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Friday, March 30, 2012

Central Coast Uncorked: 2009 Justin Vineyards Isosceles

"The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree." ~ Aristotle

This wine was built upon the model of the great Bordeaux left-bank wines of Pauillac and Margaux and like a true isosceles triangle which has least two equal sides, this wine also has two "equal" sides. One is its great aging potential and two like much of the 2009 vintage from Bordeaux, this is a wonderfully structured wine, that given time in a decanter will wows folk in the here and now.

If you're willing to pay the $65 price of admission, wait a couple of years, the patient vino-sapien will be bountifully rewarded for the effort. The Central Coast
wine scene, an area chock full of many outstanding wineries and fascinating producers, both coming together to make some of the very best wines in the state of California. Many folks I talk to in my day to day interactions selling wine; are surprised to hear about the amazing Central Coast Wine Scene, they ask me, “oh so there’s far more than just the Napa Valley?”

It’s with a resounding, “yes” that I explain there are places like San Luis Obispo for example, where the cool climate and marine sediment combine to produce the most highly regarded, rich, buttery Chardonnay grapes in the state. And in the north, the long, hot summers and chalk and limestone hillsides of Paso Robles where Justin Vineyards and Winery is located yield amazing award-winning red wines, you’ll find amazing Rhone varietals, rich, elegant Cabernet Sauvignon without the Napa price tag or the attitude.

Justin Vineyard Isosceles 2009: Another Central Coast favorite; this wine was sent to me as a sample a few weeks back; it did not fail to deliver, impressive showing. The wine is quite young, having been bottled just last year in the early summer. If you drink now, decant at least 3 hours, I'd recommend holding for a year or more before approaching it again. A huge wine, which needs time to unwind and unfold in the glass, but once it does look out, you're in for a treat. Tight aromas of sweet blackberry tart, ripe blueberries are eager to say hello, while on the first slurp, a boat load of red and dark fruits, mocha, licorice and sweet but subtle smoky cedar note in the background, the finish is long and lasting. All this draped across obvious tannins, which are nicely ripe and soft. Again I’d hold it for now, my score is 90 points and has a SRP of $65.

Update: By the way, sports-fans I located [spotted] the 2008 Justin Isosceles selling at the Mission Valley Costco, here in San Diego, selling for just under a "Grant". A wine, averaging 91.3 points via 76 community wine reviews on Cellar Tracker, a $15 savings off the SRP. 

So if you're looking for a few special occasion wine, something that would be great to lay down for a few years or even a great wine to enjoy now, with the right amount of time in the decanter, I would recommend picking up a few of these wines, sooner rather than later. Until next time sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cabernet Round-Up: "Get along little Doggies"

"Now, early in spring we'll round up the doggies..Mark 'em and brand 'em and bob off their tails...Round up the horses load up the chuck wagons...And follow the doggies on the lonesome old trail....Yippy ti yi yo get along little doggies..." ~ Chris Ledoux
According to The Wild West; "The American west featured all sorts of people from pioneers and scouts to lawmen, outlaws, gangs and gunfighters (gun slingers), to the American cowboy, and legendary pioneering women on the frontier." But in today's review, it won't be a down and dirty shoot'm up; oh-no instead it will feature a bang-bang, Colt-action style round-up of many of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon's I've recently encountered, so sit back,buckle up, grab some popcorn, get your boots on, we've got a few "doggies" [in this case, young fresh Cabernet's] to catch.  

Now that spring has officially sprung; it's time for a round-up, time to cowboy-up and bring all those Cabernet's, some samples, some not, that have been waiting to be uncorked, review them and get ready to find a place in your cellar. Time to corral these wines, get them to the market, before the next cattle drive [aka, crates of vino] finds its way to my door-step. I'll also be including just one wine, which I have previously reviewed. A Cabernet Sauvignon's which I have had the good fortune to re-taste, recently and has wowed me again [I love when that happens].

1. 2009 DAOU Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve: A true gem from what is to become a rockstar winery in Paso Robles. This wine composed of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, produced from 100% free run juice. All though this wine is still a bit young and tightly wound, all the right pieces are in place for this very appealing blend, aromas of blackberry and licorice rush to meet you, on the first slurp deep flavors of cherry, tar and cigar box wrapped up in a neat package, plush ripe, firm tannins complete the picture. Score 91 points. Unfortunately this wine is sold out, but having already tasted the final blend from the barrel, you better run and not walk to grab some of the 2010 as it's released, it's rock-star juice.

2. Justin Vineyard Isosceles 2009: Another Central Coast favorite; this wine was sent to me as a sample a few weeks back; it did not fail to deliver, impressive showing. The wine is quite young, having been bottled just last year in the early summer. If you drink now, decant at least 3 hours, I'd recommend holding for a year before approaching it. A huge wine, which needs time to unwind and unfold in the glass, but once it does look out, you're in for a treat. Tight aromas of sweet blackberry tart, ripe blueberries are eager to say hello, while on the first slurp, a boat load of red and dark fruits, mocha, licorice and sweet but subtle smoky cedar note in the background, the finish is long and lasting. All this draped across obvious tannins, which are nicely ripe and soft. Again I’d hold it for now, my score is 90 points and has a SRP of $58.  

3. 2008 Calcareous York Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine comes from the York AVA, a newer Central Coast hot-spot where the grapes hang-times are extended safely until the end of the fall; creating some nicely concentrated mouth-watering flavors and aromas. In the glass a light crimson-colored core awaits the first splash, diving in nose first, a captivating perfume of sandalwood, lavender, dark-plum, and subtle spice box note. Mean while back at the first slurp; bang-bang--black cherry, red currant, a dusting of sweet baker’s chocolate. A medium-bodied wine with elegant body an a complexity that has you coming back for more, loads of fruit, nice balance and a long finish. This wine sells for a SRP of $34 and I gave it a score of 91 points.

