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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Travel Tuesday: The Pithy Little Wine Co.

“Throw off the bowlines, catch the trade winds in your sails, explore, dream, discover!” ~ Mark Twain

Looking to make some travel plans for the upcoming weekend or maybe a quick mid-week get away? If you are, may I recommend a great little get-away, to help you get away from it all, called Paso Robles. It's a quick little jaunt up on the freeway, especially for you folks in Los Angeles or even Orange County. I know I've talked up Paso Robles quite a bit; but I've so much more to share about this great little town, connected to one of the best wine regions in the state, a place known for its Rhone-Zone, but there are always few other surprises to capture your interest right around the corner.

One of those other great surprises is a visit to one of Paso's newest down-town tasting rooms. They're called the Pithy Little Wine Co. a fun stop with some great wines to sample. They caught my eye, because their use of Social Media, you can catch up with them here on twitter or just cruise right over to their easily navigated website, where they have many specials to tempt your taste-buds, while also offering fab-design services. Whether you are just looking a unique wine-related gift for the vino-sapien who has everything or you want to taste through a fascinating array of old-fashioned sodas, a trip to the Pithy Little Wine Co. is simply a must on your next trip to Paso.

The customer service is fab, the owners a husband and wife team, Jeff Munsey and Felicia Alvarez are fantastically welcoming to wandering-winos and are ready to take you through a tasting of their old-fashion sodas or their great selection of wines. I recommend trying their wines with pairing they offer, make sure to ask for it when you visit. Speaking of great customer service; if you happen to be out and about visiting many of the other tasting rooms to be found within easy walking distance from many of the centrally located accommodations, [like the Paso Robles Inn] they'll hold onto your purchases for you and deliver to your hotel's desk. Now that's what I call convenience, leaving my hands free to continue to explore many of the other local downtown hot-spots, you could easily spend a whole day down-town and never repeat the same experience.

Now about the wine I fell head over heels with while I was there, a monster of finesse, a classic Rhone-Zone style called, Elephant In The Room [SRP $44]. This is their first Rhône blend, composed of  65% Syrah, 20% Viognier and 15% Grenache rounds out this tasty treat. In the glass a hedonistic purple-colored vestment, ideally suited for a king’s royal raiment. After the first splash down, wow, wonderfully expressive bouquet, blackcurrant, blackberry and dark cherry, teasing you with sexy floral and spice nuances adding wonderful complexity. This wine has focused flavors which are clear and deep, while also being complex and lingering from start to finish.

What impressed me the most about this wine was not its power, instead I was taken by its subtle, lingering intensity. It had me thinking it was a member of the U.S ladies Olympics gymnastic team, because of the way it packed all those flavors into a graceful mid-weight canvas. Funny thing is that; even though I was enjoying this wine in Paso Robles, it could have been anywhere or any time of the year, but for me I was easily transported to Cote-Rotie for just a moment, but the unexpected splash of Grenache brings me back to reality. Still this wine has a Cote Blondes style, making it very approachable now, but still has plenty of structure for long term cellaring, if you can wait that long. If I were you, I'd act fast and grab a few for yourself, a wine this good will disappear fast, especially since there was just a little over 100 cases produced.

This delightful stop in down-town Paso Robles also introduced Mrs. Cuvee and I an opportunity to discover the Brown Butter Cookie Company located on the coast, between Cambria and Morro Bay and ideally located in the quaint seaside town of Cayucos. While these cookies are bite-size, the flavors are full sized. All the cookies are still hand rolled, the "original" is made from simple ingredients, like browned butter, sea salt, vanilla and brown sugar, so stop-by and see them soon, breath in all the fresh-baked cookie smells and sample some to find your favorite. Until next time folks continue to sip long and prosper, cheers!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wine of the Week: 2010 Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

We've all heard the supposed sage advice, "don't change horses in midstream," a phrase popularized by a former U.S. President, whose likeness is found on that dusty five-dollar bill in your wallet.  A phrase that had a lot less to do with actual horses or water; it had a whole lot more to do with not changing leaders or positions in an activity whether that be political leaders or in this case winemakers. This of course can be especially true when it appears it maybe difficult to make a change; after so much had been invested in another direction.

Before receiving samples the other-day [few weeks ago now] from a PR group representing Halter Ranch in Paso Robles; we were all-but strangers, oh Mrs. Cuvee and I had stopped by there a couple years ago, but left a bit dissatisfied and really never wanted to re-visit, but now we really want to re-visit for chance to get to know them better. We did however take a bottle of their 2008 Cotes-de-Paso, which I reviewed earlier this year, it really “wowed” me. Whether they knew it or not; I think it could be said, there was mutual thirst for a change in direction—a primary factor in their selection of their new winemaker, Kevin Sass who has recently came on board after spending eleven years with the wine-savvy folks at Justin Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles.

Kevin commented on his new position as the winemaker of Halter Ranch “I’m excited to be involved in this amazing, long-term project at Halter Ranch. My previous experience with the Halter Ranch estate fruit, combined with a new [soon-to-open], state-of- the-art facility, will allow me to showcase what this property has to offer.” After sampling their Halter Ranch [$28] 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon; a tasty blend  with just under 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and nearly equal parts Malbec and Merlot rounding out the flavor profile, I'm really digging their new direction.

