Due Regazze Vineyards (JPB's Vines in Cameron Park, CA)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dear Winologist.....

Last month’s Thanksgiving write up brought the most reader response to date. Much of the feedback included additional questions and comments for celebrations occurring in December. Below I share my responses and while some may not include a wine recommendation, the information will be useful to anyone who follows this blog site. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Dear Winologist: At least once during the holiday season I wake up after a party and realize I opened a special bottle of wine that I shouldn’t have. It usually happens late into the night when my better judgment has been impaired. How can I break the cycle of this unfortunate holiday tradition? Signed, “Too Buzzed in Boston”

Dear “Too Buzzed”: The Winologist feels your pain as I have made this mistake more than once. I remember a few years ago at a Christmas party we were hosting cracking open a 1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia at 2:00am for my guests thinking, “I was going to save this for a special occasion; maybe this party is it!” I could have cracked open a bottle of gasoline and nobody would have cared. This form of stupidity is actually a disease called RBP syndrome (Regrettable Bottle Pouring Syndrome) and it usually but not always effects people of Irish decent. It can be treated but not cured. The best idea I’ve heard to combat RBP comes from my friend Brady. Brady says to take red, yellow, and green rubber bands and attach them to the tops of your wine bottles. Green rubber bands can be pulled from the cellar at all times. Yellow rubber bands must be closely scrutinized and probably require the good sense of someone sober to say it should be opened. Wines that have red rubber bands are never to be touched after dinner. It sounds so simple but the Winologist thinks the idea is pure genius!

Dear Winologist: Can you recommend a nice bottle of Champagne that won’t give me a horrible headache and is affordable? Signed, “Loving the Bubbly”

Dear” Bubbly”: If you are looking for a sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France (which is technically the only place a sparkling wine can be labeled Champagne) then I would suggest a non vintage choice like Tattinger Brut Champagne La Francaise. This wine is usually available and for $40 a bottle, it’s an affordable product from that region. I have to admit, I’m not a frequent drinker of Champagne and I tend to favor sparkling wines from Napa or Sonoma only because of its accessibility and affordability. If you are looking for a solid sparkling wine for guests to either serve before dinner or toast in the New Year, I would go with the Mumm Napa Brut Prestige(about $17 dollars a bottle) or the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut which is at a similar price point. Both wineries carry a stellar reputation for putting out quality products and if you minimize your consumption, the headache won’t ruin your morning after.

Dear Winologist: This year’s holiday season has left my finances in shambles. Can you recommend something I can drink guilt free while I pay down the Visa? Signed, “Careless With Credit”

Dear “Careless”: The obvious choice would be to stop drinking wine. However, given all of the recent studies done on the health benefits of drinking wine, I’d hate to see you put your health at risk. It also appears that wine merchants are taking advantage of all of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday hype and offering specials of their own. Right now, my favorite holiday value drinking wine is Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot. My Uncle Jack turned me on to this and I picked up a case at Beverages and More for under $13 bucks a bottle. As noted in the latest issue of Wine Spectator, Washington State Wines offer incredible value and this wine was given a 90 point rating and picked as one of their “Smart Buys”. My other find while perusing the isles of BevMo was a 2007 Lake County Cabernet called Vigilance. Lake County is an up and coming region adjacent to Napa and the Vigilance has incredible depth and is surprisingly robust for a wine at that price. For an affordable white wine, I like the recent release of the Cameron Hughes Lot 215 Willamette Valley Chardonnay. Priced at $11.00(the sight is offering deals on shipping as well), it’s an incredible bargain for a wine from this Oregon region.

