Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wine Wednesday - Proof

Still on vacation of sorts, figured I'd catch up with other friends that had time off. I met them at Proof, a wine bar in downtown DC for lunch. Proof has an express prix fix lunch where you order off a special menu and then get a glass of house red or white...for only $12! Clearly I ordered off the special lunch menu. Had the shrimp burger, which I was told was like a shrimp cake on a bun. I'm thinking that I love crabcakes so this should be pretty tasty. UM well, let's just say that I won't order this menu item again. The house red wine was a grenache blend from southern Rhone. WOO HOO, I've hit the jackpot, I love grenache! Very ripe black fruit flavors on the nose, plum and black cherry. My dining companions laughed at me as I swirled and then put my nose in the glass. Unfortunately the wine fell a bit flat on the palate. Very light tannins and no acidity left a juice-like taste.

Luckily I've been to Proof before and know what they can do and the outstanding wine list they have to work with. I'll be back again and will just try something else on the express lunch menu. I did get the honeyed goat cheesecake for dessert which made up for everything :-)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wine Wednesday - Family & Friends

Games, good food, and gruner are how I spent this Wine Wednesday. My entire immediate family was in town and I invited over a few friends. First bottle opened was a Gruner Veltliner. Very crisp with a bright acidity, mineral and citrus notes on the palate. A perfect aperitif. Dinner was a hodge podge of food, shrimp & grits, turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, zucchini, etc. Dessert was french silk pie, and 4-layer delight. And delighted we were!! After dinner we sat around and chatted with a Bordeaux Rose. A bright pink wine with aromas of fresh strawberries and a tart finish. Once the games started, the Grenache was opened. From Campo de Borgia, Spain, this red was big and bold. Flavors of earth, minerals and a hint of smoky black fruits swirled in my glass and my mouth. There is no better way to enjoy wine than amongst friends!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wine Wednesday - CSW Edition

I don't usually blog about certifications I'm studying for or exams I'm taking because clearly that is a jinx...but this CSW has taken over my life the last 2 weeks! I've been reading the book, reading my flashcards, drawing maps, giving myself quizzes...I can't update my blog AND I can't drink anything today, I have to keep my mind free and clear.

Why does Spain have so many different names for Tempranillo?! I drink loads of wine from CA, I'm not sure which AVA has the highest elevation or is the hottest. And the German map of wine regions....boy oh boy. Guess I need to get back to my studies. If anyone has any tips, bring 'em on, LOL!

Exam is on Saturday at 10AM...WISH ME LUCK!!!

Not So Common Cava

I search the internet quite often looking around for wine articles, books, hot topics in wine and such. Through a search I came across the book, The Bubbly Bar - Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails. How cool! Not too many books out there about the topic, and you usually have to get a general cocktail book to find the 3 recipes they have for champagne. The book was written by The Bubbly Girl, Maria Hunt who has a blog and website of the same name. And her book has taken off! She's been on various tv and radio shows promoting the book and was on a book tour, which stopped by DC. Clearly I had to attend.

The event was sponsored by the American Institute of Wine & Food's (AIWF) DC Chapter and was a tasting of Spanish Cavas at Commonwealth in Columbia Heights, DC. Maria greeted me soon after I walked in, and I realized that her title of Bubbly Girl didn't just refer to her love of champagnes. She thanked me for attending her event and gave me a quick overview of what we'd be tasting that evening. 9 cavas!! Then she made her way around the room to greet guests and chat before the wines were poured.

Tasting notes were provided for all the wines from the tasting, but of course I took my own and will give you my 3 faves below.

Paul Chenau Cava Brut

Very complex in flavor with great acidity, this wine also showed melon and citrus on the palate. Great honey finish. Super cool label.

Juve y Camps Pinot Noir Rose

I didn't have big hopes for this one at first, I'm not the biggest rose fan. This was one of the few cavas of the evening where I got pronounced fruit aromas. Scents of strawberry and raspberry and the chalky minerality on the palate made me find favor with this rose.

Castilla Perelada Cava Brut Rosado Cuvee Especial 2007

Big Red is what I thought when I first put my nose in the glass. Ripe flavors of raspberry on the palate along with a slight hint of spice. A bit of residual sugar in this one balanced the crisp acidity. I think I found my New Year's sparkler!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Girls Night in France

My favorite kind of tasting are the ones I do in homes. This 'girls night' tasting was no different. A group of 7 women that just wanted to chill out and taste some wines of France. Since most people have tasted official French Champagne, I started this tasting out with a Blanquette de Limoux. A very light crisp sparkling wine from the South of France, made using the traditional method from the mauzac grape. A bit different in taste from Champagne, a lot of people noted a hint of salty-ness in the sparkler. I suggested they try a little bit of camembert cheese then try the wine again. Got a couple of fans, but I think this was a moscato d'asti crowd so anything else would be a hard sell. The only other white I served was a Vouvray, with its hints of peach and honey...the crowd was pleased. We took a cheese break (fleur verte, camembert, epoisses) and then started the reds.

A 2006 Bordeaux from Rothschild was rich with p
lum, blackberry, and black cherry fruit. Heavy tannins made this one a delight for the red wine lover. For those that like a bit lighter of a wine, I made note of Bordeaux regions that make a great white and also discussed Sauternes (wine made from botrysized Semillon).

One of my favorite grapes is grenache, and where better to g
et that in France than in the Rhone Valley. But instead of the ever popular, and oft expensive Chateauneuf du Pape, we tasted a Gigondas. I had a map of the area along with a profile of Rhone Valley wine aromas and tastes. Out of the entire group, half of the people loved the ripe red fruit and smooth flavors, the other half thought it was way too dry. This thing was split down the middle. Next up was a Banyuls, a vin doux naturale made from the grenache grape but fortified for a sweeter flavor. That same group that didn't care for the Gigondas, filled their glasses with the Banyuls. Then I served pieces of chocolate and the hostess had brownies....the official tasting went on hold for about 20 mins while everyone raved about the Banyuls. They were writing down every word on the label, taking pictures, I loved it. But before everyone got too crazy and stopped listening entirely, I served a La Coume du Roy from Maury - made from grenache and from the south of France.

What I found funny was that the people that loved the Gigondas couldn't take the sweetness of the Maury, did a little better with the chocolate and Banyuls...and those that loved the Banyuls and Maury didn't care for the Gigondas. After explaining how the same grape can taste completely different...I had a new batch of wine lovers! That was my favorite part of the tasting. And that there was more Gigondas & Bordeaux left for me ;-)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wine Wednesday - Sippin' With Santa

Well, not actually Santa...but hosted a tasting for the holidays. I think someone even had on a Santa hat, or at least something red. The Rutgers Alumni Association in the DC area held a holiday wine tasting at Carafe WineMakers and I added a little education on to their tasting. We went through 3 whites, everyone loving the gewurtztraminer because of its spicy and citrus-y notes. The red favorite was a new wine at Carafe, the Old Town Zinfindel. I really liked this one and the crowd did too. This wine is perfect for the holidays with smoky cherry aromas and flavor reminiscent of cherry cola. Perfect for that stew or roast that is served for Christmas.

I always like to add something a special for the host of any wine tasting where I speak. Since Rutgers is in New Jersey, for this tasting I ended with a raspberry dessert wine from a winery in NJ. The alumni group was so excited! Once in the glass the wine smelled of ripe fresh picked raspberries. On the palate, not the crowd favorite. But, a suggestion to pour this wine over ice cream or possibly use it as a sauce for chocolate cake was met
with cheers. Nice save!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wine Wednesday - Enology

After hearing about the 'American' wine bar for months, I thought Wine Wednesday would be a great time to try it out. I met up with a friend of mine and we headed to Enology on Wisconsin Ave NW. Enology has an all-American wine list with a surprisingly vast selection of American wines by the glass.

