Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Cheap Vs Expensive Wine

Monday, April 23, 2018

Sonoma Cabernet

A virtual wine tasting event was staged recently for Smith Story Wine Cellars.  "Virtual tasting" is when a bunch of wine writers/tasters get together on social media and spend an hour or so letting technology link us with great people and wines.  There are far worse ways to spend an hour.

This BrandLive event was put on by Charles Communications and can be viewed in retrospect here.

2015 Pickberry Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 

The winery says 2015 was an exceptional vintage for the Sonoma Mountain fruit.  "The 2015 drought played a role.  The high temperatures in August and early September accelerated maturity and picking times resulting in lively acidity, moderate to low alcohol and intense aromatics."

The wine was aged in neutral Bordeaux barrels for 21 months and it hits 14.2% abv.  The retail price is $60, and it's that special.  Only 300 cases were made.  Virtual tasters liked the tart fruit and spiciness of this one.  They also complimented its nose of roses, licorice, black pepper and eucalyptus.

This Cab is very dark and offers up a beautiful nose of cassis, vanilla and sweet oak.  There's a very slight herbal tinge and suggestion of smoke.  The palate shows blackberry, blueberry and a bit of bramble.  The tannins are quite firm and will no doubt mature in years to come.  As it is, it's a wonderful wine that's ready for a grilled steak or portobello mushroom.


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Friday, April 20, 2018

Washington Chardonnay

From Washington's Columbia Valley, the 2015 Pacific Crest Centennial Trail Chardonnay is named after the 2600-mile route that crosses some excellent wine regions as it winds its way across the western U.S.  The Chardonnay grapes for this wine grow in sandy loam on vines planted in 1981.

2015 was a warm Washington vintage, with riper fruit resulting from the sunshine.  Winemaker Linda Trotta fermented the juice in steel and oak, and the barrels got an extra four months work aging the wine.

The alcohol hits 13.2% abv and the wine sells for $17, very reasonable considering the quality.

The wine sits pale yellow-green in the glass and smells of tropical fruit with quite a buttery overlay.  The oak treatment rests in that place that's maybe a skosh too much, but a lot of people like it there.  What saves the day is the ripeness of the fruit and the raciness of the acidity.  Both come in heaping helpings.  Papaya, guava, banana and pineapple all take a turn on the taste buds.  The mouthfeel is full and the finish takes a long time.


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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Cornerstone's Howell Mountain Cabernet

The wines of Cornerstone Cellars have been around for nearly three decades, and the company has seen its share of change through the years.  One thing that appears to have stayed the same is their commitment to crafting excellent Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Napa Valley.  The recently added winemakers in Yountville, Charles Thomas and Kari Auringer, are guiding the good ship Cabernet now at Cornerstone.  Thomas has a 30 year track record in the Napa Valley, and Auringer is in her second go-round with the winery.

They only made a hundred cases of this $100 wine, and it proved to be very popular.  The website says the 2014 Howell Mountain Cab "sold out quickly at the winery."  Unavailable for the moment, Cornerstone says a "limited vertical release of 2013, 2014 and 2015 will be available in November 2018."  Get in line.  Alcohol hits 14.6% abv.

This wine is medium dark, dark at its core.  Aromas of rich blackberries and cassis come blasting forward, with tobacco, smoke and anise in tow.  There's a hint of something herbal - possibly eucalyptus? - poking through lightly.  A medium heft in the mouth is joined by firm tannins and a racy acidity.  It has a really clean palate, with dark berry and plum flavors not trod on too heavily by oak.


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Monday, April 16, 2018

Wine Trio From Southeast Texas

Texas wine is becoming more and more noteworthy all the time, but the vineyards are largely in the drier expanses of the central and western parts of the state.  The climate in Southeast Texas, from whence yours truly came, is not hospitable for growing wine grapes.  However, Bruno and George Winery in Sour Lake, Texas steadfastly keeps the wine lights burning in that part of the Lone Star State.

