Monday, June 30, 2008

Another Great Washington State Merlot

This past weekend my wife and I travelled to Chicago to celebrate her birthday and attend the Taste of Chicago. We took a bottle of Barnard & Griffin Merlot from the Columbia valley with us to enjoy in our room. I had not tried this producer before and we were both really impressed. This is an opulent and rich bottle of wine. It has notes of plum and black raspberry as well as satisfying smokiness. It made for a great interlude to the food fest that awaited us in Washington park. We tried over 30 food items over the course of three meals and had a ball. Chicago does it right, each booth featured a dish that was available in a taste portion for approximately $2.75 to $3.50. These portions were not skimpy, yet generally were not so much that you could only have a couple before getting filled up.
We also made a pilgrimage to our favorite tasting room in the world, The Tasting Room/Randolph Wine Cellars and enjoyed several wine flights and some appetizers. I tried a really good Napa Merlot from a winery called Bayfog (retail 17.99) and we had a great Brut Rose from Spain called Llopart which was creamy and very good (retail $19.99). It was great weekend away. I would recommend Taste of Chicago for those foodies looking for a road trip next year.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Aussie Blast

Last night I finally got around to trying Molly Dooker "The Violinist" which is Verdelho grape grown in Australia and produced by Sparky and Sarah Marquis. This wine packs a punch at 15% alcohol, but it is not hot. You just have to watch yourself! It reminds me a little of a good Alsatian Gruener Veltliner with lots of peach and other stone fruits and good minerality. This wine has a stelvin screw cap and thus benefited from some air time like so many other screw cap wines I have tried recently. After some air it mellows to a rich full wine which paired well with the chicken in cream sauce we paired with it. Molly Dooker wines sell out quickly because of the Marquis mystique and the points and press that they attract, but if you can find this this fall when they are released it is worth it.
Finally a note about Sparky and Sarah. They used to be the Marquis in the Marquis Phillips wines, This was a partnership between importer Dan Phillips and Sparky and Sarah that flourished for many years until they had a falling out in 2004 and split. Sparky and Sarah went to court to stop Dan from using the Marquis Phillips label and they lost, so the label can be still found, with Chris Ringland as the new winemaker. He and Dan have set up a company called "R wines" and are releasing quite a few wines under this brand. They are also very good. Almost all of the "R" wines and the Molly Dooker wines are extremely high in alcohol, generally over 14.5%. This should not interfere with ones enjoyment of the wines after the alcohol blows off a little, but as mentioned above, be careful they pack a punch and will get you snockered quickly.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Big Wine Small Price

Last night we had dinner at a friends house and they shared a Barbera from their favorite winery. The winery is a small winery in Amador county called Macchia. These wines do not make it out of California except through their wine club. They are priced from the mid teens to the upper twenties. They specialize in Italian varietals, but also produce a nice Zinfandel. But back to last night. The Barbera we had was their "Infamous" Amador county Cooper Ranch 2006. This wine had loads of fruit black raspberry and rich plum. It sang in the glass and complemented the steaks wonderfully. This is a great wine at a great price. Macchia will ship to Ohio and they have several wine clubs, even with shipping they are still great wines for the money. The web site is

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Kid on the Block

Last night we opened a bottle of Pinot Noir from one of the many new boutique producers to hit the market in recent years. The one we tried was the Clos Pepe vineyard from Loring Wine Co. Brian Loring makes up to ten different single vineyard Pinot Noirs in any given year. These wines are all closed with stelvin screw caps. Now before you get the wrong impression, these wines are not bargain basement, they all retail in the $50 range. I have been wanting to try one of their wines since I first saw them several years ago and last night was the time. We had left over chicken and garlic sausage and mac & cheese. At first blush after cracking the seal the wine was kind of flat, but after about ten minutes in the glass the wine started to blossom and fill out. There was lots of rich black cherry and currant. This is a big pinot, kind of a hybrid of California (fruit) and Burgundy (body). One note; it is my feeling that red wines with screw caps are not a bad thing (no cork taint), however I have come to believe that they require special handling after being opened. Specifically, I feel they need time to breath because the seal is so complete with the screw cap, these wine do not get the opportunity to develop in the bottle as wines with natural cork do. This is a producer to watch, he has only been making wine for several years, but he has better than a dozen years of apprenticeship behind him. Just remember screw cap red wine needs air.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Summertime wines

This weekend we tried two great summer time wines, first a Rose of Syrah from Ortman Family vineyards. This was a Rose that would appeal to red wine drinkers. It is full bodied with loads of Strawberry and Red Raspberry fruit. We found this to be a good complement for the marinated pork chops and macaroni and cheese. The Ortman wines are not available in Kentucky, but this wines is available in Ohio for around $15. Do not confuse Rose's with white Zinfandel. These are dry and very sophisticated wines and should not be overlooked.

The other wine we tried is not available locally, but a visit to the winery in Sonoma presents a wealth of opportunity to try different types of grapes. The wine is Wow Oui a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Canelli from a winery called Imagery. This winery started as creative spin off of Benizinger and allowed Joe Benzinger to experiment with grapes not usually found in California. Some of those are Malbec, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Franc and a hand full of others. The wine we tried had many of the common traits of Savignon Blanc such as Grapefruit and Tangerine. The Muscat Canelli brings a hint of minerality to the wine and moderates the the citrus. This wine worked well with the fried chicken we had for dinner last night and proved to be very refreshing on a hot evening. Though this wine is not available locally, there are many California and Washington State Sauvignon Blancs with similar characteristics.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A real treat

Last night we had a few people over, which gave us an opportunity to open more wine than we would normally be able to drink. We tried to bottles from a project called Long Shadows out of Washington State and a Chardonnay from a winery called Tandem and a Late disgorged Sparkler from Schramsberg. First the Sparkler (1996 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs late disgorged) , Late disgorged is a sparkling wine that is aged longer than normal before getting it's cork. This typically produces a richer, creamy and nutty sparkling wine. This one is no exception. You can always tell how long that mushroom style cork has been in the bottle, by how straight the portion of the cork that comes out of the neck of the bottle remains. The straighter it remains the longer that cork has been in the bottle. The reason I bring this up is that even the sparkler we had last night was vintage 1996 the cork was still quiet flared, because it had only recently been put in the bottle. So much for that, if you ever have an opportunity to try an older vintage Sparkling wine give it a shot. They are a treat.

