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Wine Bloggers Conference

Our Favorite Thanksgiving Wine

IMG_20131124_131011As 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 2013-11-22_13-06-25_141were 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.

How to Match Wines to Your Thanksgiving Dinner

There is nothing worse than taking a big gulp of orange juice after a big bite of maple syrupy pancakes. All you can taste is sour, sour, sour. Blech!

Well, that, dear friends, is exactly what makes pairing wines with your Thanksgiving Dinner such a challenge. You’ve got your savory turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes and gravy – flavors that scream for a good, rich red with good, solid acidity. And then as soon as you dive into the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce – yeesh! All you can taste is the sourness of the acids in the wine. Kind of kills the whole experience.

Our friends Susan and Jan were puzzling this out for Susan’s brother, one of the principals of Flying Leap Vineyards in Tucson, Arizona. He’d sent her a case of the winery’s different wines and asked for her input. So time being an issue, Susan invited us and a whole bunch of other people to a potluck, where we all brought different elements of holiday meals (not just Thanksgiving) and tried everything with everything. Or tried to.

In any case, there really wasn’t one wine that did the trick across the board. Their tempranillo did the best job, but even it was no match for the sweet potatoes – and these didn’t even have marshmallows. However, we weren’t terribly surprised that the tempranillo did the best out of all of the wines we tried. Tempranillo is a Spanish grape that often makes a pretty in-your-face red wine. But when made well – as this one was – it’s an amazing food wine. That’s because it’s got enough acid and fruit flavors to stand up to stronger-tasting foods, but it’s not so acidic it can’t deal with something a tetch sweeter.

So how do you pick a wine for Thanksgiving or another holiday meal? You want a wine that’s actually fairly light and fruity. You need the fruit to stand up to the stronger flavor of the turkey meat. Or ham. Or pork roast. Or beef. But something that’s got just enough acid to give the wine some structure and to blend well with the savory elements, but not so much acid it’s going to taste wonky with the sweet stuff.

Yeah but, you’re asking, how do I find the right one for my meal? Well, you could buy a bunch of different wines and call your friends in for a potluck, like Susan and Jan did, but that may be a bit much, especially if said friends are also coming to dinner Thanksgiving Day (or for Hannukah this year). You can ask your favorite wine shop person – which usually works. Or if this year, your soon-to-be mother-in-law is coming or there’s some other reason you really, really need things to be as perfect as possible, you can do a mini-tasting yourself.

Buy three to four bottles of different wines that you think might go well, buy some turkey in gravy, maybe a potpie or similar. It doesn’t have to be a great version of one, it just needs to taste enough like a turkey and gravy to mimic that part of the meal, Roast a sweet potato. You can either try the wines blind by putting them in different numbered paper bags, or not. But have your little plate of turkey and gravy and sweet potatoes and take a sip of each wine after eating each of those two elements. Take notes on how each wine tasted with the food, which might help if you get a really close match. But usually, the best one makes itself present pretty quickly.

Just avoid really big, brawny reds (tempranillo being the one exception). Think light and fruity. And you should be good. If you want your big, meaty cabernet sauvignon, go ahead. Just don’t eat the sweet potatoes or cranberry relish at the same time.

Celebrity Wine FAQ – Brooke Burke-Charvet Wants to Know About CA Vintages

Brooke Burke-Charvet

Brooke Burke-Charvet

Dancing With the Stars is a major guilty pleasure here at The Old Homestead, and there’s little we love more than settling into our easy chairs with our glass of wine, our phones and some popcorn, and critiquing along with Len, Bruno and Carrie Ann. So we decided that with the show starting the semi-finals for this season on Monday (Nov. 18), it’s time for another Celebrity Wine FAQ.

We’ve got DWTS co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet today. She told us that she and her husband, David Charvet, are building a cellar.

“We’re very passionate about wine. My husband is French,” Burke-Charvet said. “He’s a wine snob, whereas I’m more open to California wines. He likes the big French Bordeaux.”

They do have a goodly collection currently.

“The problem is, we drink so much wine, we’re having a really hard time buying smart and saving and collecting,” she said. “You know, ideally, you can buy a $30 or $40 bottle now and in 10 years, you’re drinking a fabulous wine.”