My first sample was the Adelsheim Auxerrois from Willamette, OR. This caught my eye because auxerrois is a grape typically grown in France, and it's a grape I hadn't yet tasted so I could check it off on my Wine Century Club list. The Adelsheim smelled of pear, apple, peach with a hint of honey, but had flavors of herbs on the palate. I still got the honey flavors but none of the fruit that I smelled in the glass. Not to worry though, I like herbs and I definitely liked this glass of wine.

Next sample was of Trenza 'Bianco' from Edna Valley, CA. This albarino-grenache blanc blend's fruity bouquet of kiwi and vanilla wafted from the glass as soon as the waiter set it down on the table. The Bianco was a bit more consistent on the palate as I tasted vanilla along with hints of pepper and minerality. This went exceptionally well with the rockfish that I had for dinner.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Discovering Bordeaux

Finally, another trade tasting! And this one was for Bordeaux so I was doubly excited. 'Discovering Bordeaux' was a wine tasting just for the trade and held at the Hyatt in Bethesda. There were 9 companies present to exhibit their Bordeaux offerings along with 3 seminars discussing various Bordeaux topics. I attended the 'Mastering Medoc' seminar. Medoc is a famous commune just north of the city of Bordeaux and includes the popular Pauillac and Margaux. While I did learn quite a bit about the soil, climate and vineyards that make Medoc great, I am quite far from being a 'master' :-).

OK so for those that aren't familiar with Bordeaux, it is a city in Southwest France divided by the Garonne River. The west side is the Left Bank and the east side is the Right Bank. Most Bordeaux wines are blends of several different grapes which allows Bordeaux to highlight the best of each varietal in order maintain a consistent high quality of wine from year to year. The reds are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The whites are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Now, on to the tasting!

As much as I would have loved to taste through every wine at every table, I was actually working this event so I tasted at the end...what was left. My favorite of the evening was the Chateau Paret Beausejour Cotes de Castillon from William Harrison Imports. The deep red showed of black fruit and had a chewy, plummy texture. Very smooth tannins with hints of minerality added complexity to the finish of this wine. I'm told that this is a great alternative (meaning less expensive I think) to Saint-Emilion. Since the comparison was made to Saint-Emilion, I've got to taste one. The Chateau Haut Piquat Lussac-Saint-Emilion fit the bill, and the palate. Aged in oak for 18 months, this wine had very earthy aromas followed by a bouquet of raspberries and cherries. And what a silky, elegant finish.

As the tasting came to a close, I figured I'd finish off with something sweet...a Sauternes. Sauternes is a Semillon-based dessert wine from Bordeaux. Due to a climate of misty mornings and sunny days, a fungus called noble rot will cling to the Semillon grapes. This fungus dries the pulp inside the grape resulting in a concentration of the sugars inside the grape which will then produce a very concentrated sweet juice once the grape in pressed. Sweet in taste, they typically have a honeyed, vanilla aroma. Can be served with as an appetizer, with dessert, or as dessert. The Chateau Sahuc Lestour from Country Vintner was an outstanding example of Sauternes. With its flavors of apricot, caramel and toasted nuts, I couldn't wait for dinner!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I am thankful for....

My Vinedresser,

having AMAZING parents,

an inspirational brother,

my Chi-town girls,

the 2006 J. Lohr Arroyo Seco Chardonnay that went perfectly with the fried turkey, dressing, AND the mac & cheese,

the elastic waistband I had the foresight to wear to dinner ;-),

being able to share my love of wine with everyone that reads this blog.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Anthony Hamilton Loves Pinot Noir!

Anthony Hamilton said he would take a bath in Pinot...a very interesting article ;-)

R&B Singer Anthony Hamilton

A Grammy-winning musician with a taste for Pinot Noir and more

Monday, November 23, 2009

Drink Outside the Box - Tasting Club Edition, Pt 2

At the first meeting of the GrapeVine Tasting Club, one guest mentioned that she didn't know there was a zinfandel grape and that it was red. This got me to thinking about how many different wines we really try. With more than 1000 different wine grape varieties, most of us only drink or even know about 12-20 of them. We are really missing out! So I came up with the idea to have a meeting where we taste grapes that are a little outside the box.

We started with
Mont Marcal Brut Reserve Cava that was served as the guests arrived. Cava is essentially sparkling wine from Spain made using the traditional champagne method. Only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called champagne. Estate bottled and made from the native xarel-lo, macabeo, and parellada grapes this is a soft, sweet wine with dried apricot and apple on the nose. Flavors of yeast and grapefruit appear on the palate to offer a solid complexity from start to finish.

Nieto Senetiner Torrontes, one of my favorite whites, was next. With flavors similar to sauvignon blanc, torrontes is perfect for the summer to serve with lighter fare and white fish. But I do enjoy its fragrant floral aroma and the tastes of apple, peach and lime anytime. The torrontes went perfect with the goat cheese and fruit we served.

Keeping with aromatic whites,
2005 Domaine du Viking Vouvray was our final white. Vouvray is made from the chenin blanc grape in the Loire Valley of France. An extremely aromatic white with a classic slate minerality on the finish.

On to the reds.
2006 Windmill Old Vine Zinfandel had sweet aromas of black cherries and a hint of licorice. Interesting though that the flavors were of chocolate and coffee, much different from the fruitiness in the aroma.

2006 Nicolis Seccal "Ripasso" Valpolicella is an Italian blend of the corvina, rondinella, and molinara grapes. Valpolicella Ripasso is made by re-fermenting the above juice with the skins of the grapes used for Amarone wines. The process lends to a bright ruby red color and a rich fruit and spice scents.

A sweet ending,
2008 Fracchia Voulet de Casorso. One guest mentioned that this is her favorite red of all time and she drives about 40 mins one way to the wine shop that carries this brand. She was so excited when I told her that I got all the wines in DC! Made frizzante, which is fizzy in Italian but not a sparkling wine, the voulet was very sweet. It tasted almost like liquid raspberry jam in my mouth. A great wine to serve last and went perfect with the chocolate brownies.

Unfortunately I didn't cross-reference the football schedule with the tasting club schedule and committed a serious faux pas. Drink Outside the Box was scheduled for the same date and basically same time as the Redskins vs Cowboys game. My bad! No worries though, my faithful and adventurous wine lovers showed up...and there was more wine for everyone :-)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Flair for the Fabulous

Have you ever been to a bar and saw the bartender flip the shakers, toss the bottles behind his back, juggle with glasses? It is a pretty cool sight. To do something exciting and different, I went to Great Gatherings in Annapolis and watched Chris Cardone bartend 'with flair' as he flipped cocktail shakers and balanced bottles on the back of his hand...and then make us a cocktail!

He made 2 standard cocktails, The Manhattan, and a Mojito. Then as a twist on the Pisco Sour, Chris gave us the Passion Pisco Sour. We of course got to sample all of them and get his tips on how to make a great cocktail at home. He was also very knowledgeable about current cocktail books and which ones would be most helpful. I have the internet, so no books necessary for me ;-) But I did go out and buy pisco later that evening, that drink was my fave!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wine Wednesday - Holiday Tasting Edition

So, I'm back in town, back in the swing of thing, back to tasting wine! For tonight's Wine Wednesday, I went to Bell Wine & Spirits in DC. It's time to start thinking about wine for the holidays so Bell had a Holiday Wine Tasting with over 30 wines available to pair with your Thanksgiving or other holiday meals. After so much time off, was I up for the challenge of tasting so many wines...well let's see.

When reading wine articles, posts, wine blogs, etc for Thanksgiving wine ideas, most offer up the Pinot Noir suggestion. So I expected quite a bit of that at this tasting because that is what people are used to buying, drinking, pairing, which is great for me because I'm quite fond of Pinot Noir. This tasting didn't disappoint with 14 different Pinots. Among my favorites were of course the
Rene Bovier Fixin and Nicolas Rossignol Volnay 1er Chevret from Burgundy. My trip to Burgundy this summer has me still in love with everything Burgundy! Also loved the Redtree Pinot Noir from CA with its strawberry and red cherry flavors and the Forefront Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley for its smoky complexity and red fruit flavors.

