Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday 51: Baked Goods

I'm not much of a fan of sweet wines, but I enjoyed the results of participating in this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday. The topic is Madeira: The wine the American colonists drank (according to the Wine Bible we were responsible for importing a fourth of all the Madeira made.)

One of the unique steps in making Madeira is how it is aged. Like port, the fermentation process in a Madeira is halted by introducing clear brandy, which neutralizes the yeast. Your left with a "fortified" wine (read high alcohol content: 17-20%) with varying amounts of sweetness based on how much fermentation went on. Next comes the special step: heating. The original process was accomplished when the Madeira would get hot in cargo holds aboard ships that carried the wine from Portugal to the world. The result was actual enhancement to the flavor, a caramel, toffee flavor.

Some modern Madeiras are heated to achieve this effect. But the better quality wines are aged naturally over years in attics. This can take anywhere from 5 to 20 years. Different grapes can be used resulting in sweater or richer wines. Raisin and caramel are the distinct notes you'll find when drinking a Madeira.

I once had a wine that had been accidentaly oxidized. The wine had a distinct raisin flavor that grew overwelming as I drank it: an unpleasant experience! However, the Madeira I drank for this post was very enjoyable. It too had the raisin flavor and even what could be considered a "burnt" flavor. However, these didn't become overwhelming as I drank the wine. The sugar content was balanced by the alcohol. The wine had a nice medium body that felt nice in my mouth.

The grape used to produce the Madeira I had is called Bual. Bual grapes are grown in warm vineyards and make concentrated Madeiras with a medium-rich style. This style is lighter than port and the malmsey style of Madeira.

I enjoyed the Bual Madeira on it's own mostly. I tried it with ice cream, too, almost like a topping. The raisin flavor added a nice contrast to the sweet, richness of the vanilla in the ice cream. I'm not sure this is how our founding father's enjoyed the wine, but it worked for me!

Cossart Gordon 15 year Madeira Bual (19% alcohol)

Color: Reddish bronze

Aroma: Port like, raisins and caramel

Taste: Smooth mouth feel, raisins

Finish: Nutty with raisin


This edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday gives me my 52nd grape in my quest for the Century Wine Club!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Taste of Rhone

I finally opened a bottle of wine from my first shipment from wine distributor Garagiste. I wanted to start with something familiar so I selected a French syrah based wine from the Northern Rhone. I love the flavor of syrah and especially the style from Rhone. I still like the big, bold flavors of an Australian Shiraz, but to get a distinct flavor of the grape without a lot of fruit the Rhone can't be beat.

The Domaine de Montine Seduction is 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier. I couldn't detect what flavors or aromas were contributed by the Viognier. For that matter, I couldn't pick out any distinct fruit. But when I smelled and tasted the wine, I thought Rhone! I went to a Rhone wine tasting two years ago and really enjoyed the wines. There was an almost rubber smell and taste to the wines. This sounds bad, but it is just what I have come to associate with the unique character of a Rhone. This was a 2006 bottle, so maybe it needed to age more for the fruit to be expressed better. But the wine was very enjoyable as it was. I do wish I had purchased two bottles and been able to save one for four years to experience it with more age. Maybe next time!

This wine would have gone really well with a hearty meat dish, especially one with a gamey flavor to it like duck or maybe venison. My wife and I enjoyed it all by itself, but I think we missed out. This is a great start for my Garagiste wine stash!

Tasting Notes:

Color: Deep purple

Aroma: Rhone (for lack of being able to smell better), rubber

Taste: Rhone, again I'm lacking in skill here

Finish: Long and enjoyable. Really nice tannins that would compliment a red meat dish well

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Opening The First Case

I was afraid I'd have to wait another day for my first case of wine from Garagiste. I was crestfallen. The email from UPS said the package would arrive by 7:00 PM and my watch showed 7:03. What went wrong? My wife told me to go pick up some food and maybe by the time I got back the wine would be here. I doubted it. Somehow, when you anticipate something so much, the disappointment of a deley causes you to lose hope.

I went to the car, pressed the garage opener button and expected to be blocked by the UPS van. The driveway was clear. Sighing heavily, I pulled out and then drove off to get a late dinner. Normally we go to my mother's church for dinner on Wednesday night, but I stayed home so as not to miss the delivery. We could have gone.

On the way back I tried to cheer up by thinking about what I'd do tomorrow night when the delivery arrived. I'd slowly open the box and stare at the contents: 12 bottles of special grape juice. A few of the bottles would contain wine made from grapes I'd never tried before. Some would be familiar grapes but made in a way I hadn't tried. Probably some I wouldn't like at all, but I'd enjoy them just the same.

I had created a spreadsheet from the list of my wines on the Garagiste web site. I added notes from the emails with descriptions of each wine that Jon Rimmerman had written. I planned to use these notes in my wine blog when I reported on them. I wondered which wine I'd write a post on first...and then I saw it: the UPS van was parked in front of my house! The driver was getting back into the van! He was driving away. The wine had arrived after all! After parking the car and grabbing the food I made myself walk into the house. There it sat by the front door: my first case of Garagiste wine!

It took a long time to match the wines with the sheet I had printed up. I read each label, learning where each bottle had come from and which grapes each wine was made from. There were ten bottles from Italy (I must have ordered most of these while under the influence of reading Vino Italiano) and two from France. Ten of them were red and two white. I'm glad we don't own a video camera: I'd hate to see the silly grin I had on my face a I loving placed each bottle in the wine fridge.

I didn't drink any of the wine last night (did I eat the food?); that will be for another time. Instead I had a different kind of enjoyment from the wine. To savor the opening of a box will be a rare event. It was a lot like I remember Christmas morning used to be when I was a kid.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Waiting for Wine

Today's the day!

My first shipment from Garagiste is due today. I went a little crazy after finding out about this online wine dealer and bought two cases of wine over a 6 month period. However, I have not had delivery of any of the wine because they don't ship wine during the hot summer months.

I found out about Garagiste from a posting by Dr Debs on her "Great Wine Under $20" blog. What attracted me to Garagiste was:

  1. The wine is very well priced (provided you don't order too much)

  2. The wines featured were different from wines I normally drink

  3. I love shopping by mail

When I was a kid I would eat through a box of cereal as fast as I could so I could cut out the boxtops to save for a prize like a Matchbox car. When I had enough box tops, I'd mail them in and wait for my prize. It seemed to take forever, 6-8 weeks is an eternity to a ten-year-old! The day I opened the mailbox and found that special box from the cereal company was like Christmas!

I feel like that all over again today. It's UPS that will be delivering my 38 pound box, but the feeling is the same. When I open that box it's going to be like I've found a treasure box. Wines from all over the world (Spain, France, Australia, Portugal, Italy) are in that box. Juice from grapes I've never tasted will be present. I've waited so long (6 months is an eternity to a 50 year-old!) for this delivery that I want to relish each bottle.

My wine fridge has just one bottle in it right now. I'm going to have fun tonight as I fill it back up! I hope someone is home when UPS arrives; I can't stand to wait one more day!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Foxy's Fall Century

I'm signed up for my first century: Foxy's Fall Century on October 18, 2008. It's the day after my 50th birthday!

