[Please note that we received the below wines in exchange for honest reviews – something the sender may eventually regret… ;-)]
With the spring and summer travel season coming up, wouldn’t Idaho be fun? It’s well known as a great destination for fishing, camping, hiking and…wine. Yeah, wine.
The Idaho Wine Commission recently offered us a mixed case of Idaho’s wines mainly from the Snake River AVA. That’s actually on the border near Washington State, and the area has a similar desert climate to Washington’s.
Since we don’t have plans involving Idaho this year, we accepted the case and we’ll be tasting through the various wines and bringing you our short tasting notes and, hopefully, some winemaker stories.
Truth be told, it’s taking us a while to get through the case. That’s twelve bottles and to taste them thoughtfully with appropriate food doesn’t happen overnight. Also, truth be told, while the wines are mostly pretty darned good, we haven’t been that impressed with everything we’ve tasted so far.
But in terms of the early results, we’re discovering that Idaho isn’t just about the potatoes. There’s some darned good wine there, too.
This is another new venture for us at OddBallGrape.com – video!
We went to the 2014 Garagiste Festival in Pasa Robles and caught up with some amazing women in wine, not least of all was Amy Butler. We first ran across her at an Hospice du Rhone, back when she was working at Edward Sellars. Now, she’s the consulting winemaker at LXV (a post that will be coming soon) and has her own label, Ranchero Cellars.
Amy’s big thing is the carignan grape (also spelled carignane). We’ll let you look at the video to tell you why. We’ve tasted the wine and it was awesome!
It’s the third Thursday of November and that means it’s time for the Beaujolais Nouveau 2014 release. No, the timing has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, although the wine is great paired with Thanksgiving dinner.
Beaujolai Nouveau literally means New Beaujolais. It’s basically wine from Beaujolais, France, that was still grapes back in September. It hasn’t aged. It hasn’t done anything, really, except ferment, making it light and fruity and all the things wine snobs love looking down their long, bony noses at.
Okay, let’s be real. It’s also about the marketing. It started with a guy named Georges DuBoeuf. He is a négociant, or basically, a merchant who collects lots of wine from various producers and blends it together under his own label and sells it. In the mid-1960s, he started his business and became quite the advocate for the wines of Beaujolais.
Winemakers had been making the new wine for years, but it was only for fun and local consumption. The DuBoeuf came along and turned the release into a media event. Local winemakers loved it because selling wine this way was very good for cash flow. It also got a lot of attention for the more serious wine made in the region called Beaujolais Villages, which you do not want to drink new.
The nouveau is made from the gamay grape and is made to drink young. In fact, if you have any hanging around from last year, dump it. Seriously. It’s not even good for sangria at this point.
But it is great for Thanksgiving dinner. Because it is light and fruity, it’s not going to get all tart and nasty with many of the sweeter elements of the meal. It’s perfect for those members of your family who are either new to wine, such as your niece who just graduated from college, or think they don’t like red wine, like the aged aunt who’s been drinking sweet wines all her life, if that.
And we get that some years Beaujolais Nouveau can be a little rocky. The winemakers don’t have time to compensate for less than ideal growing conditions, so the wine will often reflect that – another reason why the snobs sniff at it.
But this year was particularly good in Beaujolais, at least according to DuBoeuf’s publicists. And since they were nice enough to send us a sample for review, we got a chance to taste it the other night and…. It’s a good one!
Michael smelled raspberry on the nose, but even Anne got a lot of fruit in the flavor. Michael also noted that the body of the wine was rather thin (duh, it’s new) and got lots of carbonic acidity – which means it’s just a tiny bit fizzy. What tannins there were (i.e. that dry feeling you get), were pretty tight, which means it’s going to be great with food. In fact, we tasted it with some cheese and ham and it did very well with both.
It’s also reasonably price, usually between $10 and $12 a bottle. If you can get the DuBoeuf, go for it. But his is not the only label out there, and the wine is still worth giving a shot, either for drinking on its own or with your own Thanksgiving dinner.