4. 2008 Sequoia Grove 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: Another tasty blend, 86% Cab. Sauv., 9% Merlot, 3% Cab. Franc, and the odd-man out 2% Syrah. A majority of the fruit used to produce this wine came from Rutherford fruit [57%] nearly a stretch to have it on the label. Described by the winemaker; as a "difficult vintage due to various factors, spring frost and summer fires filling the air with smoke". In the glass, a shiny ruby colored core, stuffing my fat-Irish nose down in the glass to get a quick whiff, lovely aromatics dusty berries, toast and pleasant herbs. Just 6 more months in the bottle, delivered smooth seductive style, a creamy medley of mocha laced currant, wild berry flavors are shaded by toasty oak, the finish long and generous. Nicely done; I scored this wine 90 points. Give it a swirl; it's a solid Napa Value!

5. Sean Minor 4 Bears 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine came to my attention and part of my collection, via a Christmas party last year and was part of randomized gift exchange where stealing other unknown gifts was fun and challenging. This wine was purchased at a place called, "Napa Style". Big thanks to Jeff and Grace; it rocked, great pick. Made in a drink now and drink often style, it comes dressed to impress, no fuss and no muss, a solid value for the everyday drinker. After you uncork this medium bodied bad-boy, loads of fleshy red and dark fruits, understated earth, mingling nicely subtle mineral and sage flavors, sprinkled with a dash of mocha, leaves ya with a happy ending [aka the finish]. It sells for a SRP of $15 most places and my score is a solid 89 points.

6. Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry 2007: A classis Bordeaux "style", it leads the way with 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, nicely done. Unfortunately, I do believe the majority of this vintage is sold-out, but you may still be able to find some wine-stores, if you look hard enough. That said, I uncorked this wine just last night, it paired wonderfully with PF Chang's Broccoli Beef , laid over freshly prepared brown rice, I picked up last night on my way home from work. I got the sense this wine could have gone many more years in the bottle and knowing the fine reputation of this iconic Napa Valley staple, there is no doubt. Here comes the tasting note; abundant aromas of black plum, vanilla, brown sugar and cinnamon escape from glass, preparing me for the main event. Splashing upon my palate, a slap of black currant, Italian-roast coffee, rich leather and bittersweet chocolate thing going on, nicely wrapped in velvety tannins which take time to be unlocked in the decanter before getting your wine on. This wine has a SRP of $48, but I've seen it for much less elsewhere, my score 91 points.

I hope you have enjoyed this round-up, lasso yourself up, some of these very tasty-treats from the west, fill up those saddle bags and head home happy. Until next folks, sip long and prosper cheers!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wine of the Week: Napa Cellars 2009 Merlot

"An ignorance of means may minister to greatness, but an ignorance of aims makes it impossible to be great at all." ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

That is a great quote; speaking philosophically, one that should encourage us all to sing the song we all have within our souls; if we only have the courage to let it out. Okay, now stepping down off the proverbial soap box; it's time once again to shine a big-bright spot-light on the wine-of-the-week. I know, I have not been a great promoter of Merlot's from California [and for good reason], but between this Merlot from Napa Cellars and one of my other recent wine of weeks reviews, perhaps that idea is turning around a bit for me.

Merlot has got a bad rap in recent memory; even though it’s known for creating some of the world’s most sought-after wines. It’s easy to say and has an easy-drinking style; it’s a great blending grape, and known for producing some very age-worthy "collectibles" from places like St.-Émilion, France [need I say more].

Let’s face it, we all know Merlot is one of the "classic" grapes and for many vino-sapiens and even the occasional wandering wino, Washington State's Columbia Valley has been dominating the Merlot market [at least I think so]. But perhaps with two fine examples like the one today from Napa Cellars and the other from Waterstone, perhaps that ship is turning around. Those are two isolated examples; but it's a step in the right direction.

This wine is even more affordable than other one I reviewed a week ago, it's a staple of America's largest wine retailer, a wine that can be found at your local neighborhood Costco. It's selling for just a few dollars south of the $22 SRP and will wow you every step of the way, from the first pour to the last drop. In an era of you get what you pay for; this wine in the show-off bottle over-delivers for its price point.

This folks is a great value; one you should stock up on, what I would call "every-day" drinker. It's easy on the eyes and on the wallet. In the glass there's a shiny ruby colored core, escaping easily from the glass, notes of dried dark fruits, under brush and a expressive basket of ripe cherries. After the first splash down, a dump-truck full of surprisingly complex flavors of deep red cherry and bright red-vine licorice, tucked in dried tobacco leafs waiting to be rolled and lavender lying on the back porch. The thing you want most from Merlot; a soft mouth-feel [silky tannins], dancing black plum flavors attempt to sink that put on the 9th hole, while dark coffee, bbq smoke and earth give a quiet golf clap, to celebrate this wines great swing. I gave this wine 89 points, well done!

Also in review this week and worthy of mention are the other samples I received from Napa Cellars; the Zinfandel, the Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2010 Chardonnay.

2009 Zinfandel: A racy little number, packed, no I say jammed with pepper and licorice, plus notes of black raspberry, roasted sage and smoke. I found it to be a bit youthful when I opened the bottle a month; though unpolished then, it promises so much in the near future. This wine went great with the North Carolina “pulled” pork sandwiches I made is highly recommended. Score: 87 points.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine was a bit tight, a bit too grippy and tad to restrained, like goldilocks, I couldn’t find the one that was just right. What I found in the way of aromas; freshly roasted coffee beans, sage and dried fruit. After I got my first slurp, I found barely ripened black cherries and plums, unsweetened bakers chocolate and a new leather belt; I was none too pleased with this wine. Score: 84 points.

2010 Chardonnay: A classic California Chardonnay; with all the usual players 98% French Oak [35% new] and full Maloactic fermentation and fantastic Carneros fruit. This wine while rich and creamy, still has an elegant side to it. You’ll find that this wine delivers supple, yet fleshy bite of white peach, nectarine and flowery florals, with a creamy vanilla edge. Score: 87 points.

