Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Weekend of hoots, howls and Winetastic Halloween Fun

I know most you may already have your Halloween plans in place or you've already attended your Halloween party. But I wanted to let you know about a few things on the San Diego winescape for something spooky to do. So, if you haven't already made plans for this spooktacular weekend, fear not there are still abundant opportunities out there you to get your wine on.

First up on the list and most likely your best bet for wondering winos without weekend plans is to head over to San Diego's Hotel Del, who is going to have a Hallo-"wine" & Spirits Party, where you can have the opportunity to haul out that overpriced costumes, maybe win a prize, dance, and drinks some wonderful spirits at San Diego’s most haunted hotel [adults-only] Halloween bash and since you've already got the spirits they're prepared to bring on the wine, provided by their very own ENO wine bar. Your looking at a [$100] Benjamin per person, which includes a Trick-or-treat reception with over 30 wines, cheese, charcuterie and handmade truffle tastings in the ghoulishly decorated Crown Room, where you will be truly tempted with lavish food stations
featuring fall-inspired chef's compositions.

Happening on: SATURDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2010 7pm - 11pm. PS. they do have a program for the kiddies as well to keep them busy while you party the night away and yep there's still time to book a room for an overnight, just in case. Btw, if you don't have a wallet just brimming with cash, there are accommodation's close by within walking distance for a less scary price.

Second, for you folks in the North County of San Diego, you could have a scary good time at Canapés in San Marcos, for is a fiendish dining experience that's quintessentially Californian. What you will find there is a, social eating and drinking destination where food, wine and beer enthusiasts may indulge their senses. Join them on all hallows eve for a four course meal, paired with three different wines and live music for $60 per person.

Third, perhaps you don't want to do any wine-ing this Halloween and you'd like to see a few more spirits, then a 91X Boos-Cruise may just be the ticket. If so prepare to get on-board San Diego's very own Horn Blower Cruise lines, for a ghoulishly good time, where fun, flirty or frightening experiences will welcome you aboard if you dare, make sure to arrive in your best costume, as there will be a contest for the best dressed boosz and ghouls [with plenty of 91X prizes]. Tickets run $25 per person [includes the cruise] and sorry kiddies this an adult only party and the Cocktails and Snacks available for an extra charge, so plan accordingly. Happening: tonight Friday, October 29, 2010 You can get on Board starting at 7:30 pm  and set to Cruise from 8:30 - 11:00 pm.

Fourth, the Tango Wine Company will be having a Blind Tasting - Rich Blood Red Wines, join them as they attempt to evoke the evil spirit of wine stained the color of blood. So, if you can tell the difference between the three intensely red wines they pour, with some ghoulish help from us, you could win yourself a glass of your choice! The tasting is only $10 a person and is sure to delight your devilish taste buds happening on this Saturday 10/30.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Go green with a few greenbacks, the Eco Balance Carmenere 2009

If harmony with nature and a commitment to the integrity of the natural environment is part of your decision making processes in purchasing coffee and reflected in your choice of produce, then an introduction to Eco Balance wines is needed as well.
These are a new range of wines from Emiliana and they are all about harmony and balance and approachability. Which is exactly what I experienced with this wine and surprising because the moment I see it's an inexpensive wine, I'm thinking, "oh-boy" here comes disappointment city, but with their Carmenere nothing could be further from the truth of my initial impression that a glass of mediocrity was coming my way.

As an added bonus, all of their wines are produced from 100 percent sustainably farmed grapes in hand-selected vineyards located throughout the major regions of Chile. Their motto on each bottle, Enjoy life to the fullest, Care for the world around you, Open and share with family and friends, I am so down for that and take a look at their website, luv the intro to Emiliana, too bad I couldn't import one of videos here.

Carmenère: A word about this unique grape which is difficult to grow and even more difficult to make into wonderfully approachable wine such as the one I'm introducing you to here, first it is one of a small group of grapes which thrives in its newly adopted home in the New World.  This grape has truly struggled to gain wide acceptance in its homeland, although it's still used on occasion in France's Bordeaux region where it adds color and complexity. What are some of the telltale signs that you have Carmenere in your glass, just take a sniff or two and you will be enveloped [emphasis added] in its distinctive mélange [not a spice from the movie Dune] of smokiness, herbal potpourri, gamey and peppery notes. In its newly adopted home in South America, particularly Chile, it ripens fully and the wines take on added layers of dark berry fruit that gives it a balance rarely achieved in France and perhaps this highlights the reasoning behind its limited use in Bordeaux. When it comes to this grape, Carmenere and even Malbec, they do seem to be more at home in the New World, than clonal cousins in the Old World of winemaking in France.

Wine Reviewed: The Eco Carmenère is a wonderfully balanced blend of 85 percent Carmenère and 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with the grapes sourced from vineyards in the Colchagua Valley, where it's stainless steel fermented and barrel [50%] aged for just six months in oak.

Swirl: After I uncorked this sample and poured into my glass immediately from the bottle without decanting or other fooling around and poured myself a glass I was impressed with the intense ruby-red core.

Sniff: Giving the wine a few good swirls, immediately wafting [not poetic license either] effortlessly from the glass was a wide variety of aromas of strawberries, cherries, and spices such as black pepper with a touch of coffee and smoke from the oak.

Slurp: A very approachable wine from the word go, a smooth palate showing off medium plus flavor intensity, unbelievably [because of the price] elegant, velvety tannins that result in a pleasing, well-balanced wine with a sumptuous finish and spicy notes which I really enjoyed.

From: Chiles, Valle Central region in Rapel and nestled in the Chochagua Valley AVA.

Price Point: Selling for anywhere between $9 and $14, but word on the street has it this wine normally retails for the $9 price point. Folks, I don't have to tell you, but I feel compelled none the less, this wine is a QPR champ. So much wine for such a tiny price and Eco friendly to boot, you gotta love that.

