Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Electric Reindeer is here ~ The holiday season is officially open!

I love Electric Reindeer! Every year I buy one of each varietal and take them home for a little taste test to see which one I’ll buy a few cases of. One year it was the Cabernet, the next year was the Merlot, the next year the Cab, but each year I stash away some Chardonnay and one of the reds. If you’ve never had the Electric Reindeer you owe it to yourself to buy a couple bottles and check them out yourself.

These wines are made for World Market by Adler Fels – a private label winery in Santa Rosa, California that has won more than 20 awards or medals in the last decade for their private label wines. Each year the winemaker gives us something a little different, but always good, and always a terrific buy.

Dressed up in spiffy new foil labels, this year’s release is a must-have for the holiday season.

Top 10 ways to enjoy Electric Reindeer:

• Tie an ornament around the neck of the bottle and you’ve got yourself a nifty little host gift for your next event!

• Having a party at your place but don't want to break the bank on wine? Electric Reindeer is the perfect party pour - it's tasty, looks festive on your bar, and it's easy on your wallet!
• Line up a few cases by your front door and when your party ends hand each guest a bottle of Electric Reindeer as a party favor.

• If your neighborhood does a “knock and run” gift exchange leave a bottle of Electric Reindeer on doorsteps - you’re sure to be invited over to share it!

• Struggling for a gift for the service people on your list? Your mailman will drop his letters when he opens the mailbox to find a bottle of Electric Reindeer in there!

• Does your nail salon serve box wine while you're being pampered? Take along a bottle of Electric Reindeer to spread some holiday cheer to everyone in the salon, they'll all thank you for it!
• Teachers get tired of coffee mugs… Try some Electric Reindeer and you’re certain to brighten their day!

• Need three inexpensive gifts for your Secret Santa at work? Gift them with the Chardonnay, then Merlot, then the Cab – overall the price is right around $17.

• Great Aunt Martha only drinks White Zinfandel? Splurge by buying her a case of Electric Reindeer White Zin – you’re sure to be on her ‘good list’ next year!

• Buy a few cases for YOURSELF ~ after all… it IS a great little wine for sipping by the fireplace with your honey.

Find it ~ Buy it ~ Try it ~ Love it!
Salud` KathyD

Cabernet and Merlot $5.98 Chardonnay and White Zinfandel $4.98

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cool Weather + Long Hang-Time + Late Harvest = Awesome WA Trip!

Washington wine growers spent the month of October in the vineyards praying for a growing season long enough to appropriately ripen the fruit, and still get the fruit off the vine and into the winery. I'm sure they felt like the old adage, "A watched pot never boils." 

Bad for them, but great for me since I had scheduled a trip to Washington wine country for the last week in October. Driving along the highway deeper into Yakima with ladies from my wine group, we were surprised and delighted to see fruit still hanging in the vineyards despite the cooler temperatures being experienced in the region. 
Day 1  -  Horse Heaven Hills, the small pumpkin-colored area to the north of Oregon

The first full day of our trip we were greeted at the gates of Canoe Ridge by Minnie Knife, the winery's vineyard manager. She smiled as she told us that their harvest was in full throttle and asked us if we'd like to see it up close... (Was she kidding?! This is the stuff dreams are made of!) We hopped into our SUV and followed her pickup along the winding dirt road to the crest of a hill and jumped out. We stood there, surrounded by the most amazingly beautiful vineyard scene, abuzz with harvest workers, equipment and the smell of freshly picked fruit in the air. The early morning sun was shining upon the perfect rows of vines angling down the hill before us and beside us, as far as the eye could see. 

Here, while talking about the differences in Cabernet and Merlot vines, Minnie is illustrating the
 spooky face that Merlot leaves form when the sections of the leaves are held together.