I'm also registered for the Auburn Metric Century. I think this one will be more difficult because of the hills. It's on September 20th. That will give me a month to recover!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Better Attitudes About Fat

From Bicycling Magazine

Get Lean Not Light
Simply losing weight isn't the answer. The key to peak perfomance and better overall health is learning to feed your muscles--and starve your fat.
By Matt Fitzgerald
©C.J. Burton

We're all obsessed with weight loss.

More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and we spend billions each year on products and services that promise to help us shed pounds. Cyclists typically aren't overweight by average American standards, but we're nonetheless fixated on weight, wanting to make bike and body alike ever lighter in a quest for better performance. Yet the latest research shows we've all misplaced our focus, and that body composition is a much better indicator of overall health and fitness.

"Body weight tells us nothing about health," says exercise--nutrition expert John Berardi, an adjunct associate professor of exercise science at the University of Texas at Austin. "You could be 165 pounds and quite lean, or 165 pounds and quite fat. Regardless of your weight, the higher your body-fat percentage, the greater your risk of fat-related illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers."

In terms of measuring performance potential, the bathroom scale is equally useless, says Paul Goldberg, a Colorado-based dietitian and coauthor of The Lean Look. "It doesn't distinguish muscle mass, which enhances performance, from fat mass, which hinders performance," he says. The key to going faster on a bike is improving your power-to-weight ratio, by either raising your power output or lowering your weight, or both. Power comes from muscle, so the best way to tune your body for better performance is to maintain your muscles while shedding only fat to lose weight.

Eating for pure weight loss tends to lead to the loss of both fat and muscle, as well as to undereating. "Undereating carries with it a host of problems such as deficiencies in key vitamins and minerals, reduced muscle glycogen storage, loss of muscle mass and diminished power output," says Berardi. Inadequate carbohydrate intake may reduce blood volume as a by-product of depleted glycogen stores (because glycogen is stored with water), and insufficient protein consumption limits your muscles' work capacity. "Each of these factors is a performance killer," says Berardi. Combined, you don't stand a chance. Eating for leanness is more complicated than simply restricting calories. On one hand, you need to provide muscles with the nutrition they need to function optimally. On the other, you need to deliberately starve your body's excess fat so it's broken down to provide energy for muscles and never replaced. The key is in consuming the right kinds of calories at the right times throughout the day. Here are 10 proven strategies.

1. Monitor your body-fat percentage to be sure you're eating enough calories.
The typical cyclist needs to consume 15 to 18 calories per pound of body weight per day to maintain muscle mass, but don't waste your time counting calories, advises Goldberg. "Counting calories is like tracking every pitch of a baseball game," he says. "Stepping on a body-fat scale is like jumping straight to the final score." If your body fat holds steady or decreases, you're getting enough calories. If it goes up, even though your weight may be holding steady or decreasing, it's a sign that your body is breaking down muscle because you're not consuming enough calories.

2. Consume at least 0.5 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
Protein is the primary structural component of muscle. Research shows that this is the minimum level of daily consumption required to maintain muscle in endurance athletes engaged in moderate to heavy training.

3. Eat a high-carb meal before each ride
An example is to eat a bowl of oatmeal or a vegetable stir-fry with brown rice. Also, during rides lasting more than one hour, consume carbs on the bike; the simplest way is to sip a sports drink according to your thirst. "Ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with carbohydrate fuel for training will minimize the amount of muscle tissue that is broken down to provide fuel," says Goldberg.

4. Drink or eat a recovery supplement or snack within an hour of finishing a ride.
In this time frame, the body uses carbohydrate and proteins most efficiently to replenish and rebuild muscles. A study from Ontario's McMaster University found that female cyclists maintained muscle mass and performed better during a period of increased training when they consumed a carb-protein supplement immediately after workouts, rather than with breakfast.

5. Limit your consumption of extremely calorie-dense foods
These include ice cream and just about anything fried. These foods provide far more calories than your body needs to meet short-term energy needs. When you eat these, the excess calories are stored as fat.

6. Fat Consumption Goal: 25%
Keep fat consumption to no more than 30 percent of total calories, and ideally no more than 25 percent. The average American consumes 34 percent of daily calories from fat--and remember, the average American is overweight.

7. Get most of your carbohydrates from low-glycemic-index sources
These include vegetables and whole grains. Carbs from these foods are slowly absorbed into your bloodstream for longer-lasting energy; carbs from sweets and refined grains are rapidly absorbed. Choose low-GI foods at all times except during and immediately after rides, when quickly absorbed sugars will replenish glycogen stores fast.

8. Divide your daily calories over four to six eating occasions, not just two or three. "Eating frequently encourages smaller portions," says Berardi, "and eating smaller portions minimizes the number of excess calories you're likely to consume each time you eat."

9. Concentrate your calorie intake during times of greater energy needs
These times are first thing in the morning and before and after rides. Your body is least likely to store calories as fat when your muscle and/or liver glycogen reserves are low, such as when you wake up, and during and after exercise.

10. Get enough omega-3 fatty acids.
Known for boosting heart health, the omega-3 fats found in foods such as wild salmon, flaxseed and mackerel may also promote leanness. One study from Berardi's lab showed a 400--calorie-per-day increase in metabolic rate, -1 kilogram of fat lost and 1 kilogram of lean mass gained in subjects who supplemented with fish oil daily for three weeks.

Matt Fitzgerald, coauthor of The Lean Look, is a health and fitness writer in San Diego.
How Lean Should I Be?
Your optimal body-fat level depends on many factors, including gender, age, genetic makeup and your starting point. To find your ideal level, eat right and train smart, then see where you end up. Based on testing large numbers of people, this table, adapted from John Berardi's Precision Nutrition, a multi-media nutrition kit for athletes (precisionnutrition.com), can serve as a rough guideline. Most cyclists should aim to be within the athletic range, at least. Not everyone can reach the elite range.


Age: 25-30
Elite: <9%
Athletic: 9-12%
Average: 13-16%
High Fat: 17-19%
Overfat: 20%+

Age: 31-40
Elite: <11%
Athletic: 11-13%
Average: 14-17%
High fat: 18-22%
Overfat: 23%+

Age: 41-50
Elite: <12%
Athletic: 12-15%
Average: 16-20%
High fat: 21-25%
Overfat: 26%+

Age: 50+
Elite: <13%
Athletic: 13-16%
Average: 17-21%
High fat: 22-27%
Overfat: 28%+


Age: 20-30
Elite: <17%
Athletic: 17-20%
Average: 21-23%
High fat: 24-27%
Overfat: 28%+

Age: 31-40
Elite: 31-40
Athletic: 18-21%
Average: 22-25%
High fat: 26-29%
Overfat: 30%+

Age: 41-50
Elite: <20%
Athletic: 20-23%
Average: 24-27%
High fat: 28-31%
Overfat: 32%+

Age: 50+
Elite: <21%
Athletic: 21-24%
Average: 25-28%
High fat: 29-35%
Overfat: 36%+
Step On It
Track your progress the easy way.

Body-fat scales ($40?$150) use a technology called bioelectrical impedance, in which the device sends a weak electrical current through your body and measures the degree to which your tissues resist it. Muscle impedes the current more than fat. "This method is not quite as accurate as more-involved ways to estimate body fat," says dietitian Paul Goldberg. "But what body-fat scales lack in precision they make up for in consistency." In Bicycling's experience, these scales tend to measure high, but are useful for tracking changes--you don't get an accurate value, but you'll know if you're making progress.

