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

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A taste of Umbria: Tabarrini, 2005 Montefalco Sagrantino

This wine review reminds me of me of the very first time I fell in love with a girl. Hard to believe but I was only in second grade, her name Jeanne White and I still remember it to this day. I had a major rock collection back in the day and I recall that I gave her one my favorites. The point of sharing this story is that like that elementary infatuation of love at first sight is exactly how I fell about this wine.

This wine from the Montefalco DOCG immediately grabbed my attention and it was love at first slurp. Hard to admit, but for someone who considers himself a semi-serious vino-sapien I've never tried this grape before. After having it in my mouth for just a few moment, before my customary "speed-tasting" spew, I was head over heels. Again, here I go, but I freely admit this wine made me say, "WOW". This folks is some serious wine, huge, complex and in all respects fits the full definition of "Dry Red-Wine". Make no mistake this is the kind of wine that is going to give their neighbors to the north a run for their money.

If like me you have not given this grape a swirl and you think of yourself as huge fan of Barolos, then you'll want to check into a Montefalco 100% Sargrantino. While the massive tannin structure is a great indicator of these wines ability to age, the 2004 and subsequent 2005 Tabarrini Sagrantino paired wonderfully with supreme pizza I had the other night. Both of wines are extremely approachable right now. However if you'd like to sit on them a bit and watch them develop further, I think you'll be rewarded nicely. I gave the edge to the 2004, just a bit more fruit and overall structure. But honestly, I would not kick either of them out of bed and both wines would go home the next day with my real phone number, followed up by a call-me text in a couple of days. Of course I would hope the prettier sister [2004] would call first [just saying].

Even though both wines are very dry, there is enough dark plummy, dark cherry juiciness, coupled with fresh rich earth flavors to keep you very interested. The structure is very complex, some smoked licorice, laid over the very big [polished tannins] and a barrel full of stunning mouth-watering acidity that makes this wine a perfect match with any Italian theme dish you could ever imagine throwing at it. This wine is also great on its own. Frankly I could not get enough of this wine, it just draws you in over and over, a real head turner.

So if you want to score some for yourself and I highly recommend that you do, you can pick some up from this placed called Great Corks who's selling the 2004 for $38.99 plus shipping. This is a great price for a wine of this caliber, that I giving a sizzling 94 points. Don't miss out folks because until you have swirled a 100% Sagrantino in your glass, I really don't think you can have an honest point on view on wine [because this wine has truly altered my perspective].

This wine was provided as a media sample to me and 300 plus other wine writers at this years 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference and I must say it was one of my personal highlights. I dropped in this little vid, from Gary V, his passion for these wines is contagious. Until next sip long and prosper, cheers!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Backyard BBQ: Côtes du Rhône, 2010 Belleruche, Rosé

With the back-yard BBQ just now hitting its stride on the back end of July, while facing the dog-days on the porch. Where can the average vino-sapien turn for relief from the fires of the BBQ pit, compounded by the unrelenting heat of Mother Nature? For me the answer is very simple and one that I've depended on years to get me through long hot summer days; the answer is undoubtly rosé. No really, I don't want a big heavy red weighing me down, adding extra heat, what I need is something to help me cool my jets.

However, not just any rosé will do, I want one that has some depth of flavor, the substance to stand up to BBQ's bold personality, that is when I reach for a little number from none other than the Côtes du Rhône. Yep you heard me right, the Cotes du Rhone is the most diverse wine region in France, one that really delivers on high quality, yet low priced rosé's which I find to be real thirst slakers.

Which is why I am very happy to introduce you to the M.Chapoutier, Belleruche. A brillant salmon colored wine, produced mainly with Grenache and a tiny bit of Cinsault, Syrah thrown into the mix. The vineyard sits on the right bank of the Rhone, on terraces molded by glacial meltwater. Keep the wine slightly chilled for best results, you'll find many mouthwatering flavors waiting to evolve as it's unleashed from the bottle unto eagerly waiting parched summer palates. It's bold and creamy at the same time, flavors of baked summer peaches, the tang of strawberry, layered with mouth watering acidity, leading to the long subtley spicy white raspberry finish. A home-run ball for a thirsty nation.

Another great bottle of wine, with outstanding QPR, selling for a song at a SRP of $12.99. I giving this wine a big slobbering kiss of 91 points. The wonderful folks over at Terlato Wines International provided this wine to me as a sample, as something they thought may really interest all of you, my wonderful readers. As they always say go big or go home and this wine definitely goes big, so don't miss a chance to give them a swirl. Below I linked to what I think is the perfect video and song by a group of the same name Belleruche. I believe it will sync ever so nicely with this wine and has "Summer in America" written all over, sit back, sip long and enjoy, cheers!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

WBC 11 Speed Tasting Highlight: 2007 Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

The speed tastings are bit reminiscent of speed dating. Where you have just mere minutes to make a favorable impression upon the person or in this case wine writer sitting near you.

