificing quality from either component. Primarius Pinot Noir out of Oregon ($15) has an unassuming label which belies the quality juice inside. The price and the flavor make it my “go to” Pinot. But if you wanna fancy things up just a tad, you can go with the Vero Pinot Noir, by Maison Joseph Drouhin (France, $20). In its fourth generation, this family winery is currently operated by three brothers – who annually craft this Pinot Noir as a tribute to their prodigal sister, Veronique. It’s stunning. Of course, if you want to fancy things up MORE than a tad, you could always see what Veronique Drouhin has up to since she left France for Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and shell out the very reasonable $40 for her flawless Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir – which is, without question, the finest Pinot Noir I’ve ever experienced and to this day my absolute favorite. Conversely, if you want Pinot Noir for under $10 …. I beg you to serve Beaujolais Nouveau instead. But if you insist, some decent examples can be found by Mirassou, BV Coastal, and Smoking Loon.

We come now to my final red wine choice for Thanksgiving … an “emergency measure,” if you will, for those of you serving Brussels sprouts. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Brussels sprouts, but their pungent, earthy flavors makes pairing them with wine an absolute nightmare, especially with whites. For these guys, you DO need a wine big enough not to be bullied around by them, with enough earthy flavors to complement them … but not so big, and so earthy, that it overwhelms the rest of the meal. What to do? Where to turn?

Back to France, I’m afraid (are you sensing a theme, yet?) – to the Cotes du Rhone. Cotes du Rhone blends are fruity up front, but with enough peppery earth on the finish to be a lovely compliment to our pungent friends the Brussels sprout. And the best part is, the cheap ones tend to be rather medium-bodied, which means they’ll be delicious with turkey, lacking the harsh tannins found in their more expensive brothers. Perrin et Fils makes a good one ($11) as does Saint Esprit du Delas ($12) and Guigal ($15).

But just because you CAN have red wine with Thanksgiving … doesn’t mean you have to. Plenty of people out there love white wine, and I happen to be one of them. So let’s discuss some whites.

I know everybody says it’s Chardonnay or bust for Thanksgiving. While I strongly disagree, I’m not going to argue that a good Chardonnay at Thanksgiving isn’t still a brilliant plan for those of you who enjoy it. For a creamy California style … I’ll once again recommend La Crema ($18). Their Chardonnay is every bit as good as their Pinot, with both oak and buttery, secondary malolactic fermentation in perfect harmony with the fruit. Chardonnay may be my least favorite grape in the world to drink varietally, so the fact that I love theirs so much says quite a bit, I think. For those of you who want the oakiness without all the cream, and a nice strong acidity to cleanse your palate between bites, there’s nothing better than Napa Cellars Chardonnay ($18). This is one of my all-time faves, and a real glugger. I even think it would be alright with Brussels sprouts …. As would South Africa’s Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc ($20), which has a delicious but bizarre mushroomy finish I’ve never experienced in another Savvy. Some Chablis also have a nice earthy, minerally character that should do well with the sprouts, as well as the rest of the meal, but not all of them. Your wine merchant can help you find the right one. If you don’t have a reliable wine merchant … you should. It’s every bit as important as having a good, trustworthy mechanic.

Another one of my favorite whites for Thanksgiving is Gewurztraminer. It’s a very spicy white grape, with lots of cinnamon, clove, and allspice behind the peach, rose, and lychee flavors. It also comes in both sweet and dry versions, so it’s easy to please multiple palates – you can even get some bottles of each, so everyone has something to compliment their sweetness level of choice, but the flavors will still be similar enough to go with the meal the same way. One of my favorite sweet Gewurztraminers is by Pacific Rim, from Washington State ($10). Sweet enough to satisfy even the pickiest drinkers, yet with a gorgeous acidity to make it a great food wine. For dry Gewurtraminer my pick is Maryhill, also from Washington State, also $10. Dry as a bone with perfect acidity, it may be my favorite Gewurtraminer of all time.