Dear Winologist: We have banned alcohol from our Festivus celebrations because it has become a catalyst for excessive violence. Can you suggest some alternative gifts that would be appreciated by a wine drinker? Signed, Making it Happen in Manhattan

Dear Making it: The Winologist always appreciates a good Seinfeld reference even though it shows his age! Right now my favorite oenophile gift is the Vinturi red wine aerator or as my buddy Crusty Old Mick calls it, “The Wizzinator” (yes it actually sounds like someone left the bathroom door open!). This simple contraption actually shoots air into the wine as you pour it into your glass. While some may consider this snobbish, I’m here to tell you it really makes wine taste better. Another idea that I think might be helpful is the Waterfall rotating wine chiller. I don’t own one(hint to Mrs. Winologist!) but I’ve always thought it would be nice to have for guests who pop in and want to have a chilled glass of white wine (I never have any cold because I just mostly drink red). Both gifts are not overly expensive and have a high probability of not being re-gifted.

Happy Holidays!
JPB

Thursday, November 4, 2010

THANKSGIVING-PAIRING WINE TO "THE SITUATION"

This time of year, journalist and bloggers always comment and debate about what wine to pair with a Thanksgiving meal. Do you go with a light bodied Russian River Pinot or do you play it safe with a white wine of your choice? The Winologist feels the proper answer is: Drink whatever you want! However, no one has covered pairing a wine with a Thanksgiving social setting. Whether you’ve been a Thanksgiving guest of people you barely know, or you are hosting this traditional American meal for in-laws you are trying to win over, picking the proper wine can be almost as stressful as preparing the food. Below are some helpful wine suggestions that just might provide a solution to your situation.

PROBLEM-My in-laws are giant wine snobs and they pretty much can’t stand me-
SOLUTION- Unfortunately, this will not be a cheap fix. For red wine drinkers, swing for the fences and go with a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon. Although pricey (remember this is a special occasion and you are trying to be a complete “suck up”!), the Bergstrom 2008 Pinots are scoring mid 90’s in Wine Spectator and they are phenomenal. . Depending on the vineyard, prices run between $40 and $80 dollars. For an impressive white wine, go with the Donelan Family 2008 “Venus”. This Sonoma Valley Rhone Style blend is made up Roussanne and Viognier grapes and offers citrus and peach aromas. Showing up with this wine demonstrates you are aware of the trending ABC movement in California (Anything But Chardonnay) which any wine snob will appreciate. Again, not a cheap fix with the price in the high $40s. If these choices can’t at least win you some disingenuous praise, then you might as well give up, drink up, and give them a reason to not like you.

PROBLEM- My relatives think drinking wine costing more than $5 dollars a bottle is pretentious and a waste of money.
SOLUTION-The first step is to announce there has been a major recall of all antacid products and you have made sure everyone is safe by disposing all of the Tums, Rolaids, and Pepcid in the household. This will ensure no one will attempt to drink the gallon jug- screw top wine Uncle Fester insists on bringing every year. Next offer up some reasonably priced alternatives where antacids will not be needed. Given your audience, the Wineolgist feels you need to deviate from the Pinot playbook and try a Syrah where the grapes are grown in a cool climate. While many wine critics say California Syrah wines are too high in alcohol and are overpowering, cooler climate regions of California and Washington will produce very aromatic and spicy flavored Syrah yet still be food friendly. Also, it’s much easier to find a great tasting Syrah wine for under $20 than to find a Pinot Noir at that same price point. Smoking Loon offers a decent tasting Syrah for ~$8 dollars but I would spend a few extra bucks and spoil the family with the 2007 Bonterra Mendocino County Syrah for $16. If you feel Uncle Fester will be offended by your actions, you can resort to the “Hide and Sneak” tactic. Hide your great tasting wine under the bathroom sink cabinet and sneak off to the restroom when your glass is close to empty.