Minnie led us down a row of vines and encouraged us to pick berries from the clusters of Merlot hanging there. As I bit down tentatively on a grape, I was pleasantly surprised to taste the sweetness of the fruit - I had tasted Cabernet grapes straight from the vine before on a trip to Napa Cab country and they had been extremely bitter and harsh. (Of course, it was August - maybe a month before harvest - so they were definitely not ripe.) I snatched a few more and popped them into my mouth as I commented to Minnie on their sweetness. She said they were ready for harvest, asked us to step out of the row and made a motion to a worker who then swung his harvester around the end of the row of vines we had just vacated.

We watched in awe as the harvester fit narrowly down "our" row, with the huge "V" of machinery fitting down over the row of vines and mechanically removed the fruit from each vine.

We could see the clusters being pulled up to the top of the machine and toppling over the edge and down into a waiting bin on the opposite side of the vineyard row, which was being pushed by more workers and moved parallel down the row in tandem with the harvester. Having never seen this part of the winemaking process before, we were captivated by the picture before us, seemingly choreographed in its simplicity and economy of motion.

On the opposite side of the dirt road stood another portion of the vineyard, with fruit still hanging; these were all labeled Cabernet and Minnie indicated that they still had another few days or so of hang-time before they would be harvested. She asked us to follow her further up the road, commenting positively on our rented SUV. We piled back into our vehicle and trailed the dust from her pickup around several steep bends until reaching the top of the hill and parked behind Minnie. We gasped as we clambered out and onto the top of the hill - as beautiful as the previous scenes were, we were stunned by the view from the pinnacle we now stood upon.

From our viewpoint, we could see the Columbia River, separating us from Oregon, but between it and us was acre after acre of vines, spread like a blanket on the undulating hills, and bordered on the sides by tree-lines, beautiful in themselves with golden and red fall leaves. Breath-taking! Down there in the midst of everthing was a cute little house, also surrounded by fall trees, and looking up the hills at the vines. We asked Minnie who lived in the house.  Of course - it was hers... Now how fantastic is that? Waking up each morning with that amazing view, and surrounded by your passion masquerading as a job. OMGosh ~ JEALOUS!

We stood on the ridge, able to overlook vineyards on both sides of the hill (the north facing vineyards were planted in Chardonnay which requires cooler temperatures, hence, the shady side of the hill) listening to Minnie explain to us about the ancient floods coursing through the area, cutting chasms and valleys into the landscape and dropping different types of rocks, stone and soils along the way.  At her feet was a pile of rocks that had been taken from various areas of the vineyard; she used them to illustrate the different types of rocks and soil found at Canoe Ridge, and told us how far away these rocks had originated, and been carried along with the floods thousands of years ago.

The soils of the Canoe Ridge vineyards were sandy, as are the other vineyards of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, and as Minnie explained, this results in softer tannins than in other AVAs in Washington wine country. (I reflected back on this conversation more than a few times during the trip while tasting copious amounts of HHH AVA wines - all with soft finishes and easy, fine, tannins.)

The sounds of harvest were interrupted by Minnie's cell phone and a short conversation after which she said her time with us was up and that we were to follow her over to the winery to meet Michelle, our guide for the rest of our tour of Canoe Ridge.  I sighed and took one last look around before getting back into the SUV with my wine ladies, thinking that nothing else we would see could compare with this.  Ahhh, what a life Minnie, what a life.

Beautiful, huh?

Salud! KathyD

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Merlot can be mesmerizing ~ Despite what Miles said in Sideways...

When was the last time you had a Merlot (willingly!)? I'm here to tell you that it ain't bad, ain't bad at all.

In fact, Merlot is darn good and it's probably a result of the fact that a lot of producers got out of the Merlot business when the varietal's reputation took a horrific beating in 2004 after Sideways came out. And, just what was the problem with Merlot at that time...?

Whenever any wine (or style of wine) gets a bit too hip, or hyped, or becomes the new IN thing, the market will be flooded with low-end, poorly made, plonky renditions of its original self. And that's what happened to Merlot after its meteoric rise in popularity in the early 80's and 90's when it became the the nation's top red wine varietal--a title that it held until, you guessed it - the debut in 2004 of Sideways.