Speed Dating – we mean Tasting continued. When we left you last week, we had just finished some highlights of a round of white wines – all insanely yummy – while attending last month’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton, California.
Today, the Reds. Like speed dating, you’ve got a bunch of folks coming table to table to give you about five minutes to decide if you want a relationship with their wine. Unlike speed dating, in which the objective is to weed out, speed tasting is all about getting as many different wines into your personal portfolio as possible. We got way too many to write about here, but the highlights included:
The Sensitive Evolved One, the 2012 Ferrari-Carano Siena, a red blend with a deep ruby color and a hint of sweetness, making it a great sipper and even better with food.
Cheryl McMillan, who was representing Ferrari-Carano, said that the wine is a blend of sangiovese and malbec, with some petite syrah and cabernet sauvignon. We noted the screw cap and asked about aging (because wine under screw caps supposedly doesn’t age as well), and McMillan said that really wasn’t an issue with this wine.
“It’s made to drink now,” she said. “It’s not going to lay down for very long.”
In other words, a little flirtation, maybe a short fling, but not an extended commitment. Okay. Oh, and another plus – Ferrrari-Carano’s executive winemaker is Sarah Quider, and the gal who actually made it is associate winemaker Rebecka Deike, who does the red wines for the winery.
Next up, consider the attraction of a Bad Boy, one who is all wrong, but so very right in the moment. Now, meet Alexander Valley Vineyards 2012 Sin Zin. And the fact that it’s zinfandel is what makes it so very wrong, at least in Anne’s opinion. Anne doesn’t really like zins, but she liked this one. The Wetzel Family, who own the vineyard and the winery, have been bottling this zinfandel for over 35 years. Michael really liked it as a more subtle zinfandel (making it all the more dangerous), with an excellent balance between fruit and acidity, and a good long finish.
Katie Wetzel, who did the honors of pouring for us, said that the goal is not to make a zinfandel with the heavy jammy notes, but to also keep the fruit character of the wine.
“This zin tends to be in the middle,” she told us.
And where there’s a bad boy, you know there’s going to be a Smooth Talker, and in this case, it’s the Adelaida Touriga Nacional 2010. If any of the wines we tasted were smooth, this one was it, with a nice dark color and an earthy profile. Good luck finding it on the Adelaida website, though. Anne searched and searched and could only find some technical notes buried under the Trade & Media tab. Think this one was trying to slip something past us?
Finally, there’s the one you’ll actually want to make a commitment to, and we are OddBallGrape for a reason – we love those unusual grapes, and the Urban Legend 2010 Teraldego definitely needs a commitment. Why? It won’t be ready to drink for a few years yet. But, oh, the potential!
It’s made by Merilee and Steve Shaffer, a husband and wife team of winemakers.
“I’m the goddess of fermentation, he’s the god of the barrels,” Merilee explained as she poured our wine. Winemaking is not the first business venture these two have had. “We’re serial entrepreneurs. It’s a little like being serial murderers.”
The wine had an inky dark color, a good fruit nose, dense texture, and strong tannins. Yes, give it a few years, then serve with a good steak dinner. Or something beefy and garlicky. This is going to be a very special wine.
And now, back to recovering. Actually, we’re hoping to catch up with several of the above folks in the future to ask them about wines, grapes and winemaking.
You’re in a hotel ballroom, the noise level is rising like the tides, and just when you get to like one, the next one shows up. Is this any way to build a relationship?
Well, the nice folks at the Wine Bloggers Conference thought if speed dating works for singles, it could work for wine. And, really, it did, but it was a challenge.
Oh, wait. What’s the Wine Bloggers Conference? It’s exactly what it sounds like – a conference or convention for people who blog about wine. And if you’ve ever Googled “wine blog,” you know that there are about 50-bajillion of us out there writing about our love of wine, and wine, and what we eat while drinking wine, and more wine. So mid-July, about 350 of us got together at the Marriott in Buellton, California, to talk about writing about wine and, uh, to taste wine. Which we did. A lot of it. Buellton, by the way, is smack in the heart of the Santa Barbara County wine region, kind of between the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Rita Hills.