A few quick sniff, swirls, slurps and lots of reflexive spitting and you have just tasted about 16 different wines. No big, we are professionals, who gladly volunteer to have our palates assaulted by a platoon of frenzied red and white wines, coming at us with the zeal of crimson crusaders attempting to lay siege on our collective castle walls searching for unbridled abandon. Besides like Eric Asimov said during his keynote; "It takes an accumulation of bottles of experience to develop a point of view" to which I say; "bring on the juice".

Many of my counterparts who attended the conference and some of those on the other side of the bottle were repulsed by the idea of speed tasting and like speed dating it of course is not for everyone. I frankly really like it, the excitement, wines coming at me at a frenetic pace, while trying to get some tasting notes written into precise bite-size hundred and forty character satchels of useful information.  A lofty goal no doubt, but most of just leaned into and got with the program.

Like many of the tastings I attend, whether it's at the Wine Bloggers Conference speed tastings, various meet and greet tastings or just your garden variety impromptu wine slurping fests it never fails to amaze me that I fall head over heals with some really fantastic juice. Many time it's a wine that I really had not anticipated sliding across my palate. But it's with great pleasure that I introduce you folks at Keswick Vineyards who stopped by the table where I was seated during the speed-tasting portion fo the day for red wines. They poured their 2007 Keswick Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, [Monticello] a blend of Cab-Sauv 75% and Merlot bringing up the rear. I was utterly unprepared for how amazing this wine would be, especially after over-hearing other VA winemakers say that how difficult growing and producing Cabernet Sauvignon can be and often is in Virginia [geez ya talk about site selection].

After the first splash down in my glass, the bouquet coming out of glass gave me my first clue that I was in for a real treat. After the first sip, I was really awe struck by the caliber of this wine, thinking to myself this has to be a Napa-Cab, but no this was a Virginia wine. It was big and rich, with an emphasis on up-front dark toast, with lots of bacon-fat, coffee and dark plum flavors, wrapped around some premium red licorice, leading into the long fleshing finish.

Again, being not too good with hiding my initial impression, I looked at gentlemen pouring the bottle and exclaimed, "wow" [sorry I know unprofessional]. I really don't get to say that as often as I would like to, but I felt compelled to just blurt it out. I said again, "um, wait hold the phone, this is Virginia Cab-Sauv?" and he just nervously nodded yes [probably thinking duh?]. Folks this is seriously good juice, my initial impression of this wine is to give it a fat whopping score of 93 points. Now it appears this wine is no longer available for purchase [sigh], however based on my experience with this one wine I think it would be a great idea to stop-by and give their wines a swirl [ya feel me?].

When Samantha Dugan was asked by a wine salesmen "So what are you looking for in a wine?" she looked at him and quickly retorted, "Honesty, purity and pleasure....the same things I look for in anything I want to spend my life with". I just had to chuckle to myself, as I was reading here reply to the poor-guy just attempting to be helpful, posted to her Facebook wall. A very snappy comeback filled with enough stark to fill a barrel of wine. But one engendered from real-honesty, one that we all should as consumers of the vine should be looking for when choosing our next bottle of wine. So kick those commodity wines I know you've been slurping on to the proverbial curb and get your palate over to Keswick Vineyards so you can experience some honesty, purity and pleasure. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jefferson's Dream Realized: Jefferson Vineyards 2007 Reserve Chardonnay

"Nearly 240 years later, Virginia has become Jefferson's land of the free-run, home of the grape" ~ Amy Zavatto. Who doesn’t like to have dreams come true, even if those dreams and visions are not realized in your life time?

Many believe Thomas Jefferson was a man ahead of his time [a visionary] and his vision for establishing vineyards in Virginia while difficult at the time, it can now be said that his vision has been realized. It can also now be said that Virginia wine has a firm foothold on the ever expanding wine scene around the world and is set to become a force to be reckoned with on the worlds wine stage.

I've finally made my way home from steaming-hot Charlottesville, Virginia where the Wine Bloggers Conference took place this year. Charlottesville you have a lovely city and thanks for welcoming us in with open arms and making us feel right at home. I have a new found admiration for the the people of this city and the wonderful wine scene any wandering wino would be proud to call home. Truly folks, this is an up and coming wine region, so pay attention as the train is in the station and is about to take-off, make sure you have your tickets ready for the conductor or you may just miss out on some very tasty juice.