PROBLEM-My boss has invited me to Thanksgiving dinner and asked me to bring a white wine. He knows I only drink red and I feel he’s trying to broaden my horizons.
SOLUTION- This is the classic social double negative: You have to spend social time with someone who decides how much you make and you have to drink something you don’t care for and pretend to like it! The safe bet is to go with a Chardonnay that has a little depth too it. I like the Gary Farrell 2008 Carneros Selection. This is a full bodied Chardonnay that represents classic California style. Priced in the low $30’s , it is the perfect price point for saying,” Boss, I wanted to bring you something nice but at same time, not make you think you are paying me too much”. If you are trying to be more frugal, Wine Spectator chose the Sebastiani 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay for its smart buys this month at $13 dollars. While I have not tried this wine, I do think the Sebastiani winery has consistently put out good value wines. If you want to impress the boss and have some extra money, Try and get your hands on some of the Williams Selyem Russian River Chardonnay. Winemaker Bob Cabral is known for his Pinots but he is also making a name for himself with Chardonnay as well. Elegant and full bodied, they would be a great match for any Thanksgiving meal. Unfortunately, you need to be on a list to obtain Williams Selyem wines but given the state of the economy over the last few years, there is probably room for you on the list.

PROBLEM-My parents are first generation European immigrants and feel wine can only be properly made in the old country.
SOLUTION-If you are like me and know very little about Old World wines, you need to find someone who does. My go-to guy on Italian, French, Spanish or Portuguese wine is my good friend Brian in North Carolina. Brian is not only knowledgeable on this topic; he is a value shopper like me. Below are some of his choices. NOTE: the recommendations are only the Readers Digest version. Brian provided me with a fantastic write up on why he chose the wines below and if any reader has an interest in reading it in its entirety, please let me know and I’ll email it to you.


Valpolicella Ripasso – Dry Red Italian Wine – Ripasso means “repassed”. The unpressed grape skins from Amerone production are added to the already blended and fermented Valpolicella. This adds an incredible amount of body, character, and style to the typically simple wine.

Beaujolais Villages AOC – This is the intermediate level of Beaujolais between the basic Beaujolais and the top Cru Beaujolais. It is quite inexpensive and light to medium bodied with very little tannin and high acidity. Beaujolais is widely consumed throughout the world and considered to be the drink of choice in Burgundy while one waits for the Pinot Noir to age. Beaujolais is supposed to be consumed young and fresh within the first 2 years after the vintage date.

Pouilly Fuisse - Pouilly-Fuisse is a dry white wine made from
Chardonnay. White burgundy tends to show more minerality, acidity and
fresh fruit than chardonnay from the new world.

Cava - Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional method
of the French sparkling wine, Champagne. The primary grape varieties
used in its production are Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello. It tends to be more steely and acidic than sparkling wines produced from Chardonnay.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all-
JPB

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cheers to Charity!

Thanks to Mother Nature, I’m another two weeks away from harvesting my second vintage. While I’ve been patiently waiting for higher sugar levels like an expecting father, I have been fortunate enough to taste some fantastic wines this month. And of all the places, a charity fun raiser was where I found some great wines at affordable prices.

I’ve come to find out, many new wineries and winemakers will use a charity event as a way to market themselves. It makes complete sense; most people who have disposable income will be at a fundraiser and it’s a great write off! Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to have our friends Pat and Kathy invite me to the Wine and Wedges event that benefits the Shriners Hospitals for Children. For me, it was like being a kid in a candy store. Several of the wineries represented had the winemaker or owner of the winery pouring their wine! The sense of pride and passion they expressed for what they had created was truly inspiring. I didn’t have my designated driver for this event (the lovely Mrs. Wineologist) and it was a Sunday so I didn’t go full throttle. However, below are some notes and background on some wines tasted. It was a great event and it left me hoping that someday, with a little luck and determination, I’ll be the person on the other side of the booth pouring my wine.