You can accomplish the same thing with Riesling, another great food wine that also comes in sweet and dry versions, just with a more fruit-focused flavor profile of apple and apricot that lacks the spicy, floral character of Gewurztraminer. For sweet or dry, I still recommend Pacific Rim. Their dry riesling (red label) is absolutely outstanding, but for sweet – get their REGULAR Riesling (yellow label) or ORGANIC Riesling (tan label with vines) – not their SWEET Riesling (purple label). The sweet is delicious but it’s VERY sweet – 7% residual sugar, compared to 1.7% in Chateau Ste. Michelle’s popular Riesling. Wonderful to be sure, but too sweet for many, so I did want to warn you, just in case you’re one of those many. If not, and you like your wines quite sweet, then go for it, you’ll love it. Another great dry Riesling comes from Woodhouse Family Cellars under their Hudson Shah label. At 14.1% alcohol by volume it’s one of the driest Rieslings I’ve ever had and it’s incredible. 100% Rattlesnake Hills fruit from Washington State, but it tastes Australian! Bright, citrusy lime character with driftwood, seashells, and beach pebbles. All of the previously mentioned Rieslings are $10, except the Chateau Ste. Michelle which is $7, and the Pacific Rim Organic at $12.

I think that’s enough to get you started. I hope I was able to help … and with luck, I’ll be over this cold soon enough to taste some 2011 Beaujolais Nouveaus and give you some notes on those – after all, they should still be fresh enough to drink for Christmas, too, and would be delightful with a nice honey-baked ham. Cheers!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Petite In Name Only

Last week, I enjoyed not one, but two delicious Petite Sirahs. I love this grape. Contrary to common assumption, it isn't actually related to the grape Syrah (known in Australia as Shiraz) at all. Two completely different grapes, with just a somewhat similar name. Although they do both have big, lucious, peppery flavor profiles.

The first one I tried was The Crusher, by Don Sebastiani and Sons. I was intrigued when I first saw the label, because Don Sebastiani and Sons reliably produce good juice in my experience. It was also labelled as containing grapes specific to Clarksburg, CA, which is where Bogle sources the grapes for its outstanding Petite Sirah Port. But what finally sold me on this bottle was .... a customer. Yes, it's true, though I sell wine for a living, on occasion our roles reverse and a particularly enthusiastic customer actually sells ME a bottle. That was the case last Saturday, and I'm grateful that I took his advice.

The Crusher (2009, 13.5%) is a beautiful deep, bloody violet color in the glass. Black fruit dominates the bouquet with an edge of spicy oak. Soft, supple tannins coat the mouth lusciously with a lovely, seamless acidity dancing across the palate with graceful flavors of blackberry, cola, licorice, and oak. We paired it with a pepper-marinated steak and creamy mashed potatoes and drained the bottle in no time. Definitely put this one in your face. If you find it for a mere $12 like I did, you might want to follow my customer's example and buy several cases at once. This is a delicious all-purpose red.

Having successfully reminded myself and my husband how much we love Petite Sirah, we opened another one a few days later. The 2008 Maggio Petite Sirah (13%) comes out of Lodi, CA. Lodi produces some of my favorite Zinfandels - well-balanced, with velvety tannins, and a nicely spiced flavor profile. Their version of a Petite Sirah expressed itself similarly.

The Maggio Petite Sirah is a beautiful pomegranate crimson in the glass, with a fruity, spicy nose - raspberry, cherry, and black pepper. When sipped, a good acidic tang up front makes you salivate while the soft, satiny tannins fill your mouth with juicy flavors of raspberry, blackberry, and licorice, with a finish of spicy oak. Yum! A great deal for only $7, definitely worth putting in your face.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Rosé is a Rosé

You know, I'm not sure I've blogged about a rosé yet. I find that shocking, because I love them so. Luckily, I have two to tell you about today, since summer finally arrived in Seattle and I've had a chance to drink a few. But first, I should take a moment to clarify what exactly a rosé is, since there seems to be much mystery surrounding the issue.

Color in red wine comes from the skin of the grape. So does tannin. Rosé wine is made by removing the skins early in the wine making process, so the wine only ends up with a little bit of color ... and only a little bit of tannin. So what you end up with is basically something with the flavor of a red wine (perhaps a tick or two down on the intensity scale), with the light body and refreshing acidity of a white wine.

They're awesome.

In early August I tried the Angove's Nine Vines Rosé (South Australia, 12.5% ABV, 70% Grenache/30% Shiraz). I couldn't pass it up at the store. $4.99 marked down from $9.99, you say? What a deal!

Not so much. You see, I failed to follow one of the Wine Wench's very own rules ... when faced with a deal, always, ALWAYS check the vintage. And this one, I realized while taking notes, was a 2008. Oops.

