Wednesday, January 28, 2009

$12 Redemption

So, $10 Tuesday was a bit of a let down this week but we found sweet relief from our wine woes in the form of Morellino di Scansano produced by Erik Banti.

Erik Banti

DOC: Morellino di Scansano
Grapes: Sangiovese 85% / Cab & Merlot 15%
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: $12
Aromas: Cherry, stewed prune, licorice, earth
Flavors: Cherry, bramble, meat, blueberry

Summary: We find a nice fruity nose on this wine with just a touch of Sangiovese barnyard and some nice dark notes of prune and black licorice. The firm tannins are balanced by bright cherry acidity. There is some nice Willa Wonka three-course-gumball action in the form of a savory note that lingers mid-palate and then eventually mellows to blueberry in the extended finish. In other words, good stuff.

I think this wine could easily stand with other super Tuscans we've had in the $35 range. That makes this a superb value at $12. It's not as heavy or funky as Sangiovese can get, so it paired quite nicely with butternut squash stuffed shells in marinara. If the bottle lasts the night, we'll probably finish it with veggie pizza.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Viognier Mate

This week we have an Australian Viognier from Deen De Bortoli. Interestingly, all of the Viognier we have written up on this blog have been in the $10 range. I wouldn't rate this as the best of the group but I will say that this is certainly a "safe" wine with mass appeal.

There is lots of ripe tropical fruit and butter on the nose. It's citrusy on the palate with pretty good acidity. It goes very flat in the mid-palate and has a short finish but, it's quite an adequate wine when paired with broiled salmon, rice and broccoli in a lemon-butter sauce. Even though I wasn't overly impressed with this wine, I'll admit I was slugging it down with the salmon; I was thirsty.

So to recap: Most people would like this wine; most wine people wouldn't; not bad for ten bucks; then again, for ten bucks there are a lot of good choices in Viognier. So, maybe try this one instead. I could have looked past the ubiquitous butteriness of this wine, if it weren't for the disappearing act on the mid-palate.


Monday, January 26, 2009


Over the holidays we stopped at the Bargetto Winery Tasting Room in Soquel, California while visiting the area. I grew up in Santa Cruz but had never been to Bargetto. Even though it's just off Soquel Drive, I never knew it was there. In fact, Bargetto has been making wine in the Santa Cruz mountains since 1933.

When we walked into the unassuming building, we were immediately greeted by a warm and friendly atmosphere. We made our way down to the antique tasting bar overlooking Soquel Creek where we felt pleasantly ensconced in a mellow wood-paneled chamber accented by stained glass and a cozy fire.

We tasted several enjoyable wines. One highlight of the tasting was the Petite Verdot which Bargetto is doing a nice job with. Their 2006 Petite Verdot has notes of cola, vanilla, bramble, blackberry and cherry. It is notably unmanipulated and would make an excellent food wine. It's drinking nicely right now and also seems quite age-worthy.

Perhaps it was the time of year, but I really enjoyed the Chaucer Honey Mead. They served it mulled from a thermos, and the warm spicy concoction tasted a lot like mulled apple cider except with more honey and less apple. It was really tasty and perfect for sipping (or rather, gulping down) next to a toasty fire. I'm not typically a big dessert wine fan so, this wine struck me because I was surprised at how much I liked it. It was definitely not unsweet, but it was not cloying, and it had a wonderful smooth viscosity. I think this would be a fun wine to have around the holidays, or at the ski lodge, or anyplace where fuzzy wool sweaters are in order.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Two Favorites: John Cleese & Wine

This is the opening clip from "Wine for the Confused" which features some wineries in the Santa Barbara area. He's funny.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Dom Burnet Pinot Noir

Putting up a $10 wine once a week has it's challenges. Unlike the glossies, we can't just bring 60 bottles in here and start tasting, picking only the best of the bunch to share with you. We are actually purchasing and drinking these bottles just like you. So, sometimes we pick a winner and sometimes, well...

That being said, this week's $10 selection is a Vin de Pays Pinot Noir. I know, I know--a Pinot Noir for $10? It can't be good, right? I don't know about you but, I've arbitrarily chosen $18.99 as my rock-bottom Pinot Noir price point. But, this is also Vin de Pays with a price ceiling of $11.99. The upshot? This may not be a killer Pinot Noir, but it's a pretty good $10 wine.