Shawn Bruno is a very outgoing former actor and former football star at the high school I attended a few years before him.  The school is now just a memory, a victim of consolidation, but it was named after a well-known wine lover, Thomas Jefferson.  Bruno makes wines from fruit other than grapes, mostly.  I received a trio of his wines from my family this year as a birthday gift.

Padrino Moscato
This wine is dedicated to patriarch Roy Bruno, winemaker Shawn's dad.  It clocks low alcohol at 9% abv and sits pleasingly pale in the glass.  The nose comes with an earthy bouquet and a side of white flowers, while the palate is mildly sweet with very little acidity.  It's more of a sipper than food friendly, but it’s a nice sipper.  I'd be tempted to call it a white Muscadine, only less earthy.

Candlelight Strawberry Wine
A pretty, pink blush, this one is easy on alcohol - 12% abv - and long on the fruit from which it is made.  Expect an earthy note to carry the sweetness along.  It also features more flavor than acidity, making it useful for cooling off during the long, hot, Southeast Texas summers.

Yellow Jacket Raspberry Wine
Named for the old TJ mascot, this wine has the red tint of a deep rosato, and a musky raspberry nose.  The palate is just as earthy.  A little bit of acidity plays in, but don't expect it to carry a rib eye. Again, easy alcohol at 12% abv.

Friday, April 13, 2018

New Orleans Drinking

In search of classic New Orleans cocktails on a recent trip to the Crescent City, I happened into the beautiful Roosevelt Hotel Sazerac Bar.  Expansive and done up in as much art deco as they could get their hands on, the bar is worthy of being included on a visitor's itinerary.

Having already had a Sazerac at another French Quarter watering hole, I decided to go with what the bar describes as a New Orleans classic on its own, the Ramos Gin Fizz.  Sweet and frothy with egg whites,  the making of the drink allows the bartender to put on quite a show, shaking heavily and dripping the concoction into a tall glass from on high.  The term "don't try this at home" does not apply, but you’ll likely need to bolster your bar first.

All ingredients except the soda - gin, lemon juice, lime juice, egg white, sugar, cream and orange flower water - are poured into a mixing glass and shaken with no ice for two minutes.  Then, ice is added and shaken hard for another minute.  Think of it as an aerobics session for lushes.  Then, strain it into a Collins glass and top with soda.  Easy, right?

They say it's the orange flower water and the egg whites that turn a regular gin fizz on its head and make it an entirely new beverage.  The cocktail was reportedly created by Henry C. Ramos in 1888 at his Imperial Cabinet Saloon on Gravier Street.  Back in the day it's said to have taken 12 minutes to make one, so a whole crew of 20 or more bartenders had to be on duty during peak hours just to shake it.

The Roosevelt made the drink popular, and former Governor Huey P. Long liked it so much, they say he brought one of the hotel's bartenders to New York to teach another hotel's staff how to make it.  Then the governor could enjoy it when was doing business in the Big Apple.  The Roosevelt Hotel owns the trademark to the name, Ramos Gin Fizz.

Punch offers a scaled-down two-minute version of the Ramos Gin Fizz, if you're in a hurry to get your fizz on.


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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bayou Brew

In Arnaudville, Louisiana, Bayou Teche Brewing has a raft of different beers, some with catchy names like Cinco de Bayou and Swamp Thing.  The website says that their LA 31 Bierre Pale Ale is designed to go with "red beans and rice. Chicken and sausage jambalaya. Boiled crawfish, crawfish bisque and crawfish étouffée."  Pretty much everything Cajun and Creole, in other words.

They talk about the beer combining "Belgian-style malts and an ample blend of East Kent Golding and Mosaic hops. It's a bronze-colored pour with a biscuit malt center, fruity, earthy, and citrusy hop flavors and a gentle bitterness."

LA 31 Biere Pale Ale is named after state highway 31, which meanders nearly 55 miles between New Iberia and Opelousas in the swamps of southern Louisiana east of Lafayette.