Hope you will give these very tasty selections from Napa Cellars a swirl, the next time you're out wine shopping, until next time folks sip long and prosper cheers!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dining Out: Wine Service Pet Peeves

"All four elements were happening in equal measure - the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the overall ambiance. It taught me that dining could happen at a spiritual level.” ~ Charlie Trotter

We've all most likely experienced what I call the "little-dance" known to others as ordering a bottle of wine. We have all seen it from one vantage point or the other. The wait-staff or in some cases the Sommelier standing table-side, the ritual of ordering, presenting the bottle, opening it, the first pour, sniffing, swirling and finally the first slurp; and they waiting for that knowing nod of approval or in the few rare cases, a head-shake of disapproval.

Often it's this little-dance between the customer and the service staff which can inadvertently give some folks a bit of angst in the process and it's precisely that angst-factor, many folks would like to avoid. Dining-out is like a mini-vacation; a chance to away from the hum-drum of everyday life. So when the average, garden variety dining-patron encounters obstacles ordering a bottle of wine, leaving many think why bother. For some this precisely why some would rather avoid the whole ritual all together. They tend to opt-out; by simply ordering a cocktail or in some cases asking for a can of soda or two, with a straw [I actually saw this one recently].

It has been said, "that you only have one chance to make a good impression" and often the first one, will be the last. I’ve long said and often repeated to as many folks as who will listen; "that many eating establishments or other related businesses need to do more, much more, to make this process more friendly". Because if restaurant's [sit-down dine and wine] collectively expect to capture a larger share of the market and turn more of their patrons into the "repeat"  or the "regular" customer, then they may want to streamline the process.

I recently took a poll or a mini-survey on my Facebook page to see if wine-service issues were the "HOT" button issue I imagined them to be. Oh boy did I ever get a boat-load of comments, far more than any other topic I've brought up to date.

As a result of the poll I took, I received some interesting suggestions on how restaurant's can improve the customer experience. So below are some the answers I got to the question I posed: "I want to know what are the "top wine-service pet-peeves". Some of answers needed to be edited; if you have some of your own please don't hold back, just let it all out here and now, you'll feel better, I promise.

1. Customer Service: The lack of customer service is the number one complaint. Folks wanted to be treated like a welcomed guest and not an interloper, who has come to spoil their day.

2. Stemware: It's amazing how many restaurants with $30 and above entrees or bottles of wine averaging over $40; who don't offer appropriate stemware. The thick libby-style wine glasses, while being great for the dishwasher, it's not the best vessel for enjoying a quality bottle of wine. Secondly, if it is your policy to only give "nicer-stems" to folks who order a bottle; umm could you please stop doing that, it's just bad form.

3. Not Wine Savvy: Servers who know nothing about wine, wow this one issue really "bugged" many of the poll takers. I mean c'mon you're running a restaurant with a decent wine-list and if you expect “return” customers, then it would behoove you to train your staff to be wine savvy. In some cases a distributor could be convinced to help with this issue, with little or no cost.

4. Italian restaurants: This issue surprises me every time, a so-called Italian restaurant with NO Italian wines on menu - just Merlot and Chardonnay. Howard Hewitt ~ "yes, I've had that experience more than once" Italian restaurants with no Italian wine, it's just a shame.

5. Inconsistent pours: This issue is ripe for creating distrust and dissatisfaction with customers and may lead to needless confrontations between customers and the wait-staff. I've personally experienced this on more than one occasion and I don’t complain, but of course I won't be back either.

6. Restaurant mark up: Most folks don't mind paying reasonable mark-ups, but paying three times the retail price, well that’s beyond the pale in terms of respect to the customer. The average wine-drinker has a fair idea what the retail prices on those wines and seeing a big mark-up is a real turn-off. This issue alone has inspired many folks to start BYOB and skip being taken over the coals with ridiculous mark-ups.

7. Pouring: Pouring more wine into the glass before asking, uhh no, please stop. I could be the driver, I could want something else, or maybe I just think that last sip in the glass is the best because it really had time to aerate....none the less...don't just...sneak behind me and pour me more wine.

8. Bottle Purchase: I think we have all seen this before; pouring too much wine in the glass is a serious faux pas with many vino-sapiens. The Traveling Grape had this to say "PLUS I HATE-HATE-HATE when purchasing a bottle, that I get this big ass pour in my glass, so much so I can't swirl and let the wine breath, just offer a decanter instead."

9. Champagne: Bubbly served by the glass, huh? If you're a restaurant is doing this please stop. It is recommended that you should just order splits, it's better for the customer and for the reputation of the restaurant.

10. Wine List: Nothing is more frustrating than the out-dated wine list; and then getting the shoulder shrug of "oh sorry sir or ma'am, we no longer offer that vintage" or "oh-sorry, that wine is sold out".

11. Corkage Fees: Encountering unreasonable corkage; wow this one can be quite irritating, which will most likely mean, I won't be back. In my opinion, charging more than $20 is highway robbery. If the fee is waived with a bottle purchase from the menu, that is a sign of smart thinking and good customer service.

12. Proper Storage: Nothing is more frustrating than finding nice collection of wines, which are not stored properly; most vino-sapiens don't like to drink warm [talking above 70 degrees] red wine.

13. Ice Buckets: If you offer Champagne by the bottle, you should have ice-buckets and the customer should never have to ask for it.
14. Wine Flights: This may sound like an odd one, but I've experienced this situation more once, the same wine is served in each glass, because they think most folks can't tell the difference.

15. Decanting: I think the best policy for decanting a clients wine, which they brought in, is to make sure, it's done table-side and to leave the bottle on the table.

16. Thank You: There seems to be a lack of politeness in the service industries today, thanking the customer is paramount in delivering good customer service and this point cannot be overstated enough.

Most of the time my dining out experiences are fantastic, but every now and then you go to a place that either doesn't get it or they just don't care if you ever come back. If you could think of any other Wine Service Pet Peeves; which I didn't cover please feel free to leave a comment and I will get them posted as soon as possible. Check out this video from Wine Speculator, where a few Sommeliers, share their thoughts on what Wine Service should look like. It's short but insightful segment, good stuff. Until next time, sip long and prosper my friends, cheers!