Many of my colleagues [blobbers] who went to this years conference came with a bit of skepticism [some healthy and some not so healthy]. To be perfectly honest, I always remain skeptical about wine regions that either are or appear to be on the fringe of the "accepted" wine making regions in the world. I think skepticism is healthy, it keeps folks honest, authentic and most of all it keeps folk from being one of the kool-aid drinkers. That said, I believe if there is too much skepticism, it comes with a cost. That cost is being perceived as negative and narrow minded. This is not healthy for anyone, especially for folks who would like to be considered as explorers of the vine [writers].

So mean while back at the review. Wow [yes they made me say wow], the Jefferson Vineyard 2007 RSV Chardonnay is a stunning example of what Virginia wines have to offer the wandering wino or the adventurous vino-sapien. Wines of distinction can be produced in places you may not have considered before, especially in the right hands and those hands happen to belong to Andy Reagan their winemaker. Their RSV Chardonnay is in my mind representative of great Burgundian style and elegance. Many of my fellow wine-writers also thought very highly of this wine. In tasting this wine and the other wines that Andy produces, it's this writers opinion that he is a "rock-star" [no hyperbole] winemaker, that any winery would be lucky to have on board.

I found in each long slurp, the judicious [luv that word] use of oak. I was told it was something like 45% new oak and neutral oak which became the ingredients for the perfect balance of fruit to oak [the answer to oak abuse, is NOT non-use]. The fruit was estate and other purchased grapes from the Monticello AVA. Which combined to create the over all balance, so few wines achieve in places like Napa, let alone Virginia. I found the wine to be delicate, yet very detailed.

This wine danced with richness, an underlying mineral streak, mouth watering acidity, that played nicely with the spicy cheese wheel sitting on the bar. It was floral, a touch of citrus, but brimming with ripe apricot, with the right touch of spice. The finish is long and inviting. Unfortunately this wine is no longer available for purchase. However, it did sell for a SRP of $21.

Their current 2010 RSV Chard. is available currently in their tasting room. It's my impression that this wine also has the stuffing to be another stunner for those willing to wait, which is what I plan to do with the bottle I took home. For those who can't wait, you won't be disappointed in the many complex flavors and aromas that await your empty glass.
I also walked away [paid] with their 07 RSV Cabernet Franc, which really impressed me on many levels, it pairs perfectly with seasoned BBQ Tri-Tip, chicken salad, brimming with grapes, apples and tangerine on a fresh croissant. I hope you will give their wines a swirl next time you find yourself in Charlottesville, the wines of Jefferson Vineyard represent what Virginia wines are all about, until next time sip long and prosper, cheers! In the interest of full disclosure, yes I was treated to free tastings of their wines and a winetastic lunch was provided.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Italian Style Shrimp Spaghetti and Banfi's Chianti Superiore 2009

I made this dish based on an wonderful experience I had dining out at an Italian themed restaurant in Barcelona. At first glance, unusual but forced with the idea of waiting until ten o'clock at night to eat dinner, we hungrily opted for the very empty Italian eatery for a bite. The first course was the shrimp spaghetti, which I absolutely loved and had a brilliant Chianti Classico [15 euros] with it, a great match. So when I came home, I wanted to re-create that experience and only having the taste memory and visual I set off to find my main two ingredients. One, large already cooked shrimp tails-on and two a jar [don't wince] of organic Vodka sauce that I picked up from Trader Joe's.

I like to fancy myself as a Sam the Cooking Guy style of cook, because I know I'm not even a wanna be sous-chef. So yeah, no illusions of grandeur here. But I digress, mean while back in the kitchen with my main two ingredients acquired, I'm ready to get dinner on the table. The other fab ingredients to make this dish are already in my refrigerator, pantry or the garden waiting to spring into action. The other critical component to this equation is the right bottle of wine and for me that bottle is the Banfi's Chianti Superiore 2009  [SRP $15] a sample I received last month sent for the review process that was the capstone to the meal.

The Banfi Chianti Superiore, was rich and supple, it had great body and a mouth watering acidity. Sometimes a wine is just okay when sipped alone, but when paired with the right meal, it becomes more than the sum of its parts. The nose didn't thrill me much, aromas of dried cherries and plums wrapped around some shoe leather that had been kicking up the vineyard dust. After the first sip, a wine redolent with dark cherries, ripe plums, dusty tannins and rich earth with a bit of black licorice in the background. The acidity was transformative to me, it really brought the meal alive and made those shrimp sing like the Vienna Boys Choir. The finish was long and inviting, I nearly drank the whole bottle myself [Bogarting 101]. I scored this wine a solid 90 points and highly recommend you give it a swirl with the recipe below.

I found some other recipes online for something very similar, but oddly much more complicated. So armed with just the visualization and my taste memory I get to work [here's my recipe]. This recipe is so simple a cave man could do it. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

1. Grab some authentic Italian-style spaghetti noodles, that most folks have on hand already. Fill large pot with water and grind some sea-salting, set to boil or high heat. Once cooked drain water over the sink, but don't pour it all out. Once the noodles are drained of the water douse with olive oil and dash of salt then set aside over the top of still hot water.