Nello Olivo Wines- I will start by saying I’m a little biased about this winery. Nello is a neighbor and his grapes are grown about a mile from my vineyard. However, the 24 awards he has received this year alone at various wine competitions speak volumes about the quality of the product. The highlight was a coveted “Best of California” designation for his 2007 Sangiovese entered at the California State Fair. I tried the 2007 Barbera and the 2007 Super Tuscan and they were both wonderful. Most of the wines are priced between $20.00 to $25 dollars and that is more than reasonable. As with most small family operations, the quantities are limited. For ordering, go to www.NelloOlivo.com

Mark West 2007 Chardonnay-Those of you that have read my previous blog posts know I’m not a huge fan of Chardonnay but I’m here to say this might have been the sleeper value wine of the evening. It may have had something to do with the fact that it was over 90 degrees in the building for the event and I was looking for ANYTHING cold. That said, I had a few of my white wine drinking friends confirm this find. The fruit is from the Monterey California area and it was aged in 40% new French Oak. I found this wine to be well balanced with a citrus like aroma. Once it hits your palate, you pick up peach and mango flavors with a hint of apple. Here is the best part, it retails at $15.00 dollars and you can find it all over the internet for less than that. At that price, you could have a glass or two and pour the rest out and not feel bad (although I’m not suggesting that)!

Moniz Family Wines- If late night TV were ever looking to replace pitchman Billy Mays, they would have to look no further than Rod Moniz. His enthusiasm for his wines was simply awesome. Yet his excitement is warranted. The three Moniz wines I tasted were flavorful, well balanced and displayed a true representation of what I like to call Bordeaux Blending done with California panache. Moniz started me off with his “Cuvee Olivia” which was a Cabernet/Merlot blend with a touch of Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. This wine offered classic dark berry flavor with a touch of earthiness. All of the grapes came from the Sonoma Valley. The next pour, the “Cuvee Alexandra” was a similar blend except the fruit was from Napa Valley. Again, there was plenty of depth and perhaps a tiny bit smoother than the Olivia. To me the wines truly illustrated the difference in “terrior” between the two Valleys. If I had to choose, it would probably be the Napa blend. However, if I had the will power to actually let a wine age, the Sonoma blend could turn into the first choice. The final wine was the 2007 Park Avenue. This was a straight Cabernet that offered lush black cherry flavor with a touch of spice. This wine would stand up to wines offered at twice the price. Speaking of price, Moniz says all of his wines are under $20 dollars! That’s right; UNDER $20 dollars! Hurry and order now and he might just throw in a set of steak knives! www.monizfamilywines.com

Mellowood Vineyard-2008 Syrah-This was Linda Neal’s first release of her new winery located in the hills of El Dorado county. Although this winery is in its infancy, our brief conversation led me to believe Neal was clearly a seasoned veteran of the wine industry. She was also offering a 2008 Zinfandel but I had reached my capacity that would allow for a safe ride home so I only tried the Syrah. Plenty of fruit flavor, depth and hint of licorice. I really liked the wine and for a boutique winery $28 dollars a bottle was reasonable. However, with so many quality wines on the market at discount prices, I just feel like I could find a better value. www.mellowoodvineyard.com





JPB

Monday, August 30, 2010

Time For a Rant-Congress is Trying to Limit Your Wine Choices

I am officially angry. I’ve taken the change in healthcare better than expected. I’ve endured financial reform, and I’m fully expecting to pay more in taxes. BUT Mr. or Mrs. Congressman, you’ve gone too far. I won’t let you cut my wine supply! As Will Farrell so eloquently stated in the kid classic “Kicking and Screaming”, I am TORNADO ANGRY!

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version on what is happening. In 2005, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision that freed the way for direct shipping of alcohol. This decision allowed winemakers and brewers the ability to directly ship to consumers in the 37 states who have left the Stone Age. By cutting out the wholesaler, consumers were rewarded with more choices, better wines, and lower prices. Now, fast forward five years to 2010 and you now find a bill covertly working its way through Congress that would reverse this decision. As Wine Spectator’s James Laube stated in his August write up, H.R. 5034 is a lose, lose, proposition. Wine lovers and small wineries alike will suffer if this bill is enacted into law.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Yet to date 135 lawmakers, the people who are supposed to make our lives better, have signed on to support the Bill. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is on record as saying she won’t support H.R. 5034 and claims it won’t make it to debate without a similar law proposal in the Senate. Unfortunately, given Speaker Pelosi’s track record, her comments make me about as comfortable as Bambi on the opening day of deer season! In addition to Laube’s August column on H.R. 5034, Wine Spectator wrote a great piece on why this law is getting so much traction. Simply put, its “money”. Since 2005, special interest groups (as National Beer Wholesalers Association and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America) have given over $11 million dollars to lawmaker’s campaign funds. Here’s my favorite part of this debacle; the name! It is known as the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act (CARE). Ironically, H.R. 5034 has bipartisan support which again proves money can bring ANYONE together.