The beer has a medium weight and is kinda bitter, offering a good dose of hops balanced with barley.  It's a good food beer and went perfectly well with a pizza from Domenica on Baronne Street in the New Orleans' Roosevelt Hotel.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Wine With Movies: "All The King's Men"



From the Blood of the Vines series of movie and wine pairings I did about 6 years ago with TrailersFromHell.com.  Fun stuff.  It fits well with this week's Louisiana theme.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Louisiana Wine

As the list of American wines I've sampled has grown larger, those remaining to be tried have proven to be hard to corral.  Louisiana is one of the states that has been quite elusive due to a dearth of wineries and shipping restrictions.  However, I managed to find Louisiana wine on a recent trip to New Orleans.  But, just barely.

With only a small handful of wineries in the state, some using California grapes or other types of fruit from Florida, it's a bit difficult to find true Louisiana wines.  I had hoped to try a Blanc du Bois wine, made from a grape that does well in Louisiana's hot, humid climate, but it stayed out of reach.  The state is included in the Mississippi Delta AVA, but most of the grapes grown in that region are Muscadine.

My chance to sample didn't come from Brennan’s restaurant, where they make a sauce from a Landry Vineyards blueberry wine.  They wouldn't pour that wine and couldn't tell me that it was made from Louisiana-grown berries, so it's likely that it wasn't.  Landry does make an array of wines using Louisiana-grown Blanc du Bois grapes.

My break came at NOLA Tropical Winery, a tasting room in the mall at the end of the New Orleans Riverwalk.  I was told their extensive line of fruit wines are made with out-of-state berries and such, but they do carry some genuine Louisiana-grown grape wines, as well as Louisiana wines made from Muscadine grapes and a Port-style fig wine.  They offer free tastings, by the way.

That's actually a really nice Port-style wine from Pontchartrain Vineyards.  It's made from figs that I was told are grown in-state.  It smells good and Port-ly and tastes, well, figgy.   A nice finish lasts a good while. Tasty and fun.

The two wines made from Louisiana Muscadine grapes are better than that type that I’ve had before. They come from Amato's Winery in the town of Independence, a bit north of NOLA.  Still earthy quaffs, they have a little less of that foxiness found in some North American grapes.  I don't care for the flavor on Muscadine, but the wines are well made.  Muscadine vines are resistant to the diseases of humidity, which makes them useful in the south.  They are wines I would recommend only to the adventurous, or those who are familiar with the style.

I was told that even their fruit wines are made with berries sourced out-of-state.  They do, however, have some wines made by Pontchartrain Vineyards.


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Friday, March 30, 2018

The Earth Of Spain, With Bubbles

Vilarnau is a cava House located outside Barcelona.  I understand they date back to the 1940s, although their parent company goes back much further.  Manuel María González Ángel founded his sherry winery in 1835, then joined up with his English agent Robert Blake Byass.  Gonzalez Byass continues today under the descendents of Señor González.  They sell a large variety of wines, like the cavas of Vilarnau.  The wines are crafted by winemakers Damià Deàs and Eva Plazas.

This bottling is the winery's Trencadis Edition.  "Trencadis" is a style of mosaic art that utilizes small fragments of glassware.  You see the style emulated in the wrapper that covers the bottle, the avant-garde design of Antoni Gaudi

This delightful Vilarnau Brut Reserva non-vintage cava is made from  50% Macabeo grapes, 35% Parellada and 15% Xarel-lo.  Wine Enthusiast says you can say "zuh-REL-o" and not embarrass yourself too much.  The trio of Spanish grapes are typically used to make the sparkling treat.  The bubbly is aged from 15 months to two years in the bottle.  Alcohol tips in at a low, low 11.5% abv and it sells for $15.