The demand for Merlot was so high that winegrowers planted Merlot vines like there was no tomorrow, not caring if those vines were suited to the vineyard sites. Merlot went from 5,000 acres in 1990 to more than 50,000 in the year 2000, causing a flood of flabby, lifeless Merlot to be released in the marketplace. No wonder Miles said,

Ahhh, you don't believe me that Merlot was once the darling of the wine world? Of course it was...

You just need to go backwards in the world of wine and revisit the genesis of wine on America's dinner table. That didn't happen overnight, but when it did happen, Merlot was there - bridging the gap between the White Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons of the era. White Zin was too fruity and not sophisticated enough, yet Cabernet was too harsh and "bitter" for America's rookie wine palates - but sexy, silky Merlot? Well, it was the Goldilocks effect - Merlot was just right - and everyone jumped on that bandwagon and rode Merlot into the world of plonky wine, hence - the Sideways phenomenon.

But, I digress.  The point I was trying to make, was that Merlot needs to be, and should be, revisited by all of you that call yourselves serious wine drinkers.  There are two styles of Merlot: one a fruity, lightweight and semi-plonky version. The other? Well, I call it Cab-lover's Merlot.  Now, that's what I'm talking about!

A big, bold wine with a hit of silky fruit in the front, great acidity and body in the mid-palate and the grip of some decent tannins on the finish.

'Nuff said.
I've had a few of them in the last month - one just this week and it was spectacular. You owe it to yourself to find one of these wines and taste it for yourself. You'll be glad you did...

Find it ~ Buy it ~ Try it ~ Love it!
Salud! KathyD

PS ~ Check out Merlove...

Here are a few Merlot that I think are worth visiting:

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Indian Wells Merlot Columbia Valley - 92 pts Wine & Spirits "This simple, wonderfully balanced merlot from vineyards throughout the Wahluke Slope melds oak, soft cherry and tobacco leaf into a seamless aroma. On the palate it's lightly spicy, the flavors of plum and black cherry dense, with a savory bottom note of cedar and gold leaf tobacco. A terrific value and plenty of wine to set against a grilled sirloin." 10/1/2010

Clos DuVal - 2005 - Napa Valley Merlot  Very highly recommended - "Medium ruby; attractive, elegant, complex, plummy, sweet black cherry fruit aroma with hints of cassis and black olive; medium-full to full body; rich, refined, dark cherry and blackberry fruit flavors; well balanced and structured; medium-full tannin; lingering aftertaste. Showing some elegance and finesse, this wine is eminently drinkable and should also continue to develop with several more years of bottle aging. (April/May 2008)"

Chateau Teyssier (St Emilion) 2005: 90 pts - Wine Spectator: "Pure black cherry and berry aromas lead to a full body, with silky tannins and a concentrated, fruity finish. A pretty young red. Best after 2011. 11,665 cases made." –JS

"A melange of dark forest berries, overlaid with a layer of youthful oak which still needs to be shed to gain maximum enjoyment here I think. On the palate though, there is plenty of promise. Richly textured, weighty, in keeping with the vintage, but carried along by a fine substance and acidity. Rich, somewhat savoury, and firm in the finish, this is a young wine from a very reliable estate which has plenty of promise for the future. Nevertheless, after some time in the glass, I found it worked very well with food." 17+/20 (July 2009)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wine for Dummies ~ To Spit or Not to Spit? That is the question...

How to Spit Wine Like a Pro

It's hard enough for some people to make the transition to actually spitting out the wine, but when they finally do, they're faced with the daunting task of actually getting it in the bucket, which is harder than it looks, especially at crowded wine tastings where they're just as likely to get it all over themselves or someone else than the bucket.

Spitting is a skill that separates the novice from the professional wine taster. Enjoy, and remember to practice with water first.

As an alcoholic drink, wine can affect the consumer's judgment. At formal tastings wine tasters spit the wine out after they have assessed its quality. However, since wine is absorbed through the skin inside the mouth, tasting from twenty to twenty-five samplings can produce an intoxicating effect, depending on the alcoholic content of the wine.