Friday, March 23, 2012

About San Diego: My Top Five Tasting Spots

"In water one sees one's own face; but in wine, one beholds the heart of another." -An Old French Proverb

Another potentially wild and wet weekend is knocking on the door; this Friday afternoon here in nearly always sun-soaked San Diego, the place I call home for the time being. Working in the wine-biz part-time, I get to meet all types of vino-sapiens, traipsing about on vinous landscape. Folks who come from all walks of the wine life; there are those who dismiss me out of hand, brushing aside my offer to help them find the perfect bottle or the next [IMHO] must have bottle.

Still yet there are other folks who I refer to as the sweet-bunch, they like their wines sweet, simple and straight forward, they don't want to fuss around with decanting, bitter tannins and could care less how much oak [or even what kind for that matter] the wine has seen or not seen [mostly the latter]. Those vino-sapiens represent in my mind the two ends of wine continuum [as if there was such a thing] and are the folks who really don't need, want or even remotely desire any of the advice I'm about to let rip, like the wine-guy or gal who forgot to spit during a big tasting, only to later blow purple-cookies all over the inside of the previously clean car, in today's about San Diego post.

Today's post is for the "explorers", the kind of vino-sapiens who are open-minded, who have a real thirst for finding wines from new regions or just looking for a few gems to stock up on. Either way, I get asked all the time, "where do you go taste wine?" Since my answer can be a bit complicated; because I've been writing about wine for quite some time and I have the opportunity to sample more wines than the average garden variety vino-sapien. Now with that bit of bragging and self promotion out of the way; I've come up with a list of [LOCAL] places I use to frequent more often than I do now, but still do on occasion, wine-stores and or wine-bars where I know they can get the most bang for their buck, who offer tastings week in and week out which I believe will help them make the discoveries they’re seeking. With no further ado, here's the list, as they say about folks who run marathons, it's not about the destination; it's about the journey and to me that's what wine is all about.

1. First up to bat is the San Diego Wine Company, a wine store after my own heart. I really love their easy style and their centralized location. Just wish they had a slightly bigger space and real stems to slurp the samples from. Many of the prices fit very nicely above razor thin margins, the staff is very knowledgeable and willing to help. Each week they have a tasting and this week it's very focused with wines from Sonoma in the lime-light.

2. Up next in the line up; Vintage Wines Limited which also has a focused tasting each week and happens to be right down the street from the San Diego Wine Company. Again, ideally centralized right there on Miramar Road, and can be accessed easily from the I805 or the I15. They also have very reasonable prices, knowledgeable employees and a great selection. One thing they have that many other wines stores don't is a selection of older wines; which are purchased from private collectors. A majority if not all are located in the back of the store in the walk-in, temperature and humidity controlled cellar.

3. Filling out the third spot in the line-up is the Vin De Syrah Wine Parlor located in down-town on 5th.This experience is something for the more youthful [21-29 crowd], more adventurous vino-sapiens, who from my stats are also reading this blog. And having attended one of the tastings myself, yes I took one for the team, my tasting fee was comped that evening. That said, their lead Sommelier, Adam is fantastic in creating a unique and very memorable tasting adventures, his methods are a bit different than most, but you arrive on the same journey of wine discovery. I really enjoyed the experience myself and can recommend it highly, although it's bit more expensive than most tastings, getting a taste of the magic and few nicely paired bites, makes it worth the price of admission. So give them a swirl the next time you want to get your wine on, it's a great way to kick off the weekend.

4. Batting clean-up as it was; is the The Winesellar and Brasserie another centrally located San Diego wine store that gives the thirsty vino-sapien a real bang for the buck and offers many different experiences to choose from, making it hard to resist wanting to grab a bite after a tasting. They have some of the dining experiences in San Diego, having won numerous awards for dining excellence. They have "focused" tastings every Wednesday and Saturday. The tasting they have on Saturday is fantastic; it's done blind, great way to see how your own palate is progressing. Also on Saturday; they offer a fantastic lunch [wonderfully paired with the wine] for just $12.50, folks that is a steal. Again this place also has a helpful, courteous staff, eager to help when asked.

5. Last but not least; the final place I like to recommend folks head to is Splash of Wine, or simply known as "Splash", this folks is a very unique place easily located in North Park. You can taste wines any day of the week, as they have some 72 different wines on tap, as it were, on any given day. The size of the pour is up to you, it makes for a great way to explore many different types of wine all at once and best of all you don't have to wait for anyone to come to you, it's completely "self-serve". Their place is a bit small, so come early if finding a comfy place to sit is in your interest, also if you'd like to leave with a full belly before driving home, via meat and cheese trays or the tasty pizzas which they offer and happy hour is everyday between 4 & 6 PM. If you are interested in getting a bottle of bubbly, they have a few nice selections to choose from as well.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wine of the Week: 2010 Hahn Family Wines GSM

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”  ~ Jane Howard

Another bright and beautiful week is about to unfold here in San Diego, the rains have cleared out, leaving clean crisp skies in its wake. The air is so fresh, and still a bit brisk in the early morning hours, that's for So-Cal standards. And best of all, this time of year makes for the perfect opportunity for my son and I to reconnect, hello Spring Break.

It's great to have my son home; spending part of his spring-break with me and the Mrs. and getting the oppportunity to share some fabulous wines from the great folks at Hahn Family Wines; with the newly minted 21 year old. As I sampled their wines, checked out their website, and even just looking at the bottle, the word family is emphazied; I totally get that, because these are the styles of wine which I'm proud to share with my own family and friends and recommend to you my readers.

While I unfortunatley had other previous commitments which kept me away from particpating fully in last week's Central Coast Wine day, I wanted to once more highlight this fantastic GSM, from Hahn family wines; the same wine which won the San Diego International Wine Competition for "Best of Class Rhone Blend". I was sent a sample for Central Coast Wine Day, and just had the occasion the other night to share it with my family; giving it a swirl once more, I am still very impressed with a wine that retails for just $14 can be such a rock-star of finesse. While visiting their website; I found that they have an incredibly useful tool, it's wine finder, you pick the wine you want from the drop-down list, enter a zip-code and botta-bing, botta-boom it locates where you can make a purchase from a local brick-n-mortar [San Diego readers take note]. Of course you could just purchase said wine directly via their easy to use web-store.