Be sure to buy one with an "athlete" mode, which uses a slightly more accurate calculation for people who are already fairly lean. Goldberg recommends the Tanita Ironman line of body-fat scales, all of which are tuned for athletes. In addition to body-fat percentage, higher-end scales such as the Ironman BC-549 ($150; tanita.com) also estimate your hydration level, bone mass, basal metabolic rate and visceral fat.

The Get-Lean Meal Plan
What--and when--to eat to blast fat and boost energy.

This sample menu from sports-nutrition expert John Berardi assumes a rider weight of 165 pounds and a two-hour ride. It supplies 2,500 to 3,000 calories, depending on portion sizes, so adjust portions up or down based on differences in your weight or workout time.


Omelet with 2 whole eggs and 2 egg whites

1/2 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup fruit and 1/2 cup mixed nuts

1 cup coffee or green tea

Large glass of water


Smoothie made with 1 cup low-fat or unsweetened soy milk, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1*2 cup fresh or frozen berries, 1 cup spinach, 1 tbsp. flaxseed


Chicken salad with two 4-oz. chicken breasts, spinach and a variety of other vegetables, plus olive oil and vinegar dressing

1 piece of fruit

Large glass of water


1 slice whole-grain bread with 1 tbsp. all-natural peanut butter

1 cup baby carrots

Large glass of water


6-oz. piece of fish such as salmon or orange roughy

1/2 cup wild rice

2 cups steamed veggies

Large glass of water

Postworkout Recovery

Drink or snack containing 50g carbohydrate and 25g protein

2 cups low-fat chocolate milk


Supplement your diet with 3,000mg of fish oil daily with meals, says Berardi.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Price and Wine Enjoyment

I heard a story on NPR the other day about how people get better results from taking expensive pills — even when the "expensive pill" is a placebo with no active medical ingredients. It’s amazing what our minds will do when we anticipate that something is better.

The same results were discovered from research done on the correlation between enjoyment of wine and the price of the wine. The majority of the time, when people drank what they thought was a more expensive wine; they enjoyed it better than the less expensive wine. A wine that retailed for $90 was sampled by different groups of people. When they were told the true price, they loved it. When other people were told that the wine was just a $10 wine, they didn’t rate it as highly.

What’s even scarier to me is what was going on inside the test subjects’ brains. While the subjects tasted and evaluated the wines, their brains were scanned using an MRI, focusing on the activity of a brain region that is involved in our experience of pleasure. The researchers concluded that, "prices, by themselves, affect activity in an area of the brain that is thought to encode the experienced pleasantness of an experience”!

So much for trying to be objective about wine.

I’ve been facing a choice lately as my budget gets stretched with rising gas and food prices. Do I buy cheaper wine or quality wine less often? This study makes me think that perhaps I just need to learn more about what wines I like and find the great bargains out there. If I can learn to ignore the price tag and concentrate just on the wine itself, I may be able to drink wine with every dinner meal after all.

I wonder if that’s possible given the following statement from one of the researchers:

"If you think about it, the brain should only be influenced by the core components of the wine — its chemical composition. It should not be influenced by something like price," Shiv said. "But in the study we found a functional change in activity in different areas of the brain despite the same chemicals being experienced."

Maybe I need to have my wife buy all the wine and label each bottle with a price tag that says $100!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

There's a Cheetah in my Bottle

Certain parts of the world are known for a particular grape. Pinotage is that grape for South Africa. I’d bet that not many people consider Pinotage their favorite grape, but I found my first sample of a wine made from this grape interesting.

Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut created in 1925. The hope was to create a grape with the great flavor of Pinot Noir and the hearty growing strengths of Cinsaut. In South Africa, Cinsaut was called “Hermitage” which explains how the grape is called Pinotage and not Pinotaut.

From what I’ve read about wines made from the grape, they can range from “light and fruity and best consumed young to heavy and tannic examples that needed years to reach maturity.” Flavors of pepper, black fruits, spiciness and acetone are used to describe these wines. It appears that these wines can have an unattractive earthiness. One site said that Pinotage has “has enjoyed great success in a short amount of time but may have had its 15 minutes of fame.”

The wine I tried was a Sebeka Syrah-Pinotage blend. The wine is 60% Shiraz, 40% Pinotage. It reminded me of a cross between a Syrah and a Zinfandel with nice fruit (but not sweet) a little jammy and some pepper flavor. At times the wine seemed to turn a little harsh (maybe the earthiness of the pinotage) on the back of my tongue as I swallowed it. It was almost the same experience as drinking an earthy French wine, but not quite as pleasant.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy this wine, but for the $5 I was able to buy it for, it was a nice wine. I found it interesting that the same wine was $10 at another store in town. It probably would not have picked it up for that price. The chettah on the label normally would put me off as a little too much marketing effort to sell a wine that can’t stand up on its own merits. Jerry Hall who used to have a wine blog called Wine Waves reviewed a wine from Sebeka and posted a great picture of the over for the Sebeka brand (though the yellow cheetah spotted cork is cool!) Gallo Wineries owns the Sebeka label, but the grapes are grown in South Africa and made into wine there. There is even a cheetah endangered species fund associated with the wine, but I don't know how much of this is marketing and much it really helps the animals.

I bought a bottle of 100% pinotage to get a better taste of what the varietal is like. But I think I can call Pinotage my grape # 57 in my Century quest.

Tasting Notes:

Sebeka Syrah Pinotage "Cape Blend" (13.5% alcohol)

Color: Dark cranberry

Aroma: Cherry, zinfandel and syrah like

Flavor: Cherry, like a jammy syrah with a hint of black pepper

Finish: Mild tannins but an earthy bite, unpleasant at times

This wine went really well with garlic, pepper spiced Tri-Tip.

Friday, June 13, 2008

You Only Live Twice

"Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone
in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning.
But there's another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives
everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it.
Looks at the texture and detail."
Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones, page 48

I have not been posting about wine for almost three months now. There are several "reasons" but the biggest one has been lack of funds. I was buying wine and blogging about them at a rate beyond what my budget was able to handle. I decided to stop blogging to decrease the temptation to buy so much wine.

Then I came across Natalie Goldberg's quote, the one at the top of this page. If I really want to cut back on my spending but still enjoy wine, what better way than to drink each bottle twice!?! I still drink wine, I still want to learn more, I still want to share in this cool blogging world.

I may have ruined my credibility as a blogger by abandoning my blog without a warning, but I'm back and I will keep posting. I can't wait to read everyone else's blogs like I had been doing so regularly. What better way to experience wine than by sharing it with others.

Sorry for the absence...hope to read from you soon!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday: French Cab Franc

This month's host for Wine Blogging Wednesday is Gary Vaynerchuk from Wine Library TV and the topic is French Cabernet Franc. I wasn't able to find a wine that was from a majority of this grape but I did find a nice wine. First, a little information about the grape. (Click on the Wine Blogging Wednesday logo to learn more about this monthly blogging event.)

Cabernet Franc (Cab Franc) is one of the six red grapes permitted to be grown in the Boredeaux. Depending on how it's grown, Cab Franc can be both fruitier or more "vegetative" than Cabernet Sauvignon, although lighter in color and tannins. Wines made from 100% Cab Franc tend to have a spicy aroma and plums. The grape is usually blended with either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot instead of as a stand-alone wine. It "contributes finesse and a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes."