2. Take out medium sized frying pan, turn onto medium high heat, drop 1/4 of non-salted butter into the pan.

3. Take frozen [pre-cooked, tails-on] shrimp [purchased from Wally World] from freezer and dump into a food strainer. Rinse with warm water and then remove the tails.

4. Dice two large vine-ripe tomatoes, cut fine some fresh Italian parsley, fine-cut some basil, use dried oregano and have them standing by to be added after you've sauced the shrimp.

5. Add shrimp to the already hot butter bubbling in the pan and saute those puppies for about 7-10 minutes.

6. As the shrimp as been sauteing for the prescribed amount of time, sift in some flour. Just eye-ball it, you'll know when the butter begins to form into a sauce.

7. Reduce heat and add the TJ's organic [watery] Vodka Sauce to the cooking shrimp, sift in a bit more flour to compensate and stir.

8. Add the fresh cut tomatoes and stir in the other Italian herbs described above, along with some fresh ground pepper and continue to cook for about another 10 minutes on medium low.

9. Now you are ready to plate, pour over the freshly prepared pasta and add some freshly shaved Parmesan cheese if you like [yeah, yeah I know the whole seafood and cheese rule], adorn with basil leaf, I did and it turned out fabulous. Bon-Appetit!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hello Virgina: Delaplane Cellars Maggie's Vineyard 2010 Viognier

It won't be long before I'm leaving on a big ol' jet plane heading off to see what's going on with the Virgina Wine Scene. What, you've never heard of wines from Virgina? Okay you're right, wine from Virgina may not be on store shelves near you, I've certainly never found one here in San Diego where I live [because some crazy anti-wine law won't let them ship here]. However that is the point of this trip, for me and everyone else we are off to discover Virginia Wine, see what's going and how their wines match up with their counterparts from the rest of the wine world and discover new favorites. I do love exploration.

Even though Virginia may not have the name recognition that many other "established" wine regions presently have. However I think many of my fellow wine-bloggers will be in for a big surprise, as we discover what I am sure will be many fantastic bottles of wine that each of us will want to share with our collective audiences. Well it's almost time to once again grab a seat, lean back, soak in some new tips and tricks, see old friends and make some new ones at what will be my third Wine Bloggers Conference. I can't wait to see everyone, that I only chat with with on FB and Twitter during the course of the year. It's going to be a blast in more ways than one.

As a way to have a preview of coming attractions, a twitter-live tasting was set in motion. I didn't participate directly, I was busy making a dinner while my friend from Wine Harlots was over with her selection of samples for the event. See I wasn't even suppose to be available for this event for which I did get an invite, but plans changed at the last moment and I had opportunity to taste nearly all the Viogniers which had arrived for the event. Sorry to say, like a high-school dance not every girl on the dance floor can be the belle of ball. After tasting nearly all of the wines represented [nearly blind] because I knew nothing of the wines represented [other than it was Viognier], I picked out one that I thought was truly representative of the varietal.  The clear winner and belle of the ball in my book was the Delaplane Cellars. Of course the juvenile in me after seeing the name on the bottle, I launch into the mimicking of a nineteen eighties reference from Fantasy Island, "boss, de-plane, de-plane" which sounded much funnier in my head.

In the glass a beautiful hay colored core. On the nose a wonderful bouquet of peach, nectarine and the tang of citrus. The first sip was an utter delight, off-dry in feel, this is a well defined Viognier, with a creamy texture carrying a bit of brioche, vivid ripe peach, honey and undefined spice notes lingering in the background, framed over the the vibrant acidity. The finish is long and inviting. A bottle which I decided to "bogart" all for myself, yep I laid claim to it and proceeded to slurp down the remaining contents, I was very sad when the rest of the bottle was gone. I scored this wine 92 points and it sells anywhere from $20 to $24.

I was even more sad to find out that this wine is not available here in the state where I live, California. No doubt in whole or part due the arcane three-tier distribution system, which is a whole other discussion. However if you live in one of a handful of states that Delaplane Cellars is allowed to ship to, then I would highly recommend grabbing some of this great tasting juice for yourself. This 100% Viognier was barrel fermented in "neutral oak" and aged "sur-lie" for seven months before bottling, it's in my mind a fantastic representative of the varietal character and flavor associated with well made Viognier. This is what Viognier is all about and will pair with a variety of spicy entrees, I served it along side apricot glazed BBQ pork-chops and a spinach salad festooned with strawberries, feta and red onions drizzled with a chipotle honey dressing. 