In the glass you’ll be welcomed by lightly colored crimson heading toward ruby hues. Sticking my fat nose in the glass, bang-bang berry fruit aromas rush to meet you with reckless abandon, with just a hint of underlying smoky spices. Upon the initial splash down; savory oak, while evident, plays nicely in the background, while red and dark fruit characters make a raucous noise on the playground. This wine also displays a fine depth of deep, spicy fruit flavor, hints of cinnamon and licorice characters fall softly on a background of dusty, soft ripe tannins. The trio of dark fruit; is well supported by a long, elegant finish. Again I have to point out; that getting all of this for under $20, is a crazy stupid price. Really what else are you waiting for? Get moving stock on this wine folks, stock up! I’m giving this wine 91 points and anointing it as the, “wine of the week” with an exclamation point. Until next folks, sip long and prosper, cheers!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wine of the Week: 2008 WaterStone Napa Valley Merlot

"I have learned that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." ~ Henry David Thoreau

Nothing like a little Thoreau to get the creative juices flowing and reminding us all that, there are times in everyone's life where something good can from an unexpected source, and at times while in the pursuit of one's dreams. That said, it's time once more for another wine of the week feature. While there is not going to be any earth shattering revelations from an unexpected source, there certainly is going to be a very delightful wine in today's review spotlight I certainly didn't see coming. I've been sampled on previous vintages of this same wine, which I didn't think measured up to the kind of quality I look for in the wine of week feature.

That said, this wine, the Waterstone 2008 Napa Valley Merlot really deserves it so much more than few other wines I've sampled, mainly because the price point of $14 - $18 represents outstanding quality for such a reasonable price.  For many folks this is the kind of wine that you will want to purchase by the case. Trust me on this point folks; this won't stay around too long, it's not the type of wine that you can just walk into any wine-store haphazardly and expect it to just be waiting for your arrival. I'd say grab some now and grab it quickly [even with 900 plus cased produced], it will disappear fast.  I'm one the last folks writing a review about this wine, as many other wine writers also had many good things to say about this wines immediate appeal right out of the bottle. This wine requires no fuss, no muss, it's like the girl who looks great with or without make-up, a rare commodity [just saying]. 

So here's what is going on, as I see it, many others may disagree, but here we go. First, a majority of the grapes for this wine were grown in the Truchard Vineyard, Carneros [hello]. Second, according to the winemakers notes; "during bloom, temperatures soared and further damaged the potential crop, resulting in fewer clusters and smaller berries" in my opinion, a huge factor in helping develop this wines very tasty profile. And the last point is this; "The wine was aged in small French oak barrels with extended lees contact for twenty-one months" of which only 35% the barrel regiment was in new barrels. I believe all these elements came together to make an outstanding Merlot for the money. By the way; did I mention, I'm not particularly a big fan of California 100% Merlot? I tend to prefer Merlot from Washington state. If not, this fact should also enter into your consideration for my reasons to slobber so much praise on this Napa Valley Merlot.

This is the kind of wine you, which will marry easily with many different types of foods. It's also a great switch hitter, meaning it's wonderful on its own or with the Sunday evening dinner party. If you're looking for a pairing recommendation, I'd round up some pot roast, dial-up some mashed-potatoes, bourbon gravy from the drippings and fresh corn on the cob. But that's just me, by the way, it was a great match. In the glass you have a ruby colored core, on the nose, abundant ripe plums, vanilla, red vine licorice and floral notes swirling about, captivating me right away. After the first slurp, wow fresh baked cherry pie, cooling on Grandma's windowsill, home-made crust and all, from the first slurp to the last drop, seamless. Great acid, structure and mellow tannins holding it all together. I drank the whole bottle very easily; left me checking the empty bottle more than once to see if I had somehow missed a drop or two. Looking for the score, okay if you insist, I gave this wine a solid 90 points. There you have it, I hope you will give it swirl, until next time folks sip long and prosper!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Central Coast Wine Day: My Top Ten Slurps

Slurps up! Come on you bunch of vino-sapiens, time to get a splash of the Central Coast in your empty stems. Why, because today is Central Coast Wine Day, a day to celebrate all the wonderful regions that fall into a rather broad category, but one that should cause the average vino-sapien to leap for joy. Why, because there's some fantastic finds just north of Los Angeles and just south of San Francisco. Fantastic wine regions that sadly at times, for some folks fall under the radar. But shining a big bright light [via Twitter] on the Central Coast will help folks to identify this under-served region so much better.

To help you get a quick tutorial on; what exactly is meant by the term Central Coast Wines, a friend of mine and fellow blogger has put together a great article, complete with fantastic pictures, which will help you quickly get a handle on the Central Coast Wine Scene, so please click on over to the Wandering Wino to get the scoop.

As for me, my small contribution for today's events and tomorrows buying decisions; is going to come via what I will call my "highlight-reel" of some new recent favorites, as well as some favorite old standby's in the famed Central Coast Wine Scene. I've had the good fortune to travel to wine regions like San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz Mountains; Santa Maria; Paso Robles, Santa Barbara on a pretty regular basis to catch-up and to stay fresh as possible with new players and old favorites. I have been fortunate enough to attend trade tasting featuring wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands, which is a fantastic area for producing wonderful Pinot Noir.

So the list; which you see below is ten of my favorite producers, who are putting juice in a bottle that any of you could easily count on year to year and season to season, to wow you. I say that because one; these are the wines you'll find in my own cellar in plentiful supply. And two; these are wines in my opinion fall into the tag-line you see as you click your way over to my landing page; "The intersection of where great wine meets reasonable prices".

Who is the arbiter of “reasonable”? Yes, I know one man’s reasonable price is another man’s extravagance. But for me, living in a place called ‘real-ville’ I deal with wines which fall nicely into the Benjamin and under category. What does that mean? [You can pay more, but you won't get more] For me; these are wines which fall into my “reasonable” category and are wines you'll find reviewed here day in and day out. You'll will find the producers I want to introduce you to below; who are very representative of this blog's mission statement [uggh, did I just say that?]. Anyway here we go, sit back, buckle up, grab a glass and hopefully enjoy the ride!