The wine I tried was from the Fronsac region on the "Right bank" of Bordeaux. The Fronsac is located where the Isle River flows into the large Dordogne River. This creates a microclimate that reduces night frosts in spring and cools the summer's heat. The steep slopes in Fronsac help the Bordeaux grape varieties grown here create powerful and complex wines. The soils are clay mixed with limestone.

Fronsac wines are described as being "masculine" and full-bodied. Grapes were grown in this are before the more famous Saint-Emilion just down the river. Merlot grows better here than Cabernet Sauvignon, so like other Right-bank areas, Fronsac is know for it's Merlot blends. Cab Franc is used to add spiciness and enhance the tannins.

The Bordeaux blend I tried for this WBW is from Chateau Villars, a two hundred year old winery in Fronsac. For the past two decades, the owners of Ch. Villars have been modernizing their vineyards and wine making practices. One example of this is that grapes are picked at maximum ripeness, causing the harvest to spread over several weeks. I learned from the book Nobel Rot (the Wine Book Club selection for April) that traditionally grapes were picked to insure maximum harvest before rains came. By waiting for maximum-ripeness, wines with fuller, fruitier flavors are produced.

The Ch. Villars wine I had was 75% Merlot, 18% Cab Franc and 8% Cab Sauvignon. It was 100% barrel-aged for a year in oak barrels, a third of which were brand new. This was a really nice Merlot, though it was different due to the amount of oak used. I had never been able to detect oak in a red wine before this wine, but it was definetly present in the Ch. Villars (Gary would make a comment about the "Oak Monster" I'm sure!) When I first smelled the wine, I could detect cherry and a fresh bread aroma. I couldn't name the fruit I tasted but there without being "fruit forward."

The wine has a medium mouth feel and really nice tannins that don't overpower the fruit or my toungue. Then just before I was about to swallow I could detect the oak. It wasn't excessive, but contributed to make the wine seem fuller. Some may not like it, though. The finish left a pleasant sour cherry taste and lasting tannins. This wine would be really good with food.

Its interesting how the oak effect the middle of my tongue more than any other area of my mouth. The oak also came back again in the finish. I've had other Merlots before, but I'm not sure what part the Cab Franc contributed to this wine to make it different. The oak was more detectable for me. I'll have to read other WBW posts today and try to find some of those wines to get a better feel for what Cab Franc offers. It would be cool to taste a 100% Cab Franc, a 100% Merlot, and then my Ch. Villars blend to see if I could then pick out the different varietals in the blend. I would definitely buy this wine again. The winery website said the wine will be best between 2012 to 2025. It would be nice to try it then to see how the wine deveolops.

Tasting Notes:

2005 Château Villars Fronsac ($19.99)

Color:  Dark purple

Aroma:  Cherry and bread (wonderful Merlot nose)

Taste:  Fruit and oak, medium mouth feel

Finish:  Sour cherry, medium tannins and oak

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April 2008 Events

This month holds several wine events for me, three in this week alone! Here's a run down of what April holds for me:

April Fool's Day:  Two events

The first event today is a virtual wine tasting being hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV fame titled "Gary's April Fool Surprise."

Gary has picked three different wines to review in this virtual tasting. Viewers cchoose to buy in advance and then taste along with him to compare notes. Shipping was free and you could buy either a one bottle pack, a two bottle pack or all three.

I went with the one bottle pack and I was VERY pleasantly surprised. Not only is it a great wine, there is a tie in with the Wine Blogging Book Club book of the month! I'll be drinking the wine and watching today's episode so I can compare notes with Gary and other viewers. I'll share my observations in a future blog post.

Midtown Winers:

Today is also the monthly meeting of an old fashioned wine tasting event where people actually gather together and taste the same wine and talk about it. Strange concept, but it's been working for quite a while at the Midtown Winers in Sacramento, CA. This month's topic is "Obscure Varietals," defined as the lesser know Bordeaux varietals of Petite Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. I bought a Petite Verdot to share. I also bought a Cabernet Franc, but that has to do with the next event.

April 2:  Wine Blogging Wednesday

This monthly virtual wine tasting event is also hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk and the theme is French Cabernet Franc. What a coincidence! I was not able to get a 100% Cab Franc, my wine only has 18% Cab Franc. I hope it counts. Maybe I'll run across a 100% Cab Franc at the Midtown Winers tonight. Either way, I enjoyed the Bordeaux wine I tasted for WBW # 44.

April 20:  Winery Event in Clarksburg

I'm going to need a break after this week! Fortunately the next event isn't until the middle of the month. A local winery, Scribner Bend Vineyards, is having a "release party" in Clarksburg. They have a varietal I've never tried a white wine from the Fiano grape! I enjoyed my trip to Clarksburg in March and it will be great to see the vineyards in full bloom a month later.

April 29:  Wine Blogging Book Club

The second book of the Wine Blogging Book Club is Nobel Rot. I've really been enjoying reading this book. It not only details a year in Bordeaux, but it gives great history of Bordeaux and details about making wine from grape to bottle.

Dates Through April:  My first Garagiste delivery

Dr. Debs, from Good Wine Under $20, wrote a post back in January about the hush, hush web-site Garagiste. The owners of the site get hard to find wines from all over the world for affordable prices. I intended to buy a case of Italian wines from Corti Brothers, but my plan was put on hold when I discovered this web site. I'll be receiving my first case from Garagiste this month. There are several wines from varietals I've never tried, some great sounding wines from great regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja and Scilily to name a few. I'll have even more interesting wine to blog about once the bottles start arriving!

Here's hoping your April is as promising looking as mine and that your April Fool's day is uneventful!

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Cheap Experiment

I was killing some time this weekend while I was waiting to pick up my son. While he finished his Magic tournament, I was browsing the wine isle of a nearby grocery store. A bottle on the discount table caught my eye. First, the price was only $3.29 and second, one of the grapes in it was one I haven't had before: Müller-Thurgau (# 56 towards my Century count.) I didn't expect much from this purchase but thought it would be a cheap way to start learning about the grape. I'm afraid I'm more confused now!

It appears that Müller-Thurgau is not held in high regard. This grape is a cross of Riesling and Silvaner created by Dr. Hermann Müller in an effort to bring the quality of Riesling to the productivity of Silvaner. I read in several places that the grape is great for growing in colder regions of the world because of it is early ripening and very productive. However, comments like "Müller-Thurgau has never been known for quality and is almost single-handedly responsible for the decline of Germany as a world power in fine wine production" made me wonder about how wine made from this grape would taste.

The wine I bought off the discount table was a Ludwig Neuhaus Piesporter Michelsberg made from 70% Riesling and the remainder from Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner. The first taste was sweet, but it wasn't an overpowering sweetness like I've had with other off-dry Rieslings. The wine had a different flavor, that I can only describe as nut like, though that doesn't quite fit. The wine was more interesting than I expected. The sweetness was balanced by acidity and changed into the "nutty" flavor. The finish, though laking any tannins, left a sour apple flavor. I was surprised at how much I liked the wine.

The sweetness didn't quite allow it to go well with food, but maybe I just didn't have it with the right dish. We had spaghetti noodles with asparagus, zucchini and tomatoes that had been sauteed in garlic and olive oil. By itself, this was a great sipping wine. I think it would be great to serve before dinner.