It is not considered rude to spit out wine at a winery, even in the presence of the wine maker or owner. Generally, a spittoon will be provided. In some regions of the world, tasters simply spit on the floor or onto gravel surrounding barrels. It is polite to inquire about where to spit before beginning tasting.

To spit or not to spit?

Professional wine tasters long ago discovered that if they swallow every wine they taste, they're far less thoughtful tasters by the time they reach wine nine or ten. So spitting became acceptable. In wineries, professional tasters sometimes spit right onto the gravel floor or into the drains. In more elegant surroundings, they spit into a spittoon, usually a simple container like a large plastic cup (one per taster) or an ice bucket that two or three tasters share.

Many people are averse to spitting out wine. Not only have they been brought up to believe that spitting is rude, but they've also paid good money for the opportunity to taste the wines. Why waste them?

Drinking all of your wine at a tasting is not advisable for the following reasons:

• Evaluating the later wines will be difficult if you swallow the earlier ones. The alcohol you consume will cloud your judgment.

• Swallowing isn't really necessary in order to taste the wine fully. If you leave the wine in your mouth for eight to ten seconds, you'll be able to taste it thoroughly — without having to worry about the effects of the alcohol.

• If you're driving to the tasting, you're taking a risk driving home afterwards if you drink instead of spit. The stakes are high — your life and health, others' lives, and your driver's license. Why gamble?

The simple solution: Spit out the wine. Just about all experienced wine tasters do.
Believe it or not, spitting will seem to be a very normal thing to do at wine tastings after a while.

More wine etiquette:

Because smell is such an important aspect of wine tasting, courteous tasters try not to interfere with other tasters' ability to smell. This means:

• Smoking (anything) is a complete no-no at any wine tasting.

• Using any scent (perfume, after-shave lotion, scented hair spray, and so on) is undesirable. These foreign odors can really interfere with your fellow tasters' ability to detect the wine's aroma.

• Courteous wine tasters also do not volunteer their opinions about a wine until other tasters have had a chance to taste the wine. Serious tasters like to form their opinions independently and are sure to throw dirty looks at anyone who interrupts their concentration. Most of these wine-tasting etiquette guidelines apply to wine classes as well — and are also relevant when you visit wineries around the world.

Read more:
Wine for Dummies

Monday, October 11, 2010

Walk softly, and carry a little stick...

Zaccagnini Il Vino Dal Tralcetto
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2007

I love this wine, and - I love this bottle!  It's a new wine for us at World Market -  brought in for our annual red wine sale - and when I opened the case I was immediately captivated by the presentation of the bottle. I'm not usually a "label" buyer, but this is really an intriguingly beautiful piece of marketing magic.
The bottle, as you can see, has a little stick tied around the neck with a piece of raffia that runs down and under the label. It's not really a "stick" per se (it's more like a twig), it's a piece of grapevine from the vineyard where the grapes were sourced. Besides being a great marketing ploy, it's a terrific recycling effort using the (usually trashed or burned) vines that are pruned during the course of a normal year.
The use of vine cuttings on wine bottles isn't new, and a few other producers adorn their bottles in this manner. (And yes, I bought those wines, too! Okay, I'm a sucker for anything "wine" and the idea of having a bit of the vine that produced the bottle that I happen to be drinking... Well, that just heightens my enjoyment of the wine itself!)
Ahhh, but what of the wine itself? Deep pomegranate in color, with a magenta rim, the wine smells a bit gamey, with black raspberries and a whisper of black licorice or anisette. The game notes blow off with a bit of glass swirling, but are replaced by a smoky flavor, soft tannins and dry, sour cherries with a bit of chalk-dust minerality. There is a nice amount of acidity, making food pairings quite easy. The Cantina Zaccagnini is medium-bodied - not too many legs or tears on the glass, and weighs in at 13% ABV. Fermented in steel, followed by 4 months in Slavonic oak.

