Tuesday, March 31, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Chilean Sauvignon Blanc

Okay, I cheated this week because this wine is technically $12 but, most of us should be able to find this for a little less...

oops Cheeky Little White
Sauvignon Blanc

Vintage: 2008
Growing Area: Valle Central, Chile
Alcohol: 13 %
Price: ~$12

Color: straw
Intensity: medium
Aromas: pear, grass, honeydew, blood orange
Flavors: melon, lemon, dust, allspice, granny smith
Body: viscous
Acidity: crisp
Sweetness: dry
Finish: moderate

Summary: This is not a bad Sauvignon Blanc at the SRP of $12 but, I'm pretty sure you can find it for closer to $10 which is even better. We tried this side by side with the 2008 Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc which is at the same price point and considerably more plonky tasting.

The oops Sauvignon Blanc has nice minerality, and good acidity (even when slightly warm). It's very dusty almost leaving a starchy coating similar to a green granny smith apple. We had this with a pork roast glazed with a honey-orange-lignonberry sauce. The tarragon and cardamom in the sauce complimented the wine nicely. This will be a very refreshing Sauvignon Blanc for summer 2009.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Oregon Pinot Noir

We needed to buy wine for a dinner with relatives in an unfamiliar town recently. We were disappointed to find that, aside from a few Chiantis, the only varietals available in this "wine and liquor" shop were the standard seven: Chard, Sauv Blanc, Cab, Zin, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinot Noir. What gives? No Tempranillo? No Petite Sirah? Oh well... We had to bring some wine that would appeal to a variety of tastes and go well with lamb chops. We decided to look for a Pinot Noir.

The PN selection was not great. All of the Santa Barbara Pinot Noirs were between $30-$60. No thanks. Luckily, they did have a Duck Pond PN for around $20. Taster A visited the winery during a trip to Oregon last fall so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Also, we thought it would be fun since most of my relatives live in the Pacific Northwest.

In typical dinner party style, I didn't take any tasting notes but, I remember that it it was dominated by bright flavors of cherry, with deeper aromas of blueberry and caramel, and a hint of barnyard on the nose that worked very well with the lamb flavors. It was not as rich as the Merlot we selected as one would expect but, it was very dynamic and lively on the palate.

We also had fun experimenting with some dark chocolate wafers my cousin picked up from the local chocolate shop. They were dusted with chili and salt and the pairing made the Pinot sparkle. Our Merlot was lovely too--from another winery we enjoy visiting: Benziger.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

$10 Tuesday: Prosperity Chardonnay

Once, again I’ve been successfully marketed to by a wine label. I just couldn’t resist the message of prosperity or the under $8 price tag. That’s right: We’re saving you two dollars and change this week. Also, we haven’t had any Santa Barbara Chards that I can recall so, this was an easy sell.

Sniffing the Cork author, Judy Beardsall, wrote that she never pays more that $25 for a domestic white. I’m with her on that one, especially when it comes to Chardonnay which can tend to be a bit bland. This wine is exceptionally un-bland, and has great body and acidity, unlike some flabby chards that sell for two or three times as much.

Prosperity Chardonnay
Prosperity Wines

Vintage: NV
AVA: Santa Barbara County
Alcohol: 13.5 %
Price: $7.29

Color: golden
Intensity: medium
Aromas: apple, butter, melon, pear, banana-bread
Flavors: apple, pear, lemon essence, nutmeg
Body: viscous
Acidity: crisp
Sweetness: dry
Finish: moderate

Summary: This Chard works hard so you don’t have to. It’s crisp and clean yet smells like banana bread! If you like to keep an inexpensive Chardonnay on hand, this is one that will fit the bill without breaking the bank. I’m going to stop right here because I can see that I’ve slipped into slogan-writing mode… ”Here’s a stimulus package for your senses. Just chill, serve and relax! You just spent less on this bottle than most people spent on one day’s worth of caramel macchiatos in 2008. You work hard, and this year you told the kids they have to pay for their own text messages. So indulge yourself--you can afford to. Prosperity…It’s a way of life.”