Ah, yes. The joy of collecting and saving wine. Collecting is a fun thing to do if you’ve got the right storage conditions, which can vary for types of wines. Generally you want a container or room where you can keep the temperature consistently cool. That’s why people like basements or literally, cellars, to store their wine. And as Burke-Charvet noted, if you buy wine when it’s first released, and lay it down in your cellar (which may be a 40-bottle fridge or a whole basement) for 10 years or so, you can have a truly transcendent experience.

But then there’s also the issue of vintage – as Burke-Charvet noted, lots of folks are excited about the California cabernets from 1992 to 1997. Are they worth it? We have no idea. Wine Enthusiast magazine has a vintage chart here that can help you decide if your particular wines are ready to drink, but there are no guarantees.

Also, truth be told, when it comes to California wines, vintage is not quite the same issue it is in France, where the weather varies a lot more from year to year. In France, it’s not that unusual to have really good years and not so good years for wines. In California, there’s a lot of consistency from year to year, so you don’t get “great years” in the same way as France. That doesn’t mean we don’t get great wines. It’s just that with California wines, it’s more about how old they are than which year is better than another. So a good vintage chart can help you avoid breaking into that gorgeous super-expensive cab before it’s ready.

And here’s to another great competition this season.

Italian Wines are Simply Great

20131030_151856The problem with a good trade tasting is that most of the wines we tasted are not available to the public. Yet. At least, we hope that eventually most, if not all, of the wines we tasted at Simply Great Italian Wines will be available here in Los Angeles and in other parts of the U.S. very soon. That’s one of the reasons that earlier this week, we packed ourselves into the room at a Beverly Hills hotel with about 200 other importers, buyers and press.

It was an event put on by IEEM (International Event & Exhibition Management), a public relations firm that, among other things, represents wine makers from Italy and puts on event connecting the wineries with the people who buy the wine. According to the U.S. Director of Operations, Mariana Nedic, this event included 35 wineries representing about 10 different regions of Italy. In this case, they were mostly from the North, with the greatest representation from The Veneto (which is not Venice).

These days, if you’re thinking Italian wine, you’re probably thinking of Chiantis, Super Tuscans and Barolos from Piemonte, maybe an Amarone or two. And Prosecco. You’ve barely scratched the surface. For one thing, more varieties of grapes are grown in Italy than pretty much anywhere else in the world (except maybe the U.S., but there’s a heck of a lot more land space here than in Italy). So, if you see a white wine called Grecchetto, that is a grape variety grown in Umbria and it is darned tasty.

We’ll try to write more about the specific varieties in the weeks to come, but for now, there are two important things to remember. One is that there is a lot of very good wine being made in Italy and even if you don’t recognize the name of the grape, it’s well worth giving it a try, anyway. In fact, it can even be fun to try wines from places in Italy that you’ve never heard of. A lot of those great little wines don’t often come to the States.

Dry proseccos - Yum!

Dry proseccos – Yum!

“You have to produce a lot to come here,” Nedic said, pointing out that we’re a pretty big market and growing. Many wineries in Italy don’t produce that much, so when you do find one here it’s a treat.

Secondly, try it with food. We can’t emphasize that point enough. We had tried several wines that we had liked a lot, but it wasn’t until we went back with a bit of cured meat that the wines really began to sing. Italian wines are made with more acids because they’re meant to be drunk with dinner or lunch. So if it’s an Italian wine and it tastes a little tannic (that dry sensation) or flat, try it again with a bit of food. If it’s still tannic and/or flat, that’s one thing. But we’re willing to bet it will be a lot better than by itself.

Chill Cooling Pour Spout Not a Fast Way to Chill Wine

CHILL cooling pour spout.

CHILL cooling pour spout.

The problem with most giz-watchies and gizmos made for serving wine is that they don’t generally do what their paperwork says they’ll do. But hey, if the manufacturers want to send us their toys, as they did with the cooling pour spout, we’ll test them.

We spent several months playing with Host’s CHILL Cooling Pour Spout,trying to figure out what it does. “Cool, pour & preserve with the CHILL. Just pour the first glass, insert the cooling pour spout & enjoy perfectly chilled wine,” reads the pamphlet and the side of the box. “It’s that easy.”

