Monday, May 10, 2010

Wine Review: Michael David 2007 Petite Petit

05/08/10 Petite Petit Michael David 16.99 Lodi Petite Sirah (85), Petit Verdot (15) 2007 14.5 Deep plum purple cherry, wood/oak but not oakey, smoky, blueberry good mouthfeel, unctuous, black pepper, black cherry, good balance. a bit chewy. vanilla. herby. Overpriced. Just came into the sub-20 range - has been selling around 22, now at 17.... still too much IMO

Note I've tried this you've since, and while I enjoyed, I stick to the story above.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wine Review: Jacob's Creek 2007 Shiraz

Jacob's Creek is one of the largest exporters of wine in Australia. Since 1847, this well known brand has tended its vines in the Barossa Valley region of south Australia.

Of course, we're concerned about only a handful of things here. Is it easy to find? Is it cheap? Is it good?

Well it's definitely easy to find. I picked up this bottle of Jacob's Creek 2007 Shiraz at my local Wal-Mart. I've seen the brand in pharmacies, wine stores, and grocery stores. You should have no trouble picking it up. And to answer the second question - yes it is cheap. At $7.99, this bottle won't murder your wallet.

This wine entertains the nose with a distinct licorice/anise quality. Plum, cherry and blackberry fruit waft forth along with a whiff of oak.

The taste is a cherry fest, but lacking the fruit overkill of many wines. The structure of this wine doesn't fall apart in the mouth like
yesterday's Alice White. It isn't building a house on the palate - not that kind of strength - but it might be building a tool shed up there. Other than the cherry, it constructs its little shed with a nice peppery oak nicely balanced with delicate acid.

3 of 5 glasses

Wine Review: Alice White 2008 Shiraz

Part four of our trip down under takes a bit of a tumble down the rabbit hole. Sure, Alice White is a successful winery. Sure they mass-produce quality grapes in the sun-rich region of South Eastern Australia. Sure they manage to sell buku-bottles in the United States every year at super budget prices.

But it doesn't mean I have to like it.

It doesn't suck. Don't get me wrong. But this $6.99 Shiraz, vinted in 2008, just doesn't get my juices flowing. And, perhaps ironically, this wine does deliver a high flow of juiciness.

In the nose, this shiraz presents a fair amount of fruit. Cherry, plum and strawberry happily co-exist with a mild dose of black pepper.

The sip brings on a fruit-forward, cherry-strawberry duo. It's also very smooth and effortless. Merlot drinkers might approve of this wine. Tannins are light, so drink this wine young! But it isn't all juice and spice and all that's nice. The mid palate just falls apart, which bores me endlessly. Nothing happens there at all. Moments later, the finish returns a moderately obnoxious tangy, tinny, suck on a penny kind of taste. This wine was about to get a solid 3 of 5 glasses until that stupid finish.

Here is a list of some things named Alice that I prefer to Alice White...
  • Alice (that girl in Wonderland)
  • Alice Cooper (welcome to my nightmare)
  • A.L.I.C.E. (the Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity)
  • Alice's Restaurant (you can get anything you want...)
  • Alice Walker (Pulitizer Prize winning author of The Color Purple)
  • Alice (the town in south Texas)
I won't be taking a trip back down Alice White's rabbit hole any time soon. Sometimes bottles labeled "drink me" should be left alone.

2.5 of 5 glasses

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wine Review: Lucky Duck 2008 Shiraz

"Try Lucky Duck."
"What?"
"It's a wine... you can get it at Wal-Mart."
"Oh... okay."

Yup. That's pretty much how a recent conversation went down with a good friend of mine. She was extolling the virtues of this relative newcomer to the big-box brands. I had neither heard, nor seen of this wine until I picked some up last week. I'm glad I did. Thanks friend!

Lucky Duck is not going to crush your wallet. This bottle rings in as the cheapskate of the this week's Aussie's at $4.49 a bottle.

This 2008 Shiraz is a dark purple color. The nose is very focused, very one dimensional. It's loaded with fruit. Blackberries and blueberries make it out of the mix. Other than that, it's really fairly closed.

The sip...... fruity fruit fruit fruit... and did I mention fruit? Look it just isn't a complex wine. But you know what, it has nice tannins. It has good structure. It's not too big, but it entertains the palate. It's light and crisp - good balance of acid. And it's not really too sweet.

There is nothing spectacularly impressive other than the fact that Lucky Duck has created a super low cost, very decent wine. I might pick up a case for summer drinking - you know just sitting out on the patio with a few friends... you don't want to spend much, but you don't want to offend their tastebuds.

Watch out Yellow Tail!

3.5 of 5 glasses

Wine Review: Two Yellow Tails for Tuesday!

Yellow Tail is Australia's largest exporter and the number one wine (by volume) imported into the United States. This winery just exploded in the last ten years in the US market. In 2001, 200,000 cases of Yellow Tail were sold in the US. By 2008, that number had reached 8-million. That is a lot of wine!