The conference is getting closer and closer and I can't wait to see everyone and meet the wonderful folks of Virgina. It's not my first time in the state as I lived close by in North Carolina for a few years and would often make visits to Virgina, normally a quick shot up the I-95. The only downside, visiting this area during this time of the year when the heat will be vexing and the humidity leaving you feeling like you're wearing a sweaty gym-sock instead of a shirt. So Virginia Wine, I will see you soon. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Time to get your hands on 2010 Bordeaux Futures

Have you ever got your hand slapped for reaching for attempting to reach into the cookie jar just before dinner? Your mother gives you that, "oh, no you didn't" look and you're summarily turned away and made to wait until much later to have the highly coveted fresh baked chocolate chip cookie, if you get to have it at all.

Well grabbing your favorite bottle of Bordeaux can be and often is very similar to obtaining that highly coveted cookie from your youth. However, in the case of Bordeaux Wines you have the opportunity to not only get your hand in the cookie jar, but you can grab the best ones and keep them in a holding pattern until you're ready to have them sent to you directly via the Bordeaux futures program. So if you love a good Bordeaux and who doesn't, than it's high time to get with the program, as many your fellow vino-sapiens have already done.

Since everyone in the vino-universe is lining up to buy Bordeaux upon release, it may be a good time to get ahead of the game by purchasing Bordeaux Futures. Perhaps, you're thinking um what is a wine future? Good question, simply put it's ultimately the most effective method to purchase your favorite
Bordeaux before it hits the shelves of your favorite wine store and your stuck with the left-overs.

How do you know which wine you should buy? This is a great question and one that leaves a huge question mark in the minds of the average vino-sapien. But relax, the answer is easy because wine-critics line-up at En-Primeur to taste and review [give a score] a cross-section of the vintage while they’re still in the barrel, usually a year or two before bottling. So once you know the score, us folks known as the wine-swirling masses [customers] can buy these wines based on these reviews. Once the wine's bottled, it's delivered to you, this way you don't need to spend time searching your favorite wine stores stressing about it being sold out like that proverbial cookie right after dinner in house full of kids.

So now to the "how" part of the equation, how do you as the average vino-sapien make this happen? Great question, there are a number of ways to accomplish this goal of being the first in line to get your favorite bottle of Bordeaux. You may have seen signs at your local vino-slingers store, touting their "futures" program or perhaps some flash-site touting great deals on getting in on their Bordeaux Futures offer. But hey, why not cut out the middle-man and go direct to the source, who has a direct relation-ship with the Chateau, where the wine only changes hands three times, directly from the Chateau to great folks at Millesima-USA and once said wine is bottled and ready to be sent it's delivered directly to your very own Chez-Vino, what could be easier than that?

High-Prices: There is always fear of astronomical prices when purchasing Bordeaux and it's a real concern. I also share that concern, but honestly folks getting in on the futures program is great way to save yourself some coin on wines that will only go up in price after their release. I've had a few examples this year of great BDX selling for under $50 that is drinking rather fabulously at the moment. There are plenty of tasty examples of wine in that category offered through Millesima-USA website. It's worth noting here, that there's an effort afoot by at least one influential critic, "British wine-writer Jancis Robinson has floated the idea on her blog of holding back her scores and individual tasting notes until the Chateaux have released their prices" ~ This could be a way to help hold prices down to reasonable levels and the impact upon prices related to scores across the board, signaling a significant change.

Regarding prices, availability and bottle formats, frankly they are all over the map and the sky is limit. You really have an incredible selection of Chateau from which to choose, anywhere from a First Growth to solid basic BDX wines that still bring incredible flavor and complexity to the table. The offering of different wines from Millesima-USA is quite good, seems to cut out the middle-man and also offers fine BDX in a variety bottle formats. The larger sizes of course are better for long-term storage, but will not fit in a majority of wine storage units, however this is one of the better benefits of the their futures program and not something you will be able to easily find after the release date.

Other Voices: Okay, so maybe you are on the fence about whether or not to buy futures from the upcoming 2010 vintage, this is a fair question as you don't want to sink you hard earned dollars into the purple-haze of uncertainty. So to allay any fears or ambiguous thoughts on the 2010 vintage, I've rounded up a few reliable sources on the subject, with their various impressions and thoughts on Bordeaux's Vintage 2010.

Jancis Robinson: "Christian Seely, in charge of AXA Millésimes, for whom the jewel in the crown is Ch Pichon Longueville (Baron), also in Pauillac, described the 2010 harvest last Wednesday as 'embarrassingly good' but different from 2009."

The Stout Report: "The 4th vintage of the Decade if you count 2000, 2005, 2009 and now the 2010. Winemakers from St Emilion and Graves to Margaux, thinks they are better than 2009, due primarily, to the acidity."