Zinfandel is another popular choice and I think is a great match for the smoked Thanksgiving turkey. My favorite Zinfandel of the night was the
2007 Edmeades Zinfandel, it gave such a fruity raspberry bouquet with a touch of oak and hint of earthiness.

But my absolute hands down favorite wine of the evening was the
2006 Crivelli Ruche. OMG!! I've never smelled anything like this before. In the glass was lavender and herbs, and then the fruit explosion of black cherry, blueberry, clove, sweet spice....this list could go on and on. And funny that the gentleman pouring the wine said that this is a great alternative to Pinot Noir. Guess I have my red wine bases covered for the holidays. Maybe I should taste some whites later this week...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wack Wine Wednesday

I so love Wine Wednesday! It's a time where I either go out and try a wine that I've never had before, or dig down deep in my cellar and pull out something that I haven't had in awhile. Well, this wine Wednesday was WACK!! I guess the wine I selected was a little too deep down in my cellar and did not age well at all. The selection of the evening, a 2007 California Syrah. I'm expecting spicy, red fruit aromas...but instead got a little pepper on the palate with a strong finish of rubber band! I drank a couple of glasses of water to get that taste out of my mouth. Oh well, we'll try again next Wednesday. There is a holiday wine tasting at Bell's Wine & Spirits so I think I have a much better shot of better wine and a better post :-)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Down Home Cookin' (& Drinkin)

I love the Food Network! I love the Neelys on the Food Network! So imagine how excited I was to have tickets to see the Neelys live this past weekend. They were doing an hour long live segment at the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show in DC. I barely made it out the bed and to the convention center in time, but I got there! They were fantastic! I love to see husband and wife teams and the Neelys are no exception. Gina Neely got on one of the guests because she had a little too much 'lust' in her voice when she was asking her husband Pat a question. The audience erupted in laughter. But the most important thing, the food looked delicious!! And they actually cooked it, most of the other celebrity chefs had other people in the background making their dishes while they talked. Not the Neelys, they were hands in mixing and grilling themselves. On the menu, grilled stuffed pork chops, cheesy rice fritters, and apple crisp. The pork chops were stuffed with breading and bacon....anything with bacon is getting my vote everytime. I just need an indoor gril or grill pan because I think the flavor of the chops comes from the grill lines.

No food show would be complete without wines, so after the Neelys, I headed over to the Beer, Wine & Spirits section. I had quite a Saturday night, so I couldn't do the type of tasting that I usually do in these situations, but I did conquer 4 wines.

Bodegas Breton Criadanes Lorinon 2007 Navarette (Rioja) Spain
Made from 100% viura grapes, this wine was fermented in American oak and had slight contact with lees for aging purposes providing a creamy mouthfeel and hints of vanilla. Citrus flavors are also present on the finish along with a slight oakiness.

Monte Toro Rosado Garnacha 2006
I don't like to bash wines ever, I just mention that it wasn't perhaps to my liking. This one wasn't to my liking. I hadn't had a 'light' garnacha before and was excited to try this one because I'm a huge garnacha (grenache) fan. The strawberry aromas had my mouth watering but after the swirl and sip, it was all downhill. The flavors were very tart and astringent and fell quite flat. The color was also off, for a rosado. I'm expecting a light pinkish maybe salmon color...but this was quite dark for a 'rosado'. Perhaps a bit more skin contact would result in a stronger more garnacha-like flavor.

Ironberry Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz 2008 Australia
Great nose, rich with berry aromas. Smooth and well rounded mouth with a soft oaky finish. Loved the toasted oak flavors on the finish. Would love to have a glass of this while I watch Grey's Anatomy.

Pirovano Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2008 Italy
Young, full red fruit smells and flavors. Soft tannins, great acidity and moderately intense cherry and herb flavors make this sangiovese a very easy drinking wine.

Wind In My Sails

Since Saturday was my birthday, I clearly needed to start off the day with a bit of wine. I headed over to Rick's Wine and Gourmet for their weekly Saturday tasting. Tradewinds Specialty Imports was on hand to pour 5 Spanish wines. I'm still on my Spanish wine kick since I'm now an official Spanish Wine Educator ;-) And since I just wanted to kick off my birthday right, I rushed out of the house without my wine notebook so the comments below are from Tradewinds and Rick's. And the Cava was a great way to start the tasting!

NV Rossynol Brut - a crisp and acidic Cava, great way to start a tasting.
2008 Mania Verdejo - a bright and grassy Verdejo from Rueda.
2007 Eder Joven - a Tempranillo blend from Rioja, vinified in stainless steel to keep it fresh and fruity.
2004 Valsotillo Crianza - aged in American oak for 14 months, this Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero is complex and concentrated with a long finish.
2005 Eder Crianza - a well balanced Tempranillo blend that is aged in French and American oak for 12 months

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wine Wednesday

It's been quite awhile since my last post. Haven't been to many wine events lately...or perhaps the wine world just stopped inviting me. Go figure! But anyway, I heard about a book called 'The Bubbly Bar' and the author was going to be in DC to do a book signing at Masa 14. I'm thinking, what a perfect way to spend Wine Wednesday! There would be champagne and sparkling wine cocktails from the book paired with tapas from the restaurant. Too bad the event was canceled :-( Who knows why, but I figure that I would still head out to the restaurant since it's only a few months old and I hadn't been yet.

Masa 14 is a restaurant recently opened in the burgeoning area of Logan Circle in DC. Chefs Chef Richard Sandoval (Zengo), Kaz Ochochi (Kaz Sushi Bistro) and Antonio Burell have brought this concept together for Latin and Asian small plates. Since I arrived shortly after opening for the evening, I was one of the 1st people in the restaurant. I got to pick my seat at the 75-seat bar and decided the best place is right in front of the bartender. Happy hour was on, a selection of small plates, cocktails and house wine were $4 each. I of course went with the house red, a merlot blend from Vina Calina in Chile. Smells of plum and berries hit my nose as the bartender poured my glass. After a swirl, I still got the rich fruit aromas of plum but also a bit of black cherry and hints of oak. On the palate was a toasty cherry-vanilla flavor. Perfect for a cold night.

I ordered a spicy tuna hand roll so I could have something to snack on. Clearly not a pairing for the wine, but I couldn't sit there and drink with no food. Interesting presentation, the hand roll was served in a silver stand and by the looks, resembled a sandwich wrap. Pretty tasty, but I was still a bit hungry. I then ordered the wok fried okra...figured I'd get a vegetable in the mix. Delicious! Served with a slightly sweet soy sauce on the side with fresh herbs, it complemented the lightly fried okra very well and I cleaned my plate. By now the bar and restaurant had filled up and a woman that had sat down next to me earlier began to chat with me. She was hilarious! Then her friend joined us and I stayed another hour and ordered a mojito (before happy hour was over of course). By the time we left, the restaurant was full, the bar was standing room only, and there were people crowded by the door waiting for a seat. This is definitely a hot spot with great drinks and good service. Just don't come with too much of an appetite.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Other Than Gruner

Just walking into the Washington Club I felt like I was walking into somewhere important. Then inside the event space, chairs were set at the tables with 10 wines in front of them with a placemat that said Institute of Masters of Wine - Austrian Wine Seminar. The Masters of Wine crest was on the placemat as well. I was definitely in the presence of great wine minds.

'Master of Wine' is both a qualification and a title, usually abbreviated to 'MW' following a member's name. Anybody who uses these letters has passed the rigorous Master of Wine exam that tests both practical and theoretical understanding of the wines of the world.The Institute of Masters of Wine was officially formed in 1955 but gave their 1st exam in 1953 to 22 students. Only 6 passed. The first woman didn't pass until 1970, and there are only 278 worldwide. Goes to show how serious this thing is! The presentation was given by Joel Butler, MW who was the 1st American to pass this rigorous exam. 2 Austrian wine makers also spoke to their specific wines and the Austrian-style of winemaking.