So imagine a couple hundred people in a hotel ballroom, the chatter (and noise) increasing by the glassful, while each winemaker and his or her representative had five minutes to serve six to 10 people and tell us about the wine. We did two sessions over the two days of the conference, one for whites and one for reds. Fortunately, this wasn’t about weeding out because all of the wines were fabulous. But we now have a chance to use all those pretentious descriptors, like flirty, that don’t really mean anything as we bring you some of the highlights.
In fact, we’ll begin with The Flirt, herself – the Yorkville Cellars 2011 Cuvée Brut. A real bubbly personality. Literally, it’s a bubbly, and it was poured by Yorkville’s owners Deborah and Edward Wallo and their son Ben. Michael noted that it had a nice light toast color with good bubbles, bright acidity and a clean finish. It’s made from semillion and sauvignon blanc grapes, which are not your usual bubbly grapes.
“We like to play around with different varieties,” Deborah told us. Or was it Ben?
Then we got to the Cheap Date – Bandit Pinot Grigio, which comes in a one-liter box for $8. Yes, the box is recyclable. Michael noted that it had a neutral nose and tropical fruit taste with some sweetness, possibly making it good with spicy food.
As we noted in our last post, our favorite wine for Thanksgiving dinner is the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau. From the Beaujolais region of France, it’s the first wine to appear from the current harvest. In other words, yes, that is a 2013 you see on the label (or should see), and yes, that wine was grapes a mere few months ago.
It’s basically new wine – made to be drunk, like, now, and as such is usually very light and fruity, which is why wine snobs love looking down their long bony noses at it. But that’s also why it’s one of the best matches for the full range of flavors at a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not a sweet wine and there’s enough acid to stand up to the stronger flavors of the turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes, but there’s also not so much that it will go sour and icky with the sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and that strange fruit something or other that Aunt Hazel puts in the stuffing. Being more fruity helps on that end, too.
This year’s release seems to reflect the really hard year France had weather-wise. They had a tough time getting their grapes to ripen fully, and this Nouveau doesn’t have as much fruit as usual. We tried it with the turkey pot pie and baked sweet potato the other night. While it was definitely tighter and a touch more tannic (that drying sensation on your teeth) than in years past, even Anne thought it worked with the sweet potato, and her palate catches sour flavors faster than Michael’s does. All-in-all, it remains a great option for your big dinner.
There are two other reasons why it’s a great option, especially if the whole fam-damily is showing up. One is that it tends to run around $10 to $12 a bottle. Since your average bottle of wine serves four (five if you’re stingy), you can afford to serve everyone a glass or two, even if you have a crowd. That high-end pinot noir or fancy tempranillo could force you into serving that fifth glass from the bottle. Secondly, there’s bound to be someone or other at your table whose palate just isn’t up to a fine red. The new boyfriend who only drinks whites. The aged grandmother who prefers sweet wine, if she drinks at all. The brand-spanking new 21-year-old who hasn’t tasted much wine before now. Beaujolais Nouveau is a nice introduction to finer reds that isn’t so dry and heavy that you need to get used to it.
One little warning – do make sure you are buying the 2013 Nouveau. When Michael went to pick up our bottle, he noticed that there were a few cases of the 2012 next to the 2013s. Nouveau doesn’t usually taste good aged. In fact, by January, the current year is already past its prime and just barely drinkable. We don’t even want to think about year-old Nouveau. Blech. So double check the vintage date on your bottle and be sure it’s the current calendar year.
We love Riedel glassware. The stuff is gorgeous. It’s light and beautifully crafted. It just feels elegant sipping wine from it.
However, we’ve always been rather skeptical about their claim that their variety-specific glasses actually make a significant difference in the flavor of each different wine. So we decided to test the glassware and found out one rather interesting thing, but overall? To quote one of our fave TV shows, Myth busted.