My lingering confusion comes from enjoying the wine so much but paying so little (I may be falling into the high price = good wine trap.) Also comments like:

"Piesporter Michelsberg is a sub-region of the Mosel surrounding Piesport, not a vineyard. The wines under this declaration mostly come from flat mediocre vineyards at best, and is almost always of very, very, very poor quality."
How to select German fine wine

make me wonder if my palate just isn't experienced enough.

Have you tried a Riesling with Müller-Thurgau that was enjoyable? Especially let me know if you've tried the wines from Ludwig Neuhaus. If I find any bottles of this left when I go back to the grocery store I plan to pick them up. This would make a great wine for the coming hot Sacramento weather.

Related Note:
Last week, Mike Dunne from the Sacramento Bee had an article on Riesling. One of the things he mentioned was an idea to use color coded circles on bottles of Riesling to help consumers know what kind of a Riesling they are buying. Colors "ranging from green for a perceptibly dry Riesling to red for a dessert Riesling, the sweetest of the genre," were suggested. Read the article and let me know what you think.

Tasting Notes:

2005 Ludwig Neuhaus Piesporter Michelsberg Qualitatswein (9% alcohol, $3.29 on sale)

Color:  Light golden yellow

Aroma:  grass

Taste:  light sweetness, nutty flavor; both blend well with the acidity

Finish:  slight sour apple

Friday, March 28, 2008

Carvalho Family Wines

At the beginning of the month I visited several wineries in the Clarksburg area of California. This little know AVA (American Viticultural Area) Is a sixteen mile long by eight miles wide area spanning Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties. It has over 9,000 acres of vines. Travelling the levee roads along the Sacramento River, you cross many old draw bridges to view the fields of grape vines. Summer days can be very hot in the Sacramento Valley, but the cool Delta breeze keeps the area nine degrees cooler than the city and suburbs of Sacramento.

More than twenty wine grape varietals grow well in the Clarksburg area. The grapes that grow best here are Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah. Although there are about ten wineries located in the area, 90% of the grapes grown here are crushed outside the appellation. Several wineries are now producing under the AVA name, which may bring recognition for the area. One winery worth getting to know is Carvalho.

Carvalho Family Wines, according to their wed site, has been making wine "over 100 years, starting in the villages and vineyards of Portugal." Their heritage is evident in the port they make using traditional Portuguese varietals of Touriga, Tinta Cao, and Alvarelhao. Other port like wines I tried from other Clarksburg wineries were made from Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. The Carvalho port tasted like the real thing.

The Carvalho family owns the Old Sugar Mill, a former sugar mill converted to a warehouse where they and several other Clarksburg wineries age barrels of wines and have their tasting rooms. It's a convenient way to sample wines from five different wineries in one place. The day I visited I wasn't able to meet the Carvalho wine maker, but the staff that poured for me were very knowledgable and answered all my questions.

One of my goals that day was to sample Clarksburg Chenin Blanc. Just that week, an article came out in my local paper about Darrell Corti being inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame. In the article, Mike Dunne mentioned Corti's claim that "the best chenin blanc made in California is made in Clarksburg." The Carvalho Chenin Blanc proved Corti's claim.

I have had Chenin Blanc before, but couldn't remember it. All I can remember is descriptions I've read putting it down as a bland jug wine. However, its supposed to have mineral flavors and high acidity that balance well with the sugars when its made off-dry. These sound like the flavors I like about Riesling or a good Sauvignon Blanc. Also, well made Chenin Blanc from the Loire has a distinctive, musty, damp straw aroma. The grape is also grown in South Africa where it is supposed to be made into enjoyable wine. In fact Dr. Debs blog pack on Domaine547 features a South African Chenin Blanc. Winehiker has been saying great things on Twitter about it.

When I tried the Carvalho Chenin Blanc I expected it to be like a sweet Sauvignon blanc but although it smelled of pinapple like a Sauvignon blanc and had some grassy flavors, it was different from the SBs I've had before. I was definitely a light wine, but the flavors were distinct and enjoyable. This was a nice dry wine and possibly because of the 10% Viognier, it had a nice mouthfeel. It had a light finish with an pleasant, almost sour aftertaste. I only bought one bottle (only $9.00) but I may be going back soon for more.

I look forward to trying more Chenin Blanc and other wines from Clarksburg wineries. In fact, on April 20th, Scribner Bend Vineyards is having a "release party" in Clarksburg. They don't have a Chenin Blanc but they make another white wine from the Fiano grape! I'm looking forward to it.

Tasting Notes:

2004 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg ($9.00, 12.5% alcohol)

Color:  Very faint yellow

Aroma:  Faint nose, like a Gavi

Taste:  Very grassy, faint fruit and intense flavor, dry and very good.

Finish:  Faint tannins and light aftertaste

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Century Mark

One of my goals in life is to live to be 100 years old. My odds of making it don't look good, as only 1 American in 10,000 has lived to be a century old. I don't think I could ride my bike in a century ride as it takes me almost half an hour to ride 6 miles to work each day. That would translate to about 10 hours of bike riding! There is one century mark that I do have hopes of completing: The Wine Century Club.

Members of this club have tried at least 100 different grape varieties. The group tries to "promote the awareness of uncommon grape varieties" defined as any grape not in the "classic grapes" (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.) The clickable picture to the left shows the top half of their application, which you can get in either PDF or Excel spreadsheet form. There are about 185 grapes listed on the form, with spaces to add any grapes they may have missed. I'm currently at grape #52, half way towards the century mark.

Seeking to become a member of this group appeals to me for several reasons:

1 - It's a fun way to learn about wine!   After all, what is wine but grape juice. Part of the fun of wine for me is learning what goes into making a wine, where it came from and what grapes it's made from. A wine doesn't have to be a single varietal to count. A Portuguese blend of Touriga, Tinto Cao and Alvarlhao would count as three grapes. (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong on this point!) Having a list and a goal helps give some direction to the general goal of learning about wine.

2 - It appeals to my desire to collect things.   I enjoy learning the history, facts and stories associated with the hobbies I get interested in. I like to have a tangible item that I can look at that reminds me of a particular facet of the hobby. Coin collecting is an obvious example of this, where I tried to find an example of each coin design for a series. In amateur astronomy, I couldn't collect stars, but I would catalog the different celestial objects as I observed them, writing down the date I saw them, a description and sometimes drawing a picture of what I saw. I don't intend to collect bottles of wine, but having the Century Wine Club's list of grapes helps me "collect" the different grapes I've tried.

3 - It is a challenge!   I probably make my life much more complicated than it needs to be. Instead of just riding my bike to work I'll see if I can beat my fastest time. Instead of just taking notes about the wines I drink, I've committed to writing a wine blog. I think one of the reasons I do this though is it makes it more fun. The pursuit of a goal and accomplishing it is a great feeling. I'm going to be trying different wines from different grapes anyway, so why not have something to show for it when I'm done?

I don't want the certificate from the Century Wine Club to my end goal in this pursuit. I want this to merely be a marker on the way to a lifetime of learning about wine and constantly trying new wines. There are almost 200 different grapes on the list. It would be cool to reach my own century mark and have tried 300 different grapes! Gary Vaynerchuk was saying the other day on Wine Library TV that you can't get to know a type of wine until you've had 20 to 40 examples of it. Now that's a goal: 20 different types of each of the 100 grapes! This could get fun.