As soon as this wine is uncorked it's dressed to impress, no decanting is needed [but is still recommended] as the wine spilled into my glass wonderful aromatics escaped easily, filling the air with black/red fruit essence, a subtle crème de cassis, slapping my nose with exotic spice, rich earth and enticing florals. After getting my first big-gulp, delightful and elegant flavors engulf you taste-buds, you'll easily find rich blackberry, currant, anise and subtle oak fla­vors that are dry and complex. This is a great food wine, which will easily pair with many styles and types of food; especially great for summer backyard barbeque's, stylistically a wine made in a drink now and drink often style. I scored this wine 91 points and highly recommend that you give this wine a swirl for yourself. 

I asked winemaker Kevin Sass, what he might suggest pairing with the newly released 2010 Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon? Kevin’s suggests the wine to be paired with grilled steak, lamb, prime rib, venison stew and any other hearty meat dish; it will also age beautifully for another 10-15 years. 

If you're interested in visiting for a tasting, they are easily found on Paso's west-side at 8910 Adelaida Road near the intersection of Vineyard Drive, just a short drive from downtown Paso Robles. I'd also invite you to follow them on twitter, catch up with on Facebook or if you want to see what else they are up to, check out their easy to navigate website, where you can also purchase their wines.  

They also sent me a sample of their 2011 Halter Ranch Rosé, which is light, lean and has an appealing crispness, dried rose petals, strawberry and cherry flavors dominate, a wonderfully refreshing wine, well suited for a warm afternoon on the back patio, while tending to barbecue duties. And word has it from the "Ranch" that this wine will be featured in the August issue of Sunset Magazine along
side seven other, "California-Pinks". Have a great weekend everyone; until next time folks continue sip long and prosper, cheers!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Taking your Wines Temperature

I found this interesting little tidbit the other day about the best serving temperature for wine on a site called the Wine Experience. The info given has some credibility, but mean-while back at the whole story about "proper" serving temperature, I've rounded up a bit more information on the subject that should address subject a bit more thoroughly about serving wine at the correct temperature.

The gist of the article, which you can read here gives you a quick twenty-minute rule, for a red wine to achieve what they call the "proper" serving temperature just drop it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. If it's a white wine, take the bottle from the refrigerator twenty minutes before you plan on drinking it. Sounds so simple doesn't it? While it may be a simple rule of thumb, I think it's far too simplistic and rather incomplete. Depending on the time of the year, that simple rule of thumb probably won't work and will need to be adjusted for cooler temps either inside or out.

But the bigger and to me most important point of drinking wine at the correct temperature comes into play when a wine becomes too warm. Whether it's white/red, rose or bubbly, when a wine warms up past recommended temp range, then you quickly lose the acidity [the part of the wine that helps it pair with food] and then the wine is no longer crisp enough to cut through the fats produced by the food. When this happens your meal won't taste as good as it should or could and when a wine gets to warm it loses its ability to wash out the fats, greatly reducing the ability to enjoy the second, third and fourth bites of the fab pairing you may have prepared.

The Court of Master Sommeliers recommends the following serving temperatures for maximum enjoyment of wines:
Medium Bodied Reds: 55° F, 13° C
Full Bodied and Aged Reds: 59-64° F, 15-18° C

Heavy Whites and Light Reds: 50-55° F, 10-13° C

Champagne and Sparkling Wines: 43-50° F, 6-10° C
Light White Wines and Rose: 45-50° F, 7-10° C

But now here's my own take on the issue; one that will surely fly-in-the-face of the conventional wisdom on the subject, but hell that has never stopped me before. Now that said; may I also point out here, that my recommendations below are based upon living in San Diego, where the average daily temps range from 70.5° F [21.4 degrees Celsius] to 88° inland. But if drinking red, full bodied wines just above cellar temperature is the recommendation from the experts, then I'm glad to be doing it wrong, because to me, that is just plain foolish.
  

When the weather does turn cooler; I adjust the time needed for a wine to reach the desired drinking temp. Many times in the month of December, I have to pull heavy red wines out in the morning, so they'll be ready to go right around supper time. So in general with a meal, if I pull the white out at 45 degrees or the red at 57 degrees, I find it will warm up 10 degrees over the time it takes to get the food plated and then the wine is ready to be enjoyed.
 
REDS: I keep all my red wines in a wine storage device that looks like a refrigerator, keeping them chilled at the recommended 57 degrees and vibration free. When I want to drink a red wine from my cellar, I will pull said bottle from its stasis-chamber at least one hour before preparing dinner. Even on hot summer days, the temperature in my home rarely exceeds 76 degrees. So by the time, I'm ready to have my first slurp of wine, the wine has warmed to 67-70 degrees and is now ready to go. I've sampled many red medium bodied and full-bodied red wines from my own cellar at the so-called recommended temperatures; the wines are very closed and inexpressive.

So maybe I'm completely wrong on the issue, but not being a member of the anti-flavor league, I like to be able to taste each and every layer of these wines I spend so much coin on. To taste these as cold as the recommended temps seen above, just seems silly to me. I could see drinking wines like Beaujolais a bit chilled, but that style of wine is one few exceptions for serving red wines chilled.