While I am familiar with the main grape variety of Austria, Gruner Veltliner, I have not had the opportunity to taste and compare/contrast many other Austrian varietals. This tasting provided that opportunity in that the seminar discussed everything but Gruner. The 5 whites we tasted were Weissburgunder, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler (2007), Zierfandler (2003), and Sauvignon Blanc. Good thing I still have my tasting sheet because there is now way I would have been able to spell the 1st 3 correctly! Which is also helpful since rotgipfler is a new fav I'm adding to my list. The 2007 Stadlmann Rotgipfler Tagelsteiner from the Thermenregion is made from 40-50 yr old vines that are grown at high altitudes. The high altitudes lead to a riper grape because of longer contact with the sun during growing season. The increased contact delivers a much fuller, riper and more aromatic wine. Strong nose of flowers, baked apple, ripe pear with hints of red pepper and spice. And spices, herbs and the baked apple were on the palate as well. While fairly high in acidity, this wine exhibited a long smooth finish. This is a very exclusive and rare grape with only about 250 acres planted in all of Austria.

The 5 reds were St Laurent, Blaufrankisch (3 examples), and Gabarinza (a Zwiegelt blend). I've had blaufrankisch before in my WSET courses and am definitely a fan of it. So being able to taste the differences between 3 of them from 3 different regions in Austria was amazing. It's amazing the differences that you can taste in the wine based on climate, altitude, soil and wine making techniques between the different vineyards. The 2006 Iby "Chevalier", Mittelburgenland DAC Reserve was my fav of the 3. Its rich deep red fruit and berry flavors were in perfect harmony with the oak and smoke from the fermentation in oak barrels. Another wine of note from this tasting was the St Laurent which was said to be a descendant of Pinot Noir. The 2006 Rosi Schuster Sankt Laurent Reserve Zagersdorf, Burgenland was a very well-crafted and balanced wine. Shows a delicate structure of black cherry and sweet spice with a slightly chalky finish on the palate. With deep tannins and high acidity, I think this one could also age a little while in the bottle for an even richer and smoother taste.

The tasting after the seminar gave an even deeper look into the wines of Austria. Especially since this was a self-serve wine tasting. I mean just pick up a glass and the wines are sitting out on the table. Not that I make a habit of looking in spit buckets at wine tastings…but when I went to use them, I did notice that they weren't too full ;-). I tasted a few more st laurents and blaufrankischs and even tried a few Austrian Rieslings. Not too bad, but I think my palate is more accustomed to the German and Alsatian styles. Although I was impressed by the sparkling riesling.

A great event and a phenomenal learning experience. To attend a seminar offered by a MW is definitely a seminar worth attending. Joel Butler, MW was a wealth of knowledge and even assisted the tasting attendees with aroma and tasting notes. I definitely have a greater appreciation for Austrian grape varietals and their winemaking techniques. Another country to add to my cellar. But just a small note to the organizers of this event: please offer some type of water during the tastings, please.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Eat This, Drink That!

After all the events attended, speeches given and wines sipped, I finally got my tasting club together and we had our first meeting! I only mean 'my' in the sense that I do most of the talking, good thing they seemed to like me! We held our first The GrapeVine Tasting Club meeting at the beautiful Intown Uptown Inn in Washington, DC. There were about 15 guests there that are now official GrapeVine Tasting Club members. And all were excited and eager to learn and taste, and eat!

As the members entered, we checked them in and poured glasses of California champagne (they'll probably get a letter from the real Champagne about that later) for their enjoyment as we waited for other members to arrive. Once most of the members had checked in, they were seated in the tasting room and I began our meeting. Our main topic was food and wine pairings that work, hence the title, 'Eat This, Drink That!' I wanted to give a few basic 'rules' for food & wine pairings and also give some pairings that worked no matter what. We had Chef Raiford on hand that prepared Italian and Mediterranean dishes for us to enjoy with the wines. And with October being Virginia wine month, all the wines we tasted were from Carafe WineMakers in Alexandria, VA.

Starting with whites, we tasted a Pinot Grigio and White Fusion which is a house blend of Gewurtztraminer and Riesling. Paired with the fruit, the pinot grigio stood up well and brought its natural crisp acidity forward on the palate. The White Fusion was great on its own, members loved it and were asking for larger pours. We obliged since we were headed into the food break between the whites and reds.

Chef Raiford brought out the food and explained his rationale behind the food selections after our discussion of the wines that would be served. He also made the point that wine is 'very personable' it's all about what you like. While there are some great match made in heaven the end of the day it's all about what you like to drink and what you eat. Chef prepared small plates of several dishes and dips so that members would be able to sample all the foods with all of the wines and also learn a few tricks for when they host their own events. The members would be able to serve a wide variety of wines to get something that everyone will like and there will be food to go with all the wines. Members dined on kiwi, pineapple and strawberries with blue cheese and peppercorn encrusted goat cheese. Roasted red pepper dip and a spicy hummus with pita chips. A cured meat platter was next to the olives and roasted garlic. Brie en croute with red & white raspberries finished off the meal. I'm getting hungry again just thinking about it all!!

I tried to look for empty glasses or a lull in conversation before starting with the reds, but I didn't see either. I just had to start anyway because I really wanted people to taste the roasted red pepper dip with the syrah that I was serving. Very peppery and spicy in nature but still having flavors of dark fruit on the palate, the syrah was definitely a crowd pleaser. And for those
that still had a little of the roasted red pepper dip or the peppercorn goat cheese, they got an extra treat because they loved the flavors that the wine brought out in the food and vice versa. The last red was Midnight Cabernet Sauvignon modeled after the Chilean style of cabernet. Very smoky on the nose with pepper, meat and hints of blackberry on the palate. Perfect for pairing with the cured meats, the smoke for smoke match was fantastic. We finished up with a vidal blanc for dessert. For those that didn't particularly care for sweet wines but wanted a little something for dessert, this was for them. Very honeyed and peachy on the palate, the finish wasn't the syrupy sweet taste that is present in some dessert wines. I was fortunate enough to snag a glass of this to pair with the brie en croute. The raspberries and the cheese wrapped in the pastry were perfect!

After the tasting, with wine glasses in hand, most went on a tour of the Inn. Everyone loved the designs of each room and the comfy French country style feel of the inn. And they can't wait to return next month to learn about a new set of wines. I can't wait to do my research ;-)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Vino Italiano

The day was rainy and dreary, as it had been for the past few days...but how could I be dreary when I had an Italian wine tasting to prepare for and host! This idea of exploring the wines of Italy actually came from the client. She had an Italian wine at a restaurant and fell in love with it (the wine was Montepulciano, I'm glad she wrote it down :-) When it comes to Italian wines, most people just think Chianti and Pinot Grigio. But Italy has over 500 documented grape varieties and 20 wine regions. Clearly we have missed a few. Since my client wanted to learn more about Italian wines and maybe even discover some new ones that she loved, I figured I would pick some popular Italian varietals that Americans may not be too familiar with. So, on with the tasting.

Since it was raining and cold, I figured that people would be a bit tardy so I started off with Verdi Spumante for guests to sip on as they arrived and got situated. This spumante is made from the moscato grape using the 'champagne method'. It's pretty sweet, labelled 'demi-sec' which is about 33-50 grams of sugar per liter. I knew my audience though, and the Verdi was a hit.

The 1st white served was Marchesini Frascati Superiore which is a blend of trebbiano and malvasia grapes. The Frascati had a slightly honeyed flavor with a bitter herbal finish. Very light in body, this went very well with some of the light appetizers that were served. While this was a new wine for many of the guests, not too sure if they're interested in buying it by the bottle. Although, one guest did say that if she was somewhere it was being served, she would definitely drink a couple of glasses.

Since pinot grigio is one of Italy's most popular wines, and one that most people have tasted, I figured I should have it at the tasting but maybe just in a different way. Antica Corte's blend of pinot grigio and garganega fit the bill. Very smooth with light acidity the garganega added a bit of apple and pear flavors to blend with the typical citrus taste of pinot grigio. Slight acidity and minerality were also found on the palate. A nice alternative to your straight pinot grigio and very good as an aperitif or salads and chicken...or chicken salad!