Where to Purchase: Well I couldn't find a place to purchase the wine except one place online, but if you wanna go brick and mortar my best guess is that you could being seeing this wine very soon at your local Bev-mo as they do carry one of their higher end red wine blends.

Full Disclosure: Yes this wine was one of four samples of this label that was sent for the wine review process. The others will be reviewed later.

Hold the Presses: Last night I opened the their 2009 ECO Cabernet Sauvignon, and paired it against a wonderfully prepared meal of Marinated Skirt Steak, Thyme inspired Yams and tenderized [steamed] Broccoli crowns. This wine at first blush was a little tighter than I expected, thus I employed the Centellino Wine Decanter and boy, oh boy, this wine opened up marvelously for a $10 bottle. A feisty, fruity little Cab, that fills the mouth with all the usual suspects, juicy raspberry, cherry a bit of chocolate and some tarriness. Very approachable, while not being subtle at all about its intent to please the NW palate. Great with or with out food, a rich red wine suitable for drinking now, but can hang around the house a bit with no problems if you happen to grab a half dozen or so and here is my score 89 points, go get some.

The Score: Yes this wine rocked this price point, it jumped right up out of the bottle and said drink me! A drink now and drink often wine of which you should have a case of this wine sitting around your lair. This wine is seriously good, no joke. Complex and compelling for a very little price, I scored it 91 points and I'm issuing a "run, don't walk" recommendation fo-sure, so what are you waiting for get your happy lil' A$$ down their and please tell them you saw it here first. Until next sip long and prosper, cheers!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Parkerization of Wines begs the Question, is your Juice, Juicing?

The wine point system, market forces and wine makers who vie for the brass ring of a high score from Parker and other influential wine critics and writers have had [according to many] a deleterious effect on how wine is made and specifically Pinot Noir, which begs the question is your juice, juicing? In all likeliness the stunning revelation is yes and unlike the members of Major League Baseball, I don’t think Congress will be indicting your favorite Pinot Noir producer anytime soon.

But first what is Parkerization? Good question and one answered by Alice Feiring who says, "it's the widespread stylization [or deconstruction of wine] of wines to please the taste of influential wine critic Robert M. Parker and other influential wine critics." To read more of her musings on the subject, please give her book “The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization” a swirl.

The other question is who really cares? The shocking answer is very few people care [vino swirling general public] but I wanted to add my two-cents anyway.  I've have found that the vast wine swirling and slurping segment of society really does not care and wants folks [cork-dorks] to stop harping about the subject, to just quiet-down and let them get back to more important topics, like when is Lindsay Lohan going back to jail [oh I mean rehab].

I think it's helpful to look at the question of Parkerization and juicing, through the prism [the lens if you will] of the classic “western” movie so you can see where simple straight forward winemaking has come from and where it’s potentially going now and into the future.

To do that end, I want to examine an epic movie of the late sixties that put a relatively “new” actor [Clint Eastwood] on the proverbial map of Hollywood and took what we knew as the typical western genre [white hats vs. black hats] in an entirely new direction.

This comparison works perfectly if you think about how many of the critics hated this pivotal [A Fistful of Dollars] movie [in terms of direction] and yet the popcorn crunching, movie going public gobbled it up like a box of red vine licorice on movie night.

Where and when did Hollywood take its cues from, most likely the changing social climate of the sixties [where, think San Francisco] helped to foster this change of attitude and gave the “western” a new lease of life. Thus you had a deconstructing of what constituted great movies and with a few plot twists and changes to the standard successful formula something even more palatable to the vast movie going public emerged. Thus it's with the wine making community at large, they saw that making wine in a certain style meant bigger returns to the bottom line. But does this cross any lines?

These types of deconstructing methods are nothing new; many different kinds of businesses today have this as a standard [undisclosed] practice. They see a competitors work [widget] and will attempt to break it down, then bring along side a copy, repackage and sell to an unsuspecting or indifferent consumer who's all too happy to get something similar for a much smaller price or sometimes it will create a demand where previously there may have been little or none at all.

But many will counter that wine deconstruction can only take you so far, the quality of the grapes and place it comes from are factors that can't be duplicated by hook or crook [devilry] or so many folks wine loving folks would love to believe.

Much of this furor on this topic revolves around New World Pinot Noir blending [supposedly] Syrah and not disclosing this fact on the label or anywhere else for that matter to achieve higher scores from the "Parker's" and other wine publications in the world who subscribe to the hedonistic model of strength over complexity or as some say masculine over feminine styles. In Burgundy, they are not allowed to [in fact it's illegal] to have any other varietal in their Pinot Noir [100%], in stark contrast to their U.S. counterparts [some state variation], it only has to be 85 percent Pinot Noir to bear the name Pinot Noir and this is the rub on New World Pinot Noir.

Some folks call this practice "juicing"... which is very interesting and has some parallels to what's going on in professional sports today. But if producers don't disclose it how are people finding out about it?? In my opinion many folks [more knowledgeable than me] pulled the rug out from under that house of cards when the ABV of "cult" PN started hitting 14-16% everyone wondered hmmm how did you achieve that with only Pinot Noir, what were the brix when you picked those grapes? And another factor is the color, it's like hmmm how did you get such extraction from PN??? and possibly some insiders spilled the [grapes] beans.

The Parker “syndrome” as many label it, is another subject altogether but in my mind the two are very much intertwined and wineries [like movie producers] who are business people [mindful of the bottom line], understand [while possibly not agreeing with the method] that the consumer is driven by the market forces of points. The methods [producers] they use to obtain those [points] high scores while not illegal, are off-putting to many folks who've have become well versed in the vino game and attempting to tell an indifferent wine loving populace, “the king has no clothes.”

Frankly there are many [the vast majority], who don’t care about that issue and the message falls upon deaf ears, for the very same reasons baseball fans in general don't read boxscore, we live in a society today of the 5 second sound-bite and scores on wine fall into this segement of society. They [the unwashed masses] merely want their wine to taste fantastic, superlative vino and give them that transcendent moment from the din of the everyday via a bottle of Pinot Noir.