WHITES: Like my red wines, I keep white-wines in the same device. I like to drink my white wines a bit warmer than the chilly recommended temps you see above. I find when white wines are consumed at too cool of a temperature, that you'll undoubtedly miss out of many of wonderful flavors and aromas just waiting to be unleashed as the wine warms up a bit.
 
When it comes to wines like, Sauvignon Blanc, Italian Pinot Grigio, Albarino or even a Sancerre, I will bust out what I call a cool-sleeve, which I slip on over the bottle on a warm day to keep these wines at a cooler, yet tastier temperature. I've found if these wines get too warm, than they start to close down and become monolithic. But for me, a California style Chardonnay, will continue to do just fine, even on reasonably warm days, but of course if it's a cooker out-side, then it may be time to bust that cool-sleeve out.
 
Here's my unconventional recommendation for the optimum white-wine drinking. If you keep the wine in a device like the one I have pull out the desired wine about 10 minutes before you plan to start slurping. If you keep these wines in an everyday [37 degrees] refrigerator, something most folks do, then this where the 20 minute rule will come into play. As a general rule of thumb, depending on how many folks you're serving, pulling the wine out of the 57 degree wine storage device right before plating takes the guess work out of finding that right serving temp. If you don't have one of those cooling-sleeves, I'd recommend buying one, they are fantastic on warm days, especially if you're eating outside.

ROSES: I pretty much treat these wines in the same manner as I do white wines I've described above; but of course you should adjust the methods based upon your taste and weather conditions. That of course is true in all situations. Drinking a rosé wine too warm is not recommended; as many of the wonderful flavors and aromas will start to shut down and you'll miss out on what's for many the ideal summer wine.

BUBBLY: When it comes time to uncork the bubbly, whether it's Champagne or other sparkling wines, they should be served chilled and not at room temperature. Most folks can keep these wines in their refrigerator, but if you just have it sitting in your pantry, you can from room-temp to the correct temperature (43-48 degrees F) by placing the bottle in a bucket of ice for 20 minutes. If you don't happen to have a bucket, a twenty minute rest in the ice-maker will also do the trick nicely. Drinking bubbly warm will really kill the experience and remind you of taking a swig from a can on warm-beer on a hot day, definitely not an experience I want to repeat anytime soon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wine and Food Pairing of the Week: Tuna Melt + Wente Morning Fog

Another Wine Wednesday on tap, many vino-sapiens will be scurrying about looking for a good-to-great bottle of wine for the upcoming weekend or even a little something for tonight's wine-slurping festivities. Last week I was involved in another online "taste and tweet", where I came across a simple little California Chardonnay called Morning Fog, from the great folks at Wente Vineyards, that I would like to high-light in this review.

A few of the more snobby elements of bloggerdom panned this wine a bit, throwing it under the wine-wagon. Pegging it as being the typical over-oaked butter-bomb, better suited as a wine to be poured over stale movie theatre pop-corn. But nothing could be further from the truth. While I got a certain amount of toast and a delightful drop of lemon-curd, this wine is not monolithic in style. It had some nice layers of minerality tucked into the subtle apple and pear flavors dancing around the citrus notes. The abundant fruit is punctuated with a nice bit acidity to help carry the day.

By me saying this no way implies that I drink Chardonnay on a regular basis, in fact I typically will go out of my way to drink a red wine over white wines, if I have a choice. But there are times I do enjoy a good white, especially when they're paired with the right foods or I just want something a little lighter on a warm day.

In fact as it's stated on their tech-sheet, "50% of this Chardonnay was barrel fermented in French oak" while the balance was fermented in stainless steel, nicely cutting down on the Chateau Two by Four style, so often associated with typical California Chardonnay low-acid butter-bombs. Especially from producers like Rombauer for example, a style sometimes known as Cougar-Crack.

Additionally; the wine was sur-lie aged for seven months, helping to give those round mouth flavors, many associate with creaminess in this style of Chardonnay. So I want to salute the folks at Wente, for the effort to dial down oak influence. While many folks who write reviews, don't think much of wines like this one, the fascinating fact is that Chardonnay and California Chardonnay specifically; are still on top of the charts for consumption among the general wine-slurping-public and is a wine that still commands major shelf space with many wine and spirit retailers.

Like I said, I opened this wine last week to sample during the live tasting, I later used my vacu-vin and tucked it back into my refrigerator for safe-keeping. [I had previously mentioned it was a screw-cap closure, but it was cork] I came back to this same wine this past Saturday, while preparing lunch for Mrs. Cuvee and myself. I poured a glass, the same vanilla, toasty lemon-curd aromas jumping from the glass, invited my first slurp. This wine paired so nicely with our tuna-melts, which you see pictured below, that the Mrs. and I had no problem finishing the bottle, making for a wonderfully simple Saturday afternoon food and wine pairing.