Robert Parker: World's leading wine-critic, argues that 2010, like 2009 and 2005 may be the “three greatest Bordeaux vintages I have tasted in my career.” Here's a link to his tasting report: RP: Tasting Report

Is there any other doubt that 2010 is going to be absolutely stellar and that you'd be making a smart move by getting your ticket to ride via the futures program offered through Millesima-USA. Just keep in mind that if you do participate in the futures program, you will not see the wine until mid 2013 and said vino most likely will not be ready to be opened for bit longer afterward.

For full-disclosure purposes, this post was written supposedly as a paid advertorial on the subject of "futures" I however was never paid for the work I was contracted for, which has left a bad taste in my mouth. I hope you found this bit of advice helpful and will give their futures program a swirl, until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer in a Glass: 2010 Miguel Torres Catalunya De Casta Rosado

No funny pink umbrellas to be found, just a wonderfully refreshing quaff that delivers "summer-time" in a glass. This is the type of quality juice that has me one; wanting to jump into my board-shorts while hanging pool-side to slurp up a few glasses of this first-rate thirst slaker and two; fire up that grill because the only thing I want cooking are those rub-a-dub-dub baby-back ribs.
This wine for me answers both of those demands and is the perfect wine to have in my glass as I get them baby-back ribs that had a rub-down earlier and now are slow cooking on the grill. This a rosé [the first bottle of another label was corked] is one I came across at a wonderful road-side cafe and bar called Pont del Gat [great food] just down the hill from the Montserrat Monastery.

A place I highly recommend you visit, it's one of the highlights to see while in Barcelona. As it is just about an hour outside of the city. A very pleasant drive with not too much traffic, but there are many toll booths, so bring the correct change [coins] or you'll be turned back and that could just get ugly.

But play it smart when visiting the Monastery, go early before the tour-buses full of camera-clicking zombies arrive and swamp you out with hour long lines to see the Black Madonna [btw, take your photo before you're front and center]. Afterward, have an early afternoon draft of some Damm Beer from the cafe, it's a sheer delight of epic proportions [no hyperbole].

This is a good place to mail yourself a post card,  however beware post cards and stamps are not sold in the same place. You may be tempted to grab a bite while you are there on the property [but resist the urge], however the smart money is to head down to Pont del Gat for a delicious lunch and choose a few wines from their list of great local varieties.

The Miguel Torres De Casta Rosado [Grenache Blend] which sells for about 4-6 Euros or $12 U.S. depending on where you acquire it from, but don't let its small cost fool you, this is some series summer-time sipping juice that will wow even the fussiest wanna-be wino in the audience. This winery is all Catalonia [Catalunya]all the time and their wines on a whole are quite well respected and well represented in many restaurant in around Barcelona.

I found this wine to be a very rich Grenache blend, ripe strawberry colored core, full of lush flavors of sweet cherry, spice and those red peach flavors you find close to the pit. The finish just lingers and pairs oh-so wonderfully with Mushroom Risotto chock full of sausage. I scored this wine an amazing 92 points and would recommend it for everyday quaffing, a perfect summer-time picnic partner. This wine says, "don't hate me because I'm beautiful".  Until next time sip long and prosper folks, cheers!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hello Sonoma: Robert Stemmler Nugent Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007

Time for a quick snap-back to the domestic wine market, I stumbled across this great Pinot Noir from the folks at Robert Stemmler at the Costco on Morena in San Diego just last month. I cracked it open, just a few days before my Mediterranean adventure. Cooked up a little wild-caught sock-eye salmon, with my special recipe and some other tasty fixn's and my wife and I were in Pinot Pairing Paradise [title for my new book]. This is the type of quality juice that has me one; wanting to jump inside the bottle to slurp up the remainder and two; tip the bottle on its side which causes it to pool, so I may get those last few precious drops into my glass.  
The Nugent Vineyard is an 11-acre site located on relatively level ground in the heart of the Russian River Valley. The vineyard from which this fruit was harvested was planted in 1997, you can see why there's so much depth to wines being produced from this vineyard which is just now hitting its stride [hint-hint, their 08 vintage is looking good]. For you budding Viticulturalist out there in the audience, you'll find their vineyard boasts of tightly-spaced rows chock full of equal amounts of two Dijon clones of Pinot Noir.

Sad to say and hard to admit, but this was my first experience with this winetastic juice and it was a sheer pleasure. After the first pour a bright colored core of strawberry and red raspberry invite the first sip. Diving into the glass, inviting aromas of baking spices, fresh baked cherry cobbler and sandalwood. On the palate a truckload of finesse coupled together with opulent fruit. This wine is sleek and elegant showcasing a mix of dried cherry, strawberry jam fused with a touch of spice and cedary oak nuances, leading to a sumptuous, long lasting finish. Oh by the way, it paired oh-so marvelously with our Salmon-Bake. To say this wine was good would be a vast understatement, because it did in fact "wow" my socks off [like Jennifer Garner did in Alias].