The Wine Century Club

Here's a list of some of the 391 members current members of the Wine Century Club who have wine blogs:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Supporting Local Wineries

Yesterday in her wine blog, Dr. Debs posted a great article titled "Living Not So Big Wine Life." In the post she listed five ways of making our wine purchases and drinking habits less about chasing numbers and pursuing the "best" wine and more about seeking wines that inspire us, that fit our life styles and are "sustainable in all the ways there are," such as the environment, your pocket book and local wineries. (If you haven't seen the post, check it out at Good Wine Under $20.)

I really liked what she had to say but the part about supporting sustainability made me a little nervous. As I understood the point, this meant supporting local wineries especially those that treat the environment respectfully. My fear was that my choices in wines would be limited. I recently went to a Portuguese wine tasting and really enjoyed the red wines made from the same grapes they use to make port. I love the earthy, dried cherry and spice flavors of a Tempranillo from the Rioja in Spain. And I've really been enjoying discovering white wines from Italy with their light but distinct flavors. Would I have to give all this up to support local wineries? It almost seemed a contridiction with another point made about being adventurous.

After calming down...and thinking...I realized that Dr. Debs article was not advocating drinking only what I could find locally. It meant making local more a part of my wine life. It meant not seeking those big, famous wineries that get all the scores to the exclusion of small, local wineries. Besides, there is a lot of variety, and the kinds of wines I've come to like, in my own backyard!

I did a quick search on Google maps to find out how many wineries are local to me. I searched in a 40 mile radius from my house. (If I had expanded the radius to 80 I would have included the Napa Valley wineries, but that would have defeated the purpose of this exercise.) The map to the left shows the partial results of the search, almost 40 wineries. Several of the wineries I have already visited didn't show up in the search and there may be at least a hundred wineries local to me. (Click on the map to see a bigger picture.) I know the message of the article was not to only drink from local wineries, but if I had to, I would still have a lot to choose from!

What's more important than the number of wineries is that these wine makers are growing some of the grapes I've come to love. The Sierra foothills is a great place to grow grapes for Rhone varietals. (Vinography recently said that the Granache from one of my local wineries, Cedarville Wineries, was one the best he tasted at the recent 2008 Rhone Rangers tasting.) Many growers in Lodi, Clarksburg and the Sierra foothills are growing traditionally Italian grapes like Sangiovese and Barbera or even lesser know ones like Primitivo and Vermentino.

You may not be as lucky as I am to live in an area so densly populated by wineries. But seek out local wineries. I was surprised when reading "Wine Across America" how many wineries there are all across the US. I used to envy the French and Italians because it seemed like every community had a winery associated with it. I know that that's not the case, but I'm not very far from having that situation myself! It isn't going to be very hard to support sustainability after all.

Here's an example of how I don't have to do without when drinking locally:

Tasting Notes:

2005 Bray Vinho Tinto: A blend of Portuguese grapes Touriga, Tinto Cao, Souzao and Alvarlhao grown in the Lodi area.

Color:  Deep ruby

Aroma:  Earthy, reminds me of a Rhone

Taste:  Just like a Portuguese red, but with less earthiness. Not a lot of fruit (just a hint of plum), but with a distinct, good flavor. Medium mouthfeel and tannins.

Finish:  Medium finish, tart with nice tannins


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Negroamora Blend

Last week I had my first Negroamora wine that was made from 100% Negroamora. I enjoyed that bottle and wanted to try another. Last night I tried a wine that was a blend with two other grapes and found that bottle just as good.

Both wines came from the Apulia region of Southern Italy. (For a description of the region, see my post or for a better description, see the WineCountry.IT site.) My second Negroamora was a blend of:

Primitivo is a close relative of Zinfandel and shares some of its characteristics: sweet, soft tannins, almost syrupy fruit and high alcohol. These features blend well with the bitterness and concentation of Negroamaro. When combined with the flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon, the blend gets even better. This wine from Tormaresca Vineyards, owned by the Antinori family’s, was made of grapes that were sourced from two areas of Apulia, Bocca di Lupo and Masseria Maime (see the map, from UST Inc. site.)

This blend was good by itself and with food. When I first smelled the wine the Cabernet really showed up. I smelled cherries and a distinct Cab aroma. When I tasted the wine, I picked up plum and slight cherry. This wine was a little more bitter than the 100% Negroamora I had, but the bitterness didn't overwhelm the wine. The tannins and fruit left a pleasant aftertaste. The wine went well with steak and garlic fries we had for dinner. At $8.99 this was a very affordable and enjoyable red wine that I could enjoy with many meals.

Tasting Notes:

2006 Tomaresca Neprica ($8.99 at BevMo)

Color:  Dark cranberry, with rose on the edges

Aroma:  Cherry, very cab like

Taste:  Plum, slight cherry, slightly bitter, little bit of an alcohol bite

Finish:  Good finish, leaving a plum and tannic taste

Monday, March 24, 2008

Torrontés: A White to Discover

I was looking for an inexpensive white wine that I had never tried before. I wandered over to the South American isle at my local BevMo and spotted a bottle with a grape I'd never heard of: Torrontés. The bottle was only $9.99, so I had my selection. Little did I know what a surprise was in store for me! (Picture courtesy of "All About Argentina.)

Without knowing it, I had picked up the "White Wine of Argentina." Some claim that the grape originated in Spain, but it seems everyone agrees that Torrontés has flourished in Argentina. The high altitude, alternating hot days and cold nights, and soils combine to produce a grape whose wines are described as having floral aromas, rich, lush flavors and wonderful acidity.

I found it interesting that Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the world and that most of it is consumed in the country itself. In the US, the average person drinks 2 gallons of wine a year, whereas in Argentina, they drink 7.5 gallons a year. It's also interesting to think that right now, Argentina is just starting to prepare for the harvest of grapes that will become the vintage of 2008 whereas we in the northern hemisphere are just starting the growing season! One more "fun fact," the dreaded phylloxera plague never found its way to Argentina. As a result, this is one of the few areas of the world where grape vines grow on their own root stock. Back to the grape.

Torrontés grows mainly in the Mendoza region, highlighted on the map to the left (courtesy Wikipedia.) The Mednoza area is better know for its wines made from the red grapes Malbec or Tempranillo. But you'd be missing a lot if you pass over their signature white.

The first night I had this wine I didn't have it with food. I just sipped it after it had been chilled lightly. The aroma was slightly like champagne to me, though many others describe it as floral. Some have compared it to the scents of Gewurtztraminer. I enjoyed the flavors that also reminded me of champagne (without the bubbles) or a dry Sauvignon blanc. I couldn't really pick out a specific fruit flavor, but the wine was very good as a sipper. The following night I had it with Chinese food. It was a great match, especially with the ginger in the paper wrapped chicken. The two flavors played off each other in an intriguing way.

I found several other bloggers who reviewed the wine (see the list below) and I'll definitely have to try more Torrontés in the future. At such an affordable price, this could become my white wine for this summer. Check out these reviews for a more informed take on this cool grape:

(This grape is # 55 on my way to 100 grapes.)