At an in-store wine tasting I tasted and enjoyed the Mormoraia Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Made from the vernaccia grape (San Gimignano is the town it originates from) it was the 1st white wine to gain DOCG status in Italy. This particular style of Vernaccia di San Gimignano was aged in stainless steel for 4 months before bottling, lending to a very crisp flavor and a bit of strong acidity on the palate. Slightly almond-y and floral on the nose, but fruity citrus flavors like grapefruit were on the palate. Most of the guests liked this medium-bodied white and thought it would taste great with shrimp or a light fish.

We took a short break at this point to clean our glasses and our palates before we started with the reds. There were smoked meats available, olives, pizza, and pasta. All the perfect Italian foods to pair with the Italian wines. Guests asked various questions about general food and wine pairings, wine know, the kind of stuff that people always want to know but are afraid to ask. Glad they felt comfortable enough with me to ask.

First red wine, Azelia Barbera d'Alba from Piedmont, Italy. The barbera grape is the 2nd most widely planted red grape, sangiovese (used for the popular Chianti is 1st). A very smooth example of barbera, this wine had very good acidity to balance with the medium tannins making for a velvety mouthfeel. Refreshing fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry were present on the palate with a spicy finish. Barbera most closely matches pinot noir in terms of flavors and style of wine. While of course you can pair Barbera d'Alba with any food with red or tomato sauces, this would also go well with salmon and light red meats.

Wine Enthusiast had an article in their October issue about Ripasso so I thought that I put one into the mix for this wine tasting. The Ripasso process is essentially the union of 2 wines: Vapolicella, a base wine made from fresh grapes, is poured over the skins, seeds, and pulp of dried, fermented grapes previously used to make Amarone. This combo undergoes a 2nd fermentation which results in Ripasso which actually means, 'passed over twice'. The resulting wine from Villa Mafei's Valpolicella Ripasso was a rich cinnamon and spice flavor with hints of cherry and almonds. The crowd loved the slightly oaky taste on the finish, definitely a crowd favorite. Paired with the salami and prosciutto the wine tasted even richer. Not too bad I might add for a bottle that was under $20.

Saving the host's request for last (so she could taste and assess the other wines with an open mind) we tasted the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from Abruzzi, Italy. Similar in style to Zinfandel, this medium-bodied but heavily tannic wine showed strong ripe notes of cherry and crushed blackberries on the palate fading into a spicy vanilla finish. Great with olives, antipasto and just foods in red sauce in general. As the saying goes: "If it grows together, it goes together", and boy does this stuff grow and go together!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Joie De Vivre

Once again I had the pleasure of attending the French Wine Society (FWS) annual conference. Last year I was a guest, or student shall I say...and this year I volunteered as a wine pourer. Two entirely different experiences but I can definitely say that I was still able to hear the presentations and participate in the wine tastings as a volunteer. There is always so much information being presented, so much to learn, and so many wines to taste!

This year's approach was a little different than last year, instead of covering a little bit about every region of France, this year the FWS highlighted a few regions and the speakers were able to cover them in greater detail. For example, the speaker on the Burgundy region didn't just talk about the wines themselves, he went into a detailed discussion of how the wines achieve their Grand or Premier Cru status and can we, the consumers, tell the difference. Of course there were a few people that thought they could tell the difference. But the majority were honest and thought that while the history and geology of how the status is gained is interesting and honorable, the system is old and doesn't really allow entry for new winemakers. The Bordeaux speaker also spoke to the same topic. Extraordinary presentation from him! Dr Benjamin Lewin, MW wrote the book, "What Price Bordeaux" and presented wines from 1st and 2nd growths and posed questions about why the pricing of Bordeauxs can be so outrageous and how pricing is determined. Some attendees said the presentation was controversial but very informative. I agree with the later.

A couple of the lesser known regions were also covered like Jura and Cahors. The wines were delish, and I even got to take a couple of the leftovers home (a perk of being a volunteer). Only problem is that wines from those regions aren't readily available is most wine shops in this area. The organizers of the conference even had trouble getting some of those wines in the country. If the French themselves can't get the wines...we have no chance, LOL!

Another new feature at the conference was the French Wine Scholar exam and regional exams for the Rhone and Provence. Each exam consisted of a blind tasting, a regional map, and theory. After seeing the study guides and then witnessing students taking the exam, this is serious business. My Burgundy certification exam was pretty much enough for me for the year!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cheryl & Her Girls

It's so much fun to host wine tastings, and even more fun when you host one for friends. I hosted a wine tasting for one of my girlfriends, with the help of another wine professional in her circle of friends. We came up with the idea of doing a blind tasting in order for everyone to be more open-minded about what wines they were drinking. When the guests arrived we poured Marquis de Monistrol Cava (a pleasant and affordable alternative to Champagne) for casually sipping as we mingled and got to know the other guests.

For the blind tasting, we had 3 whites and 3 reds wrapped up like Christmas presents with red and gold tissue paper and bows around the necks. Figure that is a little nicer than a wino paper bag, LOL! Everyone was provided with a note sheet and an aroma/flavor sheet, so once we started tasting the wine, they would have a frame of reference for aromas and somewhere to write down their notes and guesses of the wines. Out of the 6 wines, one person got 2 correct and another got 1 correct. They both received prizes as a token of our appreciation for their participation. Funny thing was that several of the girls mentioned that Chenin Blanc was their favorite wine, but they couldn't pick that one out of the lineup! Can't fault them though, it was a South African Chenin Blanc (Kanu) which has different flavors then the French Vouvray I'm sure they're used to. And the white wine drinkers were very impressed with the California Zinfandel (Gnarled Vines). I always love blind tastings because people will taste the wine and assess it based on the flavors of the wine, not what they may or may not already know or think they know about it.

After we revealed the wines to everyone, the other half of our wine team spoke about wine & cheese pairings. She was great! She had a chart to match the wines and cheeses and also gave us some great tips on selecting cheese to pair with wine. But she had me anyway when she brought my fav, epoisses, for the cheese plate. We also got full glasses of wine and tasted them with the cheeses that were available to note the differences in the flavors when paired with different wines. Trial and error is always so much easier when at a wine tasting rather than at home when you've invested in several bottles and several cheeses that aren't good matches.

At the end, we took questions and invited everyone to enjoy full glasses of the wines they loved. Everyone seemed to truly enjoy the event and most even said they learned something new. I guess we did our job!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There's a Band-Aid in My Cabernet

The highlight of my month, WSET Tasting Club! Cabernet Sauvignon was the grape of the month. And with 9 people in attendance, we tasted, discussed, and gained a bit of understanding regarding the differences between the cabernets of different regions. Our Cabs were from Chile, Italy, France, Argentina, South Africa, California, and Australia.

As usual we did a blind tasting and tried to 'guess' where is wine was from based on the key flavors. This time was much harder for me as far as what wine was what because I don't have much experience with a wide variety of cabernets. So I was also excited because I would get the opportunity to taste cabs from different regions and pick up on the nuances in flavors and colors of the wine that give a clue to their region of origin. Was SUPER excited for the South African one since I'm really into wines from South Africa right now. Don't ask me why...

My excitement unfortunately was blown away when we went to taste wine #6 and it smelled a bit rubbery. We thought it may just need a bit of time in the glass. After tasting and evaluating 3 more wines we came back to good ole wine #6. Now it wasn't just rubbery, it was medicinal. The tasting notes read "Deep red / purple colour. Intense aromas of spicy black fruits, liquorice and tar. Bold and mouthfillling with bramble fruits, damson and black cherry, savoury tannins and an aromatic finish. Chunky, uncompromising style." It was compromised all right! One person said it smelled of Bactine...I smelled nothing but Band-Aids. Everyone agreed and proceeded to pour that wine out. Even worse for me because it was the wine I brought :-(

Now wines #5 and #7 were the winners for the best of the night, but I think #7 might have snuck in there because it was just much better than what we had had before, LOL!

Wine #5 Decero 2006 (Argentina)
Medium - high intensity with ripe red fruit aromas of red cherry and raspberry. Very jammy on the palate with a peppery finish. This wine is perfect to drink now.