1. Hahn Family Wines: Where their 2010 GSM was declared "Best of Class Rhone Blend" and won a platinum medal. Folks this wines sells for $14, a great every day value or as some of my friends like to call it, a wonderful Taco Tuesday wine. I've encountered their wines at more than a few tastings and I'm always impressed with the great bang for the buck values I find here. But please stay tuned; they have sent me a few samples, which I unfortunately did not have a chance to uncork tonight. Poor me I know; I had to another previously scheduled work related wine tasting, just sampled some fab new French wines and a block buster Rutherford Cab, selling $19, wowsers.

2. Paraiso Vineyards: They produce other fab wines; like their Chardonnay. I'm a huge fan of their Pinot Noir. If you'd like to get an idea of why I think so highly of this producer, please click here. I hope some day to get the opportunity to visit them in person.

3. Per Cazo Cellars: These great folks from Paso Robles; are a new find for me and I'm so happy to list they here in my top ten. Frankly I wasn't surprised to hear their name called in the sweepstakes round of the San Diego International Wine Competition, after the big unveil, after the judging had concluded. Their Cabernet Sauvignon, called 2009 Confluent, scored a Platinum Medal. I'm a big fan of the Petite Sirah, wowsers!

4. Calcareous: Another Paso Robles winery, part of the Far Out wineries. I was just in their tasting room three weeks ago, and came home with a good number of their wines. This producer won best of show at the recent San Diego International Wine Competition. Again not surprised, as I've been a fan of their wines for sometime now. Their 2008 Syrah got the nod for best of show and wine of the year honors, spectacular juice, for a reasonable price [$34]. But that wine is just the tip of the iceberg, another fantastic Central Coast Winery.

5. Daou Vineyards: This winery in Paso Robles, which has incredible views of the surrounding countryside from the tasting room, which itself is pretty amazing, comfy and inviting. I can see two of my favorite wineries, listed above [3,4] from their tasting room. The winemaker Daniel is often seen in the tasting room, greeting the wine slurping masses and talking them up. The wines produced here are 100% free-run, there's according to Daniel, "no pressed juice in any bottle". A fact which seems self evident as I worked my way up and down the tasting menu, I was hard-pressed to find a wine I didn't want to take home. Prices range from $32 to $56, most wines can't be found outside the tasting room.

6. Tablas Creek: [aka, the Rhone Zone] This winery has long been a favorite of mine, since my very first trip to Paso Robles and they continue to impress with each and every visit. I always walk out the tasting room doors with a few bottles in tow. Since they have re-done the tasting room, expanded it, the experience is so much better. This winery folks is a class act [not to say the other are not] but they stand-out out in my mind as one of the best examples of this how you do it [wineries in Temecula, please take note]. Mrs. Cuvee and I; unannounced [they don't know I have a blog] feel very welcomed right away, no hand up-front collecting tasting fees, just wonderful easy-going Paso Robles style customer service. The wines are off the chart good, you would find it difficult to not like something.

7. Alta Colina: Wow, another Rhone-Zone super-star in the making, not just another high-flying act either, these are some serious, very well built wines which come dressed to impress right away. The tasting room, is comfy and inviting, sharing work space with another winery next door. Their vineyards are beautiful, tucked away in the Paso Robles hillsides, but the views from the top are as impressive as the wines in the bottle. This place was highly recommended to us by the great folks at Calcareous, thanks for the tip. A boutique winery; which sells nearly 70% percent of the fruit they produce. A visit to this Central Coast winery is a must for any Rhone-Zone seeker.

8. Jada Vineyards and Winery: Another great Central Coast winery serving up some fantastic Rhone selections, ready to titillate the taste-buds of even the most snobby of wine-geeks. Stephen Tanzer, renown wine-critic, not known for flabby or feigned praise, gives Jada high-marks nearly across the board. I too join with him, these wines are well made, wonderfully executed winemaking, exquisite fruit, long caressing finish, crisp elegance. There's nothing to think about here, just walk-in, grab a mixed case and go home a happy vino-sapien.

9. Sextant Wines:  Another Central Coast wine scene superstar; this year was my first visit to their tasting room in San Luis Obispo or SLO for short. They are working on open a tasting room in Paso Robles, on the wine super-highway 46 west. The tasting room in SLO is very inviting, they also have fantastic cheese selection, that you don't want to miss out on. They produce some of the very best Zinfandel's, you will encounter in the state, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnays which are not the typical buttered popcorn style, which has caused some folk to flee to the ABC club.

10. Kenneth Volk and Lone Madrone: Two of my favorites under one roof in the heart of Paso Robles wine country. Both are super-stars in their own way and both produce wines which are ready to rock your palate in a serious way. Each time I visit, I'm hard pressed to not walk out with more than a few bottles. You can find them both located on highway 46 west.

There you have it folks, my top-ten list of Central Coast wines, that I know, will make your palate and your wallet very happy. There were more than a few places which were left off this list [sigh], but as top-tens go, you will may be hard pressed to disagree with it. If I left your favorite off the list, feel free to pipe-up, and or pop-off in the comment section below. Until next time folks sip, long and prosper!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Campania Uncorked: 2010 Fiano di Avellino, TerreDora

“With drops of Jupiter in her hair, she acts like summer and walks like rain, she listens like spring and talks like June” ~ Train

Many folks like to describe wines as being either feminine or masculine, I too like to think of wine in that way and have often described Cabernet Sauvignon as masculine and the lighter, generally more delicate Pinot Noir as feminine. But in today's wine review spotlight, is a wine which is somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum. In Campania, you have the red wines from Taurasi which are big, strong and very masculine and Falanghina, a bit more of a delicate, feminine style of white wine. But the Fiano, seems to fall somewhere in-between, reminding me a bit of the lyrics from that song, "Drops of Jupiter".