Except that it’s not. The next paragraph tells you to make sure that reds are at room temperature and that whites are pre-chilled for two hours in the fridge or 15 minutes in the freezer. As in what you’d be doing already. Nor does the information tell you what to do with that first glass of imperfectly chilled wine. You also have to chill the spout for two hours in the freezer before using it. So unless you want to keep the spout in the freezer as a matter of course, you’re not that far ahead of the game. We tried using it to chill room-temperature wine, which it didn’t do at all.

So what does the cooling pour spout do? Not much, really, beyond keeping the wine left in your bottle somewhat cooler while you’re drinking that first glass than if you didn’t have it. This has its place, we suppose, during the hot summer months when we did our testing of the spout. But even then, a bucket of ice would do the same thing. The advantage to the spout is that you don’t have a wet, dripping bottle to contend with. And that’s assuming you don’t want to just leave the half-full bottle in the fridge while you’re drinking your first glass.

Apparently, you can also use the spout’s plug to keep your bottle fresh while you recharge the spout in the freezer. Which doesn’t exactly make sense to us, because you’ll be freezing your wine. Well, wine doesn’t freeze that well at normal freezer temperatures because of the alcohol. Still, you can stopper the half-full bottle up and put it on its side in the freezer without leaks. Hm. We decided we didn’t want to test that one.

Getting wine cooled down quickly is an issue sometimes. Say you’ve just gotten home from work and want a nice bottle to go with dinner and it will take an hour or two in the fridge and you don’t want to wait that long to eat. Even 20 minutes in the freezer is pushing it, but it does work, especially if your freeze your glasses, as well. The fastest way we know to chill wine (or any other beverage for that matter) is to use salted ice water. Salt lowers the freezing temperature of the water, which then transfers all that nice coldness to your bottle. But it does take several minutes.

Keeping your wine cold, however, isn’t that hard, really. You just put it in your fridge or the cooler that you brought with you to the picnic. Spending $18 to $20 on this gizmo to do essentially the same thing – that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Especially when the cooler or the fridge works just as well, if not better.


Local Hot Spot and Why Drink Wine by the Glass

Laurent Perrier Champagne - great stuff!

Laurent Perrier Champagne – great stuff!

It’s seriously too bad that French Wine Week, as celebrated around the world by Sofitel, the French hotel chain, happened in the middle of the Fall TV Season Premiere Week. With up to four shows premiering a night for two solid weeks, let’s just say Anne really needed a happy hour break. So when we were invited to the newly renovated Riviera 31 bar at Sofitel Los Angeles (just across the Beverly Center on Beverly Boulevard) by the bar’s management, we went. Happily. It’s just that Anne was too busy writing reviews during that time to report back here.

But we had a lovely, lovely time and were reminded of a significant lesson in the world of wine.


The nice folks at Riviera 31 are working on making this quite the destination for a fun post-work drink and/or evening out. The bar, which has been newly renovated and is quite plush, with lots of comfy chairs and sofas, is featuring live entertainment most nights of the week. They have a special hors-d’oeuvres menu, including some lovely short rib sliders, for $8, and a dish of olives with pitas for $3. The wines are still running between $6 to $12 a glass.

Now, wine snobs will tell you that the last thing you want to do is buy wine by the glass, and in many cases, we’d have to agree. See, the problem is that once a bottle is opened, oxygen gets into it and starts reacting with the wine. When it’s the bottle you’ve just opened to go with your dinner, this is a good thing. All those nice smells called “The Nose” start floating into all that oxygen and you smell it as you drink and it’s yummy. It’s just not so yummy when all those smells have dissipated after hours and hours of being open and now the oxygen is reacting with the other flavor elements in the wine and it starts tasting all pruney and sweet and off. This is often what happens, mostly to red wines, at bars where they don’t know how to take care of their wines and aren’t selling a lot of it.

But at bars and restaurants where wine is a major feature and they’re obviously selling a lot of it, it’s a lot safer to buy wine by the glass. And bars, like Riviera 31, do know how to protect their open reds by either gassing them or vacuum-sealing them. Or they’re selling so much of it, the bottles don’t have a chance to sit around open for hours and hours. Whites don’t tend to react with oxygen quite as quickly as reds do, so keeping an open bottle in the fridge for a night or two isn’t going to hurt it as much.