Wine #7
Babarossa, Il Doso (Italy)
Deep ruby in color, the cab has a soft texture with spicy cherry and raspberry notes on the nose. It's medium tannins and oaky licorice taste make this a great wine for everyday drinking. Wouldn't necessarily grab a big steak for this one but red meat would go well with its mouthwatering finish.

After going through the 8 wines (the corked one doesn't count) I may not be able to tell an Australian cab from a Chilean cab but I can definitely tell the color and flavor differences between Old World (France, Italy) and New World (everywhere else). It was best explained by a member that Old World cabernets smell more of lean fruit like cassis and blackberry while New World's smell of lush fruit like plum. I'll have to keep that one in my memory bank.

Love the Loire

I had the great honor of spending the afternoon at yet another trade tasting. This one was for Loire Valley Wines at the Westin Grand Hotel. The Loire Valley is geographically in the middle of France and gets its name because it sits along the Loire River. Loire Valley wines are several different grape varieties with the most well-known being Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Cabernet Franc. But you wouldn't know that by looking at the bottles, most of them just specify the Loire Valley appellation.

Quick sidebar: Herein lies the problem most people have with French wine. If you aren't familiar with the appellations of this region, seeing Sancerre of the bottle will tell you nothing. Now through Google, or my blog :-), you would know that white wines from Sancerre are Sauvignon Blanc, reds are Pinot Noir. The French are getting a little better with that and some are starting to list the appellation and the grape on the labels. Merci!

Ok, back to the Loire Valley. It's the 3rd largest wine region in France and the largest white wine region. There are 65 appellations which display every style of wine from white to red, still to sparkling, dry to sweet. I think the most diverse styles and flavors of French wine come from the Loire Valley. This could be the case because vineyards in the Loire Valley grow alongside the river and covers about 630 miles which provides several varieties of soil and climates for the grapes to develop. The 65 appellations are divided in 5 regions: Nantes, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, and Centre.

Now that we've gotten some basics and geography out of the way, we can get down to business...the wines! I must say that I haven't tasted my way through the Loire Valley because of the vast differences in the appellations and with some of the smaller ones, I didn't know exactly what was in my bottle. I love Vouvray and Savennieres which are 100% Chenin Blanc and I know that Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, and Touraine are Sauvignon Blanc. But with the reds, which I'm drinking more of now because of the chill in the air, I was a bit lost. So I did what I always say is the best way to learn about wine...I tasted them!

Appellation - Primary Varietal

Chinon - Cabernet Franc
earthy, dry, dark fruit flavors, may be aged in oak

Rose d'Anjou - Cabernet Franc/Grolleau
ripe red fruit, raspberry notes

Anjou Rouge - Cabernet Franc

earthy, fresh red fruits

Muscadet - Melon de Bourgogne
dry, crisp, apple, citrus, yeasty notes if aged on lees

Quarts de Chaume - Chenin Blanc (botrytised)
sweet, baked peaches, honey notes

With all the appellations of the Loire Valley, this tasting mainly just covered the 10 I listed above. Maybe this is because those are the ones that Americans already have a familiarity with and can appreciate their flavors. The French always say that their wines don't always do well with American palates, so maybe this tasting was a display of the French wines that Americans enjoy. Either way, I got a great map of the Loire Valley, an understanding of the primary varietals, and a tasting of some fantastic wines!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wine By The Numbers

In a wine shop you always see little cards or advertisements for various wines stating, '83 pts by Robert Parker' or '96 pts by Wine Spectator'. But how does that really relate to your tastes and the type of wine that you buy? Some people use it as the gospel while I just use it as a guide to try a different producer for a grape or region that I already like. There are some people that come into wine shops with Wine Spectator in their hands, pointing to a specific wine. If the store didn't have that wine, that didn't want anything. There is no other area of our lives where consumers completely and totally take the advice of another. If we buy a car, or television, or diamond ring we would do a little research on our own, talk to some salespeople, try out a few different options or styles... Why not with wine?

At Great Gatherings in Annapolis, I had the pleasure of getting schooled on the whole rating system by The Wine Coach, Laurie Forster. She explained exactly how Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator taste the wines and assign values to certain aspects of the wine in order to come up with the final score out of 100. So instead of taking other peoples opinions, The Wine Coach let us taste 4 wines, assign them our own scores, and then compare them with the 'official' wine scores.

Wine #1 - Manciat Poncet Macon 2007
I started off with a bit of a bias on this one because I love white Burgundies. It scored fairly high for me on all categories except the aroma. There wasn't too much jumping out of the glass with this one, just hints of apple and lemon...typical from the Chardonnay grape of this region.

My final score - 96
Wine Spectator's score - 86

Wine #2 - Yalumba Valley Viognier 2007
Now this one has aroma! A perfumey, peach nose with hints of oak and spice. I doubt this will get much better with age so this one didn't score well in that category for me.

My final score - 93
Wine Spectator - 91
Robert Parker - 76 (Yikes!)

Wine #3 - Alamos Mendoza Seleccion Malbec 2008
Great aromas and flavors on the malbec. Loved the spicy vanilla on the long finish. There were pretty heavy tannins here and a bit of aging may smooth them out some. But I wouldn't hold this for longer than a few years.

My final score - 96
Robert Parker - 96

Wine #4 - Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre 2007
Earthy aroma with dark fruits, but not a very strong aroma. The Mourvedre lost some points there. The flavors and finish were great with a 'juicy' mouthfeel of plums and blackberries with hints of sweet spice. This wine was made from old vines in California, which means they were at least 20 yrs old I believe. Trying to guess how well a wine will age is always a bit tricky and definitely gets better with practice, practice of tasting wines of different years. But I didn't think this one had that much age-ability, like you can drink it now or you could age it a bit.

My final score - 91
Wine Spectator - 88

Laurie Forster did a fantastic job with this seminar. And not only did she give us the opportunity get to taste some fine wines, we also got to rate the wines based on our own tastes. She really brought home the fact that only we can accurately know what we will and will not drink. The Malbec that Robert Parker scored as a 96 another person at the seminar scored it in the 70s. He gave the Viognier a 76 and Wine Spectator scored it at 91, even the wine 'experts' don't have the same opinions! So this just goes to show you that your tastebuds are your tastebuds and if you like the wine, it's a good wine.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wine with a View

Standing in a loft on the 19th floor looking out across the Baltimore Harbor with a glass of 2007 Familia Zuccardi Bonarda Serie A. This was the scene at The Last Tango wine tasting with Wine Express Tastings hosted by Rita Blackwell. What a fantastic way to spend the evening. Guests walked around the Silo Point loft and were treated to a sparkling chardonnay, torrontes, and sauvignon blanc in the marble topped kitchen; then we adjourned to the upstairs loft area for the reds, bonarda, carmenere, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon.

With the sweeping views of the harbor and the delicious wines...the whole atmosphere of it all makes me wonder what I enjoyed more, the ambiance or the wines! But being a wine lover, and after tasting that Bonarda with those ripe cranberry and blackberry flavors with the slightest hint of oak and the 2007 Andeluna Malbec Select again with hints of oak, vanilla and dark cherries...the wines were definitely the highlight of my night.

Walk Around Wine Tasting

This past week Rick's Wine & Gourmet hosted a walk around wine tasting with Tri-Cities Distribution. With 6 different tables and over 20 wines to try, I definitely had to pace myself. I started at Table 6, it was closest to the door and empty at the time. They had 2 French wines, a red and a white, and 2 sherries. The French white (2007 Sacha Lichine La Poule Blanche) was a crisp slightly earthy blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. The blend of Chardonnay and Viognier really toned down the herbal, grassy quality of the Sauvignon Blanc so the wine had bright citrus notes with crisp acidity and a very floral aroma. The French red (2007 Sacha Lichine Le Coq Rouge) had a very complex red fruit flavor with a hint of earthiness from the French soils. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Grenache also exhibited hints of spice and pepper on the finish. Sherries are typically after dinner drinks and would definitely ruin my palate for the rest of the wines, I came back to these at the end. What table will I visit next?