2007 Pascual Toso Torrontés

Color:  Light golden yellow

Aroma:  Slight beer aroma, almost like champagne

Taste:  Similar to a light, dry Sauvignon blanc, nice acidity, almost like Champagne without the bubbles

Finish:  Slightly bitter, but in a good way

Friday, March 21, 2008

1WineDude :: Serious wine talk for the not-so-serious drinker!: How To Navigate Wine on the Web (3 ways to Keep Up With Wine Online & Still Stay Sane)

1WineDude :: Serious wine talk for the not-so-serious drinker!: How To Navigate Wine on the Web (3 ways to Keep Up With Wine Online & Still Stay Sane)

I don't know how this works, so please bear with me. This is such a cool post that I wanted to make it available to more people.

Shenandoah Winery: Bray Vineyards

Last Friday I wrote about my recent trip to the Shenandoah AVA in the Sierra foothills of Amador County. Another winery I visited that day was Bray Vineyards. Bray Vineyards was started in 1996 when the land was purchased from an estate. The property sits on 50 acres of rolling hills ranging in elevation from 1100 feet to 1300 feet. The soil is heavy with decomposed granite and is very rocky in places. Bray Vineyards is one of the first wineries in the area if you are arriving from the south. It definitely was my favorite.

I got to meet wine maker John Hoddy. He poured for me and spent time talking about the wines and grapes. John started out making wine at home for fun. After a while he took winemaking classes from UC Davis extension. He got more experience working with local winemakers during harvest and finally started working with Bray in 2004.

What really impressed me about John were his friendliness and his attitude towards wine. If I asked a question about a flavor of a wine I tasted, he’d sample the wine and make comments. He took the time to explain about the grapes they were growing and gave me some history behind their chooses at the winery.

Bray Vineyards grows several grapes that the Shenandoah appellation is know for, like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. They produce several nice wines from these grapes. But what really impressed me was the variety of grapes, especially Portuguese varietals. They grow Touriga, Tinto Cao, Souzao and Alvarelhao to make their own Vinho Tinto (a great earthy example with medium mouth feel and nice tart tannins.) They even have a white from Verdelho. Other grapes they grow are Sangiovese, Barbera, Black Muscat and Primitivo. Another of the favorites I tasted that day was their Tempranillo (it had faint fruit, light tannins and the flavor was very good.)

For this wine geek, their array of grapes was awesome. I don’t know if John Hoddy is pouring every day for visitors, but if you get a chance to talk with him it will be the highlight of your visit to the Shenandoah Valley.

I definitely want to make a trip back soon to buy some of the other wines I tried that day. According to the web site, many of their wines can be found in stores local to Sacramento (see their list.) However, their more obscure varietals like the ones from Portuguese grapes are available only on site. I bought one of them on my visit, the Verdelho.

Verdelho is both a grape and a style of Madeira, a wine from the Madeira Island off the coast of Portugal. The heavy wines of Madeira go through a process where the wines are fortified and then oxidized slowly over time. Verdelho Madeira is between off-dry and sweet, depending upon the age of the wine.

Still wines made from the Verdelho in Portugal in the Duoro Valley can be off dry and bland. But when grown in hotter regions like Australia or the Shenandoah Valley they are light and citrus like the one I had. I couldn’t decide if it was more citrus or peachy. The wine was a lot like a Gavi in both aroma and taste. It has a light mouth feel and light tannins. The first flavor was peach as the wine hit my tongue, but then it changed. This wine is a good sipper all by itself but it would probably be good with seafood or Asian dishes. (This grape is # 53 on my way to 100 grapes.)

Tasting Notes:

2007 Bray Verdelho (13.9% alcohol, $16.00)

Color:  Light yellow

Aroma:  Peach or citrus

Taste:  Like Gavi, peach at first taste then it changes. Light mouth feel

Finish:  Faint tannins with pleasant aftertaste

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Back to Italy: Negroamora

I took a detour last week and spent some time posting about Portugal. I'm ready to return to Italy! The particular region is in the south, the heal of the boot known as Apulia (Puglia in Italian.) The map to the right (used by permission from WineCountryIT) shows this region, which to me looks like a sea horse laying on its side. This region is a fertile, flat plain with iron rich soil. According to Vino Italiano, this region "is the principal source of the three Italian staples: bread, olive oil, and wine." Apulia is in a tie with Sicily and the Veneto in the claim of biggest producer of wine in Italy.

The red wines of Apulia are mainly Negroamaro, which means "black and bitter", and Primitivo a close genetic cousin to Zinfandel. I've had Primitivo before and liked it, so I thought it was time to try a Negroamaro, which is the most widely planted red in the Apulia region. This grape has a thick skin, is dark colored and produces a wine with strong tannins. The wine is often blended with other grapes, such as Malvasia Nera, to mitigate the tough tannins. Many descriptions I read about the wine use the words "bitter" when describing this wine (see Wannabe Wino for one.) I was surprised when the bottle of wine I bought was not so bitter or tannic.

The Negroamora I had was the 2006 Feudi di San Marzano. This wine was 100% Negroamora grapes from districts in the area of Taranto. Apparently, it is the other parts of Apulia where they blend other grapes to make the wine. My main impression of the wine was cherries. It had a faint aroma and soft tannins. The finish was like sour cherries. We had the wine with spicy spaghetti and meatballs. The wine went well with the acidity of the tomato sauce. (Dr Debs had her Negroamora with another tomato sauce based dish: pizza!) I would definitely drink this particular wine again, but I was disappointed that it wasn't more tannic. I've bought another bottle already and I'll have it the next time we have spaghetti. (This grape is # 52 on my way to 100 grapes.)

Tasting Notes

Feudi di San Marzano Puglia IGT Negroamaro 2006

Color:  Dark purple

Aroma:  Cherry

Taste:  Cherry and light tannins

Finish:  Sour cherries

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Austrailian Shiraz

I've had several Australian Shiraz wines from the poplualr Yellow Tail to my favorite, Layer Cake. My favorite is a fruit-bomb that might be properly discribed as a "nuclear" fruit-bomb, it is SO big, fruit-forward and high alcohol. I wanted to try some more Australian Shiraz so I picked up a bottle from Aramis Vineyard.

Aramis Vineyard is in Southeast Australia. This particular region is called the McLaren Vale and is located on the Fleurieu Peninsula. The climate is described as Mediterranean, which means there are four distinct seasons with warm dry summers and mild autumns. Grapes tend to have more time to ripen than in the classic vineyards of Italy and France. As with most good wine growing areas, there is a source for cool breezes that cool down the vines at night to promote an even balance between sugars and acidity. That source is the surrounding ocean and 'Gully Winds' from the hills.

Wheat was originally the crop grown in the McLaren Vale, but in the 1850's grape vines were planted. Since that time the area has had various periods of success with wine, but the present wineries didn't really take hold until around 1965. Today there are about sixty-five wineries growing shiraz, cabernet and grenache.

The Aramis Vineyards Shiraz was less of a fruit-bomb than the Layer Cake I had already had. The Layer Cake is made from Shiraz grapes from a different Southeast Australian region, the Barossa. The Aramis Vineyards wine was a little more complex, though. It was fruit-forward, but it had more tannins and some spiciness to it. I drank a glass of the wine by itself the first night and with home-made pepperoni pizza the second. It didn't go as well with food as I remember the Layer Cake. Maybe a different dish, like a steak or other hearty meat dish would have been better. I liked the difference between the two and I'll have to explore some more Australian Shiraz. When I picked up the bottle of Aramis, someone recommended the Elderton Shiraz (another Barossa for $24.99) The Aramis was more affordable at $19.99 and I'd gladly pick it up again.