Rosé, you see, should be drunk fresh. The current vintage. Very good ones can be drunk a vintage late. But this one was three vintages behind. So it's no wonder it tasted lackluster. Not terrible. I finished my glass. I just didn't have another. It smelled of bright strawberry and ruby grapefruit with bell pepper, rhubarb, and tart strawberries with cream - that hint of vanilla on the edge of the bouquet that comes from oak aging. This promising, delightful aroma is what makes me think that a current vintage of this wine would probably be quite tasty. But on the palate it was over acidic, weak, and flabby.

Last week I washed that disappointing Rosé flavor out of my mouth with a stunning example of the style. Susana Balbo of Argentina makes some of the best Malbec in the world, and her 2010 Crios Rosé of Malbec (13.9%, Mendoza) is no exception.

For starters, when poured into the glass, it was brreathtakingly beautiful. The first word of my notes is "Wow!" Seriously. It was a brilliant bright, clear crimson, like a perfectly ripe dewberry (Seattle's local trailing raspberry), a sort of pinkish-ruby. Truly stunning. It smelled of cranberry, raspberry, bell pepper, and ginger. On the palate cranberry and tart watermelon blend into raspberry and white tea lifted by the perfect balance of acidity and tannin. Of course. 'Cause it's Balbo. And she's a genius. Definitely put this in your face. I scored it on sale for $10, but it's well worth the regular price tag of $13.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Three's A Crowd

Let's get the lame duck out of the way first.

My limited experience with Castle Rock has not given me a favorable impression of the brand. Years ago, I tried their $10 Pinot Noir on a whim. It tasted like grape juice steeped with pine cones. Stemmy, acidic. Bleh. I didn't drink it. Finally, six years later, my patience had grown back. "Cheap Pinot is very hard to make not disgusting," I told myself. "Perhaps they'll do better with a Zin." I was expecting it to be jammy and too sweet, especially at only 13.8%,  but at least drinkable.

No. It smelled hot and tasted insipid. Extremely acidic, with tight, bland fruit. It tasted in no way like a Zinfandel. How could it? How hard do you have to work to suck that much flavor OUT of such a delicious grape? Especially at such a low alcohol content for the varietal. Granted, it was my first ever Mendocino Zin. Perhaps it doesn't ripen in that cool climate - at all. My husband observed that it would be better off called "Rando's Red" than advertised as a Zinfandel. I poured my glass, and the bottle, down the drain. You can skip this one.

Now, the Simi Zinfandel I opened next that night (I wanted Zin with my burger, dammit!) was a significant improvement. For starters, it smelled like a Zin, with aromas of brandied plum, blackberry jam, and spiced rum. It also tasted like a Zin, with a palate that reflected the bouquet, accented with nicely balanced acidity, and lovely tannins giving it a satin mouthfeel with a long, spicy finish. Great deal for the $8 I paid on sale. At the regular price of $18, I'd go with Seghesio, St. Francis, or Cline. But for under $10, put this one in your face.

A month later (yeah, I know, I need to update more) I was ready for another Zin. I decided to try out one of the new ones from work that had been winking me in the face - a $10 Old Vine Zinfandel by Four Vines (California, 2008, 14.6%). Violet-red in the glass, it smelled of bright grenadine and red cherry. A promising Zin-like aroma (I swear, that Castle Rock traumatized me). The palate was richly fruit forward without being sweet, if not terribly complex. Though it did have a nice sort of dark, musty finish of mushroom and oak. Not bad. Not great. But not bad.

Of course, that being said, we did drink the whole bottle, which doesn't always happen. Its lack of oomph, rather than making it boring, just made it a highly drinkable background food wine. I don't think I'd buy it again - in the same price range the Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel is far better - but I don't regret buying it, or opening it. It was nice. And might even make a good starter Zin for someone accustomed to more traditional varietals.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Put it ZIN your face. Get it? ZIN your face?

I have been a very busy bee this summer, and I fear I have been neglecting the blog. I have not, however, been neglecting to drink, and the pile of notes on my desk reaches ever skyward. Someday, perhaps, I'll write about them for you, but today, you just get a quick post about a killer Zin.

I love Cline. There, I said it. I love everything of theirs I've ever tasted (which is quite a lot) and they are exceptionally good at Zinfandel. Even their cheap little jam-bomb is good if you're into that sort of thing. But the Sonoma Zinfandel is a couple rungs up the ladder.