So yes while this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, it’s something to keep in mind in the comparison/contrast of Old World Pinot Noir vs. New World PN....if the producers in the NW could disclose the fact that it is blended with Syrah or whatever then the consumer could have a better idea of what is being compared to what...but no NW producer wants to be upfront about this topic, as this could effect the bottom line.

Frankly, I don't care too much if they [NW, producers] add a little syrah to their Pinot Noir, but personally I would have more respect for them if it was disclosed on the label. Again it is not illegal, but on the cusp, it does smack of intellectual dishonesty at the very least. Will we ever see an end to the point system, the deconstruction of wines and the juicing of juice in our lifetimes, I hardly doubt it and like I've asked before does it really matter to you? Until next time, “sip long and prosper”, cheers!

Other Video Voices: Check out this video from Gary V, he makes some great points on this subject, you don't have watch the whole video either, as he gets to the gist of the debate in the first five minutes of this video. Gary say's in this video what many folks who write about wines and the affects wines scores, have on the wine scene in general are already thinking, but will not always openly admit.

By: Bill Eyer © Cuvée Corner Wine Blog

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Get Apothic Red for "A Fistful of Dollars"

Anytime I can work Clint Eastwood or Spaghetti Westerns into a post about vino, I'll will stretch the hell out of the real information I want to convey, just to make my point. Since most of the reviews here revolve around wines that gives a real "bang" for the buck, I thought this would be the perfect time to reintroduce to you one of my all-time favorite movie bad-asses [oh my, he said a bad word, I thought this was a family show?], Mr. Clint Eastwood.

Ah yes, one of the immortal movies of the twentieth century [in my book it's], Fistful of Dollars marked a C-change in the way western heroes were portrayed on the screen. No more would you see the guys in the white hats riding in to save the day, like the typical Gary Cooper sheriff-types who would never think about drawing down on the bad guy first. No the change would come in the form of "Man with No Name", one of dubious [the worst kind] morals, the unlikely character who emerges as the hero [just like the wine I'm about to review], not of his own merits. The changing social climate of the sixties helped foster this change of attitude and gave the “western” a new lease of life and spawned a new genre entirely, the spaghetti-western.

As in the movie, which has Clint Eastwood [the Man With No Name] riding into a sea of ugly sameness, where he quickly discovers a change is needed, thus the reluctant and frankly unlikely hero decides he's going to take this town in a new direction. Like Clint you could grab yourself a very tasty wine to quench that thirst [that appears to have no-name] for just a fistful of dollars, because little did I know that Apothic Red does not come from a small mom and pop boutique winery nestled in a place like Paso Robles, instead it comes from the veritable wine producing powerhouse called Gallo.

Sometimes big corporations need to have someone new or perhaps a new idea come into the town of their corporation or boardrooms if you will, with the thinking going a bit like this, "hmmm what could I do different to shake things up around here?". Good question and one Gallo answered with Apothic Red.

The reluctant Hero: In this case there is no reluctant hero, rather you have two winemakers one being Boyd Morrison [the other is the man with no name] who was inspired by the age old Apothic tradition and wanted to explore new territories in red wine blending, bringing Old World and New World together. Thus you have the birth of Apothic Red, an though perhaps it will be criticized by many reviewers [as a typical California over-ripe fruit bomb], I think the wine swirling public in general will predictably love it, for it's easy drinking approachability right out of the bottle.

Swirl, Sniff, Slurp: In the glass a you will find an eye pleasing dark ruby core, on the lusty nose you find aromas of vanilla, darker notes of brandied cherries and floral accents. On the palate it's super-ripe bursting with tarry, truffles bursting with red fruits, with a lush mouth feel, without the anticipated lingering finish [disappointment].

What's in it:  Apothic Red, is a blends of spicy Zinfandel, a wine most folks really love, with smooth Merlot and some dark brooding Syrah leading the way to give it that wonderful deep color and concentrated flavors and no it does not fit the Meritage definition. Good thing too, because if they wanted to add that term to the label you could kiss the small price point goodbye.

Where to Purchase: This wine can be purchased just about any where you are, as it appears to be widely available.  I did a check myself and this wine appears to be on the shelf at a majority of grocery stores and drug stores here in San Diego at most likely at a location near you [yep, even in Chula Vista].

Price: Here is the good part, this very easy drinking wine does literally sells for a fistful of dollars. It has a suggested retail price $14, but I can see it selling most places for just under $10.

Full Disclosure: This wine was submitted as a sample for review by a public relations team, who wanted me to give this wine a slurp, and let the chips fall where they may/

What's the Score: In case anyone maybe interested I gave this wine an 87 points, for its wonderful drink-ability, mouthwatering flavors and wide distribution. I am always surprised by inexpensive wines that really deliver on flavor and immediate approachability. It's much easier to make an inexpensive white wine, than to make a red wine like the Apothic Red. So kudos to the winemaker, well done you have a QPR champ here.

My Recommendation: A great crowd "pleaser" that will compliment a variety of food choices, especially Spaghetti. Although this slightly unusual trio: Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel is not sophisticated or complex, it's however flat out appealing. I would recommend having a case of this wine around for the upcoming holiday season and parties we will all be going to this year. So until next time sip long and prosper, cheers everyone.

Other Voices: Some wine guy near the slot machines of Vegas had this to say about this wine: "This highly recommended Apothic wine, however, really delivers on many levels and can be said to be a highly successful blending experiment." Gil Lempert-Schwarz, Las Vegas Weekly Review Journal.

The Cheap Wine Guy had this to say, "This is not your run-of-the-mill, average cheap wine. It’s different. It’s interesting." and gave it 85 points. Huh, I'm so impressed by the profundity of some wine writers is like wow, so overwhelming.  [He might as well have said, oh-my this wine is good].