So I gave this wine a healthy score of 93 points and would highly recommend it to you. Most likely there's no longer any of this wine anywhere to be found, especially at the incredible price point I paid at Costo, just $28, quite a steal. I've seen this same wine elsewhere selling between $40 and $44, in that category it's not the everyday drinker, but something you want to uncork at the end of a tough week in the trenches. However, if you can still find this wine for $28, umm I would suggest that you buy them all [or at least a case], especially if you're a huge pinot-head like me. Until next time folks I hope you all continue to sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tuscan Trek: Lunch with Fattoria il Poggio

After spending a few hours at Pisa, trying to get the right pose at the leaning tower our tour group headed over to Fattoria il Poggio. Man it was so great to be back in Tuscany, although the sun was quite vexing and humidity intense.

Their winery ‘Il Poggio’ is situated right in the middle of all the action. Just a short drive from the Montecarlo DO you will find some of the most visited touristy destinations in Tuscany; the wonderfully well-known artistic towns of Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Siena and Pistoia to name a few are all relatively close by, waiting to welcome the wandering-wino. Il Poggio winery lies near the Chianti D.O.C wine production area.

After a very quick tour of their winemaking facilities and a glance at the olive oil production, lunch was mercifully waiting for our very hungry group in a shaded out-door dining hall. A four course meal and many different types of wine from Rosado's to a Super Tuscan.

However, it was the Super Tuscan which was the last to be tried but quickly became the most coveted wine at the table. We asked for and were given another bottle, we then began "eyeing" the other tables who had barely touched theirs, causing us to launch daring missions to abscond with their bottle [we were successful]. Blackcurrant and plum dominated, oak was well integrated over soft tannins, coupled with just the right amount food-inviting acidity. The finish was complex, persistent and the ABV low. It sells for $15 euros a stellar value for  a Super-Tuscan that delivers so much, I scored this wine 91 points and give it a hearty buy recommendation for my friends in the EU Zone.

While Montecarlo [aka Lucca] is not exactly in the thick of the Tuscan vineyards however many can be found there, here is a link to the heart of the Tuscan wine region, that will assist you greatly in planning your own Tuscan adventure. It's a great resource for folks that may want to visit some of the more famous or well known wineries which produce some of the most often coveted Super Tuscan's of the Maremma Coast and is only about a 50 mile drive Montecarlo area.

The traditional Tuscan lunch we were served that day was really very good and the quick service in between plates was fantastic. The opening salvo, was one of best tasting dishes of what looked like a bowl of spaghetti, that I ever had [see picture]. Not sure how they made the sauce, but it was better than anything I've ever made at home or had stateside [We did run into some bad examples, of this same style first dish in Rome].

A wonderfully run operation and another shiny example of a Tuscan winery that "gets" Agrotourism. I say this because on my first trip to Tuscany in 2008, I found that many wineries there [in Tuscany] just do not quite "get" the why of Agrotourism.

They are very open and welcoming of tourist and don't seem to mind, what amounts to the same crazy questions over and over. They have an outdoor shop set-up just outside the dining hall with everything they sell on their winery [farm] from limoncello to wine [the prices are reasonable]. Sorry to say that their wines are not available for export and don't contain enough sulfites for shipping anyway.

My only suggestion for them would be to lose the clunky stemware as pictured above, it's not doing the wine any favors. I know this is traditional, but I would still recommend giving real stems a swirl. I would have to say that on the whole their wines were good to very good, but this ST was a home-run ball. If you are ever in the area, I hope you will stop by and see them, enjoy a plate of that pasta, soak up some Tuscan premium balsamic and olive oil on your bread like an American and drink in some of that amazing Tuscan countryside, until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

One of Four Best Wine Bars in Barcelona: La Vinya del Senyor

This is part one of a four part series on what I believe are the some of the best wine bars in Barcelona. As you may have already surmised, this series is four-parts because I have a top four and not a top ten or even a top five. Kind of a weird number I know, but once the series is complete I think you'll will be jonesing for some great tapas, a flute full of Cava and calling your travel agent to book you on the next flight to Barcelona.

Regarding La Vinya del Senyor, I think you'll be very impressed with the depth of the wine list this wine-bar has to over offer the adventurous vinosapien traveling abroad.