I’m probably the most apolitical person on the planet but like most red-blooded Americans, I hate to see something taken away from me that is only going to benefit a few. I’ve emailed my local Congressman and several others in California letting them know, they need to oppose this bill. I suggest you do the same.

Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards (one of my favorites in the whole wide world by the way) summed it up by saying, “Many wineries, including Shafer, are not distributed in all 50 states. Direct shipping is the only way many consumers can purchase our wines.” That said, below are some wines tasted, that may never get distributed if the CARE Act becomes law. Hey, forget The Tea Party! Right here and right now, lets sow the seeds for The Wine Party!


ROUND POND 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- Located in the heart of Napa Valley, The MacDonnel family has been putting out great wines, olive oils and gourmet foods since the 80’s. This wine caught my attention because of its value. Priced ~$50, it had all of the texture and complexity of a $100 dollar wine. I drained this one with my friend Crusty Old Mick, who is the self proclaimed honorary Mayor of Howell Mountain (known for their Giant Cabs), and he couldn’t stop talking about it. This was a great find.

M2 2007-Trio- This no-frills winery located in Lodi California has been making great wines for years. The Trio is their proprietary blend that changes from year to year and to me, its one of the best values priced at $22.00 dollars. The 2007 Trio is comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah and is aged 17 months in American/French oak barrels. The Cabernet gives the Trio a nice structure and I picked up berry and plum flavors most likely from the Syrah. With an alcohol content of over 15.5%, I would definitely have it with a meal.

14 HANDS -2008 Chardonnay- The state of Washington continues to impress with well made wines at affordable prices. I noticed a crispness of green apple along with a hint of vanilla as well. I picked up a bit of oak in the finish and the winemaker confirms that 15% of the wine was oak fermented. Priced at $12 dollars, you don’t feel like you have to finish it. A nice find for the last days of summer.

JEFF RUNQUIST-2008 “R” Barbera Amador County- This guy makes great wine! I stumbled onto this wine a few years ago when I was deciding on what type of grapes to grow in my vineyard. Although this Italian varietal is seldom seen in California, one sip of the Runquist Barbera and I new that was the wine what I wanted to make (or try to make). This wine is loaded with fruit flavors with a nice toasted oak finish. I also noticed a hint of mocha and coffee flavor as well. Unlike many of the Barbera wines crafted in Italy, the Runquist Barbera seems to offer more body and depth. If you are a normal Cab/Merlot wine drinker, this might not be for you but at $24 a bottle, you might want to try something adventurous.


JPB

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

MY READERS RESPOND..TRY CAMERON HUGHES WINE!"

Part of the joy in writing this blog is learning from others responses. Although the audience is small, the general wine knowledge is pretty impressive. I've had a number of readers ask me if I have tried any of the Cameron Hughes wines and to be honest, I've never heard of him. However, as I've learned from my days working on the exchange floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, if you hear something from more than one person, its worth checking out! This month I'll review three reds and one white from Cameron Hughes. But first I need to give some background on why his story is unique.

What makes Cameron Hughes' wines diffrent are that he is not using his own grapes. He is what the French refer to as a “n├ęgociant”; a person who purchases wine grapes or juice from someone else, slaps his own label on it and calls it his own. The beauty of this model is much of the overhead and hassle is taken out of the wine producing equation and a quality wine can be made at a much more affordable price. That was the vision Hughes had when he started Cameron Hughes Wine with his partner Jessica Kogan.