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wine, Scotch and Cigars on the Big Canvas

"Wine is Language upon the Lips" Virginia Woolf

The big canvas of life, it's hoped that each artist does find his own canvas. Now whether that canvas is a well-made bottle of wine, or the roll of a fine cigar, or a perfectly aged single malt Scotch, ultimately we each put our stamp of finesse on the finished work.

Each artist has their own canvas and, the artist can be as varied as the canvas itself. Whether you be a tinker, tailor or poet or what have you, it does not matter. Because each artisan who aspires to do a work and does it well, is an artist whose canvas awaits them. 

Now those three I've just mentioned, also just happen to be three of my recently [relatively speaking] acquired favorite subjects to explore. Wine as recent as seven years ago, cigars a couple years ago and Scotch can be described as my newest fields of interest.

Here's your Sign: So what are the hallmarks of quality art? I mean how do we know when we are looking at a great [relatively speaking] artists work? Further, how do we know as simple garden variety fine art appreciators, that a potential masterpiece is being hewn from a slab of marble?

Hmm, good questions; I think the answer is simple, [duh] when there's a clamor for what is being produced. I like to believe; when you have a following and folks will get in line to see it, smoke it, or taste it and most importantly depart with some of the those hard earned dollars. This I believe is the tell-tale sign that something extraordinary is going on and, worth a closer look.

Conversely, it's not "great" or even good art then I say let the market decide its fate. But, if you need to have a government subsidy to prop-up or support those efforts, just so you can stay in business; then you may want to another vocation [which why I'm no artist]. Government subsidized art removes a notion many subscribe to, known as natural selection or the survival of the fittest or what some call the free-marketplace of ideas.

In the Napa Valley where Cabernet Sauvignon, everybody knows Cabernet Sauvignon is King, some would argue in the same vein that Cubans are the kings of the Cigar world [I believe they are]. However I know, many will run to counter these claims with wild-eyed fervor that these assertions are product of an untrained palate, [willful misconceptions] but to their own futility.

If you disagree with those points then I'd say, "you're just spitting in the wind" because without the correct historical or value perspective, you're unable to see the why those statements have been true and continue to ring true today. It can be said and should be known, hell just a flat out accepted axiom.
"Life is an experience, a Cigar or a bottle of great wine or scotch is there to punctuate that experience." ~ Chuck Wagner
Good to be the King: "It's good to be king, if just for a be there in velvet, yeah, to give 'em a smile ... you're out there with winners, yeah, it's good to be king" thanks to Tom Petty for that lead into this topic, because Cabernet Sauvignon [the king] is better than any other wine on the planet, there I said it, it's on the record.

When I meet folks for the first time and they hear I write a blog about wine, I am invariably asked "so what is your favorite wine or what do you think are the best wines?" Typically my reply goes something like this, "it depends". Arrrgh, personally I dislike [intently] that answer, but in this case it's at least an honest answer, because truly it does depend. Depends on what you may ask, depends on what’s on the menu.But if you really press me, I will tell you that I think that Cabernet Sauvignon is the "king" in my book [the unread one]

Safe Bet: Mr. Chuck Wagner of Caymus had this to say about Cabernet Sauvignon, "It's safe, [perhaps controversial] to say that the best of Napa Valley produces wines offering power an a richness not regularly achieved by their counterparts from France" [some will shake head, roll eyes California palate]. I agree with him, if you want to drink Bordeaux do so and if you want a rich and concentrated Napa Cabernet, then drink Napa, but please quit the incessant whining if the two are different, why the hell would anyone want or desire a sea of sameness anyway?

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: In thinking about powerful examples of artists whose canvas is something other than a closely woven fabric, I believe like many that it can also be expressed in a fine bottle of vino. Sorry the bulk wine producer sitting on grocery store aisles don't qualify for this narrative. They are commodity wine and nothing else; the everyday drinker if you will.

Take the comments from a certain Mr. Chuck Wagner who offered up this comment on Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, "We continue to look at Bordeaux [for inspiration], but we don't try to emulate what they do there, we try to make wine in our own style." He went on to say about the topic at hand, "A good cigar is like a great wine, once you finish a glass, it calls you back for another."

That my friends is the experience you are looking for in a great bottle of wine, I say lean into it.  His statement reveals the point SO many miss [flat out run by], when folks talk about OW vs. NW vino styles and differences. I don't [actually I've an idea] why is there so much clamor for NW [new world] wines like those of Caymus and others to modify what they do in an attempt to emulate the French or in an a futile attempt to appease a loud minority.

It's my opinion that this vociferous minority does so [motivation] only to draw attention to themselves, a shameless attempt at self-promotion. To say to the world, "oh boy [look at me] I'm the smartest kid around the wine-cooler". I on the other hand agree much more with the philosophy of Chuck Wagner "inspiration" yes, but emulation no!

Speaking of Caymus, I was recently at a tasting with my friends the San Diego Wine Mafia.  Wine Harlots [a fantastic local blogger] had a couple samples for us all to sniff, swirl and slurp our way through that evening, down at the Wet Stone Wine Bar [the subject of an upcoming review].

After some intense slurping, I jotted down a few notes [at times few, but my memory is long] about these wonderful wines. They were both young, but one was drinking very nicely now and the other was a little tight and suggested to me the need for more time in the bottle.

Caymus Special Selection: Bright, clean pronounced nose and a dark ruby core, mocha, currant and leather on the nose. At first sip, crème de cassis with a brilliant oak overlay, candied red and dark fruits, tar, truffles swirling about finely honed tannins, leading to the long caressing finish. This is the wine which I mentioned is drinking nicely now, but with more time would develop those aforementioned qualities I've laid out above. This is not your everyday drinker, by any stretch. Price $99 Score: 92

Caymus 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: Bright clean, pronounced nose, medium bodied and a glistening ruby colored core. You could smell the Rutherford dust coming off the first swirl in the glass. In the first sip, it reveals an immediate approachability, well integrated French oak, revolving around a core of ripe red stone fruits, expressing currant and cocoa on the palate finishing in a long savory finish. Price: $59 Score: 94

Cuban Cigars: Admittedly, I know zero to nothing about cigars other than I really like them especially after a night of tasting twenty or so wines. That said there does some to be a consensus of which most [not all] of world is in a agreement that Cubans are the best, made my artisans whose craft literally goes up in smoke, but of course this is a contentious debate among the folks who consider themselves aficionados on the subject.