To me the Fiano I encountered in the bottle, just last week was very "tom-boyish" it definitely has a feminine side to it, but with plenty of, in your face, "these boots are made for walking" attitude. Now that's my kind of wine, in a cage match this wine would pummel chardonnay like a bad habit, frankly it wouldn't be much of a contest. It would give everyone with the Chardonnay Conundrum, a new champion to fill their glasses, with wines that have a soul, especially in contrast to California Chardonnay. And believe me, having just judged 30 different Chardonnays and over 30 different Viogniers [SDIWC], all nearly monolithic wines; folks it's time for the wines of Campania to find a place in your own cellar.

I brought this wine all the way home from my last trip to Italy [where there was some choices I had to make because of weight issues], where I had an opportunity to speak at the International Wine Tourism Conference this past January. It was on the way to Campania, where I encountered the Fiano and was given a sample to take home. This wine she signed and gave to me and each one of other wine-writers with me, reminds me of our brilliant, smart and quick thinking host in Campania, Daniela Mastroberardino, President of Moviemiento Tourismo e Vino in Campania and owner of the Terredora Winery. As she speaks you can sense her passion and unrelenting desire to ring the bell, shout from the roof tops, that Campania is home to some of the world's very best wines. Wine destination tourism is alive and well in Campania, come taste the flavors of this great land for yourself, you'll never be the same.

Our blogger wine-bus crew was sucker punched by a snow-storm the likes of which they had not seen in Campania since 1956, so to say it was a Monster Storm, is no where close to being an over statement. Out itinerary had plans for us to visit, Terredora, but circumstances being what they were, I was so sad we missed out on that unique opportunity.

Nonetheless the ever buoyant and fast thinking Daniela, quickly came up with a plan to make lemons into lemonade. She gave us a quick and fascinating tutorial on the wines of Campania. She then arranged with UNA Hotel il Molino's Chef Angelo D'Amico to come up with some dishes, to pair with the amazing wines of Campania. 

Chef D'Amico, then proceeded to give us a quick cooking demo, on how to make, mouth watering ten minute, Campania comfort foods. One of simple but oh-so tasty dishes he prepared, was a mixture of old bread mixed with sautéed garlic, onions and softened vegetables [hello comfort food], sprinkled with a Caciocavallo cheese, which really added some nice depth to the dish and paired so wonderfully both the red and whites wines we encountered. Many of those wines produced from grapes, which sadly, I've had little to no exposure to in the past.

About the the 2010 Fiano di Avellino, which Daniella graciously signed for us; to say it was a mouth watering masterpiece, really does not give this wine enough credit. In the glass a gorgeous golden hay colored hue, on the nose honey from the hive, nectar, lemon and lime rinds tickling the senses. On the palate a beautifully executed mouth watering vibrant acidity, honey, toasted almonds, wet-stone, subtle lemon and lime notes like low hanging fruit, built upon great structure. The finish is long and memorable, inviting slurp after slurp, the kind of wine that makes you sad, when the last drop falls from the bottle. This can be purchased stateside, it sells for $20 to $25 a bottle, I scored this wine 93 points and in my mind this is the perfect "comfort-food" wine. Even if you're not up to making a ten minute recipe, bust out the Chicken Pot pies, pour yourself a glass of chilled, but not cold Fiano, you'll find yourself in heaven.  

As I've shared this remarkable story above, I have but one desire; folks please hear me on this point, you need to search out the wonderful wines of the Campania region for yourself and give them a swirl, your palate will never be the same. Personally, I was blown away by the many different flavors, great structure and easy pairing ability, which nearly every one of these wines brought to the table. Until next time folks sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bandol Uncorked: 2010 Domain Tempier Bandol Rosé

“In the end we shall have had enough of cynicism, skepticism and humbug, and we shall want to live more musically.” ― Vincent Willem van Gogh

It was just about three weeks ago now, that I encountered wonderful expression of a Bandol Rosé, from one of Provence's oldest wineries, Domain Tempier. Mrs. Cuvee and I were dining in Paso Robles and we had booked a reservation with Bistro Laurent. We brought in a bottle of 2007 Justin Vineyards & Winery Isosceles Reserve, a wine which failed to wow many reviewers. An opinion I later shared that evening, it was not ready to drink at present, but I'm thinking a bit more time in the bottle, will help smooth out the rough spots. So my first impression of the wine is a solid 90 points, drinking a bit tight now, not in "wow" territory, still the potential is good, I've five more so I'll let you know later. Now, what was really great about our experience at BL, was the fact that the owner, told us he would have the chef pair our meal around the bottle we brought in, we looked at each other stunned, thinking "really"? "Wow, so okay let's do this".

We wanted to be adventurous, so we cast off our fears and leaned into his suggestion. When we inquired about the "corkage", we then thought it would be best to grab a bottle from the list instead to save the corkage against the price of an extra bottle. When we know it's going to be a two bottle night, we like to start with a rosé, we asked for a recommendation and the first words out of his mouth was how about Domain Tempier, I looked at Mrs. Cuvee who nodded in knowing approval that we were down for what turned out to be a wonderful gastronomic experience. I'm not just saying that because it sounds "cool" it's because our dining experience that night was in a word, "wow" far more than simply just dining out. The chef brought the house, it was so fantastic, I wanted to pinch myself.

But my experience at Bistro Laurent is not the subject of today's review; however without their solid wine recommendation and our willingness to be adventurous eaters, I may have not had this, opportunity to write this review, especially with an apt quote from Mr.Van Gogh. One of histories most under appreciated great artists during his life, but who is now celebrated as one of the "masters" of impressionism. A great artist who took his own life, and robbed us all of what could have been an amazing body of work.

I bring this up, because Van Gogh spent a good portion of his short-life in Provence; in a town called Arles, which sits on the left bank of the Rhone, painting the world as only he was uniquely able to see it. Paintings which beckon us all back to bygone era when artistic impressionism was making its impact and reminding us that seeking new adventures is part of the excitement in life. It's also a possibility that Van Gogh, had slurped down his own share of wines from Domaine Tempier, as their family has been in the wine business in Provence since 1835. It's also not a stretch of the imagination to think that perhaps; Van Gogh took some of his inspiration from the beautiful wines of which may have sparked his insatiable thirst for seeing life’s music via a palette of colors.