The Tandem Chardonnay was a nice oaky chardonnay from a winery that specializes in Single vineyard wine ( Site specific, grapes all coming from a small block) This particular one is from the Ritchie vineyard. This was a wine that I thought paired well with the burgers we served. It was rich and creamy with buttery notes from the oak aging.

Finally the real treat Long Shadows, we had two of the half a dozen or so wines they produce. Both were blends, both Bordeaux blends plus syrah Chester-Kidder 2004 (Allen Shoup & Giles Nicault) and Pirouette 2005 (Phillipe Melka & Agustin Huneeus). First the Piroutte a Cabernet dominant blend This was a big wine with loads of red fruit; raspberry and strawberry. Still slightly tannic, but this should mellow with a little more age. This wine is good on its own or with food. Finally the Chester-Kidder, this wine was good out of the gate. It definitely benefited from the extra year of age. It was mellow and rich with red and black fruit: red & black raspberry and hints of plum. This was the better of the two reds, but not by much. Just a brief note on Long Shadows. This is project started by Allen Shoup several years ago and involves top winemakers from all over the world, who come to Washington to collaborate with Shoup to make wine with his fruit in the style they are noted for. For those interested the web site has more information about these particular wines and the others they produce.

These were all great wines and went well with the onion tarts, burgers, mac & cheese and pasta salad we served. Would they have been better with a more sophisticated meal? Perhaps, but they worked very well with this combination. One should not be afraid to experiment with pairings. They can be magical, but if you are having food and wine you like, you really cannot go to far off of the mark.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Something Different

Last night my wife and I tried a bottle scheurebe. If you are not familiar with this grape, neither was I until I ran into it a a tasting at City Cellars earlier this year. It is an eighty year old cross between Silvaner and Riesling. It was developed to allow for a grape that would ripen early and have good structure and finesse. Wine importer Terry Theise describes it as "all that's dirty and fun". I found it to be a fun wine with hints of citrus, mild sweetness and full body. The particular one we tried was Guntrum Scheurebe Kabinett 2005 vintage. It is similar to Riesling in that it would pair fantastically with Asian and Indian foods. As some of you will know Kabinett is the earliest harvest and thus the least sugar, typically the driest style of German or Austrian wines. This wine is dry, but features good rich fruit flavors which might fool the casual drinker to believe that this wine has sweetness, though technically there is none. If you have the opportunity, try the grape, its reasonably priced in the low to mid teens.
PS we finished the Brewer Clifton Pinot and it had held up very well over night with a vacuvin.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

trust your own taste

Today I was at the car dealership waiting for my car and got into a conversation about wine with another customer. He asked about the copy of Wine Spectator I was reading. Once we got talking he said he really did not know that much about wine, but was starting to learn. He was almost apologetic. I told him the one piece of advice I have given hundreds of customers, that the only bit of wine knowledge anybody really needs is to know what they like and to be able to express that to someone else. The more one tastes the more likes and dislikes will be fine tuned. People are not born knowing what there preferences in food are, one learns this through experimentation. The same is true for wine, it is not mystical, but merely a beverage to be enjoyed alone or among good company. One should never be intimidated by wine. There are know mistakes only learning experiences.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Tonights wine - older can be good

I have been wanting to sample a bottle of Brewer Clifton Pinot Noir for some time. I purchase a 1998 Santa Maria Hills from Wine Bid several years ago and tonight was the night to finally crack it open. I had heard that Brewer Clifton makes its wines in the Burgundian style (more reflective of the earth that the fruit comes from), this had at first put me off of the producer since I am not a fan of earthy Pinot Noirs. However, now that I have tried the Santa Maria Hills, and reading the Philosophy of the wine makers at Brewer Clifton, I realize that in this case the style mainly refers to site specific, but not very earthy. This was a remarkable wine for a ten year old Pinot. It was still full of rich fruit flavors, though now more dried fruit. There was dried black cherry and hints of plum. Much of the zestiness that may have been present in this unfiltered wine has become muted, but it still held up very well to the fillet mignon that we had for dinner. This also goes to the Burgundian heritage, which allows for long lived Pinots. The wine still has ample acid and rich full mouth feel. This is yet another Pinot that belies the notion that American Pinots generally do not age well. Do not discount older wines based on conventional wisdom. You never know when there will be a pleasant surprise.

first time

I have started this blog to work out my frustration at being away from retail and perhaps to connect with people unsure about where they are going in their new found or on going wine appreciation. This year I was told that I was no longer needed at my wine sales job. I thought after four years I had proven myself to be useful and good at what I did. I guess not, at least not there. I am more frustrated at losing the interaction with my customers than the loss of income. I have spent the past months regrouping and weighing my options. I am still not sure where I will end up, but with any luck my wife and I will soon become owners of our own wine store, where I can once again begin to help people find that special bottle of wine at an acceptable price.