Hughes purchases grapes from all over the world. In most cases he must sign a confidentiality agreement and not reveal where the grapes came from. What he can say is something to the effect of “this fruit was sourced from the same vineyard as a world- renowned name that sells for over $80 dollars a bottle”. Now that’s a marketing pitch!

Given that the last few years have been a struggle for many wine producers, the Hughes model has worked to perfection. The only risk is that he has no control over his sources and if times change, he may be forced to pay higher prices for his fruit or maybe not even get it at all. Another drawback is that the number of cases of a particular wine may be limited. Remember, most of the time he is buying grapes that a grower or winemaker believes he can’t sell, and in some cases, the seller is taking an economic loss selling his excess to Hughes. At any rate, the wines are available at Costco or from their website. I purchased mine off of the website and it was at my doorstep the next day. Overall, I was impressed with his product and the price. It’s worth taking a look at his website www.chwine.com for additional information.

Lot 103-2006 Meritage: 50% Cabernet, 35% Merlot, 15% Carmenere. 14.5% alcohol content. Priced at $18 dollars it wasn’t bad but it was my least favorite of the four I tasted. It did get better once it opened up but to quote my drinking partner and father; “I’ve had better wine at a cheaper price”.

Lot 125-2007 Carneros Pinot Noir: This was by far the most surprising find. To be fair, Pinot Noir to me is like tabasco sauce; I like it around the house but I don’t drink it all the time. This award winning wine offered good depth and balance. Once it opened up, I picked up hints of plum and strawberry along with a vanilla oak like finish. At $19.00 a bottle, lot 125 is a steal.

Lot 172-2007 Atlas Peak Napa Valley Cabernet: This double gold medal winner at the San Francisco International Wine Competition was simply delicious. At $22 bucks a bottle, it is a stand up triple. Alcohol level was 14.9 % and like the two wines above, decanting made a difference in the taste. Lot 172 is the classic Napa Cab; rich dark color, delicate, yet enough punch to get you excited. I picked up a touch of vanilla bean on the bouquet and ripe berry on the finish. Although 4000 cases were produced, it won’t last long.

Lot 159-2008 Santa Barbara Chardonnay: This wine offers good balance structure and is well worth the $14.00 price tag. Rich tropical fruit was noticed and although it was not overpowering, I did detect a creamy oak like flavor. Although it’s hard for me to get too excited about Chardonnay, I would say it’s a great everyday wine and good enough to bring to friend.

-JPB
July 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New California Wine Rule: DO NOT Forget about Paso Robles

My mom and dad had just returned from visiting friends who happen to live in the Paso Robles Wine Appellation. They were kind enough to bring back a few bottles for me to try. Like any child who receives a gift from his parents, I was elated and the first bottle was opened about 30 seconds after ripping apart the box. I'm here to tell you it was sensational! And so was the second one, AND the one after that. What I find almost comical is I know very little about Paso Robles wine country. What I do know is that there are 12 designated wine appellations in California (known as American Viticulture Areas or AVAs) and I have visited 10 of them. Somehow, I managed to bypass the Paso Robles region, only the 3rd largest and fastest growing AVA in California! It’s like visiting San Francisco 10 times and not seeing the Golden Gate Bridge!

Anyway,I've spent the month learning about Paso Robles Wine Country and I have gone out and purchased a few additional bottles from the area. I could write a 50 page review, but instead I'll leave you with www.pasowine.com for those who want the history and additional insight of Paso Robles. In my opinion, the two main points are this: First, the wines seem more affordable than Napa Labels of similar quality. This definitely appeals to me. Secondly, it appears the winemakers are more adventurous in their quest to make good tasting wine(very similar to the early 70's winemakers of Napa Valley). Below are my tasting notes on what were more than just "sampled". A big thanks goes to mom and dad for not just the fantastic wine, but broadening my horizons of California wine. I can assure all of you, I will be visiting Paso Robles very soon.