A dark brick red in the glass, the nose is redolent with intense aromas of blackberries, rum, brandy-soaked plums and spicy oak.

The palate, in a word, is GORGEOUS. In fact that single word, in all caps and everything, was the first thing I wrote in my notes, as it was my overwhelming impression of this wine. Perfect acid balance. Perfect everything. Bright fruit up front and a finish like an ancient spice cabinet: cinnamon, clove, oak, pepper, anise, orange peel. Yum.

The best part of this baby was the price. It's normally about $18, and it's worth it. It actually reminded me a lot of another one of my favorite $18 bottles, the Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel. But I found it on sale for $10. Yoink. If you do, as well, I advise you to do what I did: buy at least six bottles and put it in your face.

Date: 6/13/11
Wine: Cline Sonoma Zinfandel
Grapes: Zinfandel
Vintage: 2006
ABV: 15%
Origin: Sonoma, Californa
Color: dark brick with nice clarity
Nose: blackberry, rum, spicey oak, plum
Palate: bright fruit and very spicy. cinnamon, clove, oak, pepper, anise, orange peel
Price: $10

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vino Barato y Fresco

Summer has arrived - the domain of cheap reds to wash down cheap frozen burgers cooked on cheap grills by the riverside. At least, that's what it means in my world. I came across a couple such values last month, both by global negociant "R" Wines, and both from Australia.

Luchador Shiraz was featured on a display boasting 92 points. Given the silly label, I had to try it to believe it. When I opened the Stelvin closure and poured I was greeted by a wine that was a very dark brick red in the glass. The bright, lively nose offered up intense aromas of cherry pie, grenadine, and allspice. Truth in advertising: the flavor upon sipping was an explosion of rich, juicy plum, succulent, ripe cherry, and spicy oak on the finish. Laid-back tannins and nice acid throughout.

92 points? I don't know. I also don't know about the $14.99 original price tag. Definitely a lot at that price range I'd rather drink (like the Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red, for instance.) But for the mere $6.99 I got it for? Put it in your face!

Date: 4/6/11
Wine: "R" Wines Luchador Shiraz
Grapes: Shiraz
Vintage: 2007
ABV: 14.5%
Origin: South Australia
Color: very dark brick
Nose: cherry, grenadine, oak
Palate: rich plum, cherry, spicy oak, nice acid
Price: $7

I bought the Marquis Phillips Grenache off the same display. At the time, I was too distracted by the label to  notice the ABV until I got home. SIXTEEN PERCENT. Seriously. I'm gonna say that again in case you weren't paying attention: this Grenache is sixteen percent alcohol.

I've heard of this, I've just never actually seen one. At that range, I expected it to be pretty dry, but surprisingly, it wasn't. It showed a clear ruby in the glass with red fruit and clove aromas. The palate was smooth and straight forward. Not dry, but certainly not sweet.

The flavor profile wasn't bad, but it wasn't terribly exciting either. Just some plum, cherry, and raspberry, with a dusky, earthy undertone to the finish. The heat from the alcohol was well-integrated and significantly less noticeable than I presumed. Definitely not worth $13, but again, I got on sale for $7, which made it decent. I do think the mild, fruity flavors, silky texture and high alcohol content make it an IDEAL choice for home-made sangria. If you're into that sort of thing. Me, I'm lazy and hooked on this stuff.

Date: 4/8/11
Wine: "R" Wines Marquis Phillips Grenache
Grapes: Grenache
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 16%
Origin: MacLaren Vale,  Australia
Color: clear ruby red
Nose: cherry, plum, grenadine, spice
Palate: same. heat less noticeable than I thought.
Price: $7

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Putting the "Yay" back in Viognier

Viognier is a tricky little grape; almost as tricky to pair with food as it is to pronounce (Vee-own-YAY). The difficulty arises in the low acidity. Acidity is what cleanses the palate after each sip, and what compliments the flavors in your favorite cuisine. Wines without much of their own must be paired with foods high in acid in order to be successful. A Viognier is great with salad, fruit, or hard cheese, but try it with a rich, creamy alfredo sauce and you'll have a flabby-tasting disaster on your hands.

But the River Aerie Viognier from Washington's Columbia Valley is uniquely high in acidity - for the varietal, anyway. This isn't extremely surprising when you think about it, because high acidity tends to be a trademark characteristic of Washington wines. It's part of the reason I like them so much. I had it with some (granted, quite acidic) pizza and while it may not have been a perfect pairing, it was certainly serviceable.