What I hope you take away from this post is that this wine is a great Tuesday evening wine, you'll have no fear of buttery sweetness and its pairing possibilities are quite literally limitless, who am I judge anyway, even a toasted marshmallow would work out quite nicely. If you like a nicely balanced Chardonnay now and then go get yourself of this very tasty juice, which I've scored 87 points, it has an SRP of $13 most places and it's a wine can easily recommend to you. Until next time sip long and prosper cheers!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Travel Tuesday: Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys Road Bike Ramble

"Life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance you must keep moving" ~ Albert Einstein

 
Want to see your favorite wineries from an entirely new perspective, then how about grabbing your bike for an unforgettable two-wheeled adventure through vine covered valleys of Sonoma. I started thinking about this option the other day, when a friend of Mrs. Cuvee inquired if I knew of any vineyard bike trails. Looking back at her and the question, I had a blank expression on my face and gave a shoulder shrug; confessing that I've not really looked into it on any level.

Having been an avid cyclist in my early years, back before I could afford to have a vehicle on a regular basis, my interest in finding out more was piqued. So what did I discover, a pretty easy to use website where the average vino-sapien can access hundreds of bike trails for a small subscription fee at Trails.com. The loop I found is described as the "Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys Ramble" and is known as a easy 32-33 mile meander through the vine covered countryside, an area dotted with multiple tasting rooms. The kind of ride that just about anyone could conquer all or half of it in pretty easy fashion, without too much huff and puff.

Speaking of Dry Creek, I've included a link to an interactive map of wineries you may encounter on this trail and just one click on a wineries icon will give small glimpse of what to expect before you arrive. Now if you’re looking for a few recommendations of wineries to visit, here some of my faves; Ferrari-Carano Vineyards, Dry Creek Vineyards, F. Teldeschi Winery, Gustafson Family Vineyard [the view here is worth the steep ride] Michel Schlumberger, Quivira Vineyards, Ridge/Lytton Springs Winery, Rued Winery and Seghesio Family Vineyards. I hope you’ll plan to visit some of my top picks along the route or better yet let me know which wineries you discovered along the way, which you'd recommend.

After posting this article to my Facebook page; Alison Crowe, winemaker at Garnet Vineyards in Carneros suggested another great ride for the wandering wino and even for the adventurous vino-sapien. She thinks, Carneros is great to bike in because so much of it is "back roads" off the main highway. Few cars and nothing but gorgeous rolling hills and fresh breezes. It stays much cooler than other wine country areas. There's a nice loop that can be had on Cuttings Wharf/Las Amigas/Duhig roads. And she recommends a stop at the Fremont Diner for brunch/lunch!

Before you run out the door, racing to put that bicycle on the back of your own wine-wagon, you may want to make life a little easier by investing in a GPS which can be mounted on the bike, that way you can follow the routes so much easier. Once you have a GPS device you can down-load the trail directly from Trails.com to your device. Of course it goes with out saying there two things you will definitely need before hitting the trail, one having a good helmet is a smart way to hit the road, just incase you have a spill and two bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.

The ride above does not really require you have the full-on bike-nerd accessories [unless of course you really want them] you'll just need to wear something comfortable and bright, sturdy shoes are must, those pedals can give your feet some grief, after just a few miles.

Also please be careful when trussing up your bike on the car, some of those devices that attach to the trunk-lid are a bit sketchy, I've seen a few fall off during transport, it's not a pretty aftermath. The best ones that I've seen attaches to the trailer hitch of the vehicle, providing easy on and off and a secure fit that won't bang your car. You may also want to look into some saddle bags, they come in handy when you'll be out all day on the wine trail and who knows you may want to take a bottle or two back with you from a newly found favorite. Until next time folks sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Access to Excess: Worlds Most Expensive Wine

 'Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.' ~ Oscar Wilde

I know for many even spending over $10 for a single bottle of wine would be unimaginable, but step away from the boxed wine aisle for a moment, have you ever wondered what the most expensive wine in the world is?

Truthfully, I've never given it much thought, but I have always suspected that it would be some crazy unrealistic price; that some fool with more money than good sense would want to spend on a single bottle. While I agree with the principal; "what the market will bear" allowing folks to get the best price for their goods or service, where small supply smacks into high demand. But honestly spending that kind on money on a bottle of wine, even from one as famed as this one is; it still reminds me of a quote from one of America's iconic statesmen; Will Rogers, who once quipped, “Too many people spend money they've earned..to buy things they don't want..to impress people that they don't like.”

In fact I'm under the impression that they won't even drink those wines, they'll just sock it away in some cellar, keep it under lock and key and quietly usher in a few close-friends to just to see the famed bottle. I sit on wine in my cellar, every once in a while, I'll take it out and ogle it, but I will eventually end drinking that bottle, famed or not. And yes I have a few bottles by famed winemaker Heidi Barret of Screaming Eagle fame, but believe when the time is right, I'll be uncorking those gems with the same reckless abandon of my Tuesday evening wines.

Okay, so did you guess that most expensive wine in the world consistently is French? It had to be right? So here it's folks, be prepared to pony-up some serious coin, according to an article I found on Wine Searcher the Henri Jayer’s Richebourg is the most expensive wine in the world. The article says; this red Burgundy, which is no longer in production, has the highest average price of all wines listed on Wine-Searcher.

It averages out at $14,395 per bottle, a figure calculated across at least three vintages. The price tag for this Burgundy grand cru tops the most expensive wine of 2011, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s Romanée-Conti – another Burgundy red currently selling at a mere $11,823 per bottle. But even topping that price was a 1945 Domaine de la Romanée Conti, which sold for $123,919 during an Christie's auction in Geneva and is pictured above.