Monday, March 23, 2009

Tulip Hill Petite Sirah

On our recent trip to Palm Springs, CA, we decided to pay a visit to the only local tasting room we saw advertising in the area. Tulip Hill Winery is actually about 90 miles north of Napa, but they have a retail outlet in a suburban shopping center in Rancho Mirage. It was kind of a pain to find because we weren’t expecting it to be tucked between a Cineplex and an Italian chain restaurant but, no matter.

The fruit used at Tulip Hill ranges from Mt. Oso to Napa. Tulip Hill actually petitioned for the Tracy Hills AVA to cover their vineyard on Mt. Oso. They specialize in red varieties but, we did try their Pinot Grigio which was surprisingly dry and mineral with flavors of grapefruit and just a touch of melon.

Most of the reds tend to be slightly bitter (not in a bad way) with a couple of notable exceptions (which we’ll get to in a moment). The 2005 Tracy Hills Merlot was quite interesting with an elegant nose of rose, chocolate, cherry, and almond. The cherry carried through to the palate, with a little blueberry, umami, and a coffee bite which got more concentrated with each sip.

The 2005 Tracy Hills Merlot-Syrah Blend was marked by aromas of kitty nose, blackberry, pomegranate, and vanilla. It had a similar flavor profile to the Merlot but, with more pronounced meat and pepper flavors.

The 2004 Tracy Hills Syrah was a little tougher than what you would find in a Sonoma Syrah but still there were nice aromas of cherry, bramble, pepper, vanilla, prune and cassis. On the palate was cherry, more cassis, plenty of allspice, and just the faintest hint of band-aid. The 2005 Tracy Hills Cab-Syrah was much like the Syrah but with added richness from the Cab and bitter chocolate (cacao) notes.

Now for the fun stuff… The 2006 Tracy Hills “Sangiovignon” is a blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fun because you can entertain yourself for hours pulling out the various characteristics of the two grapes. Missing, was the barnyard funk of a typical Super Tuscan. There was blackberry, cherry, plum and mesquite smoke on the nose. The flavor consisted of a cherry base. There was blueberry essence in the vapor coming off the tongue, and a strawberry finish.

Also huge fun, and most likely to win a gold metal at the county fair, the 2006 Napa Valley Petite Sirah was an epiphany. The color was very extracted deep purple. The flavors and aromas were a well balanced choreography of toffee, blackberry, cherry, almond, blueberry, licorice, allspice, and pansy.

Finally, the 2004 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was another winner, and a bargain in Napa Cab terms at $36 a bottle. I had one of those awesome olfactory flashbacks back to a life-changing mole from a little Mexican restaurant in Lake Tahoe…man, that was a good meal… Taster A noted marble dust on this one (he had his own flashback to Proctor, VT). It did indeed have that wet-saw smell, as well as, some juniper berry. This cab was rich, smooth, and mouth coating with layers of chocolate and a blueberry pie finish.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Twitter Taste Live Microblogging Pictorial

We stayed in last Saturday night and opened 3 bottles of west coast Pinot Noir along with a few dozen other TTL participants. The first bottle was an Oregon Pinot from WillaKenzie Estate Winery. Some people at the 2006 and some the 2007. We had the 2007.

Rather than summarize the tasting notes, I thought it would be fun to post this "pictorial" of the notes we tweeted on Saturday night during the event! (some will say I'm lazy, but really I'm an innovator!) ;)

There was a lot of talk about oak and pepper:

The following tweets were after coming back to the WillaKenzie after completing one round of the three Pinot line-up:

WillaKenzie is a Burgundy style Pinot Noir produced on the west coast of the United States. It was actually the least popular in the TTL tasting. The other two were from California and were a little sexier, but I think the WillaKenzie represented a, perhaps slightly austere, but classic high-toned Pinot Noir.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

$10 Tuesday: From the Vault

I'm on one of my bi-annual liver cleanses this week so, I pulled out a post from the vault for a wine that I think is worth a second look. Taster A originally posted this review a little over a year ago on March 8th, 2008!