The aromas were pretty standard for Viognier, in that they were predominantly floral. But instead of the usual intense perfume, the honeysuckle and gardenia bouquet was supported by some tempting scents of juicy peach. The palate was more perfumey than the nose, and very much what a Viognier should be: like a walk through the garden. Honeysuckle and gardenia return, along with lily-of-the-valley, jasmine, and seductive nerula. The finish became fruity, with peach and succulent pineapple and a charming, grassy finish.

All in all, a rather delightful little bottle. Perfect for porch-sipping on a sunny spring Saturday like today. 

Date: 3/27/11
Wine: River Aerie
Grapes: Viognier
Vintage: 2006
ABV: 14.1%
Origin: Columbia Valley, Washington
Color: light gold
Nose: peach, honeysuckle, gardenia
Palate: still very perfumey and floral up front, jasmine, nerula - finish on peach and pineapple and grass.
Price: $8

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Lion In Summer

Well, I found your go-to white and red for this summer. They're both tasty and straightforward, and they're only seven bucks. You're welcome.

Interestingly enough, they're also both in the same series from the same winery: R Wines' Red Lion Chardonnay and Red Lion Cabernet.

Let's start, as we would in a tasting, with the white. This is one leggy blonde! Bright straw color in the glass, and a luscious viscosity that just doesn't quit. To be honest, it made me a bit nervous, but the alcohol doesn't overpower the fruit in the slightest. Because the fruit itself is so intense. The bouquet  is a tropical symphony of coconut, banana, and papaya, with some marshmallow and toasty oak on the finish. The flavors are also tropical but somewhat citrusier (yes, I know that's not a word. It is now.) than the nose, leading off with piquant starfruit, pineapple, banana, papaya, and juicy mango on the finish. Well-integrated oak throughout does its job of highlighting and supporting the fruit without overpowering it (I hate it when my Chard tastes like tree. I know I'm in the minority here, but that's just how I feel.) but the most pleasing thing about this wine is the mouthfeel. Full, round, and silky.

And just for the record, pairing it with Theo Chocolate's lemon-filled confections is like heaven in your mouth.

Date: 3/27/11
Wine: R Wines Red Lion Chardonnay
Grapes: Chardonnay
Vintage: 2007
ABV: 13.9%
Origin: California
Color: straw
Nose: coconut, banana, papaya, marshmallow, toasty oak
Palate: well-integrated oak, starfruit, pineapple, banana, papaya, mango. full, round, and silky.
Price: $7

The Red Lion Cabernet isn't quite as complex as the Chardonnay, but still enjoyable. A dark brick red in the glass, it offers up enticing aromas of blackberries, black cherries and cream, and ... pie crust. Seriously, pie crust. That was a first for me. 

Upon sipping, a tight core of smooth, sleek tannins delivers a clean shot of fruit right to the center of your palate. Perfectly streamlined acid. This wine screams "barbecue" to me. It sounds like this: "OH PLEEEEASE PAIR ME WITH BARBECUE! SOME STICKY RIBS! SOME JUICY BURGERS! OH PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE I'LL TASTE SO GOOOOOOD!" Just like that.

The truth is, neither of these wines are hyperbole-laden, write-home-to-Mom, killer amazing once-in-a-life time deals. But they are good, and they are great food wines, and they are seven dollars. And they have kooky labels. And Stelvin closures (aka: screwcaps). Which makes them the perfect choice this summer for potlucks, camping trips, family get-togethers, or just pizza night with the pals.

Date: 3/27/11
Wine:  R Wines Red Lion Cabernet Sauvignon
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage: 2006
ABV: 15%
Origin: California
Color: brick red
Nose: blackberry, black cherries + cream, pie crust
Palate: same; tight tannins but smooth, nice acid.
Price: $7

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sips From Sicily

Today I'd like to review a pair of wines from Donna Fugata winery in Sicily, Italy. Both are IGT wines, and since I'm loathe to repeat myself, see my very first entry from June 2010 entitled "Tuttobene - It's All Good" for a breakdown on what exactly that means.

Donna Fugata, or "fleeing lady," is named for Queen Maria Carolina, who hid in the land surrounding the vineyards following the storming of her palace in Naples by Napoleonic troops.