If you want to read more about access to excess, then click here for the rest of the story. If you want to read about more wines that can only be defined by access to excess click here. So the next time you come home with a case or two to sock away in cellar and the "wife" gives you the raised eyebrow look, like what the bleep are you doing? Just remind her, you could have spent so much more than the paltry $400 or so you just blew on a few favorite bottles. Until next time folks remember to sip long and prosper cheers!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Wine and Food Pairing of the Week: Carnitas + Rosè of Pinot Noir


Many folks wonder; "geez, I'm having tacos on a warm southern California day, but what wine do I pair with it", when beer seems like the more viable option. It's a great question and it’s a dilemma I've found myself in many times. Being from San Diego, a plate of carnitas tacos is one of my main go-to choices. So may I introduce to you what I think is a flat-out fantastic pairing choice with carnitas and a wine I've had before in other settings. In fact it's such a versatile wine; I scored a few more bottles before I left Sonoma back in May, to take back home to San Diego.

The Balletto 2011 Rosè of Pinot Noir from Sonoma County was a fantastic pairing with the Carnitas I snacked down earlier this week. The color of this wine resembled a water-colored San Diego sunset, kind-of a light salmon and cotton candy mix. This lively wine comes from a careful touch of skin contact from Pinot Noir; small quantities of free run juice really [no press in sight].

On the nose, plenty of vibrant rose petals, dried strawberry and a kiss of meaty summer peach. The palate bites at ripe strawberries, kisses your mouth with tangy-citrus, wet-stone and lemongrass. I found this wine well balanced, piped with bright acidity. If you’re looking for pairing suggestions, this rich enough to pair up with salmon, yet light enough to handle a plate of fresh mussels, but of course the perfect summer pairing is with this very tasty rosè. I scored this wine 92 points; it sells through the wineries website for $18 and is great value with excellent QPR. Until next time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wine of the Week: 2010 Garnet Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir

“You don’t have to be clinically insane to make Pinot Noir, but it’s a distinct advantage.” ~ Michael Hill Smith, co-owner of Australia's Shaw & Smith winery.

Well the weekend is almost here, I can actually see it from here, too bad I have to work most weekends, but that is beside the point.

So for you nine to five folks, who've earned the right to not work on the weekends, I've got a bottle of Pinot Noir in this weeks spot-light that will make your weekend plans shine even brighter.

I encountered this bottle of wine the other night via an invitation from the great folks at Wine Twits who were kind enough to have a few samples sent my way so that I could fully participate in the lively conversation on Twitter. 

If you'd like to check out the conversation, it's very easy to still follow along and interact by clicking on the hash-tag #WITS2012, where you can see everything from tasting notes, snarky comments and just plain-fun interactions shared among fascinating vino-sapiens like yourself.


This fantastic example of cool-climate Pinot Noir comes to you from the Carneros region, located or I should say wedged nicely between Sonoma and Napa. Carneros became an official AVA in 1983, tattooing a distinctive imprint on the grapes grown in this region, a region where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay show quite nicely.

The wine in today’s wine of the week spotlight is the 2010 Garnet "Carneros Pinot Noir, which comes under screw-cap [meaning drink now and drink often] and sells right here in San Diego for just $17 on sale at Bevmo. This folks is possibly one of the best Pinot Noir wines I've had from the Carneros region in sometime and by far one of the very best values you will come across any time soon. My hat is off to their winemaker, Alison Crowe for a job well done; feel free to connect with her @alisoncrowewine if you have any questions.

I wouldn't doddle too long if I were you, I've just seen the review by the Huffington Post's epic wine reviewer Richard Jennings, who gave this wine 92 points today on Cellar Tracker

A score which is consistent with Wilfred Wong's own score and of course with my own score of 93 points. So this is your chance to get to the head of the line, because honestly this is case purchase time, ten thousand cases may seem like quite a bit, but honestly it will go fast once folks sniff out this bargain.

Once I unscrewed this wines twist-off cap, the party got started right away. It was no fuss, no muss, once out of the bottle and into my glass this wine came dressed to impress, taking my palate by storm. I was overwhelmed by its finesse, the approach was nothing short of 100% silk. I found this wine tremendously complex, offering a full array of flavors.

This wine offers the thirsty vino-sapien refreshing acidity, a complex flavor of strawberry jam spread across medium toast and cherries in a lovely coat of sandalwood floating on the highly polished tannins, leading to a long deep finish. 

This wine so captivated me so much that I had some-how easily slurped down the entire bottle before Mrs. Cuvee could get home to give it a swirl for herself [shhhh].

Pairing choices are pretty limitless with this wine, another food and wine pairing champion sure to rock your palate. The kind of wine that won’t get in the way of what you eat, instead compliments each bite. But if I was going to go for a classic summer time pairing Tuna Tartare [Ahi] would be my go-to choice. But be advised to go easy on the fresh shallots or risk overwhelming the wine, so to soften the approach, you may want to sauté the shallots a bit, to add a bit of carmelization and thus round-out those flavors.