You can try to squeeze into side the tiny wine bar itself or take a bottle upstairs, but my preference is to uncork a bottle [or just grab a glass] just outside to the terrace [go early afternoon for finding a seat] which lies in the shadow of Santa Maria del Mar [a great example of the Mediterranean Gothic style]. Which is worth taking a gander inside afterward. Oh and if you happen to have the kids with you, bonus there is a Gelato shop just across the mini-plaza, where you can both toast to delights of living the Espania lifestyle [one I really came to admire]. This place is not really a restaurant, but they do have Tapas which tend to be on the expensive side of the equation, so show up thirsty and have a tasty snack.

This is a place to graze on a few Marcona almonds, sip some lovely Cava and watch the world go by. But if getting a serious bottle of vino is more in your game plan, then you will be seriously wowed, by the depth of their wine list and oh by the way wines from coveted Priorat region are in the reasonable range [as they skip the dreaded three tier markup you see on U.S. shelves]. And yes they serve grown up stems, there are no dalliances with the likes of Libby.

The bottle we enjoyed was the Llopart Brut Nature Reserva and oh-my this bubbly made me say wow. Made in a wonderful blend from the traditional the native grapes of Macabeo [30%], Xarel.lo [40%], Parellada [20%]. You may be wondering why it says "nature" on the bottle? Good question, it was explained to me this way, it's an indication on sparkling wine labels that Liqueur d' expedition  [dosage] was not added [sweetness] after disgorgement of the of what is commonly referred to as the "mother" in Spanish Cava production.

Because once the "mother" is gone the wine can no longer "age" thus it's not wise to hold onto Cava for long periods after the "mother" has been disgorged and the bottle corked. Thus you have a drink now and drink often sparkling wine, I'll lift a flute to that idea.

 In the glass you'll find a shimmering pale straw-yellow colored core brimming with fine bubbles. The aromas as I remember it were very clean, with the perfect balance of delicate fruitiness and minerality. On the palate round apple, pear and lime flavors with a shade of spice, completely dry, the mousse is creamy, leading to a satisfying finish. 

This is a very versatile wine, ideal to take on just about enough any dish. It sells for about $15 euros or about $21 U.S., which I thought was a great deal for a Cava of this caliber. I gave this wine a score of 93 points and would highly recommend that you give it a swirl. Unfortunately it appears that only the Rose is available stateside which is a shame. If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, a wonderful international city, give this place a swirl you'll be glad you did. Until next sip long and prosper, cheers!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Penedès Spot Light Series: 2005 Tayaimgut Negre Sant Joan de Mediona

Finally back writing again after an amazing trip to Spain and Italy. I had the good fortune of visiting destinations like Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca in Spain with a chance to sample the local fare, which of course included just a little vino. With Barcelona in mind, the wines of the Penedes region was front and center in most of the wine bars, tapas bars [where we learned the origins of tapas] and restaurants where these wines seem to dominate the menus.

The 2005 Tayaimgut Sant Joan de Mediona Negre was highly recommended by the wait staff at a great little restaurant just down the street from the hotel Silken on Diagonal. The restaurant is situated on a large median which appears to run the full length of the city, full of people eating, with room for folks who may want to do some roller blading [still big in Barcelona], jogging and a little smoking n joking. I love the sense of community that is achieved from this kind of smart city planning. This was our night to have Paella and we were about to choose a different wine, when our very smart waitress pointed out that we must pair the Negre with the Paella, thus I deferred to her judgement and I was so glad I did, as the pairing worked out quite nicely with the smokey elements of the Paella.

The label itself is an unusual, yet eye-catching, a folded label hanging from the neck of the bottle, resembling an apron or bib. Interestingly enough it contains a thorough explanation of the ups and downs [in Spanish and Catalan] of each year’s crop and on the back a place to write a few notes perhaps about your impressions of their wine. The role of the label on the front of the bottle is quite smart: the aforementioned folded label stands out, can be easily torn away from the bottle, allowing potential customers to identify the wine for their next wine shopping outing. A brilliant marketing strategy I believe, which should encourage further wine sales.

Swirly, Sniff-sniff, and Slurp: In the glass a nicely dark ruby colored core. On the nose a nice bouquet of dark cherry, blackcurrant and intense floral aromas. On the palate is where this wine really shines as notes of plum, cherry and a touch of burnt strawberry flavors mingle among the light touch of vanilla and cinnamon. The tannins are soft and nicely polished, the fruit is dominate, but balanced with a pleasing acidity, structure and a low ABV of 13.5% this wine is the complete package. The finish is lengthy and persistent. A drink now and drink often wine that is great alone or perfect food pairing champ ready to take on all comers.

It sells for a mere $13 euros and we purchased for $18 euros at the restaurant [a reasonable mark-up]. Sorry to report that this wine cannot be found in the US, but hey Barcelona there's a shop in your area, stock up this is a great value. I gave this wine a score of 90 points and highly recommend to you. That's all I have for you today folks, so until next sip long and prosper, cheers!
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