The least amount of people were at Table 2, so that's where I went! Out of the 4 wines at this table, there were 2 with grapes I've never tasted before. So excited that I will be able to check off a few more grapes on my application for the Wine Century Club. Both wines were from Quinta do Alqueve in Portugal, the first, a 2008 that used the Fernao Pires grape and was aged in stainless steel. Citrus and tropical fruit aromas on the nose were followed by a zesty mineral character and pineapples. One of the best wines I had never heard of. Next up was there Tradicional a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Periquita and Trincadeiro. The flavors on this were somewhere between a Burgundy and a Bordeaux. Very rich aromas of plum and blackberries appear on first swirl and blend with a subtle oak and earthiness on the palate. Very heavy mouthfeel like a a cab or merlot but the rich, ripe fruit flavors of a pinot. The best thing about them outside of the taste of course, they're both under $12!

Table 1 had an interesting red blend, 2006 Yard Dog Red. The blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot is I'm guessing Australia's answer to Bordeaux. Very dark, almost black in my glass, I didn't expect a lot at first glance. Intense aromas of black fruit and sweet spice. Ripe plum and blueberry flavors carry over to the palate and are balanced by a soft acidity and a good bit of alcohol. I would love to try this one with barbecue, and at $12 a bottle I will definitely try this again.

I'm now 10 wines into the tasting...luckily there were cheese and crackers or pate at every table. My tastebuds were definitely getting tired! But a true wine taster must forge ahead :-) My favorites from Table 3 were the 2007 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz/Viognier. I love this blend. The Viognier always lends a floral, perfumey aroma to the spicy, smoky Shiraz. This Australian style shines with flavors of blackberry and raspberry. Barbecue with sauce or a smoked brisket would be a great pairing for this blend. Still in Australia, I tasted the 2008 Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz. On first sniff, this shows aromas of coffee and licorice. Not the greatest smells together, good thing the taste is different! The flavors of Coke, pepper, black cherry, and raspberry redeemed this wine from interesting aromas. I love the spicyness of this wine and it lingered on into the finish. You could actually store this wine and drink it in a few years.

The wine of note from Table 4 was the Zolo Torrontes, 2008. I may be a little biased though because I love Torrontes but the peach, honeysuckle and floral aromas get me every time. The tropical fruit flavors and slight acidity only make me want to buy the bottle. At under $10, this wine came home with me.

I'm officially pooped now and have also remembered that I still need to drive home after the tasting, on to the sweet wines! I know I will only have a sip or 2 of each of these.

NV Quinta de Honor Ruby Port - A great after dinner drink for sipping, this ruby colored port is medium bodied, smooth and smells and tastes of black cherries.
2008 Two Hands Brilliant Disguise Moscato - Smelling this wine was like walking through a peach orchard. Fresh, ripe peach flavors with a bubbly, sugar finish. This was a sparkling moscato. Not too bad, would definitely need a fruit tart or a creamy dessert to eat with this.
NV Manzanilla Romate Sherry - Made from the Palomino grape, manzanilla sherries are pretty typically very high in alcohol. This one is no exception. I've been told that I need to be at a sidewalk cafe in Spain in order to appreciate this style.
NV Amontillado Romate Sherry - I always pick this one correctly in a blind tasting because it has a strong almond finish. Hints of honey were also present.

A fantastic display of several different styles of wine, from different grapes and different regions. Rick's always does a fantastic job of offering good affordable wines and allowing customers to taste before they buy. Recommendations from your favorite wine merchant or magazine are great but at the end of the day, only you know what you like. Get out there and taste more wine!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

TGIF - Thank Goodness It's Fridays Creek!

A few weeks ago the weekend section of The Washington Post was dedicated to VA and MD wineries. So when I heard that Fridays Creek winery in southern MD was having an open house, I figure...why not try it! So this weekend I drove about 30 miles to Friday Creek's open house. When I first got there, I felt like I had crashed a Harley Davidson meeting. I was one of the few people that drove there in a car. But the vineyard itself is beautiful. There is a red barn out front with a stone fountain, surrounded by gorgeous landscaping. Heavenly Ribs & Chicken was serving food and there were vendors that sold jewelry out front as well. But I was there for the wine. I checked in and received a glass and 8 drink tickets.

I entered the tasting room, which was already quite packed, and found a corner of the bar to sit my glass down and get started. There were 19 wines on the list, but with only 8 tickets, I had to pick which 8 I wanted to taste or write about. So I decided to go with some of the less noted MD wine as a starting point.

First up, Gewurtztraminer. A very pleasant, dry white with a good spicy nose. Hints of peach and honey were noted on the palate. Short finish, the taste did not linger very long.

Patio White -- This was a Friday's Creek blend that is good for, as the name suggests, the patio. Semi-sweet with mostly grape aromas, there was also a strong scent of bubble gum on the nose. Not very much fruit at all. On the palate...nothing but Hubba Bubba. As far as a great chilled wine to sip on a patio, this one is perfect. I don't think this one would be easy to pair with foods.

Sauvignon Blanc -- Only people that were fans of Fridays Creek on Facebook knew that this wine even existed. Very citrusy on the nose, not the herbal and grass aromas that are typical of a sauv blanc. The citrus aromas led to a distinct grapefruit and lemon palate with a creamy finish.

Barbera -- Raisins in my glass. Aromas of smoked meat also wafted around leading to ripe black fruit flavors and a possibly a hint of apricot. Several months aging in oak gave this wine a great oak flavor with a good balance of fruit and tannins. My favorite of all that I tasted.

Old Vine Zinfandel
-- Jammy on the nose with taste of cocoa on the palate. Usually very rich and tannic, this zinfandel was surprisingly light. A bit off balance with the light taste and high alcohol, this wine revealed a smooth finish of vanilla.

Coxtown Red -- A very refreshing red with a slight fizz on it. I spoke with Tim, the Man when it came to Fridays Creek wine knowledge. He said that the Coxtown Red has a slight effervescence because they add a little extra sugar into the mix so the wine undergoes a 2nd fermentation in the bottle. From that you get extra fizz. It actually tasted like a sparkling grape juice that I used to drink before I was legal :-). Served well chilled, the bubbly red smelled as if someone had dropped grape jelly in a bit of dirt. This is one I'd like to sip on my patio.

Cerasa -- A fruit wine made from cherries, and it smelled like it. A strong red maraschino cherry aroma came from the glass of this medium pink colored wine. Very sweet, but light not syrupy. For those that like a sweet fruity wine, this is it.

That's 8 so I was all tapped out. The band was starting up so I sat down to hear them for a bit. A guy walked up to me noticing my empty glass and proceeded to hand me 6 more tickets! He said, "It's early, let's keep the party going." I couldn't agree with him more. Back to the tasting room I went! Of the 6 that I tasted, there were only 2 to note.

Chambourcin -- Nutty aromas on the front end followed by vanilla and black fruits on the palate. Good structure and balance between the rich fruits and high tannins with hints of minerals and tartness on the finish.

Chardonnay -- Aged for 6-8 months in medium toast American oak barrels, this wine shows great oak and toasty notes on the aroma and the palate, not overpowering but just enough to add an extra bit of flavor beyond the pear and apples in this wine. Yeasty flavors that are typical of Chardonnay were found on the finish.

Fridays Creek has a lot to offer as far as wines are concerned and they also feature artwork upstairs from the tasting room and in their barn. By the time I was ready to leave, the open house was in full swing with kids stomping grapes and adults dancing to the music of the bad. All in all a pretty good tasting and a great way to spend an afternoon not far from my backyard.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rain or Shine?

I know that Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, but did it have to end so abruptly?? It's been raining here one minute and the sun is shining the next. And the cold front came in the very next day! So with summer being over, kids back in school, but it's not really fall yet...what do I drink in the meantime between-time? I'm not ready to let go of the summer completely and pull out the big Cabernets and Zinfandels, but I also can't continue to drink sangria or the light crisp summer whites that I've grown accustomed to...