Dom Brunet

Pinot Noir
Vin de Pays
Alcohol: 13%
Price: $10
Aromas: Bramble, cherry, anise, cola
Flavors: Cherry, mineral, anise, blueberry, clove

Summary: DECANT! DECANT! DECANT! I can't stress that enough. Without air this is a tight, metallic, tough little wine. A couple of hours of decanting makes a world of difference. Better yet, save most of the bottle for a couple of nights after you first open it--some of the mellower Pinot Noir nuances start to appear at that point. Properly aired, this is the best $10 Pinot Noir I've tried. Of course, it's nothing like a new world $9-$15 Pinot which is typically all soft, creamy and one-dimensional. This wine is a little more angular which I like, because it goes well with food and it's somewhat dynamic. The color is dark fuschia and the body is light and dominated by high-toned cherry flavors mixed with bramble with a spicy light-tannin finish. As a Pinot Noir, this wine ain't half bad--as a table wine, it's darn good.

Happy Inauguration Day


Monday, January 19, 2009

So You Know Something About Wine...

You've managed to acquire some wine expertise without becoming a wine snob. Congratulations!Dodged that bullet! You're enthusiastic about wine and want to share that enthusiasm with your friends and family! Great! But, hold up a second bub: Are you letting your love of wine ride shotgun, while poor old manners gets shoved into the backseat? Avoiding these common pitfalls in social situations will ensure you don't go from wine enthusiast to wine bore/(boor):

1. The Analysis
You're visiting friends or family. They're not big wine drinkers but they always keep a bottle on hand. Your host pulls the Two Buck Chuck out of the fridge and pours you a glass. Here's where you need to resist the urge to start swirling, sniffing and listing off aromas in your wine. It's Two Buck Chuck--it smells like wine. Just drink it.By no means whatsoever, should you make the Oak Monster face--I don't care if there are oak shavings floating in the glass. Making a big show of analyzing the wine in your glass will not only make your host feel uncomfortable, it'll make you look like a tool. Granted, this can be one of the hardest behaviors to avoid, if like me, you routinely swirl and sniff your water glass out of sheer habit.

2. The Wine List
Let's say your parents are taking you out to dinner. What's the first thing we all do when we sit down in a restaurant? Open the wine list of course! It's very tempting to want to check out how the establishment has done on their wine list. Unless you're buying, try to resist. If you must look at the wine list, try to wait until after your host has chosen something and make your review brief and quiet. Whatever you do, don't pick up the wine list and start remarking on every wine on the list, as well as, the overall quality of the list aloud to the table. If you really can't stand it, offer to buy the wine up front so you can have free run of the wine list, but still refrain from deriding the quality of the list if it's a restaurant your hosts have chosen.

3. The Review
In the final scenario, you may be a guest or the host. The wine being poured is of a quality deserving your attention. Of course you are going to swirl and sniff, and all that fun stuff. Perhaps, even your hosts/guests may join in with you for a little name-the-aroma fun. Still, try to refrain from going into a twenty-minute sonnet about the wine. While your hosts will be pleased to hear that you enjoy the wine, they may not share your fondness for waxing poetic about wine in general. Just remember the reason you're there is to enjoy each other's company, and save the wine love-fest for a more appropriate venue like a tasting event.

In short, keep your head when that temptress wine enters the room and mind your Ps & Qs. Now go forth and quench your thirst; and use your wine powers for good!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WBW #53 Wine with Breakfast

This month's theme from our Twisted Host Jeff Stai, AKA El Jefe of Twisted Oak Winery, is one that is sure to inspire some good old fashioned debauchery: Wine with Breakfast. No bubbles, dessert wines, or mimosa's allowed! Dear me! Since I just don't have a stomach for booze before noon, I decided to go with a late "brunch" frittata. As you can see, I served it up while still in my jammies. This frittata had hash browns on the bottom, a little cheese, and some roasted red peppers, and was garnished with scallions, salsa, and sour cream.

Okay, there are several ways we could have gone with this food pairing. However, the overwhelming influence, thanks to the potato and sour cream was Northern European. I think this eggy delight could have paired nicely with a buttery Montagny 1er Cru or a nice bright Alsace Pinot Gris, but we had no such thing on hand.

The dish reminded me a lot of something the german side of my family used to make: Potato pancakes (with sour cream of course). Correct me if I'm wrong, but Germans would never have wine with breakfast..? Right? No, I think they would have beer. Now, go with me here for a second; frittatas are also a lot like pizza except with potato and egg instead of dough and sauce, and since I'm told that Italians never drink wine with pizza, I think my choice is clear and justified... That's right. Beer. Especially, if you're having pizza for breakfast, right? Any college kid could tell you that. Okay, okay, I cheated. I didn't see anything specifically barring beer in the rules though...