The bubbles disappear quickly, but they're a blast for the short time they hang around.  Once they go away, the yeasty nose comes on strong and brings tons of citrus and minerals with it.  The mouth is full and dry, with earth and Meyer lemon to flavor the palate.  There are minerals aplenty.  Yeast and dirt linger on the finish for a long time.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Sicilian Nero D'Avola Wine

From the hillsides around Marsala comes a wine that makes me think of a California Pinot Noir, only, you know, Italian.  The Villa Pozzi Nero d'Avola is sold under a corporate umbrella - Deutsch Family - but made by a guy with wine for blood.

Wine goes back a ways in Sicily, about 1500 years.  Wine also runs in the Pozzi family.  Owner and winemaker Daniele Pozzi runs it back to his great-grandfather Angelo, and his grandfather Fausto, and his dad Val. 

Nero d'Avola is a grape variety that’s indigenous to Siciliy. It's known as "the king of Sicilian grapes," in fact.  Pozzi hails the 2016 vintage as a great one, with near-perfect growing conditions that produced what he calls his best-ever Nero d'Avola.  The deep color in this wine comes after a full 15 days of contact with the skins.  The rich flavor is all thanks to the Nero d'Avola grapes - the wine is finished in stainless steel, not oak, so the fruit is given full expression.  The wine hits a reasonable 13% abv and, incredibly, sells online for under ten bucks.

This wine is dark in color and smells of black fruit, earth and tar.  There's a tartness on the palate that is more reminiscent of Pinot Noir, but with the weight of Syrah.  Blackberries, plums and pepper are in the forefront, with the tart darkness lingering after the sip.  The tannins are easy-going.


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Monday, March 26, 2018

Big Sur Gin, Big Flavor Martini

Stirred, not shaken.  As so often happens in the movies, James Bond got it wrong when he directed bartenders to shake his martini.  That tends to bruise the gin, aerating it too much and giving it a more biting flavor.  There are a lot of scientific details, but I just took their word for it.

San Diego County's Calwise Spirits Company says their Big Sur Gin is distilled from grapes and wild native herbs.  The label brags that you can "taste Big Sur without licking plants," which is probably a good thing on both counts.  The spirit is crafted using juniper, sage, bay, fennel, elderberry, yerba santa, lavender, lemon, so there's a lot of good stuff in that bottle from Spring Valley.  The gin comes at 80 proof and sells at Whole Foods for around 30 bucks.  Calwise also makes two rums, spiced and blonde.

Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry is dry, not sweet, made from a wine base with plants, alpine herbs and spices included.  For a martini, they suggest equal parts Dolin Dry and gin. Yeah, right.  I make mine at a three to one ratio.

I like a dirty martini, which means a bit of olive juice tossed into the mix before stirring.  I’m currently using Dirty Sue, a twice-filtered brine.  I'm also using a dash of Peychaud's bitters.  It hails from New Orleans, so I'm all set to make a sazerac if I want.

Together, Big Sur Gin and Dolin make a distinctly aromatic martini.  Pine notes and citrus on the nose, and a bit of a kick on the palate.  The juniper comes on stronger than in most gins and the herbal element is huge with fennel.  It's an outdoorsy flavor.  Spicy may be a good word for it.  This gin does not try to hide its attributes.  It definitely makes a martini on which a wine lover can ruminate.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Grounded Wine Company Steady State Red

Napa Valley winemaker Josh Phelps grew up literally among the vines.  He was raised in the wine business and surprised no one when he excelled at it as his own career.

Phelps' Grounded Wine Company, he notes, is "grounded in heritage, grounded in soil, grounded in simplicity."  The winery's mission is to "create wines that evoke a sense of place."  After all, that's what wine is all about.  Phelps says his wine system is in "steady state" and can be expected to continue that way into the future.

The Steady State Red Wine Napa Valley 2015 is a Bordeaux-style blend made with 73% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 8% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol hits a predictable 14.5% abv  and the wine sells for $65.

Steady State is very dark and smells that way.  Black berries, currant, anise and a trace of tar on the nose paint it, black.  The palate is fruity but serious, with a savory stripe cutting through the middle just barely on the tart side.  Acidity is bright and the tannins are moderate, so it's drinkable as well as pairable.


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