Now for the wine in today's review spotlight, it's the 2010 Domain Tempier Bandol Rosé, one of the finest examples of this style of rosé that I've come across in a long time. I will warn you right now, these wines are not the fluffy uber pink stuff you see on many supermarket shelves, oh-no this style of rosé is the "real" deal. You may like that other stuff and you're welcome to it [here's your straw]. This folks is a serious foodie, wine, the pairing opportunities are virtually endless. This Bandol which my wife and I slurped down some three weeks ago now, really wowed us both, however [moment of honesty] the price really didn't, as we spent a crisp new "Grant" on that bottle. This was one for the record books, thee most money I ever spent for a rosé, was it worth the price of admission? At $50 I'd have to say emphatically no, but in the retail price realm, I'd buy it again and again.

What I did find out is that bottle does sell for about $30-35 outside of the restaurant, so not too much of a mark-up. In the glass as you can see from the picture which I took with my phone in low-light, a brilliant salmon color. The nose is very inviting, like a wave of summer time potpourri; dried roses, ripe peach, newly ripened strawberries and subtle orange rind, or other undefined citrus notes. After the first splash down, you'll find a dry, but full-bodied, layered with a florals, ripe peach, strawberry zing and citrus, great acidity to balance the ample fruit from this blend produced from 50% Mourvedre, 40% Cinsault, and 10% Grenache. A little factoid, all the  rosés from Bandol must contain at least 50% Mo-ved, to be street legal. Mouvedre is the signature grape of the Bandol AOC region. I scored this wine 92 points, ripe, rich and elegant, a rosé built to age, or to be enjoyed in its infancy with all the fun, fresh flavors of a summer day. Food pairing recommendation; we dived headlong into a smoked salmon dish, reclining upon a bed of lentils, off the hook. Until next time my friends, continue to sip long and prosper, cheers!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Piedmont Uncorked: 2003 Beni di Batasiolo Barolo

“To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.” ~ Anthony Bourdain

And to me not having as much familiarity as I would like with the great wines of Barolo is a crying shame. Something I aim to correct, starting with this gem I brought from home [byob], from a small collection of these wines quietly acquired over the years. This particular wine has been sitting in my cellar for quite a while and well tonight was my "open that bottle night".

Dining-out is still a treat for Mrs. Cuvee and I, we decided to try another local eatery, and having just returned from Italy, I thought it was time to to give this new-to-me Italian Restaurant here in East Lake, called Villa Capri a swirl. You'll find it situated in a quiet corner of town, just off Proctor Valley Road, obviously a spot designed for many a warm evenings, considering the huge patio presence. It looks like it'd be a great place to grab a tasty bit of Italian cuisine on warm evening, in the early summer months and take-in the weekend entertainment.

For those who don't know, wines from Italy's Barolo commune, are produced from the Nebbiolo grape. Don't be confused with the any of the feeble attempts of those slapping Nebbiolo on the label here in the New World, because they're nothing like the wines produced from the same grapes found in Piedmont, try as they may.

Again for those just now joining this blog for the first time or perhaps your a wine newbie, the wines from this region are still very well regarded by many vino-sapiens [myself included] as one of the kings of Italian grapes [yes plural]. I was very happy to find this wonderful expression of Barola from a great producer filling my glass at the dinner table.

In the glass you will find a classically powerful and full-bodied wine ready to rock your palate with palette of wonderful flavors and aromas. After having the bottle uncorked for me, obviously in restaurants uncorking your own is frowned upon [what eve's]. Upon the waiter successfully uncorking my wine and molesting the cork, he pours my first slurp for me, wow, bang, intense ruby red with a light presence of orange reflections filling the rim, like an old brick from the billets I use to live in back in day [hello North Carolina].

The aromas bouncing upon me like my poddles waiting for a snack, my senses are whacked with an elegant, yet intense, hint of withered roses, ripe dried plums, minerals, sweet tobacco, unsweetened black liquorice, smoked leather [who would do that?]. Finally, giving nodding approval to the waiter, letting him know the wine I brought in; is indeed fabulous so that he could go away until I was ready to order [grumble]. I found the wine to be deliciously full bodied, a crush of dark cherry and ripe plum, with an orange peel dancing near some very velvety tannins [Ooh, la, la] stretched out on a huge structure, full of complexity, leading to a long and lingering finish.

These wines can be quite tannic in their youth [mouth puckering], but this 2003 while relatively young, is drinking very nicely at the moment, as we linger long over dinner this wine continued open and expand it flavors. I decided to pair the wine against the Veal Scaloppini, a dish which to me is always the best measuring stick of any restaurant that would like to open its doors, with an Italian shingle.

The Barolo growing region lies to the southeast of the town Alba, Italy. This wine is what I would call a typical Piedmont style of wine and in its expression, a wine I would consider a highly sought-after classical style of Barolo, without the big price tag. It’s a wine that falls easily at $40, into the reasonable range, especially when we’re talking about Barolo, as many wines from that region can easily fetch astronomical price points, that even Galileo Galilei would have missed.

Since I knew I was going to be reviewing this wine today, I thought it would be a great time to dive back into my notes and glean a few observations from my copy of the Wine Lovers Companion and the WSET Advanced text. So here's the readers digest version: In what is known as the commune of Barolo; this is an area which is highly regarded for producing wines built for long term aging, thanks in part Nebbiolo's very tannic nature. Three of the more well known communes of Barolo are the Castig-lione Falletto, Serralunga d’ Alba, and last but not least is Monforte d’ Alba which are all located on Barolo’s eastern side. The general trend for wines from the east-side stylistically is a tip of the cap to wines which are bigger, brawnier, showing much more structure than any of their west-side counterparts. Wines from these regions need much more bottle time before you want to even consider approaching them, and lies in sharp contrast to the wines from the west side. 

Then of course there's the constant struggle of the traditionalist, who want to keep things the way they have always been versus the modernist, who wants to make their wines in what some call a more "international style", a wine culture wars of sorts. I hope this review has in some small way piqued your interest for your own journey into the wines of Barolo, I look forward to hearing your own thoughts and impressions. Until next time, sip long and prosper folks, cheers!

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