-Linne Calodo 2007 Slacker: Rhone Style blend with 68% Syrah 16% Mourvedre 16% Grenache grapes with a 15.4% alcohol content. While wine maker Matt Trevisan is recognized by Robert Parker and others as an up and coming star, I wasn't thrilled with the Slacker. It offered great color and structural balance but I detected a sweet port-like finish which didn't appeal to me. To be fair, I didn't let this wine open up as long as I should have but at $45 bucks a bottle, I deserve to be impressed upon opening it. although several wine web sites show this as sold out, there were a few offering it as low as $39 a bottle.

-Villicana 2007 Estate Syrah: Another Rhone style blend(80% Syrah 10% Grenache 10% Mourvdre) hand crafted by owner Alex Villicana. Again another rich full bodied wine similar to the Slacker but offered the spicy characteristic I expect from California Syrah. This small family operation made only 333 cases of this vintage and can be purchased through their website. I did notice a few websites where it was offered in the mid-$20's.I did like this wine and given the price point, I'd say its fair value.

-Adelaida 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: Let me make this easy for you-GO OUT AND BUY THIS WINE. This reminded me of the Howell Mountain wines tasted a few months ago. Full bodied, berry and chocolate flavors with the right amount of tannins make this wine perfect for a big, fat rib eye steak or rack of lamb. Its true richness was shown after about ½ hour. And 5 minutes later, the bottle was empty. This wine is a steal in the low $30's. Don’t get confused with Adelaida’s other higher end cabs which sell for double. I’m sure they are equally as delicious, but this is true value.

-L’Aventure- 2004 Optimus: To be fair, I’ve had this one in the cellar for a while and the 2006 through 2008 vintage will be the most readily available. I remember buying this a few years back and thinking it needed time to age and I was right. This wine has great structure and balance with plenty of intense fruit flavors that light up your palate upon the first sip. Owner and winemaker Stephan Asseo displays his French background at L’Aventure as this blend (57% Syrah 35% Cabernet Sauvignon 8% Petite Verdot) reminds me of a typical Bordeaux blend. The website sells the 2008 for $45 a bottle but you might want to try Apex Beverage Company out of Raleigh NC. For a better price (877-367-9414 and ask for Jake). If you buy the 2008, I’d let it sit a year.

-Robert Hall-2007 Syrah: This wine did not pack the punch the two other reviewed Rhone Style blends offered but at a price of $18 a bottle (I picked it up at the local grocery store for $15) it’s well worth the purchase. This deep red colored syrah offers aromas of black cherry and plum with a hint of spice as well. This wine needs to open up a bit and I found it much more enjoyable after 30 minutes of air. For what its worth, Wine Enthusiast gave this wine 90 points and it has received several other accolades as well.

-Norman Vineyards 2004 Conquest Cabernet Sauvignon: Another stellar Cab blend (82% cab 10% Malbec 5% Merlot 3% cab Franc) put out by this family owned winery that has been growing grapes in Paso Robles for over 30 years. This wine has similar characteristics of the Adelaida Cab but, didn’t quite offer the same boldness and structure. I can’t say it wasn’t as good; just different. If you prefer Cabernet’s that don’t stand up and punch you in the mouth, then you would favor the Norman over Adelaida. Priced at $20 a bottle, this wine is a great value.

-Terra Robles 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine is the sleeper pick of all my tastings. I picked this up at my local grocery store for $10 bucks. While it does not have the depth of the other cabs tasted it is a solid triple and is a wine that could be opened every night for dinner or brought to a friend’s house for a barbeque. Since this wine is a fairly young label, it was hard to get additional information on the wine. Turns out this is a second labeling by Robert Hall Wines made to appeal to recession hit consumers. I spoke to Robert Hall’s brand manager Danny Mantle and he said the wines are offered on the Robert Hall website and Terra Robles wines will have their own site shortly. If you do a search for Terra Robles wines, it will direct you to the Robert Hall site. The beauty of this wine is it’s made by the Robert Hall winemaker and the same grapes from the property. This difference is the vines are a little younger than what is used for the Robert Hall brand. Keep an eye on this wine. It could become a cupboard staple in any wine drinkers household.