The tasting came about because we were generously included in a special unveiling of the Malbec glass, put on by Argentinian winery Graffigna. Both of the malbecs they served, the Centenario Reserve and the Grand Reserve, were amazing, dry and lush. We couldn’t help but lust after a good steak from the Pampas while drinking them. The wine was served in the new glass, alongside a Burgundy glass and a cabernet sauvignon glass.
The idea, we were told by Riedel’s Regional Sales Manager Melissa Hawkins, is that the shape of the bowl and the opening of the glass direct the wine to the part of your tongue that tastes the wine’s best attributes. In fact, we started with water, and while Anne didn’t think the water tasted all that different or was that much more refreshing out of the Burgundy glass, there were others who did.
Then, of course, we had the tasting with the wine, itself, and sure enough, everyone began remarking on how the malbec really did taste better in the malbec glass. Hmmmm. Well, we wanted to see if we could replicate the results at home, and one of the publicists (whose name we do not want to drop so she doesn’t get into trouble) kindly gave us a Burgundy and a cabernet glass to take with the malbec glasses they’d already given us.
Why were we so skeptical in the first place? Truth be told, we had tried a similar test a few years ago when we found some variety-specific glasses (not Riedel) on sale at World Market. After all, some of our friends had raved about how the wine really did taste different. But something just wasn’t adding up. We certainly didn’t notice any great difference in the wine we tasted in the different glasses we had.
Now, we suspect there may be someone out there reading this and thinking, “Well, obviously, they don’t have very sophisticated palates.” And we say, go put some clothes on, Mr. or Ms. Emperor. Let’s start with the basic mechanics of the bowl shape and opening directing the wine to your tongue. We checked in with Anne’s cousin, Jim Mason, who holds a PhD in mechanical engineering, and while fluid dynamics aren’t his specialty, he knows and understands them. His thought? The whole bowl shape and opening thing doesn’t make sense simply because you can’t control the opening of your mouth each time you drink. In addition, Anne can’t figure out how something is going to direct a fluid to the perfect place on your tongue when everyone’s tongue is a different size – can you say Gene Simmons?
But what the heck, we tested it with the actual Riedel crystal. We used the three wines the glasses were made for. Okay, we used California pinot noirs for the Burgundy glass, but that’s what was available. Michael did the tasting and they were all blind. He could see which glass was which – kind of hard to not notice that. But we did two of the tests in a darkened room so that the lighter color of the pinot noir wouldn’t give it away. We used several different brands of wine, including the Graffigna Centenaro, all of which are widely available.
The first test was several flights, with a different wine in each glass, randomly assigned. The idea was that Michael should have been able to tell the variety each time he got a glass with its matching variety in it. Essentially, did the right glassware make the wine pop? There was only one flight out of six where he was able to guess each variety correctly, and none of them were in the correct glass.
We tried again, this time, making sure that at least one of the glasses held the correct variety, and we invited some friends of ours, Dale LaCasella and Jim Vitale, to try it with us. Again, the theory was if the “right” glass made a difference, they’d be able to find the wine that was in the correct glass because it would taste the best. Not even close. Michael, Dale and Jim did get a taste of each wine in its correct glass as a test flight, so they’d know what they were looking for. Didn’t help. They could neither guess the variety and the wine they liked the best was seldom in the correct glass.
Finally, as Anne’s wonderful daughter pointed out, there should be a test with all the same wine in each flight, making the glass the only variable. Here is where it got interesting. There was one glass that did stand out, but interestingly, it didn’t matter what wine was in it. And when we went over our notes, time and time again (not every time, but at least 75 percent of the time), the wine tasted best in this glass – no matter which wine it was. It was the Burgundy glass, which features a wide, round bowl and a relatively narrow opening.
We think we know why. It’s because smell is such an important part of taste. The round, wide bowl creates a larger surface area of wine exposed to oxygen, which then picks up the aromatic elements in the wine. But because the opening is comparatively small, the aromatics are more or less trapped in the bowl as opposed to being dispersed through the air, and you can get more of them into your nose, which then enhances what your tongue receives.