Our first taste of this wine was over the 2006 Labor Day weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee. I was alone in Oak Ridge for 50 weeks while Taster B was still working in Colorado waiting for our house to sell in a depressed real estate market. Taster B came to Tennessee for the long week end and to celebrate our anniversary. This was one of the three times that we saw each other during that period.

My friends, Kevin and Judy invited us over for a dinner. The first wine they broke out (I love visiting British wine lovers) was Mad Dogs and Englishman. Kevin and Judy had this awesome moon flower plant that had large showy morning glory blossoms the size of your hand. These blossoms would open up at dusk over the course of five minutes. Kevin put together a spread of shrimp scampi, barbequed chicken and grilled vegetables to go with our Mad Dogs and Englishmen. This wine is born in the HOT climate of Sothern Spain, so hot that only mad dogs and Englishmen would go out in the noon day sun (see video clip below).

This is a Spanish wine from the Jumilla DO is in Murcia, a hot hilly region known for their Monastrell. These Vineyards of Jumilla have never been affected by phylloxera and most of their vines are ungrafted. Monastrell is very smooth, fruity and aromatic and tend to age well. The Mad Dogs and Englishman is best drunk young as it is fruity.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Bodegas y Vinedos de Murcia
Sonoma County
Vintage: 2005
Jumilla Denominacio'n de Origen
Blend: Monastrell 50%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%, Shiraz 20%
Alcohol: 14.0
Price: $8.99 (Discount liquor store price.)

Color: Ruby red
Intensity: Moderate
Aromas: Strawberry, raisin, mint, earth, cinnamon, black pepper, cedar
Flavors: Wild strawberry, wild raspberry, choke cherry, cherry, jam, raisin, mineral, slate, allspice, cedar, coffee, chocolate
Body: full
Sweetness: dry
Tannins: Suede
Finish: Long

Summary: It took a few minutes to open up the aromas, but when it did, it was one of those wines that came off in layers. The nose was minty with fragrant cedar, cinnamon, black pepper, mineral slate and wild berry flavors. Behind that was the chocolate and espresso. The long finish developed into a nice spiciness.

This did well with pizza, but I prefer this type of wine with grilled steaks and veggies. This wine can be very complex for this price and well worth picking up.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

$10 Tuesday, Taking a Chance in the Spanish Aisle

We are running lean and mean in the wine cellar. We have some nice bottles left in the cellar, but I’m coming off from a two week shutdown and I have another shutdown facing me in the near future. Now isn’t the time to be plopping down big buck for over the top wines. I was driving home from doing research for my maple post and realized that I need a $10 wine for Tuesday.

Driving down I-95 through New Hampshire, you hit a stretch where there are two state owned liquor stores, one for the north bound traffic, one for the south bound traffic. I normally don’t see the point of shopping at the state stores. I have my favorite wine shops where I know the folks behind the counter and I can count on getting something really good. I may pay a buck or two more, but I’m giving my money to a store owner, not the government. The government will be getting its 5 pounds of flesh from us in five weeks, thank you very much.

The salient point is that I was thinking about our readers. I know times are tough, but I want our readers to find values without feeling like they have to run around barefoot with penguins and kangaroos. For me, that would be sad. Realizing that I have the same problem as many out there, what advice do I have to give? Be adventurous and try new things.

Italy, Spain, Chile, Argentina are all cranking out some really good values these days. I headed to the Italian section and saw three or four wines that would be good. We are having pork, so I don’t want a big, bold Chilean or Argentinean wine. Australia is out. Too big for what B is going to make. B’s recipe is going to be mildly spiced and flavorful. It’s time to walk down the Spanish wine aisle.