In a 1998, interview with Wine Spectator, Chuck had this to say about Cubans, "One inch of a bad one--and you've got to put it down." That's why he prefers Cuban cigars. "I don't know if other cigar regions will find the magic of Cuba," he sighs, wistfully.  I must admit I feel the same way and always lean toward smoking a Cuban whenever the opportunity presents itself. Check out the video at the bottom of this review on how to get started puffing like a pro. 

Just a couple obvious errors in the video, one being they ash too much and the other is that the flame is not supposed to touch the cigar, only the heat coming out of it, according to Beau's Barrel Room.

Consider: Do you ever find yourself pondering about the person who rolled the cigar you been puffing on and how it's his or hers' lot in life to paint [figuratively] on the canvas of the Tobacco leaf the wonderful aromas and flavors, think about where these artist live, how much they love their art form which we quietly and sometime reflectively draw in and blow out. These folks are due a bit of respect and appreciation, and should be looked and admired like any other artists, like any other painter, sculptor or composer.

On the Record: Perhaps you are wondering why, cigars are entering the fray of discussion on this blog, a "wine" blog no less, well the answer is twofold. Like most folks, I usually have more than one answer to the same question and will often say when asked, ummm "it depends". Safe answer most times, but no playing it safe here, cigars should have valid place of discussion on any wine blog, because like wine they have certain pairing partners that make them better than either could independently.

Oh the Scotch: Here's again something I frankly admit I don't have any grasp of the subject. I know I like it with a great cigar and to sit back and enjoy the hand crafted artistry of both together is rather divine. So if in doubt, I would say from what I've experienced so far that Scotch is a great place to start your own whiskey journey. 

It has been called "the burnt essence of mud" by Brain Wines of whom I will refer you to his article [and expertise] on the subject of great cigars and scotch. Check it out here; Simplifying the Complexities of Sophistication. a mini tutorial on cultivating a taste for the finer things in life.

Cognac and Cigars: Still my favorite pairing the ultimate capstone to a perfect meal, ahh yes I do like scotch and cigars just fine, but if push came to shove, I would have to give the edge to Cognac.

According to some sources, "Cigars and Cognac are as old a combination as Napoleon and Josephine" and a recommendation to achieve your own outstanding results, find yourself something like a God of Fire 2005 Carlito Churchill, to pair with the XO (Extra Old) cognacs which boast a minimum age of six and a half years in barrel and as a bonus, they often have much older vintages incorporated in the blends.

Which ever canvas you decide to take advantage in this life make sure you do it right, do some research and even more exploration. Life is short, so take those opportunities to enjoy the finest life has to offer. Don't settle for cheap imitations, save some coin and step up to great experiences that you will never forget. Like some interesting guy once said, "Until next time stay thirsty, my friends" cheers.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A visit to Sunshine Mountain Vineyards, San Diego

Wine Online - Receive 1/2 off shipping when you purchase 6 or more bottles with code "corner37"

It has been a couple months since I was granted an interview with Ed and Claire Kruger of Sunshine Mountain Vineyard in San Marcos and I was gently reminded about that great afternoon tasting and conversation, getting to know this wonderful husband and wife winemaking team, after I ran into them yesterday at a wine tasting event in North Park.

This was my time visiting the property and frankly the first time tasting their wines. See I had never even known it was there, until Becky from Small Lots Big Wines sent me a message and said that I should write and article about this great little winery in San Marcos. I was very glad to have had the chance to taste their wines and get to know them both better. They don't have a tasting room yet, and it's a shame because their winery is a garden of Eden in a sea of sameness, they've really carved out a wonderful spot on Sunshine Mountain, they take their name from the road which runs by their place.

It was a lovely day in the shade, quite warm otherwise [one of warmest weekends this past summer] but the spot near the lovely Koi pond was idyllic. In was in this great spot where I sampled their wines and got to know Ed and Claire better and hear about the wonderful winemaking going on in this rather unique spot in San Diego.

What is different about Sunshine Mountain Vineyards or any other small winery compared to many larger wineries is that they offer boutique wines that are handcrafted and are therefore unique. No huge manufacturing plants, no huge production lines, these San Diego made wines are hand crafted by local [speaking San Marcos, local] vintners. It often times begins with hand harvesting of estate grown grapes, resulting in a process which is reminiscent of artists putting the final brush strokes on the canvas. You maybe thinking well, that was flowery and perhaps a bit too poetic, okay but my thinking goes like this, if you “Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself.” ~ Paul "Bear" Bryant and I think you'll see some winning wines from Sunshine Mountain.
The Vision: After talking with Claire and Ed Kruger, the owners and proprietors of Sunshine Mountain Vineyard, I came away with a couple thoughts, they are both passionate about two things: wine and family (not necessarily in that order). What was there inspiration? After many trips to Italy on business they experienced firsthand the traditional practices of extended family, growing their own food, growing grapes, making wine on a sustainable, self-sufficient estate and the magic and romance of the yearly grape harvest which was the capstone event that propelled their ambitions and passions to become winemakers, with the desire to share this vision with not only family and friends, but the world.

The Result: Okay so you have a vision, now what? Well with some boots-on-the-ground and some good old fashion American know-how they now have a familial, sustainable, wine-centric atmosphere in the hills of sunny San Marcos. Although at the moment most of the fruit is purchased from other producers, the young vines they have planted are showing plenty of promise. So what you have in a bottle of Sunshine Mountain Vineyards wine is a dedication to producing delicious, high-quality wine [which should be every winemakers goal, of course] with the help and support of all the people that Ed and Claire have come to regard as “family” over the years.