In true Italian form, neither of these labels reveal the composition of the blend, and I don't know the vast cornucopia of native Italian grapes well enough to guess. The only thing I'm certain of is that there's a good portion of Nero d'Avola in the red, because that's the most common red grape in Sicily, and this wine possesses in abundance the bright, compelling fruit I find so enjoyable in so many Nero d'Avolas. This is also the reason that varietal is made into astoundingly good dry rosés. But I digress.

The white is a lovely emerald-tinged straw color in the glass. The nose exudes ripe, luscious aromas of juicy peach, yellow plum, and pear, with some Golden Delicious apple, honeydew, and a bit of tart gooseberry rounding out the finish. The taste, however, is not the tropical vacation promised by the nose, though it is good: bright acid pushes forward flavors of mouthwatering Granny Smith apples and crisp plum. The finish is somewhat herbal, with green tea and tangy sweet basil. Caprese salad anyone?

Date: 1/16/11
Wine: Donna Fugata "Anthília" Bianca Sicilia
Grapes: unknown
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 12.5%
Origin: Sicily, Italy IGT
Color: straw with emerald highlights
Nose: peach, yellow plum, pear, sweet apple, honeydew, gooseberry
Palate: tart apple and plum; herbal finish. green tea, tangy sweet basil
Price: $12

The red is as beautiful in the glass as the white, a softly glowing violet ruby with a very bright and fruity nose. Cherry, cassis, strawberry, raspberry, with some zesty rhubarb and a hint of spicy oak around the edges. The taste is more of the same. This wine bursts forth with explosive flavors of very bright, expressive fruit. Strawberry is dominant, but its friends raspberry and rhubarb also come out to play. There is a hint of rosemary as it finishes with tart, clean acid. A perfect food wine, but it IS Italian, so who is surprised? However, with the light to medium body and zesty fruit flavors, this wine would be great by itself as well. Whether you're sipping, or pairing with homey fare like pizza, pasta, burgers, ribs, etc ... gather up some friends and  put this in your face.

Date: 3/2/11
Wine: Donna Fugata "Sedára" Rosso Sicilia
Grapes: unknown
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 13%
Origin: Sicily, Italy IGT
Color: violet ruby
Nose: bright and fruity nose! cherry, cassis, strawberry, rhubarb, raspberry, oaky spice
Palate: very bright, expressive fruit! strawberry flavors foremost, then raspberry, rhubarb, rosemary, with tart, clean acid on fruity finish (straw/razz)
Price: $12

Friday, March 18, 2011

Stunning Savvy

Several months ago, I reviewed the '08 Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc in the post titled "White Hot Summer." The '09 is out and I'm pleased to report it is still a killer deal, if not quite as complex as '08 was.

Where the '08 led off with a predominantly tropical nose, '09 favors a more citrusy bouquet with peach, nectarine, and grapefruit up front, and some light aromas of comforting hay at the finish.  The flavor is much the same, with some tangerine and juicy white plum thrown in for good measure. The acid balance is perfect. Is it as hyperbole-laden as the '08? Not quite. Is it still kind of a stupid deal for savvy this good at nine bucks? Yes. Absolutely.

Date: 2/24/11
Wine: Maxwell Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: Rutherford, Napa Valley, California
Color: light gold
Nose: peach, nectarine, grapefruit, hay
Palate: peach, nectarine, grapefruit, tangerine, white plum, hay. Perfect acid balance.
Price: $9

Now, the Mulderbosch is a slightly different beast. South Africa gets a lot of attention for its red. Deservedly so; they make a killer Cab, and I adore a good Pinotage. But in my opinion, its their white wines that really shine. Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc more than lives up to that statement - it exemplifies it.

The nose is very herbal, with green pepper and green tea up front and an interestingly pungent finish I've never before encountered in any white wine save Chablis. On the palate, the texture is as airily delicate as lace, with bright acidity and a surprisingly earthy finish that tastes, for all the world, like a coastal estuary: salt-breeze blown resinous herb, rosemary, driftwood, and sweet mushroom. Its 92 points are well-earned. Do NOT pass this one up.

Date: 1/19/11
Wine: Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 12 %
Origin: Western Cape, South Africa
Color: very pale gold
Nose: green pepper, green tea, something pungent on the end. mushroom.
Palate: bright and light acid, dry and earthy. resinous herb. rosemary, driftwood, sweet mushroom.
Price: $12 (regularly $20. score at my price, still VERY worth it at full price)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Heart Has Its Rieslings

Greetings, loyal libation lovers! I know it's been a while since I updated, but my hiatus from blogging hasn't stopped me from tasting. I've got a lot of catching up to do. Let's start by examining two recently tasted wines made from a favorite grape of mine - Riesling.