Okay folks, that’s it for today, there you have it folks my recommendation to put a sparkle in your weekend plans and lots of smiles to whomever you share this with. Until next time, remember to sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rosé Round-Up: Top Ten Summer-Time Sips


"A Rosé by any other name still smells as sweet;" it also makes for the ultimate summer time choice for many vino-sapiens baking in this summers epic heat wave. But let’s face it, these wines have suffered from a bit of an identity-crisis, even though they are making a serious comeback. They've sadly been mistaken for the sugary-sweet blush-style of wines many folks can find lining the bottom row of shelves in the local neighborhood drug-store, known as white-zin or white-merlot.

These blush-wines resemble more of an adult Kool-Aid; where the only thing missing is the straw. But I know, I know some folks reading this just love those "sweet-wines" looking lovingly at that style through rose-colored glasses [ha]. If that is your favorite style, that's great I have a couple choices for you in this line-up. But stick with me a moment; as I invite you to give into your need for exploration, which may be lying dormant from the sugar over-load.

So what can you expect to find in what I call a true rosé? They are often made in a “dry” style, displaying vibrant fresh red-fruit flavors, like strawberry, raspberry, ripe summer peach, ripe red-pear or even watermelon side of the fruit spectrum, peppered with subtle spicy floral. A true rosé is a nice dry, tangy and crisp wine, nothing like the blush wines, which tend to be heavy and syrupy-sweet. In fact their only true similarity is in the semi-pink to fluorescent-red color. In my mind a properly made rosé will always have great depth of flavor, crispness, lightly layered red-fruit, floral spices; characteristics all of which makes a great summer sipping style of wine.


Food Pairing Champ: Trying to beat the summer heat this year and you still want to drink wine, you’ll find rosé wines are very versatile food pairing champions. They lend themselves easily to pairing with many different food types and styles. Rosé wines also tend to be low in alcohol [but not always], making it the perfect wine for taking on an afternoon picnic. Some recommendations; hot or cold [perfect left over] chicken, pasta, pork, Sunday morning Tortilla-Espana, omelets or even a quiche, and other lighter picnic-foods like charcuterie and fresh cheeses, mix in some fresh fruit and you are on the way to food and wine pairing nirvana.

1. Chivite's Gran Feudo Rosado [Navarra, Spain]: A garnacha based rosés which typically sports zippy acidity. Ripe watermelon punctuates the color, a red-fruited distinctive fragrance, ripe summer plums, raspberries and a fresh basket of strawberries on the finish. On the palate, slim and friendly, with a lasting structure and a firm finish. I discovered this wine while in the Kingdom of Navarra last year, I scored this wine 90 points, it sells for a crazy-good price $9 here, providing tremendous QPR.

2. Envie d'été 2010 Château Garrineau Rosé [France]: A very tasty rosé composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. On the nose you'll find elegant aromas and flavors of cherries and strawberries, wrapped in floral overtones. It’s the kind of wine that feels like summertime in the South of France. I scored this wine 88 points and it sells for about $15 USD, though I couldn't find a place that sells this wine here in the US.

3.
Pine Ridge 2011 Encantado Rosé [Stags Leap]: This rosé was crafted using the saigneé, [to bleed off] a technique where juice is extracted from the must. A true-rosé composed of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a fantastic rosé brimming with the fresh red-fruits flavors of - strawberry, raspberry and a hint of citrus. I discovered this wine on one of my recent trips to the Napa Valley, where Mrs. Cuvee and I could be found slurping this wine down, while reclining under a umbrella covered picnic-table on the wonderful grounds of Pine Ridge. I scored this wine 89 points. It sells for a SRP of $22.

4. V. Sattui's 2011 Gamay Rouge [Napa Valley]: This rosé is great wine for folks who like it sweet. This wine would be perfect with spicy Thai food or even barbecued ribs, it does have a bit of RS, just enough acidity to carry the fruit and not be cloying. Produced by extended grape skin contact, in the glass an summer time strawberry color. The flavor profile provides the palate with ripe strawberry, a touch of cherry and some gentle baking spices. This wine is only available at the winery and sells in the neighborhood of $18, I scored this wine 87 points.

5. Vivanco Tempranillo Grenacha Rosé 2009 [Rioja]: This is a vibrant Rosé with dominating flavors of rose petals, raspberries and toasty-strawberries; there is a kick of spice on the finish. This wine was made in the traditional “Sangrado” style, where skin contact was 12-24 hours for the color. This wine sells for $15 a bottle and I scored it 92 points. It goes great with a spinach quiche.

6. Penman Springs 2010 Estate "Two Roses" [Paso Robles]: This rosé cut from the Syrah grape and I recall this wine had the most "funky" nose. Some incoherent barn-yard aromas, was my first impression. After a few more swirls some toasty cranberry and strawberry aromas, which carried through to some wonderful dried red fruit flavors, just a bit of white pepper and refreshing crisp finish. I initially thought this was Grenache, but later learned it was Syrah. I scored this wine 89 points and it sells for $15 through the website or in the tasting room.

7. Balletto 2011 Rosè of Pinot Noir [Sonoma County]: The color of this wine resembled a water-colored San Diego sunset, kind-of a light salmon and cotton candy mix. This lively wine comes from a careful touch of skin contact from Pinot Noir; small quantities of free run juice really [no press in sight]. On the nose, plenty of vibrant rose petals, dried strawberry and a kiss of meaty summer peach. The palate bites at ripe strawberries, kisses your mouth with tangy-citrus, wet-stone and lemongrass. I found this wine well balanced, piped with bright acidity. If you’re looking for pairing suggestions, this rich enough to pair up with salmon or even duck, yet light enough to handle a plate of fresh mussels. I scored this wine 92 points; it sells through the wineries website for $18, great QPR.