Given the volume of wine sold under this label, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to explode the content level here and give you all a Two-for-Tuesday! Here they go, the 2009 Shiraz and the auspicious 2008 Reserve Shiraz.

Yellow Tail's Shiraz is up first. This is the exporter's flagship and I would guess the number-one selling red wine in America. Why? Volume, price and marketing. The shiraz/syrah grape makes up 25% of the red harvest in Australia. The brand is able to sell it at a very accessible price of $6.99. Lastly, the non-pretentious, fun, eye-catching yellow label just jumps off the shelf. Not to mention the fact that this label is plastered all over billboards, delivery trucks, and media of all sizes.

But does it live up to all the hype? Well, yes... and no.

The nose gives up a cherry vanilla aroma right away, but holds back on the rest. Maybe I'm just not smelling good tonight because I'm getting more out of this in the sip. There is a strong, perhaps over-oaked quality to the taste. However, other notes do sing through. A bit of black-tea comes in - or maybe I'm just confusing that with the tannins - but I really get a slight tea flavor as well as some fruit. There is strawberry, a bit of blackberry... a pinch or two of prune juice. It has that somewhat oily quality like i just licked a prune. Very interesting. Still, this really is by far NOT the sweetest of the week here in our trip down under. In fact, this wine really has a very bitter mid palate.

There is a little bit of clove in the mix as well. The finish is moderate and departs with a somewhat unsettling green pepper aftertaste.

3 of 5 glasses



Next up, Yellow Tail's Reserve Shiraz...

The reserve, from 2008, rings in a a somewhat heftier $10.99. It has a super dark cherry red color, and exceeds the '09 Shiraz in depth of color and viscosity. This wine has got some legs for a budget bottle.

The nose is a bit like a chocolate cherry - the candy kind. Not fresh out of the box, mind you! Not that somewhat cardboard-like, mass-produced chocolate... okay - maybe the mass produced kind. Imagine someone just bit into a cheap chocolate cherry from a box they picked up at the drug store... then they held it under your nose... that's the smell. That, and a bit of blueberry... a touch of oak... a twist of cracked pepper.

The flavors are interesting. Chocolate comes through quickly, but the blueberry steals the show. There is also a good sampling of blackberry and other dark fruit coming through in the mid palate. This is all accompanied by a bit of vanilla. The tannins are smooth and rounded. It dissipates in a bit of a green apple finish.

I can't say this is more interesting than the '09 Shiraz - but it is certainly better in its execution. The flavors work together. The structure is more coherent. The flavors are less bitter. On the other hand, it's about $4 more... but at $11.99 it's still quite a nice price.

3.5 of 5 glasses

Wine Review: Little Penguin 2008 Shiraz

"I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."

Yep. We're going to Australia this week, that strange and eerie land from south of the Equator. Rockin' some Men at Work... Throwin' another shrimp on the barbie... Keeping our babies safe from dingos. Okay I'm done with the cliches.

Australia is the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world, behind France, Italy and the USA. Each year, Australia produces 25% more Shiraz grapes than it does of it's second largest crop, Cabernet Sauvignon. I chose the Shiraz (known as Syrah to the rest of the world) varietal as my yardstick for this week for that and one other reason - I've never met a Shiraz that made me chunder. In fact, it seems like just about anyone can make a decent bottle of wine from Shiraz grapes.

On top of that, I really want to focus on the kind of bottle you can find in just about ANY store. The wines I'm reviewing this week should be in any Wal-Mart, Kroger, you name it. They are available in drive-thrus... in gas stations. You won't have too much trouble finding them.

And with these wines so readily available, at such low prices - I want to equip you with a bit of knowledge for the next time you're picking up an emergency bottle at the local CVS.

Let's start with the Little Penguin 2008 Shiraz.

This bargain find is available EVERYWHERE for about $5.99. Little Penguin is a great high-production winery and has really grown to challenge Yellow Tail's market share in the past few years. NOTE: I swiped today's picture from someone else. Usually I take my own. Meh...

This Shiraz is a dark rose, almost ruby color. The nose is fairly closed, but does impart a lot of fruit - primarily strawberry. We're not talking Boone's Farm strawberry here people - but it's definitely in there. There's a little oak coming through and a whiff of smoke.

The sip is jammy - bursting with that strawberry flavor. It really feels like drinking a spiked juice box - you know, the kind... stick it in the the crumb crucher's My Little Pony lunch box with a bologna sandwich and a gogurt... send her off to school... receive a call from the principal around 1 to talk about your darling daughter. By 2 you're meeting with someone from the state about your fitness as a parent... worried you'll never see her again.

Nope? Never happened to me either. But this stuff DOES taste pretty much like that. It kinda falls apart on the mid palate and the finish is a little hot.

CONCLUSION:

Though it's too fruity for my palate, this is a very drinkable wine for a very affordable price.