All in all, a wine that you can buy for yourself, or give as a gift... If you loved the beautiful bottle and presentation, so will everyone else. After all, who doesn't want to own a piece of a vineyard?
Find it ~ Buy it ~ Try it ~ Love it!
Salud! KathyD
 PS ~ I opened a bottle of Zaccagnini while doing this review, afterward I sat down to some cheese ravioli with marinara sauce and parmesean cheese - OMGosh, suddenly the wine became fuller, bigger and richer. As I said, a wine that is perfect with food! You gotta try this wine.

PPS ~ I had a half bottle of the wine left, so I corked it and left it on the counter. The next night, prepared dinner of pasta florentine and poured a glass of the left-over Zaccagnini to accompany it, as I raised the glass for the sniffy-sniff I was struck by the powerful aromatics of the wine. It was much more open than the first night and fruit-forward in its nose. Had the flavor changed as well?
I sipped and discovered that the acidity and tannins had greatly softened. It was like drinking silk ~ truly lovely. The pairing with spinach was NOT a good one; I'd recommend sticking with a traditional red sauce. Salud! KathyD

$15.99 Sale @ World Market - Reg. $23.99
Not widely available... Check a fine wine store if there isn't a World Market in your area.
The Wine Advocate likes it, too! 90 Points
"Deep garnet-purple colour. Ripe cherry and tobacco leaf aromas with a touch of game. Medium-full body with good concentration of fruit and a medium to high level of balancing acidity. Medium+ level of grainy tannins. Long finish. Tasted July 2009."

Zaccagnini Il Vino Dal Tralcetto Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2007

Friday, August 27, 2010

The PHANTOM has made an appearance again!

The PHANTOM has made an appearance again!

I’m so pumped about the early release of the Phantom from Bogle! The last three years in a row this has been my holiday wine. I buy two cases, (one for personal consumption, and one to give) and for every holiday event/party/get-together that I attend it's my host gift. I like doing this because so many people have never tried Phantom and it's my way of spreading some Phantom love around...

Once you try it - you're hooked. You'll join the ranks of those on Phantom waiting lists around the country!  This is a small production, limited release wine that is eagerly awaited by a savvy group of people who have had the pleasure of trying it.

Each year the blend is slightly different, this year a 53-44% split on the Old Vine Petite Sirah & Zinfandel, with just a touch of the Old Vine Mourvedre. This is the only blended wine that Bogle produces, with the best of their fruit going into this cult classic.

 My cellar contains remnants of previous releases of ’03, ’04, ’05 and the ’06 – Can’t wait to call friends and let them know we’re having an early PHANTOM party!  This wine just gets better, and better, and better with time in the bottle. I see a vertical tasting looming on the horizon! How awesome is that?

$19.99 @ World Market
Find it ~ Buy it ~ Try it ~ Love it!
Salud! KathyD

Click on the link below to go to the tasting notes for this year’s release!

Monday, August 23, 2010

You say it's your birthday... Gonna have a good time...

My daughter and my wine just turned 21!
 Time to celebrate - where's the corkscrew?

In 1989 I knew very little about wine ( I think I was a California "Chablis" drinker at the time), but I was a new mother and the founding member of the Baby Bunch, a group of about 15 new moms who met in the hospital where we gave birth. After being discharged, we continued to meet at a new mother exercise program sponsored by the hospital. When that ended, the Baby Bunch was born and we met weekly at different homes each Wednesday for a Baby Bunch Lunch, (Imagine that - I must have an affinity for that day of the week!) 

One of my tasks as founding member was to write the Baby Bunch News for the group, a monthly newsletter with tips and interesting new-mom type information.  As we approached the babies first birthdays I wrote an article about birthday wine, advising the moms to seek out wines made in the year of the babies birth. The purpose being to open the wines when the "babies" turned 21 and everyone would share the special bottle. I'm not certain how many of the other moms did the Birthday Wine thing, but I thought it was fun and there began my quest for birthday wine.