So if you’re out and don’t want to buy a whole bottle, say you’re just at a pit stop before going to the theatre or after, and you don’t really want a cocktail, and you’re not at a place where wine is a priority, you’re safest buying either the house white or house red. That’s the wine the place is selling the most of, which means there’s less of it hanging around open. You could ask the waitstaff or bartender when the red was last opened. If said person doesn’t know, pass.

The other thing to note about Riviera 31, is that the managers really want to make this a preferred pit stop. Yes, it’s in the high rent part of L.A., and parking will set you back $12 for the evening. But all in all, it’s not that expensive for an evening out when you just want a nibble and a nice glass of wine. And one of the groups we saw the night we were there – Paris Chansons – will be back on November 12. They were really a lot of fun, including some darned good music that wasn’t too loud. While live entertainment can be lots of fun, for us, we tend to want quiet when we go out. The good news is that the bar does have a few quieter spots in the back corners where you can have a conversation.

So while the management was sponsoring the party we were at, we will be back – maybe to hear Paris Chansons. After all, a good bit of wine by the glass is a lovely thing.


Sangria – For the Shear Fun of It

What some folks think Sangria is.

What some folks think Sangria is.

The photo to the left is what some folks think Sangria is all about – an elegant wine punch for parties made from a ruby red wine slightly sweetened with a nice brandy and loaded with all manner of citrus and other fruits.

Now, when Anne read the admonishment that you really should use a good wine for your base, she sniggered. Somebody obviously had his snob on. Sangria is basically a wine punch that originated in Spain. Nobody knows who invented it, mostly because the practice of adding fruit, sugar, spices and other flavorings to wine has been around for millenia. The reason that Spain became associated with sangria, specifically, is probably because Spain is one of the world’s top 10 citrus-producing nations in the world, and lemons, limes and oranges are the primary elements of sangria.

But, see, here’s the thing about wine punches. They were probably invented when some wine steward noticed that My Lord’s wine had gone a bit off and rather than loose one’s position or even head over it, said steward tossed in some fruit, honey or sugar, watered it back a bit, and voila, something new and yummy. And given that folks didn’t really have a lot of the science and tools that we have now, we’re guessing that bad wine was a lot more common.

So sangria has probably always been about making the best of a bad situation, and we’re seriously cool with that. You see, when Michael first starting making wine at home, some of his efforts were, well, less than good. They weren’t horrible, but they weren’t all that great, either. Even now that Michael’s wine is getting really, really good, when something goes off with this batch or that, we’re not thrilled, but we are consoled by the knowledge that we have plenty of sangria in the offing. Bad wine makes great sangria.

And why shouldn’t it? First up, all that lemon, lime and orange juice makes for some pretty strong flavors. Then there’s the sugar and water that you add. With all those extra flavors, if you’re using a bottle that cost you more than $5 to make sangria, you’re wasting your money. You’re not going to catch the different flavors of the wine – it’s all covered up by the fruit and sugar, and brandy, if you add the latter.

So while sangria can be an elegant way to stretch the wine budget for your party, we think it’s all about the picture at the right – basic, cold and delicious. And because it’s watered down (we don’t add brandy), it’s not as alcoholic, either. This is a Good Thing.

What we think sangria is

What we think sangria is

Our sangria recipe is pretty basic and can be varied according to taste. Slice up a lemon, a lime and an orange or two and put that  into a pitcher that can hold a couple liters or quarts. Pour a bottle of wine (red or white – most sangria is made from red wine, but white works, too) over the fruit, add half again as much water, then some simple syrup (or sugar water that has been boiled down to make it syrupy – you can use straight up sugar, but simple syrup mixes better). Chill or just serve over a glass filled with ice. You can vary the fruit and even leave it in the pitcher for a few days and re-charge with more wine, if you like. Only be aware that after more than five or six days, the peels on the citrus can make the whole thing rather bitter, so taste first before recharging.

Have fun with your sangria. Try different fruits with your citrus. Try different wines. But don’t stress because while it can be dressed up, it’s also a great thing to have in the fridge after a long hard day at work.