On my way, I walked by a nice selection of Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone wines; a couple of Sangiovese wines... You see, there are plenty of great candidates for a $10 Tuesday wine. And then, there it was…something that I had no idea what it was! 2006 Protocolo Vino de la Tierra de Castilla. Red wine from the north of Spain, $7.99. What the hell is this stuff? I have no clue. It’s either going to be good or not. Let’s see how it did.

Vino de la Tierra de Castilla
(country wine of Castilla)

Vintage: 2006
Alcohol: 13.5
Price: $7.99

Color: Garnet
Intensity: Dark
Aromas: Dust, prune, raisin, cherry, blueberry, earth,
Flavors: Cherry, raspberry, pomegranate, cranberry, allspice, tobacco, chocolate, chestnut wood
Body: Full
Sweetness: Dry
Tannins: Leather
Finish: Long

Summary: I’m very happy with this wine. It is big but will yield for B’s pork and roasted sweet potatoes. The first whiff was dusty, earthy and spicy. Then the wine opened up with dried fruit and spices. This is good. For me, this is the best wine experience: Walking down the aisles, making an educated guess and then being surprised at how good it really is.

This will go well with pork, red Mexican dishes, roasted anything, Mediterranean, and Moroccan.

Later, curiosity was killing me. What is this stuff? I had to find out. A little work uncovered that it’s Tempranillo!


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Maple Sugar

© 2009 SmellsLikeGrapeMy first experience with sugaring was when I was about five years old. My brother and I were staying with friends in West Pawlet, Vermont and we had an opportunity to tag along with the Nelson family on their farm and gather sap. Then it was done by a tractor pulling the sap wagon through the woods in the snow. The men would ride along until we reached a bush and would disperse through the bush and gather the sap and bring it to the wagon. I was too young to be hauling buckets of sap through the woods, so I was just along for the ride. I remember coming back to the farm and emptying the wagon into the storage tank and the grandfather was there by the evaporator sugaring.

© 2009 SmellsLikeGrape

That’s me, on the left, Steve B of SMU and Taster A of Smells Like Grape. That was my friend, Mr. Bussinger in the middle and my brother John on the right. It was the Spring of 1971. Mr. Bussinger has a small sugar bush, about forty taps. Back then pipe lines were a novelty and only the big producers used them. We had galvanized steel buckets, an open arch (fire box) and a three stage pan.

© 2009 SmellsLikeGrapeWe would gather the sap by hand carrying it through the woods in five gallon buckets. It was a small sugar bush so that was all that was needed. This was a wonderful, magical time in Vermont. The slow drum beat of the sap hitting the bottom of a freshly emptied bucket meant that the sap was running and it was spring time.

Sugaring involves lots of labor even for a backyard operation like Mr. Bussinger’s. There is wood to split and put in, trees to be tapped, sap to be hauled and hours and hours by the evaporator, feeding the ever-hungry arch. We were out in the weather and one of the things that would keep us warm was drawing off part of the partially boiled sap and having a warm glass. The smell of wood burning and the steam coming off the pan is just heaven. There is nothing else like it.

It has been 35 years since I’ve sugared myself. Time flies by fast with high school activates followed by college, moving to California and then to Colorado and now back to Massachusetts. Something was calling to me this year, my third winter back in New England. Perhaps it was that there was so much snow with no break from the cold much like the winters of my youth in Vermont. Perhaps this awoke old patterns, triggering a need to get back to the sugar bush to smell the arch, taste the sap and just see and hear the drip-drip-drip into a galvanized steel bucket. Perhaps it would give me reassurance that the daffodils will be erupting through the decaying leaves and the tree buds will be coming soon. Perhaps I needed it more this year then ever before.

“B, I found a sugar house in North Andover and they are boiling today. You coming along?” Poor B, she never knows how to plan the weekend. We got into the car and off we went.