8. Banfi 2010 Rosa Regale Brachetto [Italy]: Another wine for those who like it sweet and bubbly. In the glass it has the appearance of drinking a dark ruby soda pop, a frothy little number full of raspberry colored foam, giving a very festive feel in the glass. You'll find hints of rose petals, where raspberry and strawberry nuances abound. Rosa Regale is produced by Vigne Regali in Strevi, Piedmont. I scored this wine 87 points. You can now purchase this wine at your local Costco for $14.99 each. It has an amazingly low ABV of just 7% and a perfect pairing partner with spicy foods.

9. Rol Valentin Rosé 2010, St-Emilion [France]: Another nose full of bright fresh baskets of strawberry, water-melon and ripe raspberry fruit that carries through to the palate, some dried spice notes and a boat-load of crisp acidity to balance the big, up-in-your-face fruit. This beauty sells for $10 most places and I gave it 90 points. A stunner of great value [QPR], overflowing with flavor, from one of the new breed of garagiste wines that have emerged in St-Emilion.

10. Royal Cuvée Vintage 2004 [Sonoma]: In the flute you'll find this Pinot Noir led cuvee blend casts a slight rosé color leaning toward the orange/pink salmon side of the equation. On the nose dried cherries, over a fresh baked brioche. In the first slurp, fat ample bubbles and creamy mousse composed of strawberries, smeared on fresh baked buttermilk biscuits, leading to a long sumptuous finish. I've had this wine several times and I've never been disappointed. It sells for in the $14 to $32 price range most places. I scored this wine 90 points and highly recommend it.

An okay folk that’s the list, I hope one of these wines will be filling your glass soon. Summer is in fine form, heating up the landscape, sending folks scurrying for a way to be the heat. You may want get busy stocking up on a few of these gems, as you definitely don't want to be on the outside looking in, when it comes to securing some of these wonderful rosés for your upcoming warm weather activities. Until next time sip long and prosper.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Paso Robles Uncorked: 2010 DAOU Chemin de Fleurs

"There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony." ~ Coco Chanel

Wow, I had another wonderful weekend in Paso Robles, it feels like I was just there. Oh-wait, in fact I was just there, when it was a bit more chilly than the oven-sized temps which greeted our [Mrs. Cuvee and I] arrival this last weekend. We stayed once more downtown at the Paso Robles Inn, had a wonderful breakfast, with plenty of spoons to go around this time, where we stirred up quite a wonderful stay.

Of course one of the best parts of staying at the PRI, as I like to refer to it, is not only the hot tub mineral springs, accommodations and the wonderful attached dining-spot which is always a treat to dine in; but for me the main attraction is the close proximity to nearly everything Paso Robles has to offer. Whether fine dining is your thing, bar-hopping, shooting a few games of pool with the locals, a farmers market across the street in the park or you just want to slurp your way through the many of the down-town tasting-spots, everything is within easy reach of stroll down the clean city streets.

One of my favorite aspects of down-town Paso Robles; is the fact there's no crass commercialization slapping you in the face, sorry no Star-Bucks, no impersonal '"fast-food" joints, just plenty of good old Mom and Pop operations, each with their own personality. In all my experiences in Paso Robles, I'd say they have made good old-fashion hospitality an art-form. The town isn't perfect, but c'mon whose town is, and by way of comparison, you'll be hard pressed to find the rough-spots. That said, do yourself a favor especially if you live relatively close-by, love wine and good food, come to Paso and check out the vibrant food and wine scene, you'll want to come back over and over.


Part of our dining plans this past weekend found Mrs. Cuvee and I at Thomas Hill Organics. It was our first time dining with them, everyone we told about our dinner plans, gave us the "oohs and ahhs thumbs-up. We were pretty excited as well, considering all the good things we heard. We had booked our reservation a little earlier that same day and were lucky to get a seat, as the place was packed. We sat out in the covered patio area, which butts up against a couple other retailers, talk about a shared space. Fans were blowing, but not overwhelming, keeping everything cool. The tables were close, but not so close you thought you would need to introduce yourself to folks sitting next you or fear being considered rude. There were the occasional unexpected guests [aka, bugs] who dropped in to say hello, but not enough to send even the most squeamish running to duck for cover.

Speaking of duck, that was my choice from the menu and wow it was in a word delicious, but being the carb-a-holic that I am, I was seriously jonesing for at the very least a thin sliced baguette. The ducked paired wonderfully with the Bodegas 2008 Vaca Negra and the flank-steak strips Mrs. Cuvee enjoyed. The wine is elegant, broad fruit, dark plum, leather and earth, complex food wine, easy on the eyes and the wallet, very capable of pairing with many different food types and styles. The wine is a blend of 43% Mourvèdre, 36% Tempranillo and 21% Garnacha, it sells for $30 at the tasting room and $35 to purchase it from the restaurants wine list. I'm convinced the reason they picked this wine from their neighbor next door for the menu is this wines wonderful food-pairing qualities.