Wine and Travel, A Philosophic Musing (We’re Blog Hopping with Generation Fabulous!)

At Pacque et Fils winery in Montagne de Rilly

At Pacque et Fils winery in Montagne de Rilly

We’re participating in the monthly Generation Fabulous Blog Hop again. After you’re done reading, please check out some of the other great blogs on Transformative Travel:

The wanderlust is kicking in again. This is no mere “gee, I could use a vacation.” The call is intense and inexorable. It’s the relentless nagging of the spirit, a haunting whisper in the back of the brain, something deep – primal even – pushing, begging, calling. It’s time to pack the bags. It’s way past time to put on all five senses and be anywhere but here.

We take lots of photos when we travel, but it’s more about trying to create something beautiful than to capture some essence. Photographs simply cannot capture the grandeur, majesty and utter beauty of the Grand Canyon. But if we catch the light just right, then there is something new that is beautiful, too.

Nor do we take pictures to remind ourselves of what a good time we had. We don’t need to. We have a photo somewhere around here of a man and his adult daughter that we met in the Zaca Mesa tasting room. Their names are lost, their faces fuzzy, even what, exactly, we talked about for so long is gone. But the joy of the time spent connecting, laughing, comparing notes, debating, that joy remains and always will.

The sites stick with us because they are the first part of the experience – the ivy-covered beauty of St. Emillion, medieval, yet so modern Bruges, Belgium, and the dog sitting in the window over the canal, the double rainbow over the road leading up to Cambria’s tasting room. But we have four other senses, and we travel on those as well.

The sound of a blues harmonica rising above the clatter of an active square in San Francisco, punctuated by the singular sound of a cable car bell. A man in running shorts and shoes and nothing else playing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring on a guitar, in a square in Sarlat, France. The roar of the ocean and the utter stillness of the Grand Canyon.

The smell of dough hitting hot fat, the diesel fumes that permeated the city of Liège, the salt of sea air, and then its absence as the boat got further out to sea.

The rough nubbly texture of hand-made lace, purchased from the woman who made it, her hands whipping threaded bobbins around pins so fast it’s hard to imagine keeping them straight. The rich feel of yarns at the shop discovered in North Oakland, next to an Ethiopian restaurant, where we had lunch. We also found a market across the street that sold green coffee beans that Michael bought and roasted.

And there’s taste – an amazing pot of mussels in Bruges, thin cut pork chops covered in a dark mustard beer sauce at a restaurant in Maredsous, accompanied by an off-dry pinot noir from Alsace. It’s the food and the wine that stays with us, and we don’t mean on the hips, although Anne sometimes feels that pain. The turkey in cream sauce in Reims, France, served with an icy cold pitcher of dry rosé. It was the dregs of what bistro had to offer since they, like everyone else in town, were making ready to go on the traditional month-long vacation. But it was so good and as Anne’s sister noted, so much better than relying on MacDonald’s. It’s dried sausages and cold, grilled artichokes on the patio of an old ivy-covered winery, sitting and chatting with friends, one of whom happened to work there. Then there was the hot, sweet taste of Mendocino pinot noir that had only been picked a few days before and was going through its primary fermentation.

It’s the moments, like Anne trying to translate Michael’s technical questions about making Champagne for the wine maker at the cave in Montagne de Rilly, France, because the wine maker had enough English to do a cave tour, but not enough to explain fermenting temperatures and what brix the grapes were picked at. Or the look of utter resignation on the face of Anne’s daughter as she got into the back seat of the car and discovered she was going to be sharing it with a 20-0dd gallon fermenting barrel of merlot grapes. Or the horror that night when we discovered that the motel next to the Oakland Coliseum had turned into Raider Nation, and the fans partied all night long. Literally.

It’s realizing that the tasting flight of five bourbons in Bardstown, Kentucky, aren’t just tasting sips, but full-two-fingered shots. Thank the lord we had plenty to eat with that one. Or running back and forth between the buffet and the sports book at the Rio hotel in Las Vegas as we ate and handicapped the ponies.

It’s all that and more.

The wanderlust is kicking in again, whispering, nagging, pulling. Walking through the tunnel at Union Station one feels the deep-seated need to hop on a train and make new memories and find new experiences and taste new foods. Yes, it’s time to go.