Long Trail Hefeweizen is one of my favorite Hefeweizens. I think Jeff will also appreciate that the word "Hefe" features prominently in the name. I first experienced Hefeweizen in a biergarten in Germany where it was served in a long skinny glass with a wedge of lemon. Long Trail has the closest thing to that authentic Hefeweizen that I've found. It has aromas of white blossoms on the nose, and is slightly sweet. The tiny bubbles provide a nice smooth mouthfeel overall, with a crisp lemony attack. Just for the record, I did try some chard that was laying around but, this beer was definitely the match to beat.

Thanks to El Jefe for this month's twisted WBW theme (sorry, I cheated!!) and, as always, a shout out to WBW founder Lenn Thompson. Now for the parting money shot of my frittata!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

$10 Tuesday: PietraLuna Negramaro 2006


Negramaro del Salento 2006
Alcohol: 13%
Price: $9.60 (at Bin Ends)
Aromas: Raspberry, dulce de leche, blackberry, sour plum, licorice
Flavors: Blackberry, cinnamon stick, cherry, dust

Summary: This is our first Negramaro del Salento (the heel of the boot). Negro Amaro translates to "black and bitter" which sets the stage when sampling this wine for the first time. The ripe juicy nose with hints of herbal notes actually reminds me of some Greek wines we've had. There is a distinctive aroma I can't quite place (persimmon?) The body is light (a little flat in the mid-palate) with a spicy finish and acidity that melds nicely with a tomato sauce. It's tempting to want to serve this wine to with Tapas but, be advised: It really gets it's ass kicked by a salty garlic-stuffed olive in vinegar (maybe olives packed in oil would be a better choice). Overall, an interesting and affordable example of a lesser known sub-variety from Southern Italy.


Monday, January 12, 2009

NPR reports on trend toward less expensive wines

So far this month the big story circulating in the wine world is the falloff of higher end wine sales, and an increase in wine purchases made in grocery stores and under the $10 mark. Today, the story even makes NPR. K&L is featured along with one of their customers. Also mentioned is Bon Apetit's new Best Wines Under $10 list. We've begun reviewing $10 wine on a weekly basis here, as well, and so you can add our reviews to Bon Apetit's list.


From pot to boat to pound to pot, Glah-sta Lahb-sta

(c)2009 SmellsLikeGrape

I visited Argyle Winery’s tasting room when I went on my trip to the Willamette Valley last November. Argyle is famous for their sparkling wines. I don’t really care for sparkling wines, however, theirs were very good. What I did enjoy was their Riesling so I procured a bottle "for future reference". This Riesling was planted in the Lone Star Vineyard in a high density on devigorated rootstock.

Argyle Winery
Willamette Valley
Vintage: 2006
Alcohol: 13.0%
Residual Sugar: 1%
Cases Produced: 635

Color: Yellow
Intensity: Pale
Aromas: Melon, honeysuckle, stone, cedar
Flavors: Grapefruit, melon, pear, lemon, mineral, a little wood flavor.
Body: Medium Bodied
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Semi dry
Finish: Moderate

Summary: This is a clean, refreshing Riesling. I liked the acid and semi-dry balance in this wine. It has some nice mineral characteristics with a teeny-tiny bit of vanilla. It also left a nice, low grade glycerin feel in the mouth. The citrus is very refreshing.

(c)2009 SmellsLikeGrapeThis is a good wine for sitting down with a meal of chicken picante, fish (haddock, red snapper, whitefish, sole, or cod). Shrimp and lobster would go great with this. In fact, I think we will enjoy our Argyle 2006 Riesling with lobster! Read on!

Glah-sta Lahb-sta
I had a hankering today. I really wanted to have some lobster, and why not. We live in a fishing port in Massachusetts, all’s I have to do is go see my fellow Blogger, Joey at Captain Joe and Sons and pick up a couple of "frisky ones". Joey is a dedicated Blogger and family man who runs Good Morning Gloucester. Good Morning Gloucester is a very well read Blog about life in Gloucester and I owe much of the local popularity of SMU to Joey. [Meet Joey on SMU!]

(c)2009 SmellsLikeGrapeThis time of year, the lobsters are headed out to deeper waters, out of Gloucester Harbor. We have fewer lobster pots in the water. Fishermen bring them in for storage. Here are some pots coming in to Captain Joe’s for winter storage.

We are lucky. The lobsters that B and I buy go from the pot to the boat to the pound to the pot in one day.