3 of 5 glasses

Friday, April 23, 2010

Next Week

I'm going to try something big next week - a bargain basement big-box bountiful Shiraz tour of Australia. Come back each day for another review from down under. Some of the biggest selling wines in America are represented: Yellow Tail, Little Penguin, Lucky Duck and Alice White.

Pick up a Shiraz by each house if you want to follow along! I think you can get all of this stuff at Walmart... all priced between $4.49 and $10.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wine Review: Smoking Loon 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon


Smoking Loon's 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was my go-to wine for the later part of 2009. When I realized it has been four months since I've had a sip of my old stand-by, I decided it was time to write this up.

Bottled by the Three Loose Screws Napa winery, this $9 Cab fills the glass with a deep, jewel-like hue of purple. The nose is slightly closed, but certainly gives up some blackberry, a bit of currant and some cracked black pepper.

The flavors of blackberry and grape come through clean and delicious, but with little additional complexity. It is balanced (acidity vs. sweetness), though perhaps a little bit astringent.

CONCLUSION:

You're not going to wow anybody with this wine, but you're also unlikely to truly offend them either. The bottom line is that it is just plain hard to find a decent Cabernet in the sub-$10 range. Given the price point of this wine, it's a no-brainer.

3.5 of 5 glasses

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wine Review: Bogle 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel

As a vineyard, Bogle has really done a fine job in the past 40 or so years of crafting quality wine at a fair price. And at $11, Bogle's 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel is both very drinkable and affordable.
But what is this "old vine" business all about?

A grape vine can grow over 120 years, but it begins to lose vigor around 20 years or so. Each year beyond, it may produce smaller harvest yields. However, the flavors in each yield may be different or more intense than in younger vines. The "old vine" terminology is not policed or standardized, so a winery could theoretically call 20 year old vines "old." In this case Bogle's Lodi and Amador county Zinfandel vines are between 45 and 80 years - certainly old for California grape vines.

In the glass, this youthful wine takes on a garnet cranberry color and gives off moderate notes of strawberry and spice. There is also a fairly strong scent of alcohol for a wine at 14.5%. The spice really had me going back to childhood - like I was about to bite into a snickerdoodle cookie covered with strawberries and vodka.

So... is it good?

Well it really isn't a stellar start as it hits the palate. The alcohol is just a tad too forceful. Sometimes I wonder if these bottle labels are correct - it feels closer to 20% but the label says 14.5%. When you get past the inital heat of the sip there is a nice cherry and raspberry fruitness cloaked in pepper and oak. It all dissipates in a moderately warm, smoky finish. Try this wine out with some smoked pork ribs or beef brisket.


CONCLUSION:

Bogle's Old Vine Zin doesn't hold a candle to their
Petite Sirah, but this is certainly a good wine. Still, for my tastes it is a little hot and lacks some of the complexity I'd like to find in a wine.

3.5 of 5 glasses


On a somewhat related note, I am REALLY looking forward to trying Bogle "Phantom" - a blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Yummy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wine Review: Alamos 2008 Malbec


"Dude... you gotta smell this stuff."

"Oh man! That's the chronic!"

"Damn straight... This is some serious stuff."

"Yo. When we gonna hit that bud?"

"Woah man - I ain't your bud."

"No dude... when are we gonna hit that bud... you know, that ganja?"

"Dude... this isn't weed. It just smells like it."

Yep. Alamos' 2008 Malbec is crafted from grapes in Argentina; is available in most grocery stores; has a pretty purple color; and, yes... it smells like ganja.

No... this has nothing to do with the fact that I tried this wine on 4/20.

Let's cut straight to the chase here... I poured this stuff in the glass, swirled it a bit and took a sniff. My first reaction was "oh that's awkward... what is that smell?" And then it came to me. A green cloud enveloped me and I was transported back to those crazy heady days in college... We were on the road, in my '79 Chevette... where we were headed didn't really matter. We would just enjoy the drive. Tom Petty crackled through in mono on the AM radio. A cigarette butt smoldered in the ashtray. And the car... well, it stunk. It stunk like the worst kind of seeds and stems and funky green herb you ever smelled. A reeking ganja stench - pungent and stale - is forever infused in the fabric of that little death trap of a car. And it will remain in my memory forever.

Yep. That's what this smelled like. I literally took a whiff and said "dude... smells like ganja." This stuff is very earthy... very herby... very crunchy.

So what about the taste? Well the mouthfeel is fairly good. It is a wee bit astringent and acidic. Overall this wine lacks the kind of fruit flavors I like to note - but does have a bit of blackberry and cassis coming through the herb. Primarily the palate is assaulted with tobacco and herb. The finish is rather short and has a green, somewhat limey zing.

CONCLUSION

Pass this one up. The whole ganja lime zing is extremely awkward.

2.5 of 5 glasses



Wine Review: Monte Antico 2006 Toscana

Several weeks ago I did a post about corkscrews - which I would highly recommend you read... for another wine. But don't bother for this wine. Monte Antico's 2006 Toscana has a screw cap.