On the suggestion of my wine merchant, I went out on a limb to try something that I've never had before, something that I believe is between the seasons so to speak. I opened a bottle of Paul Lehrner Blaufränkisch. Blaufränkisch is widely planted around Austria and produces a dry, fruity red wine that is sort of like the baby to a Zinfandel and can be served slightly chilled. Receiving a 90 in Wine Spectator, I had great expectations for the Paul Lehrner. Very aromatic, this wine smelled very earthy with rich black fruits. The palate hits you with spice at first, then settles down to fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherries. Slight hints of oak follow on the smooth finish. Expectations exceeded.

With the spicyness in this wine, I believe it would go great with barbecue sauce (a fav of mine!) or smoked meats. I actually drank this as an aperitif because I'm watching my food intake for my fitness boot camp, my 'cheat' meal was on Labor Day :-). I did use some wine preserver for this one so I can try it with food this weekend. Nothing like a little wine and barbecue to hold onto the summer...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Darker the Berry, the Darker the Wine

Cahors is Back, Cahors is Black, Cahors is Malbec! That statement was on the cover of the promotional materials for wine tasting I attended yesterday at The Dupont Hotel. Cahors is one of the lesser known wine regions of France, but with the fine representation yesterday, that won't be the case for long.

Cahors, located in Southwest France, became an AOC in 1971 and is now making its move to center stage with the growing popularity of Malbec around the world. Cahors producers 19.5% of all the Malbec in the world...but the greater known Malbec regions in Argentina produce over 70%. Well, Cahors was doing Malbec long before Argentina. Malbec from Cahors is affectionately nicknamed "The Black Wine" due to its dark color in the glass. At present, Cahors wine must be made with at least 70% Malbec. It's often blended with Merlot to offer rounder, mellower characteristics or Tannat to reinforce the Malbec grape flavors and to allow for greater aging potential. Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are prohibited in Cahors blends.

Typical flavors of French Malbec are violet, black currant, cherry, licorice, vanilla, menthol, and truffle. The Cahors wines of the tasting were divided into 3 categories which made it easier to know what you may like and how to pair it before you even took a sniff or sip. Tender & Fruity, Feisty & Powerful, and Intense & Complex. The Tender & Fruity is most suited to the American palate with the fresh fruit flavors of cherry and black currant and light tannins. These wines pair perfectly with poultry or grilled meat and can even be served as an aperitif. My personal favorites were the Feisty & Powerful ones. These wines showed much more complex fruit flavors, heavier tannins and great balance in the blend.

Wines of Note from the Tasting:

Chateau la Coustarelle Grande Cuvee Prestige -- aged for 1 year in French oak but didn't impart a strong oaky taste on the palate, smooth flavors of black fruits and violets were present

Chateau Pierre Le Grand -- fresh flavors of blackberry and woodsy notes on the palate with a slightly chalky finish. great balance of fruits and tannins.

Chateau de Chambert -- very earthy on the nose but black cherry and minerals on the palate. 25% of this wine was aged for 1 yr in French oak which softened the tannins a bit and lended to a round complex finish. definitely an example of a 'black wine' with its dark dark inky color in the glass.

Chateau Armandiere Diamant Rouge -- slight hint of oak on the nose but replaced by strong black fruit and mushroom flavors on the palate. pretty high tannins in this one but the black cherry flavors provided a great balance.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Whites of France

Last night was another meeting of the WSET Tasting Club. Ok, so that isn't the official name but that's what we have for now. This was the first time that the whole group was able to get together since the class...and let me just say that this group is a riot. Well, so am I...I guess. At least Peter thought so since he hadn't heard me say more than 5 words during our 11 weeks of class :-).

The night started with a ridiculous spread of cheeses and charcuterie presented by Dona and her hubby Chris (thanks guys!) Then we headed to the patio for pre-tasting sips of Ken Forrester Sauvignon Blanc. I proceeded to be eaten alive by mosquitoes as I sat enjoying the wine and conversation, to the point that I actually thought I was breaking out in hives! No big deal, the wine was great and I'm not really a big sauvignon blanc fan. But I will give this one a 2nd glance in the wine shop, very fruit, crisp with high acidity but not the grassy herbal taste I'm used to with sauvignons.

Back inside we sat down to a placemat with 12 glasses and people began pouring out the wines in their paper bags (this was a blind tasting). We entered out wines on a spreadsheet when we came in and then they were wrapped. The spreadsheet was printed out so we could match the wines we tasted to what we thought they were. Funny thing though, we had 2 red wines in front of us and 1 red on the sheet. Found out later that the 2 reds were the same thing! If that wasn't funny enough, we had 7 whites on the list...but only 6 in front of us. The joke behind that was that 2 of the whites that we were tasting were the same thing AND 2 of the ones on the list were still in a bag on the living room floor!! They never made it into the tasting, HAHA!! We all got a good laugh out of that one.

But enough about the tasting shenanigans. On with the notes. There were actually 7 whites and 1 red, one of the whites was a champagne.

First up, a 2007 William Fevre Chablis. I brought this one, seeing as though I actually went to this winery on my trip to Burgundy, it was a natural choice. And a great choice. Chablis is the greatest example of Chardonnay in my opinion, with its dryness and high acidity, there is no oak aging so the fresh citrus fruit flavors and minerality come through on this one. Clearly I was able to select this one correctly blind.

2007 Sancerre -- Not your average sauvignon blanc, with flavors of apple and banana on the nose. The palate was surprisingly different with crisp grapefruit and lime. Medium on the finish but a great wine that is ready to drink now, but can age. My 'guess' was correct at first, then I 2nd guessed myself and got it wrong.

2007 Entre Deux Mers -- A youthful white with citrus, limey fruit on the nose. Dry with high acidity, this wine displayed the citrus flavors on the palate along with grass and mineral notes. I don't believe this wine will get much better with aging so I would drink it within the next year. This was my first taste of an Entre Deux Mers from Bordeaux and I was very pleased. With that being said, I didn't get this one right either.

2002 Les Pierres Girard Anjou Blanc -- At 7 yrs old, this already developed wine was a bit closed on the nose fruitwise, just giving honey, stewed scents. After a bit of swirling we got the intensity on the palate. Fairly high in alcohol and body, rich tastes of pear, pineapple, and apple came forth. A bit of almonds and minerals on the finish, I think this one has done all the aging that it's going to do.

Michel Turgy Reserve Champagne -- Since we could clearly tell this was a Champagne we actually tasted it first, but it was in the 5th tasting spot. Pale and lemon green in color, the nose of apple and yeast that are typical of champagne came through. With racing acidity on the palate and an intense taste of toastiness, yeast and melons. A very good example of a true champagne, some of the tasters believe this could actually get even better with age. I'm not one to age champagne, I say pop the bubbly when you buy it!

2006 Castelmaure Corbieres -- Well, when you have a white wine tasting and someone brings a's not too challenging to blind taste. Medium garnet colored in the glass, this developing red had red fruit and smoke on the nose and the palate. While very balanced, the Corbieres offered no real depth in its flavors. Perhaps a bit more time in the bottle will allow development of richer and riper flavors.

2007 Trimbach Riesling -- Pale, lemon green in color this Riesling stayed true to form. Scents of honeydew melon and petrol floated from the glass before the swirl. On the palate were more citrus fruit flavors and even sort of the taste of petrol. Very well balanced with alcohol and acidity, this wine was very good and will get even better with a bit more age. My confidence was back up with this one, I got it right!

2006 Trimbach Pinot Blanc -- It was fairly tough to pinpoint what I smelled with the pinot blanc, I just knew that I smelled something. Good thing I was tasting with a group. Once someone pinpoints a smell, that's all you need. Wet wool, someone yelled out...and that is exactly the smell I got from this one. Very dry on the palate but a very intense taste of hay and pineapple with a medium finish. A good wine to drink as an aperitif right now or let it sit in your cellar for awhile and see what happens. As this was the only wine left on my list, there was no guessing or thought process involved in selecting this one :-)