Now the pairing I thought was dead on, one I lucked into with a bit of an educated guess on my part. It was not suggested by the restaurant, but it may be one they want to suggest it more often in the future, as no suggestions were coming our way at all. But we did get one of those "oh-my" looks from our waitress. This pairing is the perfect answer to; "what do I have on a blazing hot day in the middle of summer with or without any power?”. This pairing comes dressed to impresses appropriately with Fresh Burrata, THO quince puree, handfuls of salad greens, fresh ripe-plum, lime oil, fresh baked croutons

The wine is from DAOU, their 2010 Chemin de Fleurs or as the say in France, "the Way of the Flower". The wine is a blend of three traditional Rhone grapes 48% Grenache Blanc, 26% Roussanne, 26% Viognier, light bodied, refreshing acidity, a drop of honey, white-florals and abundant fresh summer fruit. Top to bottom this wine is a food pairing champion with summer salads of many types and styles. Both of these elements came together for a very memorable sensory experience. The wine in my opinion is bit on the pricey side of the equation, but I'm still at least 90 points as a whole, including the wine and the pairing. As for the barrada, wow I'm at least 93 points on that, wow lights out freshness.

An okay folk that’s all I have for you today, tomorrow its back to Rioja as I have so much more to share with you about that amazing experience. Until next time, please continue to sip long and prosper cheers! *
As a matter of full disclosure part of our trip was sponsored by the Martin Resorts, who invited me back for another bite at the apple.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rioja Uncorked: Bodegas Sierra Cantabria "Cuvee" Especial Rioja


If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving, you don't actually live longer; it just seems longer. ~ Sir Clement Raphael Freud

Thinking a moment about his statement, I find an amazing amount of common sense for the everyday vino-sapien, everything should be taken in moderation, whether it's love, cigars or wine drinking, you need to know your limits and learn to just say, "no thank-you".  Which to my mind, is a perfectly acceptable reply to even the most gracious of hosts.

Now that said; when most vino-sapiens think about where a wine comes from, they are thinking about the French term terroir [tare-wahr]. It's a term that describes the climate which the grapes grow and thrive in, plus the various soil and sub-soil types which are often ultimately [and I say hopefully] reflected in wine swirling about in your glass.

Meandering as I did, through the captivating La Rioja wine region last week, in many cases I had the opportunity to see various types of soils and found that no two regions were anything alike. Each one had its very own unique character and style. The Tempranillo grape, which is the signature grape of the region, fits very nicely into each of these areas. Making for some of the most wonderful wine drinking experiences you'll ever come to know. Wines, which for many are a whole different-animal, especially for the folks who may have grown-up around the California wine industry.

What I found in many of wines I tasted Rioja was just what I expected I would; a signature sense of place that jumped from the glass in the nose and wowed my palate over and over. The folks I met, had a deep abiding passion for the wine business, it was evident in each and every wine I tasted last week. While some winemakers and producers had embraced what many call the "international" style which at times stymied the flavors of Rioja's unique terroir, still others clung vigorously to the past, maintaining the more "traditional" styles. In some cases, I believe their wines have crossed the bridge between the two and masterfully so and making that point for me with an exclamation point is the wine in today's wine review spot-light, the 2008 Sierra Cantabria "Cuvee" Especial.

Unfortunately I could not find this current release here in the states, it was a wine I encountered while tapas bar hopping last week. But if you'd like to get your hands on the 2007, I used wine-searcher to locate one store [selling for $35 usd and it was $26 at the tapas bar] that has limited quantities on hand, so act quickly.

In the glass you’ll find dark purple, violet core, with a brilliant clear rim. The aromas jumping from the glass suggested, an incredibly rich nose, offering a boat-load blackberries, leather, herbs and earth aromas. After the first slurp, sweet American oak combines with flavors of dark-chocolate, espresso, blackberries and ripe plum, leading to a soft, plush, yet taut and complex mouthfeel. This wine finishes with a long, smooth, yet very chalky [like clapping two erasers together, inhaling some of the dust]. For me this wine is absolutely delicious, pretty, yet wildly seductive, and drinking surprisingly well now, but feel free to sock it away for the future, this wine has great structure to last another five years or more.

Speaking of terrior, this wine was produced from clay and limestone vineyards in the Rioja Alavesa, one of the three sub-zones in La Rioja. This 100% tempranillo, is made from organically grown, hand harvested grapes. It then sees 12 months aging in 60% American and 40% French oak barrels, providing a very good example both of the Bodegas Sierra Cantabria's house style and their overall excellent quality.

Miguel Eguren who I met last week, looks after the vineyards for Sierra Cantabria, while the winemaking is done by his brother Marcos and his son Eduardo, both of whom are producing stunning wines whether it be in the traditional or in the modern international style. Their Bodega has been producing excellent wines under the Sierra Cantabria label for over 50 years.

How can I say that, because I had the unique opportunity to sit down with a broad range of their wines including a bottle from 1965, which I found very captivating, rich and still very rewarding. Folks, honestly you need to get to know this producer, because in this writers opinion this how you do it, viva Rioja! Remember folks when it comes to wine, it don't mean a thing, if it doesn't have that swing, until next time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!
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