*Disclaimer: I'm about to go off on a tangent. If you only care about the way the wine tastes, skip to the picture below.

My only real problem with a screw-cap is that I can't help but feel like I'm about to crack into a brown bag of malt liquor - but What does a screw cap really mean? There really is a fair amount of debate on the subject and I'm not going to get too into it now. Suffice it to say that some argue the screw cap prevents breathing which stops the aging process. Others argue that the screw cap preserves a tastier wine and avoids cork taint and other flavor faults. This, along with economic factors seems also to have driven many winemakers to plastic corks. Italy, however, has largely leaned toward the screw-cap.

While we're learning, I want to point out that this particular blend is a Super Tuscan. So just what is a Super Tuscan? Look it isn't going to leap tall buildings in a single bound or anything like that. This naming just has to do with politics and control.

Italy has a tremendous winemaking history going back to ancient times. I recall my trip to Pompeii. The tour guide pointed out the wine bar, still preserved after being encased in Vesuvius' deadly ash cloud nearly 2000 years ago. Still, that is young in terms of this wine region. The Greeks established viticulture 800 years before Christ and the local population produced wine from wild grapes for millenia before that.

Given such a tradition, it is only fitting that there be some kind of standardization - thus the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) was established in 1963. The DOC essentially requires that the grapes are grown in certain regions, harvested according to defined methods, and meet certain standards.

To make a long story short, the Super Tuscan fails to meet the DOC standard. Why? Well, most Tuscans, like Chianti, are comprised primarily of Sangiovese grapes along with other non-DOC varietals. The Super Tuscan breaks that mold by incorporating other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

That is the case here. Monte Antico's 2006 Toscana is a blend of Sangiovese (85%), Merlot (5%), and Cabernet (10%), and can be yours for the low price of $10.99.

This wine is a nice, very clear cranberry red - far more translucent than I am accustomed to drinking. The nose is ample and gives up bits of pine, clove, pepper and pungent herbs.

In the mouth, though scant in body, this wine's bright acidity is a little overpowering. It really just sucks the moisture right out of your cheeks. Perhaps resultantly, the taste is hardly as complex as the nose. Regardless, a fair amount of red fruit flavor manages to fight its way through the tannic fray. The finish wraps up with some herb. But it doesn't go off without a hitch... there is a somewhat tinny aftertaste that was just a little off-putting to my palate. Then again, we all have different tastes!

If I had to pair this wine I'd put it with a pizza pie.

CONCLUSION:

Wine Spectator put this value play at 90 points, but I'm just not feeling it. I'll give it a 3 of 5 on my scale, which equates roughly to a low-to-mid 80's score on the 100 point scale. A solid B minus. It might have earned a 3.5 (87 or 88 points) if it wasn't for the tin.

3 of 5 glasses

Monday, April 19, 2010

How Much Should I Spend?

How much do I have to spend to get a good bottle of wine? I hear that a lot and I have some thoughts.

First, it all depends on what you think is "good." If you like Little Penguin's Shiraz - by all means, buy it and drink it! It's not exceptionally interesting, but it smells and tastes a little bit like fake strawberry candy. It is a wine - a real wine and it's $5 to $6 a bottle and available just about everywhere. If that doesn't do it for you, find out what you like. Read this blog. Read other websites about wine. Go to tastings or wine restaurants. Talk to your wine merchant. Try different wines at different prices. One way or another, see what is out there.

Once you know what your tastebuds prefer, you can start to hone in on price. I try to keep my price under $15, but I am willing to spend up to $20 if it looks like an exceptional value. My average bottle is about $12 and you will read about a lot of wines in the 8 to 15 dollar range on this site.

The most common myth in the wine world is that you get what you pay for... that a $25 wine will necessarily taste better than $10 bottle of the same varietal.
Wrong. So many factors are actually at play here: brand recognition, vineyard size, harvest yield, bottling costs, etc. Not to mention your own palate (as we discussed above).

Take my current muse - Petite Sirah. I recently rated a
Trentadue Petite Sirah. At $18, Trentadue is a price point above the $11 Bogle Petite Sirah. I gave both wines 4.5 of 5 glasses. Both wines were fantastic in my opinion, but the Bogle leaves an extra $7 in your pocket!

There are a lot of resources out there for people in the <$20 range.

  • Wine.com has a list of 90+ point wines under $20
  • WineLibrary offers their best selling under $20
  • MyWinesDirect sells a lot of six-packs for $70 to $100 (that's $12 to $17 per bottle)

On top of that there are many other blogs like this (but read this one please).

But despite all these resources screaming $20 and under people continue to believe the "good wines" are expensive. I did too, until I read a book. Miles Gone By, William F. Buckley Jr.'s autobiography is one of my favorite books. Now I'm not going to get all political here - so don't get your panties in a bunch. I just want to talk about his approach to wines.