-JPB
June 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Taking a Walk on the White Side

Taking a Walk on the White Side……
It’s never easy owning up to something you are not particularly proud of, especially if it goes against every grain of humility in your soul; but I had to do it. I drank a glass of Chardonnay wine…and I actually liked it! It’s not like I was young and going through a college “experimental” phase of my life. It was this year and I knew exactly what I was doing. For those who don’t know my tastes, I’m a typical red wine drinker. In my 500 bottle cellar, there are a grand total of 8 white wines; Two were gifts that were too crappy to re-gift, two were made by my good friend and neighbor Lance, who is a commercial winemaker trapped in a home winemaker’s body, and four are somewhat decent wines I have for unexpected company. That’s it.

I guess I should explain how this happened. Let me preface by saying that I take full responsibility for my actions and I won’t cast blame on anyone but you need to know the catalyst for my actions. My mother was visiting to see my youngest daughter perform as an Oompa Loompa in her school play. If you have school aged children, you know that it is mandatory to tailgate for a school play. I opened a 2008 Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay for mom and I had my usual. The following day after work, I opened the refrigerator and there was the half empty bottle of Chardonnay just glaring at me; almost as if it was daring me to take a sip. Well nobody was around, so I did. It was crisp, a hint of citrus, actually it was very refreshing. Wait, did I just say this!!??

In my 15 years of serious wine drinking (before that it was only beer and scotch), I can’t even think of really anyone one I hang out with that even considers ordering white wine. Well, there are two exceptions: my cousin Marc in Chicago is one. Marc is retired at the ripe old age of 40 and he could care less about what anybody thinks. In fact, if you took away all the sports franchises in Chicago, Marc wouldn’t care about anything period! The other exception is my former boss Jim O’Brien, aka “The Silver Fox”. Along with being just a great guy to hang around, Silver has this certain statesman like aura about him. Always well dressed and well groomed, Jim was the perfect ambassador for the firm. In fact, Jim could probably be mistaken as the U.S Ambassador to Ireland. On more than one occasion, my business colleagues and I would give Silver Fox grief for ordering a Rombauer Chardonnay while we sat with our giant goblets filled with full bodied Napa Cab. He would merely tilt his glass, smile that smile that an elder always does when they know something you don’t, and sip away. Did the Silver Fox know something I had missed in my wine world? I mean I’m supposed to be well versed on this topic. Well I’ve spent the month researching North American White wines. I actually bought wines at different price points and below are my notes on each of them. Overall I was pleasantly surprised and the likeability factor was higher than I would have expected. But here is the bottom line; instead of only having 8 bottles of white wine in my cellar, I might up it to around 20.

· 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay- Full bodied with a touch of oak influence. I noticed citrus and peach aroma with a hint of vanilla. Alcohol level is moderate at 13.5%. Priced at $15.00 a bottle, this is consistently called one of the best values in the market. Wine Spectator gave this 90 out of a possible 100 points.

· 2008 Bernardus Chardonnay Monterey County- A Central Coast wine that was listed as a “smart buy” in this months Wine Spectator. Priced in the low $20’s there were over 22,000 cases produced so it’s easily accessible. This wine had the classic green apple flavors and just the right amount of toasted oak layered into other fruit flavors.

· 2007 Freestone Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Ovation- This was clearly the best of the three but also the most expensive at over $45. The Freestone has more of a French Burgundy style which shows off less oak yet still offers a delicate richness with the right amount of acidity. Might be a little tougher to find as it has received solid reviews and only 2400 cases were produced. Keep an eye on this biodynamic winery that was started by the Joseph Phelps family in an effort to produce quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

JPB, May 2010