Where to purchase click here --> Current Releases Reviewed:

2008 Estate Red Wine $18.00, weighing in at 14.1% ABV from the South Coast AVA. With a varietal makeup of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and aged 18 months in French Oak Barrels.
My Note: A bit grapey and jammy on the nose, slightly bit of bramble, clean and bright in appearance, solid mouth feel, with kick of sweet berry flavors, but falls off a bit in the short finish, look for this to be a good food-friendly  wine. Score: 86 points.

2008 South Coast Syrah: selling for $15.00, weighing in at 13.9% ABV from the South Coast AVA the varietal makeup is 100% Syrah grapes and was aged 18 months in French oak barrels.
My Note: Clean and vivid in the glass, deliciously bright and spicy in the nose, cranberry and raspberry fruit are highlighted by pepper adn cinnamon, kinda of baked cherry pie finish, melding the toasty tight grained French Oak. Score: 88 points

2008 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: selling for $19.00 through their website and in weighing in at 14.3% ABV, from the Walla Walla Valley AVA, composed of 75% Cab. Sauv and 25% Merlot again aged 18 months in 50% new & used french oak barrels.

My Note: Made in a leaner, drier style than most Cabernets I run into, but still a nice mouth feel of blackberry and cherry flavors, with a touch of mint and tobacco. Drinking nicely now, but will improve with age. Score: 87 points.

2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc: selling for $23.00 and weighing in at 14.7% ABV from the Napa Valley AVA, specifically Atlas Peak and composed of the 100% Cabernet Franc, and slumbered gracefully [aged] in French oak barrels for a whopping 30 months before being bottled earlier this year.

My Note: Clean and bright in the glass, soft vanilla-like nuances lavished over a black fruit, plum cake, spice and cola playing together nicely, swinging on a merry-go-round of dense thick toasted notes fresh blackberry and fig, drinking nicely now. Score 88 points.

2008 Walla Walla Valley Syrah: which they are selling for $21.00 and weighing in at 14.8% ABV from the Los Collines Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley AVA and composed of 100% Syrah. Wonderfully aged for 18 months in 50% new & used french oak barrels.

My Note: Clean and bright ripe fruit on display, what I would call your potpourri of mixed dark fruit berries, wildflowers, light elegant with white pepper and vanilla accents traipsing about to the very delightful finish. Score: 90 points. Yep this was my favorite!

My Recommendation: You would be wise to give their wines a swirl and get a taste of the wonderful locally made wines being made right here in San Diego.

Full Disclosure: Yes,  I was able to sample their wines and any fee as result was waived, also I was given samples for further evaluation.

Moment of Clarity: I travel to many wineries all over the New World and have spent some time in Old World wineries as well, and there are very few places where I like every wine on the the tasting list. That's is just a fact of life for this reporter. In my opinion, for a wine reviewer to "gush" and say they like every single wine they've ever tasted is just not honest. So if you as the reader are looking for wine cheer-leaders, this is the wrong place, on the other hand if you want to get the skinny on incredibly great juice for as little as possible then stick around, there's so much more to "wine" about and new discoveries to be unearthed. Ciao!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Basking in the beauty of Brunello, Pian Dell' Orino Riserva 2004

It has been over a year now since I've returned from my trip to Tuscany and I still think about it all the time and was reminded of one my favorite wineries in Brunello, who may not be the biggest [in terms of case production] or the best [because they don't buy ad space] but in my mind and more importantly on my palate they are freaking winetastic [another word I may have coined].

I was reminded of Jan, the winemaker of Pian Dell' Orino today as I got into the back of my copy of  Wine Enthusiast Mag and there was a great score for his baby, the 2004 Brunello, Pian Dell' Orino Riserva which was in barrel number seven, if I remember correctly. I am surprised that if didn't score higher, perhaps the SRP of $135 and limited availability or other factors may have played a small part in the point deductions. Be that as it may, having tasted it first hand I would have given it at least 95 points. Yes folks it was that good, nearly on the cusp of perfection.

Like I said above, I've been back from Italy over a year now and I'm still putting together my thoughts and notes about the trip to Italy and more precisely Tuscany. The trip was both arduous and filled with many new discoveries. This was my first time in Italy and my first time to [officially] Europe. A few hours in two different European Airports doesn't really count, but it is a place my palate and my mind have both longed to discover and both were equally rewarded and as someone has famously once said, "I'll be back"!

I ran across this quote online"Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams. Ashley Smith. I thought this quote fit nicely with the reasons for our trip, besides the obvious need for some downtime (vacation) of which it was and wasn't, a strange paradox indeed.

We (that's me and my wife) were only in Montalcino just one day from the early morning until late afternoon, as I really didn't relish the thought of driving around Italy in the dark, they don't have the same standards of roadway illumination as we do in the U.S. and with me driving as well as visiting there for the first time, I thought it would be wise to not to push my luck.

Before we left on our trip, I had made or requested four appointments for that day and three of the four responded in the affirmative that they would be happy to show us around and talk with us a bit about their winery and maybe give us a tour of their facilities and taste some of their wines. One of the wineries told us, "no we don't (and I paraphrase) cater to individual wine writers (read that; wine bloggers) but that we were more than welcome to stop by their tasting room if I was inclined to do so", after that polite snub, I really didn't feel too "inclined" to waste any time visiting these folks.

The three which responded in the affirmative and said that they would be glad to receive us were Poggio Antico, Col D'Orcia and Pian Dell' Orino and all three made us feel very welcome and respected, the fourth which basically dismissed our request will remain unknown. It's worth noting how funny that with time comes changes in attitude and that the winery which rebuffed my request is now sending samples for the review process.
For those of you in the audience who may not be familiar with Brunello, I want to highlight and bring to your attention Pian Dell' Orino, who are "blazing a new trail in Brunello" and it's in the viticulture and the wine-making style where you will find my meaning. If on the contrary you're already fan of Brunello, but are not familiar with this label, than you really owe it to yourself to grab a few bottles today and get acquainted. This is what I would call a small estate (compared to lets say Col D'Orcia) and while small in scale it is not small in producing world class Brunello. Their estate is located directly next to the father of Brunello, Biondi-Santi (which should be grabbing your attention just now) just a mile or so out of town from the down town center of Montalcino.