(c)2009 SmellsLikeGrapeTips on buying lobsters
Just because you live in Kansas doesn't mean you can't get lobster. Gloucester sends them to markets all over. When you buy a lobster, make sure that they are frisky. The tails should curl up. Ask your fishmonger to pull the tail out and see if it pulls back. If it is limp, pass; the lobster is not really in good condition. Your fishmonger should boil this and put it on display for some of the uniformed to buy. Our lobsters were flipping and pissed off to be picked up from behind. Real “frisky ones” as I call them.

When you get them home, put them in the refrigerator. Don’t put them in the sink or bathtub with water, they will drown. They will be fine in the fridge in a bag for a while. Me, being spitting distance from the nearest lobster pound, I pick them up at 1:00 and put them into the pot at 5:00. (Sorry for throwing salt into the wound, not everyone can live on the Atlantic coast.)

(c)2009 SmellsLikeGrapeWhen I cook lobsters, I get a big stock pot boiling with water. I cut the claw bands off and drop them head first into the water and set the timer for 10 minutes. (We ask for 1.5 to 2.0 pound lobsters. For 2 pounders, maybe 11 minutes.) While this is going on, slice up some lemon, melt some butter, pop open the Riesling and get the glasses ready. After the lobsters are done, pull out and drain and eat. (In the summer time, I’ll throw some ears of corn in the water about three minutes before the lobster is done.)

The Argyle Riesling was absolutely perfect with this lobster. It was citrusy enough to hold up to the lemon in the butter and sweet enough to not seem sour against the lobster meet. B made a great green salad with chipotle lime dressing with shredded cabbage, fresh cilantro and corn kernels.

This is without a doubt the best lobster meal I have ever had. Pairing this Willamette Valley Rielsing with Lobster was just a fabulous treat.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The last Toad Hollow we had was a tasty Russian River Merlot. It was a bit more pricey than the Cacophony Zin at $19.99, but it we enjoyed it.

We picked up this 2006 Paso Robles Zin in the bargain bin marked down to $11.99. Sometimes you take your chances with marked-down wine--it sounded like a deal. It definitely lived up to Zin name in terms of having lots of super-extracted red and black fruit flavors, and an equal share of black pepper. To the wine's credit, it didn't seem hot at all at 14.8% alcohol. However, I found the wine somewhat discordant--probably nothing a bold meal couldn't smooth out though. It was a bit of a cacophony in my tummy too, so dyspepsia may have dampened my review.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Red Côtes du Ventoux

The Côtes du Ventoux AOC is located in the southeastern region of the region of the Rhône wine region of France. The geology has limestone soils giving the wines a good mineral balance and lighter touch.

Red wines are made from, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Carignan (maximum 30%). White wines are produced from Clairette, Bourboulenc, and Grenache Blanc, and a maximum 30% Roussane. There is an interesting article about the 2000 years of wine production history on the Côtes du Ventoux website.

The wines from this region are made to be enjoyed young. This one is four years old, purchased past its pundit declared prime of 2007. How did it do? Is it past its prime?

Côtes du Ventoux AOC
Chapelle St. Arnoux

Vintage: 2004
Alcohol: 14%
Price: $10.00

Color: Ruby
Intensity: Deep
Aromas: Blackberry, cherry, plum, earth, slight smoked meat
Flavors: Cherry, raspberry, blackberry, cherry, plum, earth, stuck flint, anise, oak, coffee, cassis, sandalwood, black pepper
Body: Full
Acidity: Moderate
Sweetness: Dry
Tannins: Suede
Finish: Long

Summary: Very long finish starting with the fruit flavors working to an earthy-spicy taste. The tannins have mellowed out a bit leaving a very pleasant feel. This wine was supposed to be past its prime? I think we caught it before it declined. No, it doesn’t taste young. It is very enjoyable, maybe a little mellower than in its younger day, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. This has a good enough tannin structure to hold up. If you got one in the back of the cellar, pull it out and enjoy it right now.

This will go well with anything; a good hard cheese, grilled meats and veggies, Mediterranean food, or a darn good cheeseburger made with sharp cheddar cheese. Try some dark chocolate too.


Friday, January 2, 2009

What we've been up to

You may have noticed another long hiatus this past week on Smells Like Grape. Rest assured, we were tasting lots of wine (we just weren't blogging about it). We were deep in wildest California with no access to wifi or running water. We did manage to cobble together a short vlog with clips of our trip captured on the flipcam Santa left for us. (Okay, there was running water too--but the internet connection was in short supply.) Enjoy.