So why did everyone at the tasting, including Michael, all get so excited and swear that the malbec tasted best in the malbec glass? Simple crowd dynamics. First, we were told it would. Then as the tasting went on, someone agreed out loud, then someone else, and so forth and so on, so eventually even Anne was buying into it. No one was lying or faking it. They’d just bought into what everyone else was saying because that’s what we humans do when we’re in a group.
As for buying Riedel, as we said, we love the stuff, but there are some serious downsides to it. First up, it is insanely fragile. You look at these glasses wrong and they break. In fact, the cabernet glass that we used in our tasting broke before we could get a picture of it. Secondly, it is very expensive. We did find a pair of the stemless glasses for almost $30 at Target – that’s $15 a glass. For something that breaks very easily. Burgundy glasses on the site run as much as $125 a glass. Not in our budget. But if it’s in yours, there’s no reason not to buy it. It is lovely stuff. You just don’t need a different glass for each variety of wine.
Last Friday, we were again asked to help out at the Altadena Public Library’s Art Salon – part of the library’s fabulous Art on Millionaire’s Road annual art show.
If you were at last spring’s fundraising wine and cheese event, then you’ll probably recognized most of the whites. We did have leftovers from that event and wanted to use these delicious wines up. When you add the four reds we found, we poured a total of nine wines for a truly expansive experience.
Segura Viudas Cava Brut Reserve NV
Type: Dry sparkling white wine
What Makes It Special: It’s a Cava – Spain’s version of Champagne
Plays well with: Almost anything – it’s a bubbly!
The nose was clean without yeast, toast or chalk. But there was a hint of fresh apples. The taste was very dry and crisp with acidity. The cava dissolved into bubbles at the back of the mouth like the better sparklers do. A classic taste and an excellent value.
Villa Alfieri Pinot Grigio 2008
Type: Dry white
What Makes It Special: Made in Italy
Plays well with: Salad, cheese plates, seafood
The nose was slightly spicy and the color was very clear and clean. The weight in the mouth was medium in weight. The dryness went all through the palate to the back of the mouth.
This has the typical Pinot Grigio subtlety, which means it’s good with food.
Cantarutti 2008 Friuli
Type: Dry white
What Makes It Special: Italian wine made from local grapes including friulano or pinot blanco
Plays Well With: Salad, seafood, sharp cheeses
The clean light color of this wine opened to some nice florals on the nose with a hint of lime and these flavors carried through the taste as well. The mouthfeel was somewhat lush – meaning full in the mouth with some very bracing acids. An excellent palate cleanser between bites of seafood ceviche or shrimp cocktail – hold the cocktail sauce.
Chateau de la Roche 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
Type: Dry white
What Makes It Special: Good and citrusy, typical of sauv blancs.
Plays well with: Salads, seafood, light cream sauces. Also a good sipper by itself.
The color was light and crystal clear. The nose had hints of grapefruit and none of the catbox aroma common to some sauv blancs. The citrus profile extended from the front to the midpalate and had a lemon twist at the back of the mouth. The texture was medium weight and the juicy acidity added a cleansing effect to the mouth. The wine was bone dry.
PKNT Chardonnay, 2009
Type: Dry white
What Makes It Special: Grown and made in Chile
Plays Well With: Light fish and cheese and crackers.
There’s just a touch of oak on the nose of this one, maybe a little toast, as well. But that hint of oak played nicely into the flavor, in which Michael also caught some apple and tropical fruit notes. Anne just caught a nice, light wine that stands pretty well on its own, making it great for parties. But it would also be nice with a fish dinner, say, sole or red snapper.
A nice ruby color leads to a nose of rose petals and high toned red fruit like cherries. The mouthfeel is light and approachable. There are good acids to alert the taste buds and the cherry and berry nose continues into the creamy finish. Very nice by itself but great with food, with a nice low alcohol of 12.5 percent.
Xplorador 2008 Carmenere
Type: Dry red
What makes it special: Carmenere grapes
Plays well with: Tomato sauces, soft and hard cheeses, BBQ
Carmenere is the sixth grape of Bordeaux that vanished from France after the phlox killed the vineyards in the 1860s. It reappeared in Chile and has been making quite an impression on those people who have tried it.