My wife and I had an opportunity to stop by and visit with their [who is the other half of the team with his wife Caroline Pobiter] winemaker Jan Hendrick Erbach, who was very gracious and informative, we really only intended to stay a short time as Jan had another appointment in town. But as our conversation about his wine and his wonderfully interesting winery took flight and we stayed for nearly three hours and never realized it until it was time for him to depart. After tasting through his wines of which only three of their labels make it stateside, which is too bad because their Rosé is very unique and wonderful.

Having been so thoroughly impressed with his wine, one question came to mind and so I asked Jan, "what are you doing different here?" this question was anchored in my comparisons of the other wines I had tasted that day and his reply deflected away our praise as he said, "really it's about the viticulture and that's the real story, because you can only make great wine from equally great grapes" a statement which finds me in complete agreement.

He went on to say further, "that our winery is a Biodynamic Estate and explained that those farming techniques involved in the process, along with their unusually shaped, winemaking facility built on circular gravity flow basis gives our wines an advantage others would love to emulate". Since his duties at his own winery have increased Jan [pictured above] has had to let go of some of his other consulting positions only because of time constraint, as he has become a very popular consulting enologist in Tuscany.

Pressing him further he admitted to me that while raised in Germany and learning his winemaking at the prestigious Geisenheim Academy he says, "I had really honed his wine-making skills in France and it was that influence which he has brought into his winemaking style." A style which differs from some of the other projects he regularly consults on for other vintners in the area, who of course have their own style and desired outcome for their wines.

Even though I only visited two other producers of Brunello and maybe tasted a handful of others in the various Entecos, I would have to conclude that in general I find Pian Dell' Orino Brunello to be silky smooth on the palate, just a great mouth feel  and while quite rich, they are balanced with good acidity and  really serves as a testament of Biodynamic farming practices and the quality of their grapes. In a nutshell  I would say that the wines made at Pian Dell' Orino offers excellent fruit concentration, lovely aromatics a have mouthwatering acidity!

Their Wines: Brunello di Montalcino , Rosso di Montalcino and Piandorino we tasted all three that day and their Rosé which are all fantastic, there is no other way the describe the sheer quality of this wine. I brought home one of each except the Rosé, the Brunello was the 2004 and the other two were the 2007. If you are familiar with the current best vintages of Brunello overall it's 2004 which is getting all the attention and if their 2004 is typical of this vintage then it would behoove the average consumer and collector alike to grab a few of these wonderful wines before they are gone.

Their Grapes: All their wines are 100% Sangiovese, even the Rosé which has a beautiful peach color and enticing aromatics which carry through to the palate and expresses itself wonderfully. The grapes from their self described top-tier vineyards are made of Sangiovese Grosso grapes also called Brunello [little dark one], so named for the brown hue on the skin. Making wines that are big, deep colored and powerful, with enough tannins and structure great for long-term cellaring.

Historic Origins: The Sangiovese grape that we know today to supposedly a descendent of the Roman era and has led to theories that the grape's origins dated from Roman times and a translation of Sangiovese's name sanguis Jovis, "the blood of Jove" the Roman god Jupiter. These fun facts makes for some interesting reading to "cork-dorks" like myself.

Their Vineyards: The four estate vineyards  are composed of -Pian dell’Orino, Pian Bossolino, Cancello Rosso and Scopeta – all producing Sangiovese grapes. The growth system they use is the single spur cordon system.
Their Label: I only mention their label because it's very different from any other label you may encounter on the shelf, as you pass your hand over the Pian dell’Orino label it reveals the raised dots of the Braille alphabet. Which is a compassionate gesture that allows even the visually challenged to enjoy every single aspect of Jan and Caroline’s wines and to that I say, kudos!

Where to buy: If you want to buy their wine it appears you'll will have to do most of your shopping online and if you follow this link Pian Dell'Orino Brunello di Montalcino 2004 you can find this wine for $58 and their Pian Dell'Orino Rosso di Montalcino 2005 for $28 which seem fair prices for the caliber of wine you will be drinking. You can of course look around the web yourself and find various prices, but finding that wine for $58 is a good price from Stirling Fine Wines and if purchased from anywhere besides NJ you will save a few dollars on taxes. But of course the shipping may jack up the price, as there appears to be no standard in shipping prices charged by various online wine stores and wineries alike.

Other Voices : Antonio Galloni from the (The Wine Advocate) scored the non-Riserva 94 Points and had this to say about their wine, "The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a powerful, muscular wine endowed with plenty of dark fruit, minerals, spices and French oak. The balance here is exceptional, has everything is in the right place. Firm yet silky tannins frame the finish with a classy elegance that is tough to find in Montalcino."  This is one of the wines I scored when I was there, last year.

I like when the folks at the big Wine Pub's concur with my findings on superlative vino, this rating just came out from WE the October 2010 issue, on the 2004 Pian Dell' Orino Riserva Brunello, they scored it 92 points, saying of this wine, "it delivers loads of intensity in the mouth, this is a big, thick and dense expression that is ready to drink now!" and this wine is imported by Polaner Selections.