In a chapter of Miles, Buckley discusses his wine purchasing during the 1980's. Although money was certainly not an issue, Buckley endeavored to find the best wines he could under $10. When he found such a gem, he would buy up as much of it as he could and stock his cellar. Years down the road, those $10 wines had softened and matured and become truly fantastic specimens that Buckley shamelessly served in his home (to the delight of such guests such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan... heavy hitters).

Adjust that $10 for inflation and you get $20 in 2010 dollars. So if Buckley were buying today he'd be buying in this range - and if it's good enough for presidents and prime ministers, it's good enough for the rest of us... right?

So get out there and try that $8 Pinot Noir. Treat yourself to that $14 Syrah. Pony up the dough for that $3 Merlot. Know your tastes and your budget and most of all, have fun tasting!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wine Review: Trentadue's Petite Sirah


Oh Petite Sirah - how I love thee. Your tiny dark fruit, bunched so tightly... mildew resistant, but prone to rot... but so full of lovely tannins, rich plum color, and general tasty goodness. Face it people, this is a fantastic little grape.

I recently discovered a different wine shop around the area. A Taste of Wine in Miamisburg, Ohio. It's a nice little place with a good selection, classes, tastings, and knowledgeable staff. Anyway, I went in, asked for a petite sirah, and was handed the Trentadue. The owner explained to me that the price had just dropped from the mid $30 range down to $17.99. Now this is getting up there for the rest of us. Generally I try to spend under $15. But it's okay to spend a little bit more every now and then - and that is what I did.

Trentadue's concoction is a lovely dark purple color, with fantastic legs. Mine was slightly cloudy and there was some residual chunkage where the wine crept up and ate a bit of the cork.

Determined to get the most for my money I allowed this bottle to decant for two hours. If you're not familiar with decanting, you should be. Decant your wine. Get a decanter or a pitcher... a bowl... anything that will expose a lot of your wine's surface area to the air. The process really helps to soften some of the bite in the wine and enriches the flavor immensely.

Back to the wine... There is a wonderful bouquet of cherry and blackberry along with some earthy pepper and clove scents. I would also say there is a touch of lavender in the nose. All in all, a delightful aroma.

Even after two hours decanting and some vigorous swirling in the glass, the taste is very very dry. There is a fresh exotic breezy kind of quality, like I'm tasting the sea – in a good way. It is chocolatey. Rich. There is a very woody, rooty, earthy quality. But it is nicely balanced with dark red fruits, some plum flavors and it fills the mouth and excites the palate.


CONCLUSION:


This wine has an incredibly interesting nose and a delicious sip – but at $18, it's a little hard on the wallet.


4.5 of 5 glasses


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wine Review: Gabbiano 2008 Chianti

Gabba Gabba Hey Gabba Gabba Hey... Gabbiano?

"So uh... Gabbiano... you're a... uh... a Chianti?"

"Yes."

So wait... where's your squat little round bottle in the straw basket?"

"Really? What century is this... neanderthal! Look... I don't have to wear a straw basket just because your oppressive regime says I do... I burned my straw last night. In fact, me and the other bottles all had a good straw-burning party. What do you think about that... oppressor!"

"Uh.... yeah... so sorry about all that straw. You don't have to wear straw to be beautiful. It's okay baby. You don't even have to be in a squat little round bottle... I know what you have on the inside... I know... Gabba gabba I accept you"

Okay that was weird.

SO Gabbiano - in the Chianti region of Italy has one of the most widely available budget reds out there. You can find the 2008 Chianti by this house in most super-markets. I think I picked it up at Wal Mart... classy.

Chianti is - you guessed it - a blend and it is named after the area in northern Italy where the raw materials (grapes) are grown. Speaking of grapes, Baron Bettino Ricasoli (some Italian dude about 150 years ago) created the original Chianti recipe of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca grapes.

Back to Gabbiano - At 9 bucks, it's a Chianti well within the rest of our price range and is composed of around 90% Sangiovese grapes with (at least in the '07 vintage) the addition of Canaiolo and Colorino grapes.

The nose reeks heavily of alcohol – surprisingly strong for its 12.5% alcohol content. Actually it smells a bit isopropyl – not great whiffage. There is also some heavy oak, and walnut going on. As it opens up dark fruit scents do come through.


The sip is very dry, but light - not at all full bodied. Nothing too exciting really happens on the palate. There is a nice tart, crisp quality and a pucker effect - like a cherry jolly rancher just sidled up to your tongue. Not a bad pizza wine.


CONCLUSION:


Not bad - not great.


3 of 5 glasses

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wine Review: Blackstone Pinot Noir

Executive Summary: Wine Fail... Snack Win.

Blackstone created a wine, bottled it, and sold it for about 9 bucks. And I'm just going to cut to the chase. We have a first... a sub-three rated wine here on Reds (for the rest of us). Now generally if a wine is a 3 I would drink it again, but I wouldn't pay for it. Maybe I'll get into my scale a little more in another post, but this isn't the time. The point is, Blackstone earned a solid 2 of 5.