Tasting Notes:

2005 Aramis Black Label Shiraz

Color: Dark cranberry

Aroma: Cherry, bread

Taste: Spicy, almost jammy like a Zinfandel, nice tannins

Finish: Sour cherries and lingering tannins (pleasant!)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Story Winery: The Mission Grape

I had a great trip last Friday visiting several wineries in California's Shenandoah Valley. Virginia has the more famous Shenandoah Valley, but Zinfandel has helped put California's on the map. According to Appelations America, it was a group from Virginia that first started making wine here during the Gold Rush. Though the valley produced wine in the late 1800s, it wasn't until the 1980s that a wine boom came to the area. The AVA, which covers parts of Amador and El Dorado counties, spreads over 10,000 acres, with over 2,000 acres under vine. There are now 16 local wineries, while many of the large California producers continue to access Shenandoah Valley grapes on contract.

Driving through the area was beautiful. It was a spring like day with trees budding, especially cherry trees and Bradford pear trees both with their white blossoms contrasting the dark fields of sleeping grapevines. Dafodils had sprung up lining the winery roads, their white and yellow heads craning to catch the warming sunlight. I didn't see any buds on the grapevines, but I'm sure they are almost ready to wake up!

Though Zinfandel is what the Shenandoah Valley is known for the Mission grape has been here just as long. This grape may have been the first grape grown for wine production in California. Spanish missionaries grew the grape as part of their attempt to be self sufficient. Wine was an important part of the mass and the Mission grape supplied it. The source of the Mission grape is unclear. Dr. Harold Olmo of the UCD Viticulture and Enology Department has a theory that the Mission grape is "a hybrid of Spanish Vinifera and the wild grapes of California (Olmo and Koyama, 31-41).

Whatever its history, it is still grown in some fields in the Shenandoah Valley. Deaver Winery in Plymouth had five acres of grapes dating from about 1855 were removed in 1997 due to old age. Around World War I, they gave some of the Mission stock to Story Winery who grafted it onto Zinfandel. Story still has 300 acres of Mission that it uses to produce a dry wine and a port style wine. This field is visible when you walk up to their tasting room. Off to the right, you see a slope containing some large, gnarly vines. They are planted on a south facing slope that cascades down a hill. If you could see their roots, they would probably fill the hill. Story Winery practices "dry farming" where they water new vines for only the first two years of their life. After that, they vines have to depend on rainfall and the water table.

The Story Winery Mission was my first sample of this wine. In color, it was light like a Pinot Noir. In flavor, it was earthy with lots of fruit, though not sweet. It almost tasted like a Zinfandel without the pepperiness. From what I had heard about Mission wine, I was surprised that I liked the Story Mission so much. I was expecting a weak, sour wine, but this was an interesting wine that would probably match with the same foods that Zinfandel does. If you ever have a chance to visit Story Winery you'll be greeted by very friendly tasting room staff. Though the winery is small and at the end of a long road, it seems to be a popular place. Their wine and their history make it that way.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Portugal Wine Tasting: Alentejo Region

This is my final entry on the Portugal wine tasting I did with the Midtown Winers last week. This final region is the Alentejo is in south-central Portugal. Its name's origin, "além do Tejo", literally translates to "beyond the Tagus". The region is separated from the rest of Portugal by the Tagus river, and extends to the south where it borders the Algarve. The land varies considerably, from the open rolling plains of the south of the Alentejo to the granite hills that border Spain in the north-east.

The Alentejo is a large region and its flat plains cover almost a third of the country. Much of this area is used to grow cereal grain. It is hot like the Douro region and irrigation is used. In contrast to the northern regions, most of the production is done by large, professional companies.

The Alentejo region has done very well in the past ten years, producing old and new style wines. The traditional Alentejo style is described as “leathery, herby, with a sweet-spice complexity.” The new style is fruit-forward, almost new-world style. This second style has been a huge commercial success. This was the Alentejo wine I enjoyed the most.

The maker is Esporao, who has been producing wine in Portugal since 1975. This particular wine is a blend of:

This wine was not at all a fruit-bomb, but it was fruit-forward. The main fruit seemed to be cherry which mixed well with the tannins. The alcohol was a little strong (14.5%) but it wasn’t excessive as to take away from the wine. This wine was a nice combination of the old style and new style. For more information about the maker, see Catavino’s blog entry.

The theme for the April Midtown winers group is "Obscure Varietals." We are defining obscure as the less famous red grapes of the Bordeaux: Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. These wines don't have to come from Bordeaux, they just have to be made predominately from the individual grape. Please leave a comment if you have a suggestion of a good example of any of these grapes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Portugal Wine Tasting: Douro Region

Last week I attended a Portugal Wine tasting hosted by the Midtown Winers. The best represented region at the tasting was the Douro region in Northeastern Portugal. We had two ports (which I’ll post about later) and five bottles of red wine. Most of these wines were a blend of the same grapes used to make port. Some of them were even single varietals of a port grape.

I wrote about this region earlier when I reviewed a Portuguese wine. According Karen McNeil's "Wine Bible" many of the vineyards in this region were carved out of the steep cliffs of the region, built ellaborate terraces, and transported dirt up the steep cliffs to augment the shist soil. A grapevine growing in this hot climate and poor soil must struggle to grow. This seems to be the formula for producing great grapes the world over.

The main grapes of the Douro for making red wine are the same ones that go into Port: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. The common flavor I got in the Douro wines at our tasting was plum. These wines were a nice balance of fruit and tannins. All seemed like they would go well with food.

The favorite of the night was the 2005 Quinta dos Quatro Ventos. This dark purple wine was made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesca. On the nose I detected plum and alcohol. There was light fruit, almost like a Rhone wine. The strong but balanced tannins left a nice finish. This wine was a nice value at $16.99.

Other reds we enjoyed were:
2004 Praxo de Roriz (it might have been flawed, though)
2004 Redoma Tinto
2003 Callabriga
2002 Evel Vihno Tinto

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Portugal Wine Tasting: Estremadura Region

This week I attended a Portugal Wine tasting hosted by the Midtown Winers, a wine tasting group I belong to in Sacramento, California. Yesterday, I talked about the white wines we sampled. I'll begin the red wines by talking about the only wine we sampled from the Estremadura region. (Map used by permission of Wikipedia.)

It was hard to find much about this region. It isn't even mentioned in Karen McNeil's "Wine Bible." The Spanish and Portuguese wine blog CataVino describes this region as being northwest of Lisbon occupying an area of approximately 24 miles. It's made up of limestone soils or sand. Many grapes are grown here, but the Tinta Miuda is the one we sampled at the tasting. It was even harder to find information on this grape!

The 100% Tinta Miuda was made by Aveleda: Quinta da Aveleda Estremadura 2001. I don't think Aveleda makes this wine any more because I couldn't find it on their web site. The wine had flavors of plum and was earthy. There was light fruit along with a light black pepper taste, similar to what you might taste in a Zinfandel. The finish was not very lasting as the wine had light tannins. This wine was not very memorable, but it was a pleasant wine. It's too bad we only had one wine from the Estremadura region. Monday I'll cover the Duoro region which was very well represented at out tasting. Click here to read an interesting account of CataVino's recent trip in Estremadura.

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