Review of “Wine Wars” and finding your place on the wine wall

Mike got really excited about the book Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, The Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terroirists, so he’s writing in his own voice today with a short review:

I know we don’t regularly review books on OBG but we do leave ourselves that “anything that strikes fancy” loophole. So let me own the fact that a book by a wine economist on the global wine market that  manages to educate in non-technical terms and names the names that anyone will recognize is one that I highly recommend and I will be purchasing for my own reading. So the Pasadena Public Library can expect their copy of Wine Wars back on time for a change.

Author Mike Veseth, a blogger at WineEconomist.com and a professor at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, presents a worldview of wine that OBG readers will recognize as being whatever you want the stuff to be – daily beverage, special occasion or anytime – and that the market will respond to what the consumer wants and is very deliberate about going about doing it. So you should feel encouraged that the pursuit of your wine dollar by the owners of Trader Joes, Costco and other merchants will make them do anything you want.

Veseth’s book as it is an easy pick up and drop text or a great discussion topic for a “wine and wisdom” reading group. Veseth makes the dismal science a lot more enjoyable with or without a glass nearby. It’s a textbook disguised as a a balanced exposé of the global wine biz. I plan on buying it knowing full well that the revised future edition are likely given the speed at which things change. But we stress that wine is a moving target and that YOU know what tastes good to you. Veseth leaves the experiential part up to the reader. So would we if we were writing a book like this.


Calibration Tasting Time, Thanks to Mirassou Sunset Red

2013-06-19 20.07.19Truth be told, we’ve never been big fans of the whole pay for play phenomenon – where companies send bloggers their products in exchange for a nice blurb or review. Blame it on Anne’s journalistic background, where there was this virtual firewall between the content and the advertising sides of the business. Or there was supposed to be.

And then, one of Anne’s colleagues from Generation Fabulous. Chloe Jeffreys, hooked up with a publicist for Mirassou wines and Chloe asked Anne (and the other GenFab women) to help out. Well, gee. If there’s wine involved, we’re always ready to lend a hand.

So while we don’t normally accept wine samples for review, we thought what the heck, and since Mirassou is widely-available and retails for around $12, why not write it up as a calibration tasting?

What, you ask, is a calibration tasting? It’s a way to kick sand in the metaphorical face of wine snobs who think that there is only one way to taste wine. Reality check, no two tongues (or noses) experience flavor in exactly the same way. So if Mike is tasting cherries and you’re thinking, “I’m tasting raspberry. What’s wrong with me?” there is absolutely nothing wrong. Yours and Michael’s tongue just perceive the given wine in different ways. And let’s not even get into what Anne does or does not taste. So a calibration tasting is where we write up what Mike tasted and you compare it to what you tasted, so you know that when Michael tasted cherries, you’re most likely going to taste raspberries and then when we do tasting notes, they will make more sense to you because you can substitute what you taste for what we write.

Okay. So the wine re received for review was the Mirassou 2011 Sunset Red blend, and it is an interesting one, too. For one thing, it’s a blend of pinot noir, merlot and zinfandel. Now, you won’t see it on the label too often, but it’s not all that unusual for winemakers to add a bit of zin to punch up the fruit flavors in some wines. Keep in mind, wineries can call a wine by a single variety name, such as cabernet sauvignon, as long as at least 75 percent of the wine came from that grape. So there could be up to 25 percent zinfandel in that cab sauv, but the winery doesn’t have to say so.

That being said, nobody, but nobody blends pinot noir. For one thing, it’s too expensive. Or folks are just too persnickety about the variety. It doesn’t mean that pinot noir can’t be blended or shouldn’t be blended. It just very rarely is. Which is something that makes the Sunset Red stand out right there.

What we got was a very nice party wine, with a dark color. The nose also presented with some black or blue berry. In short, both color and nose were zin-like without the icky jamminess that Anne so violently despises. Flavor-wise, Michael picked up on cherry, vanilla and berry flavors and some nice acidity, although that eventually opened up after an hour or so and lost the acidity in favor of more fruit and creamy richness. All in all, it was a very nice party wine, in that it tastes really good by itself, but it can still (especially when first opened) stand up to a nice salad and grilled steak.

Let us know what you think in the comments.