This "pinot noir" is actually a blend of 78% pinot noir, 14% syrah, and 6% petite sirah. There is nothing wrong with a blend, but I shouldn't have to go to the winemaker's website to find out what is in the bottle - especially when the label is clearly marked as a varietal "pinot noir." Apparently the folks at Blackstone didn't get the memo. Label your product.

Blackstone's offering (I keep thinking of the magician - but this bottle certainly can't make canaries disappear) does come out strong with a light, ruby color. There are fairly strong aromas of cherry, berries and black fruits, but none of the vanilla or spice advertised on the label.

The failing here is really in the sip. The taste is tart and there is really nothing going on in the palate. I should reiterate. Nothing is going on in the palate. It comes out all fruity and juicy, hits the tongue and then just disappears! This stuff is drinkable to be sure, but it's just plain boring. At that point I'd give this a solid 3, or a 2.5 perhaps in the $9 price range. But Blackstone comes along and one-ups the lackluster sip with an offensive finish. Only seconds after the flavor of the grape dissipates, a tinny... even pewter kind of taste fills the midpalate - it's almost like I just sucked on a really dirty penny. You know the kind. If you don't, don't try this at home.

CONCLUSION:

All in all I am underimpressed and somewhat annoyed. I've tasted (but not reviewed) dozens of wines and tend to average around $12 per bottle. I've had some pretty tasty $9 wines and even a few good in the $6 to $7 range. But Blackstone - you have let me down. This watery, underperforming, overpriced, penny-tasting pinot noir blend (false advertising) is just NOT for me.

2 of 5 glasses


Post Script...

I paired this less than stellar wine with some exceptional treats. Baby caprese triscuits. Triscuits, a slice of tomato, some mozzarella, EVOO, basil and salt... mmmmm. Eat these! They are yummy.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wine Review: Villa San Juliette Winery's "Romantique"

Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, producers of American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and America's Got Talent found a talent for something else... winemaking. Or at least it says something like that on the back of the bottle... But I don't watch that stuff - so why did I buy this bottle?

Well, if you've been reading this blog at all (over the course of its now two week life), I bought it for the price! On the shelf I saw $18.99... and then I saw ON SALE! And then I saw $7.99. I didn't even look. I just bought. Rule number one of buying wine on a budget: never pass up a great sale.

This 2005 vintage Romantique is a blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Syrah. The lovely and delicious grapes in that list are grown in the Paso Robles region of California. Once out of the bottle these youthful grapes assume a deep, dark ruby hue.

Aromas are stronger than most wines in the under $20 category. I sensed currant and leather, a bit of coffee and baker's chocolate with a whiff of burnt caramel.

Romantique is smooth in the mouth, the silky tannins providing a good structure and mouthfeel. I tasted a bit of cranberry and green apple in this tart sampling.

Pair this wine with a simply prepared filet mignon or sirloin with golden crispy fries.

CONCLUSION:

I've had better, but this is fairly good wine. At this price I may go back and pick up some more to see how it tastes after some time in the cellar. Look for another review on this wine in six months to a year.

4 of 5 glasses

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wine Review: M. Chapoutier Belleruche

Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations is by far my favorite travel show. So, last week, when I watched Bourdain's episode in Provence France, I took note of the wines. Bourdain, though not a huge wine guy, does love the fermented grape product of Côtes du Rhône. I pondered for a moment before it hit me... I've never had a French wine! It thus became my mission to sample something from this ancient grape producing region.

Belleruche, by M. Chapoutier is an elegant, big red wine. In the past several years, Belleruche has been crafted from a variety of grapes, but as best I can tell, the 2007 I sampled is a blend of primarily grenache noir, with some (perhaps 10%) syrah grapes. Robert Parker, a.k.a. "the man with the 2 million dollar nose," gave this vintage 89 out of 100 points, which would qualify as an excellent wine. By his rating system, anything between 90 and 95 is "outstanding," and 96 to 100 "extraordinary."
Anyway, when I saw this 89 point wine for $11.99 I quickly snatched up a bottle and brought it home!

The Côtes du Rhône (literally Banks of the Rhone) of Southern France has been producing wine since before the Roman state occupied Europe. These are some really freaking old vineyards! European Kings so loved the wines of this region that government began to regulate wine quality as early as 1750. It is a romantic and beautiful part of the world. Just look at these vineyards! If you don't want to take up residence in that fantastic villa and spend the rest of your days relaxing in the sun and enjoying the indigenous food and drink - there is probably something wrong with you.


Enough with the region... I should get to the wine.

I will be blunt, it was very good, but it was just not my favorite wine. It does have an elegant bottle, and what I believe is actually braille on the label - an interesting feature I've not seen before. The actual product is a rich dark cherry red, and crystal clear when held to the light.

The aromas are moderate by my standards, and relatively youthful. Let this wine air for a while in a decanter and it should improve. Cellar it for three years and it may be fantastic. There is a distinct scent of cherry but little more in the nose aside from the grape.