Riesling gets a bad rap. People consider it a cheap, syrupy-sweet wine favored predominantly by young consumers with uncultured palates. For many years, the vast majority of domestically available Riesling was exactly that, so the reputation is not unfounded. However, I do feel it is unjustified. In the past two decades the American palate has evolved - we are now importing German and Alsatian Rieslings of good quality, and producing some of our own that are truly standouts in their category. But there's still a lot of mediocre and even bad Riesling out there, some from otherwise highly reputable producers. That's why I'm here to help.

The most important trick I've learned for finding good Riesling, whatever style you like, is to buy Washington Riesling. The exquisite drainage provided by the Ice Age granite deposits in the Columbia Valley is comparable to the same found on the steep slate terraces of the Mosel Valley in Germany. The Riesling produced is of exceptional character and, like its German cousins, tends to exhibit nice minerality.

I'm not trying to hate on California. It's just that I've never had a Californian Riesling that's measured up. That's why I was so excited to try the Bogle Riesling. I'm a huge fan of Bogle. I honestly feel they're one of the most consistent value brands out there. Guaranteed to be an accessible, crowd-pleasing, food-friendly pour well worth the sticker price.

When I first smelled the Bogle Riesling, I was impressed. For a Californian Riesling it was surprisingly complex, with a floral-forward nose of honeysuckle, jasmine, chamomile, and white tea, highlighting aromas of juicy white peach, nectarine, and mandarin. I confess, the excitement I had been too nervous to feel upon purchasing now began to grow. As I sipped, I prepared myself to finally, after all these years, taste a California Riesling I liked.

But it was not to be. Like all it's brethren before it, the Bogle Riesling fell flat on the palate. Tart, heavy-handed lime up front, followed by mandarin and more chamomile. On the finish, the ungainly tartness was replaced by a saccharine sweetness. Over all, it was unbalanced and sub-par - the ONLY unimpressive bottle of Bogle I've ever had. How sad. That being said, it was still miles ahead of any other California Riesling I've experienced, in that it was at least tolerable. I did finish my glass. I was just hoping for more.

Date: 2/15/11
Wine: Bogle Riesling
Grapes: Riesling
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: California
Color: light gold
Nose: honey, honeysuckle, jasmine, white peach, nectarine, white tea, mandarin, chamomile
Palate: tart lime, orange, chamomile. A bit saccharine on finish with unbalanced acid. 
Price: $7

More is exactly what I got from the Pacific Rim Riesling, but that's not surprising. Pacific Rim was founded by people just like me - crazy about the versatility offered by the Riesling grape, but frustrated by the lack of quality Rieslings in the market. So they did something radical, and founded a winery devoted exclusively to Riesling. And of course they did it in Washington State's Columbia Valley. Today "only" 90% of their wines are still Riesling, but they're some of the most consistently high-quality Rieslings available. Their dry Riesling is the driest I've ever tasted, and the best in that category. Their sweet, on the other hand, is the sweetest non-dessert Riesling I've ever had, but it's still exemplary. Their middle ground bottle, simply labelled "Riesling," is no exception.

The nose is nothing short of seductive, oozing honey-drenched chamomile and nerula, followed bu luscious, juicy D'anjou pear, white peach, nectarine, and a hint of lemon zest. The exposition on the palate is much the same. Sweet up front with a squeeze of lime on the finish with the palate-cleansing acidity ... something more that lingers. Some sort of resinous herb flavor. It's not quite pine, not quite juniper, and not quite rosemary. I'm sure a more cultured palate than mine could nail it down. But whatever it is, it's delightful. The impeccable balance throughout the wine perfectly masks the 2.3% residual sugar. It blends in more seamlessly than some Rieslings at 1.7%. Definitely put this one in your face.

Date: 2/23/11
Wine: Pacific Rim Riesling
Grapes: Riesling
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 11.7%
Origin: Columbia Valley, Washington
Color: light gold
Nose: honey, chamomile, lemon, nectarine, white peach, white tea
Palate: same with a squeeze of lime on the finish. Sweet up front with a nice cleansing acidity on the finish. some sort of resiny thing - sticky nectar?
Price: $9