Our destination was Turtle Lane Maple Farm. When we arrived, we parked on the street as the website suggested and started walking to the back of the house where the sugar house is located. B wasn’t sure if we were on the right track, but this old woodchuck’s nose knows the smell of burning hardwood and the smell of sap boiling. I was off like a blood hound after a escaped prisoner.© 2009 SmellsLikeGrape
Now I’ve heard rumors over the years of reverse osmosis systems, vacuum evaporators, and other High Tech aproaches to production. I have to set my purist, sentiment behind. Sugaring is energy intensive, even if it is a wood fired operation such as Turtle Lane. Using an RO system dramatically reduces the water content and shortens the evaporation time with less impact on the environment, and as long as the product is the same, I shouldn’t care.

© 2009 SmellsLikeGrapeArriving in the sugar house, I felt right at home. This was definitely an top-notch operation, not only do they have a sugar house, but they have a good deal of wiz-bang doo-dads. Paul was conducting a tour, teaching a group of kids and adults all about sugaring, from the early history up to the latest techno-gadgets. But what comes through is that Paul and Kathy do enjoy the sugaring and the heritage. You don’t do this unless you love it. As I said before, sugaring is a lot of work, and it isn’t just what happens in the late winter and early spring. It's setting up the buckets and tube systems in the winter and packing wood in the summer and fall. Turtle Lane will go through 10 cords of wood. In my day, that would have been very low for their size operation. I'm sure that the RO helps.
© 2009 SmellsLikeGrape
The heart of the sugar house is the arch and the evaporator. The arch is a horrid task master, needing to be feed every ten minutes. The evaporator is monitored for temperature and sap level. The temperature of the sap is an indication of sugar content and as it reaches the sugar content of syrup, the temperature and density are closely monitored and when the conditions are right, it is drawn off to be finished under conditions that can be precisely monitored.
© 2009 SmellsLikeGrape

The value of Turtle Lane Maple Farm isn’t just the fine syrup products, but they are oriented towards education. Paul and Kathy open their sugar house to the public and provide informative talks sparing no detail about the history and technology of sugaring. We were very pleased to visit their sugar house on the first boiling day. I would imagine the syrup produced today will be “fancy” grade.

© 2009 SmellsLikeGrape

Sugaring will run all through March. Sap runs when the nights are cold and the days are warm. By April, the nights will be too warm for the sap to run. Until then, check the Turtle Lane website for their boiling schedule. If you are not near North Andover, you can do a search for “maple syrup, [state]” and you will find a link to that state’s maple producer’s association. This will help you find a sugar house to visit. Please do. There is so much to learn as this old Vermonter is happy to attest. If nothing else, you must smell this wonderful steam coming off of the evaporator!

© 2009 SmellsLikeGrape


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What about the Trailside?

That's right! I still have to write a post about the OTBN wine we opened. It was pretty extravagant for us; the 2001 Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon retails in the neighborhood of $120 per bottle. We actually procured ours through a screaming deal from Bin Ends. Screaming. It was so cheap it makes you wonder...

Anyway, back to the wine. I have to admit, it's a bit of an enigma. The nose is sublime. It's all canned bing cherries, and creamy vanilla ice cream, and almond. Wow, that sounds like a sundae. It's actually nothing like a sundae... There are light violet notes as well. On the other hand, take a sip of this bad boy and it's pretty tough. It was only bottled in 2005 (spending 3.5 years barrel-aging) so it could probably stand some more years in the bottle. It's flush with firm tannins but, the balance is there. It's very meaty in flavor with some eucalyptus overtones. I get a hint of raspberry, and cherry on the finish. Oh, by the way, it is not oaky at all despite all that time in oak.

I thought we had tried a 1998 Trailside when we visited the winery, but I guess it was the Martha's Vineyard. I understand Martha's Vineyard to be the flagship vineyard so it's probably not fair to say that the 2001 Trailside isn't quite in the same class as the 1998 Martha's. No matter. This isn't your typical Napa Cab and I appreciate that. A lot of Napa Cabs just taste like a cherry-red Porsche to me. Not literally! I mean in terms of gloss and inanimate flawlessness. This wine tastes real and I like that. I think I'm going to save our second bottle for 2013.