In the mouth, there are easily detectable notes of cherry. A moderate cassis tartness tingles the taste buds. This, like many of the wines you will read of here, is certainly dry and acidic, but I felt this was a good taste of fruit without being sweet at all. It definitely has some body to its flavor as well. The flavors linger for about 5 seconds and dissipate with a slight warmth.

And so all this leads me to a question: Is it acceptable to enjoy a French wine with a cheeseburger? I certainly did. This bottle accompanied a juicy homemade burger topped with swiss, mayo and ketchup. Nothing fancy... But you really can't go wrong pairing a red wine with red meat.

CONCLUSION:

This is a very good wine to be sure, but it lacked some of the complexity I look for. I would have no problem serving it in my home, but I probably wouldn't give it as a gift. Then again, I'm not an expert - I'm just a guy that enjoys red wine. And if I've learned anything in my life it is that each palate is different. So don't hesitate to try this one out. You may disagree with me.

4 of 5 glasses

Friday, March 26, 2010

Screw the cork!

Could you would you in a bar? Could you would you in a car? I would and I could in a bar and in lands afar and with a Czar... but I would not, could not in a car because that would be irresponsible and foolish and illegal. I guess I lost the rhyme there. What would I do in all those places but a car? I'd screw a cork! So, let's talk about Cork Screws!

Look, there are a hundred ways to take the cork out of a bottle of wine... Well, maybe not a hundred. The fastest way of course is to break the bottle, but that is inadvisable unless you're about to launch a ship or Christen a bridge or something, and the rest of us don't do things like that. We prefer to drink our wine. So... Let me rephrase. There are several ways to take the cork out of a bottle of wine. Let's discuss.


Traditional

I confess, I have never actually tried a "traditional" cork screw. To me, it looks like too much work. You screw the device into the cork and then you pull... and pull... and pull....... and PULL!!!! Look, it's cheap. You can pick one up for a few bucks. But you don't need to do 5 hours a week of upper-body strength training to enjoy a bottle of wine. There HAS to be a better way!


Waiter

This thing is GREAT! My absolute favorite cork screw. What? You hate it? Really? My guess is you're not using it properly.

Most folks, like myself, start out trying to pull one of these like they are wielding a good old-fashioned traditional cork screw. That's fine I suppose - You'll get the cork out, but you're going to be downing a dose of Doan's pills with that next sip. And Archimedes... well he is laughing at us. When properly used, this is the least expensive, easiest way to get to the goodies inside that luscious bottle. There are four steps to proper usage - if you know them, skip ahead to the next de-corking mechanism. If you do not... read on!

First - screw the corkscrew into the cork. Begin by gently, but firmly and consistently applying pressure to the top of the cork - pressing as you manually twist. Just like starting a nail, you have to hold on tight and give it a tap or two before you can hammer it in!

Second - Twist away. Once you have the thing started, just let it go. Give it several good twists until you bury the twisty-screw part (there has to be a real name for that) into the cork.

Third - Pull. This is where most of us make our mistakes. This is where Archimedes laughs and says "give me a place to stand and I will move the earth." What did he know that could move the earth - let alone a cork? Look - This device is all about the application of leverage, and proper
usage is key. You know that metal flip-out part that you keep ignoring? That's the secret. Place that part against the rim of the bottle and hold it firmly in place as you pull up on the opposite end of the black handle. Look! I took the picture to the left after barely giving a tug - let alone breaking a sweat!

Fourth: Enjoy your wine! The bottom line is that this is a great, easy to use, compact, and inexpensive corkscrew! You can pick it up anywhere for under $5. Buy one!


Rabbit

This is a lovely cork screw. The Rabbit is one of the latest innovations in the art of removing corks from bottles - and it is certainly a pleasure to use. The big concern I have is the cost. Now, before I begin I must admit to owning one of these. I think I paid around $20 for mine ten years ago. It's a nice device. It came with an extra screw and a blade for removing the foil wrap from the cap of the bottle. Predictably, I lost the replacement screw and the blade...

This little guy (aww aren't rabbits cute) really does make cork-removal a snap. Just clamp the device around the cap of the bottle; push down; pull up. Voila! What could be simpler?

The real question is what could be, what is more expensive and obtuse? You're going to spend more than you need on one of these. That's the bottom line. And did I say "little?" No... Must have been a mistake. This guy takes up a lot of space. Mine won't fit into my kitchen gadget drawer. I have to keep it in a cabinet. Yeah it's easy to use, but why spend the money for something that won't fit in a drawer?

Winged

Look... it has wings! This is a fine cork screw if it's what you like. It's simple to operate. Just place the guide around the rim of the bottle, twist the handle until the wings rise completely, and then push the wings down to extract the cork. This isn't bad. It's easy to use and efficient. My only beef is the price. It will set you back around $10. It isn't too expensive, but you can achieve de-corked bottle bliss for less for the same time investment with a waiter corkscrew. Save your money.