The nose is dark fruits like plums and some smoke. The feel in the mouth is medium bodied and the balance of acids to tannins is very nice. The finish is good.
Beauzeaux Red Wine Blend
Type: Dry red
What makes it special: Unknown blend that tastes good.
Plays well with: Steak, asparagus, good sipper
This non-dated blend from the Beaulieu family of wines is indeed pronounced Bozo, like the clown.
The nose is alive with sweet fruits like raspberry and berry patch. The mouthfeel is substantial that gives some time to savor the fruits and acids. A slight bit of sweetness all through the palate leads to a good finish. It tasted great with asparagus, a typically hard food to match with wine.
Novella 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
Type: Dry red
What makes it special: Cabernet from Paso Robles
Plays well with: Grilled meats, stews, a good pizza
The nose is a little closed – not very fruity. The acids are balanced against the tannins which makes for a nice mouthfeel. There is no noticeable sweetness to get in the way of whatever flavors you are enjoying. But think of this cab as the special last minute addition to the dish that fills in the hole that you didn’t know about. Not a big wine but still a team player.
What makes it special: A pinot noir that’s not from the Santa Rita Hills.
Plays well with: pork, lamb, salmon, cheese.
The 2007 Flying Goat Pinot Wine comes from San Luis Obispo, a little farther up the California coast from where Norman Yost makes his wines in Lompoc.
The nose has a spicebox aroma – think asian five spice powder ingredients such as licorice and cardamon. The color is the same gorgeous ruby red of a certain pair of shoes made in Oz (or more accurately the MGM costume shop).
But just check out the mouth feel and flavor: a medium density filling the mouth with cranberry, strawberry and raspberry without the cloying sweetness those flavors sometimes bring to the party.
The acids present quench the thirst and clear the palate for the next bite of something tasty. Don’t drink this one alone. Share it with a good meat dish. You could drink it by yourself, but we don’t that would make you too popular.
What makes it special: Italian grape finding a great home in Santa Barbara county.
Plays well with: Salads, seafood, creamy sauces.
We are celebrating this humble, but lovely treat of a wine for a couple reasons.
First up, we do want to make note of the TAPAS Grand Tasting in San Francisco this weekend, one of the wineries pouring is winemaker Richard Longoria, who made this pinot grigio – even though it’s not one of the wines featured by the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society. TAPAS is, of course, about the Spanish grapes – tempranillo, garnacha albariño.
Longoria is going to be one of 44 wineries showing their wares to upwards of 1500 consumers. Address, ticket prices (there are still some left) and more information can be gotten at the TAPAS site, tapasociety.org.
The other reason is that we love pinot grigio. In the same way that sangiovese got a bad rap after years of cheap bottlings in straw baskets, pinot grigio got tagged with being a largely blah, insipid tasteless product produced cheaply for export from its native Italy.
Now, we ask you – is that any way to treat a perfectly nice, inoffensive little grape? We don’t think so and, fortunately, neither does Mr. Longoria and a bunch of other growers in Santa Barbara county, near the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez regions.
Thanks to them, pinot grigio is making a comeback, finding a new soul and a backbone.
The Longoria 2009 Pinot Grigio is clean looking and smells fresh without being too fruity. But there’s plenty of crisp fruit in the taste, including peaches and honeydew melon. It’s light in the mouth, and there are plenty of thirst-quenching acids to help cleanse the palate between bites of something tasty on a lazy afternoon.
There’s also a great feel of minerality to the wine similar to the added minerals in your bottled water. Consider it a feature of the terroir of the Santa Barbara region, which is finally getting some attention these days and not just for the abundance of chardonnay in the area.
This isn’t the cheapest wine on the market, but it is perfect for that special summer picnic. Just don’t try holding onto it for long. Pinot grigio – even the best of them – won’t age and should be as transitory as that lazy summer afternoon.