Here is how Jan and Caroline define their own new "Trail Blazing Difference" in Brunello with their own twelve step program:
“Our” quality in 12 points

· We only grow the autochthonous grape, Sangiovese grosso
· We are organic and certified by the ICEA
· Our maximum yield is a bottle per vine
· We respect the natural rhythms which influence the growth of every plant
· We regularly taste our wines as they age
· Our use of sulphur is kept to an absolute minimum, so that the wines are easily digested
· The wine is not filtered and therefore retains its vitality
· Everything we do is here motivated by our continual search for quality
· Our grapes are picked and treated with great delicacy
· The fermentation is slow and spontaneous thanks to naturally occurring yeasts
· We follow the aging in wood scrupulously
· We are very attentive to the authenticity of our wines – and have never used any added aroma, grape concentrate or other industrial “devilry”

You can think of the wines made at Pian dell'Orino - Montalcino - Toscana - Italia like one of the songs which Frank Sinatra sang, "the best is yet to come"!  Which is why today after writing this article last year I wanted to dust it off and update it, as it has been brought to my attention by the recent praise lauded on their 2004 Riserva Brunello by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Please visit their website which is easy to navigate and is very smartly laid out . Until next time cheers everyone! Ciao!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pinot Grigio Uncorked: 2009 Banfi San Angelo

Is it Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio? Good question, so in this review, I will attempt to answer the age old ponderment; "to Gris or not to be Grigio, that is the question"

This review will also revolve around the wonderful grape variety that can be confusing to some, as you will find that the same grape has two different names and brings with it two different styles of wine, but not quite as bad as the differences of calling your friend Richard, while everyone else calls him Dick and then having to explain that no Richard and Dick really are the same person.

If you would like to learn more about "what-came-first-dick-or-dick" and how Richard became Dick, well click on that link above to get "the straight dope" on the history of dick! If you are wondering how the "bleep" I went down the rabbit trail, well I'm not sure, but you may want to ask Peter.

In the wine review spotlight today is another wonderful wine [San Angelo Pinot Grigio] from Tuscany, one of my favorite places in the world. Yes, your beloved wine reporter here, actually made the journey there last year. It's as fantastic as the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun" conjures in ones mind about the beautiful Tuscan countryside. The cities, well that's is a different story and not as idyllic as one may want to imagine them to be, but "none-the-less" that's is a story for another day onward and upward.

Identity Crisis: I say Pinot Gris and you say Pinot Grigio; is this "You say tomato, I say tomahto" debate or are they actually the same white grape? Well yes and no, how's that for a politically expedient answer? Yes it's the same grape, 
just with two different names and also two different styles and as a wine consumer it's important to note these differences, so you can make smart shopping and food pairing decisions.

Gris vs Grigio: So what you will typically find is that in Italy and their New World counterparts here in California will label the bottle Pinot Grigio, while in Oregon [which I've dubbed Oregundian] and France's Alsace region it's known as Pinot Gris. Many other countries will use the terms interchangeably depending on the style. As you may have guessed the Pinot Grigio grape is in essence a white mutation of the very popular Pinot Noir grape [which is very much like the Cab Sauv. and Sauv. Blanc relationship].

Pinot Scoop: I want to help you keep your Pinot's straight,  so please take note of this important distinction, which is Pinot Blanc is not the same as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio. Pinot Blanc is a further mutation of the Pinot Boir grape and a story by itself, for another time.

Stylistic Differences: What you are going to find across the board is that most if not all the Pinot Grigio wines created in Italy tend to be typically dry [not sweet with low RS] and light, with a mineral taste to it. On the flip side of the coin, [speaking in general terms] Californian variants of Pinot Grigio tend to be richer and lemony or citrusy in flavor, but still have the mineral finish [no blanket statements here].

Now for our French friends and their New World counterpart in Oregon who label their bottles Pinot Gris [off-dry, higher RS] whose wines tend to come from the Alsace region, along the German/French border, while Oregon PG can be found mostly from wineries of the Willamette Valley. Stylistically these wines are more fruity and flowery than their Italian counterparts, aromas can range from peach to grapefruit to melon, even though they still have minerality characteristics.

What to Pair: Such a great alternative to a California Chardonnay, you will find that Pinot Grigio pairs well with a large variety of light dishes that are still on the "thick" side, like chicken in a rich white sauce, or eggplant with heavy spices and is is able to hold its own against richer flavors. Best served chilled and kept in a cold sleeve to maximize your enjoyment. Conversely, if you find yourself in a spicy situation food wise, just adjust your choice a little and grab yourself some Alsatian Pinot Gris, that RS [residual sugar] will put the fire out and the acidity will refresh you palate clearing the way like a cleansing agent to allow all those brilliant spicy flavors come through again and again.

First Swirl: After pouring it my glass and allowing it to warm a bit, I found it to have a pale straw colored core with greenish hues reaching out toward a watery rim.

First Sniff: Big, bright and beaming with tropical fruit and flowery aromas, just delightful.
First Slurp: After taking a big slurp of this lightly chilled Pinot Grigio, I found it brimming with green apple and tropical fruit flavors, which nicely quenched my thirst, while the firm acidity, white flowers and citrus give it nice overall balance.

Price and Purchase: This wine has a SRP of $17 and can be found at your local BevMo or other locations online as well, like the folks over at winedotcom selling it nearly $3 higher than the SRP. But hey, they will throw in shipping for a flat fee of $18.95 for a years worth of shipping.
Other Voices: The Wine Curmudgeon had this to say about this very good example of Itailian Pinot Grigio; "The San Angelo was quite a pleasant surprise. It didn't have the turpentine-like aromas and flavors that so many less expensive Italian pinot grigios have." Okay not quite the ringing endorsement, but even RP gave their 2007 90 points.

Full Disclosure: Yes, folks this was another sample sent to the CCWB for the review process and as I've said before it retails for about $17, if you are curious about the review process please click the tab to the right of the screen you're viewing this review on.
Score and Recommendation: So hey what's the score, the question many want to scroll down to see before you read on, I gave it 91 point voluptuous points and my recommendation is to have a case of this wine in your home at all times. Great flavors, harmonious with many food choices and easy on the wallet, what else could you ask for in an everyday value. So what are you waiting for pick up those keys and head down to your favorite wine store and get yourself some, until next times cheers everyone!

Supporting Video: Now I didn't choose this video because it describes the wine above, but gives you again the gist in just about a minute about the stylistic differences between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris. So give it a swirl and let me know what you think, cheers!

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