Electric

Seriously? Okay - I get it. Maybe you have arthritis. Maybe you can only use one arm. Or, maybe you're just lazy.

Whatever the case, this handy device will remove a cork and you'll never break a sweat! How do I know? Well... I don't. I don't have $100 to spend on a bottle of wine. I certainly don't have $100 to spend on a cork screw!

Cork-less bottles

Sometimes bottles don't have corks. These bottles can be great, and they can be terrible. I just picked up a bottle of a 2006 Italian... Monte Antico Toscana (a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon) for $11.99 (review coming soon). According to my local wine merchant, this is a wonderfully delicious sip of wine. Then again, Mad Dog 20/20 has a screw-top cap. And I won't even bother to characterize the flavors of that bottle.


Happy un-corking!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wine Review: Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah

Which Petite Sirah snatched Gold at the 2009 Riverside International Wine Competition? Well, there were three: Mettler, Clayhouse and Bogle. But one of these wines is not like the other. At $10.99, Bogle is half the cost of the other two golds. And it is the winner of numerous silver and bronzes. Most importantly, it tastes fantastic - and that is why I want to tell you about it.

This 2007 Petite Sirah is grown in Bogle's 1200 acre Graton California vineyards. The Bogle family has farmed the land since the mid 1800's, but in 1968 it was the father and son team of Warren and Chris Bogle who first planted grapes. And I would like to thank them - forty years later.

Honestly, the first thing I noted was the price - but the bottle artwork is handsome and refined. In the glass, this wine has a very deep, very dark plum color and there a hint of a smoky, haziness detectable when held to the light.

The aromas are moderate, but harmonious. Notes of green tea, pepper and blackberry waft from the glass and fill the nose.

I tasted this wine, swallowed, smiled and whispered "that is fantastic." It really is. The flavors are not incredibly intense, but they grow with each sip as the petite body of this red fills the palate. There is a deliciously butterscotch smoothness in the sip, perhaps a caramel. I also noted a hint of toasted pecan, oak, pepper, and a mild smoke flavor. Tannins come to the party, but play their part well and are only mildly astringent. The finish is a nice lingering 5 seconds.

I found myself craving a smoky, fatty, grilled rosemary lamb-chop, but any hearty red meat would fit the bill. Spaghetti with meatballs would be another possibility.

I really only have one complaint about this wine. It is the first time I have ever spilled a glass of wine, and it's lusciously rich plum hue threatened to forever stain my beige carpet. After a little work I managed to extract the stain. Maybe I should write an article about stain removal.

CONCLUSION

At $10.99 I feel this wine was a true bargain, and with nothing to complain of other than my personal clumsiness, I heartily recommend this wonderful California red.

4.5 of 5 glasses

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wine Review: Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon

You know the Devil is like Satan... from Hell. Or maybe he's just an impish sprite in a red leotard that likes to frolic in Chilean cellars and imbibe the fruit of the vine. If you were to ask the opinion of Don Melchor, he would probably go with the latter.

Last night I went down to the Devil's cellar and picked up a bottle of 2008 Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon. This dry red is produced in the Central Valley region of Chile by Concha y Toro and can be had for $9.99.

If I'm not mistaken, Concha y Toro translates to Shell and Bull - so what's all this about the Devil? I did a little investigating and snagged this tid-bit from the vintner's website: "Over a century has passed since Don Melchor created a legend. When he discovered his finest Concha y Toro wines were missing he spread the word that the devil lived in his cellar. From that day, the wine has been known as Casillero del Diablo, the devil's cellar."

Enough with the legend - let's talk about the wine! This bargain red has a deep ruby hue. The first whiff I got was the cassis or black currant. The cassis scent is predominant but after some work other aromatic notes are detectable. There is a hint of blackberry and a woody, smoky vanilla lingers from the eight-months this young wine spent in American Oak barrels.

The flavor is a cassis-fest as well. A quick note: Cassis = currant. Apparently we Americans prefer the French "cassis." Perhaps this is owed to our familiarity with creme de cassis, the liquor responsible for the fruitiness of a Tequilla Sunrise. I digress. The tartness of the cassis is overpowering. Yet subtle notes of dark roasted coffee and cherry come through and dance lightly on the taste-buds. After further tasting something takes me back to the waking hours of a backpacking trip through North Carolina - possibly the not-quite ripe blackberries I had for breakfast and the lingering odor of the still-smoldering camp fire.

The finish is short - lingering for three seconds or so and disappearing with a breath of alcohol. This wine has an astringent quality owed to the tannins, making it a little more bitter than I prefer. It would pair well with any red meat or cheese. Something about this wine makes me crave a good crispy salty peppery pork chop - something fatty to cut the acid. Alas, I settled for a little dark chocolate as I was fresh out of pig.

CONCLUSION

Overall I am not wowed by this Chilean Cab. The cassis comes on far too strong and prevents the drinker from enjoying the hints of coffee.
Melchor concocted the devil legend to keep people out of his cellar. I'll heed his warning next time.

3 out of 5 glasses