Of course, I was completely unaware that in 1989 I would be unable to find a wine made in 1989. I remember thinking they had all sold out! So, I kept searching the racks each time I ventured into a store that sold wine. One day (I think my daughter was about 2 - so perhaps 1991), I came across a 1989, it was a Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I probably paid $7-8 for the bottle. The salesman told me that the wine should be kept in a cool environment if it was to be enjoyed at a later date. I'm certain he never imagined that I was buying it to store for 19 more years!

I carried the bottle home carefully and put it into the refrigerator (standing up). Every time I opened the fridge door, I would see that bottle proudly standing there and think to myself, "What a clever person I am! We'll open that bottle and it will be wonderful and special, since old wine is always better than new wine!" 

We moved six times between 1991 and 2010 and we carted that wine with us from place to place, carrying it as if it was the baby. I remember we moved from Atlanta to Minneapolis in 1991 and we drove across the country with the bottle swaddled in layer after layer of men's tube sox to protect it, always keeping in mind that day in the future when we'd open the bottle and everyone would exclaim how fantastic it was and, of course, what a great mom I was to have had the forethought to save the wine, thereby adding some grandeur to the occasion!

One day a friend, who was very much into wine, had us over for dinner and served a bottle from a case they had just purchased.  It was a Cabernet from Smother's - Remick Ridge in Sonoma. The vintage? You guessed it - 1989! I almost fell out of my seat while explaining my two-year quest for the Birthday Wine.   They graciously gave us a bottle to be saved for our special occasion. I placed it next to the Kendall Jackson, secure in the knowledge that, surely, I must be the greatest mom of all time - after all, I now had TWO birthday bottles!

In 1998 my husband and I visited Napa with friends. By now I was also into wine  - having two bottles cellared down for the long-term, I was considered somewhat of an expert :o) - and had begun to expand my knowledge base by reading such technical volumes as, Wine for Dummies.   During our visit to wine country we sat in the tasting room at Beringer and were poured samples of  the 1989 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, it was delicious and I convinced my husband to purchase a bottle ($125!) since it was for our "special occasion". (Visions of sainthood in the gallery of Best Mothers danced in my head, for I now had THREE bottles of birthday wine!)

Here are a couple of nicely aged Smother's Brothers!
Over the next couple of years I had started to haunt wine shops, trolling the aisles, reading labels and tasting notes. On one such visit I stopped dead in my tracks, staring at the bottle before me in the clearance bin - it was Oakford Vineyards, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon... 1989. Be still my heart! With a $45 price tag I grabbed that one, lone bottle (ever so gently, of course) and carried it, cradled in my arms, to the cashier who wrapped it carefully in white tissue paper and bagged it for me. All the way home I was silent, my mind racing... Surely, I am the best mother in the ENTIRE universe, for I, and only I, have found not one, not two - NO, not even three, but FOUR, count them FOUR bottles of BIRTHDAY WINE!

Fast forward to yesterday and the opening of the birthday wine... Last week (in anticipation of the big moment) I moved the bottles from their position in the lay-down rack of the temperature and humidity controlled storage area to a stand-up shelf to allow any sediment that had formed to fall to the bottom of the bottles. At the last hour, I decided to open just one of the bottles and selected the Smother's - Remick Ridge.  (In 1994 Wine Spectator awarded this wine a whopping 82 points and recommended drinking it "now"... "Light and simple with herb, currant and spice notes. Drink now. 681 cases made. –")

I used a foil cutter to remove the capsule on the top of the bottle and then examined the cork - it looked in good condition, so I gently inserted the corkscrew. Right away I could feel the cork giving way, I tugged on the corkscrew and tried to remove the cork. It came up in a jagged piece and began to turn into dust. I reinserted the corkscrew and pulled up another chunk of cork; I repeated this process several more times until the entire cork was removed.

The big moment had arrived! I carefully poured the wine through a filter (to catch any remaining pieces of cork or sediment) into the waiting glasses.
Sediment in the bottle - not a lot considering the wine was unfiltered and unfined...

I took a tentative Gary Vee sniffy-sniff.  Hmmm... I could still smell the fruit, so that was promising. (When a wine is getting tired, or old, it will most often lose its fruit first.) I didn't want to swirl the wine for fear of losing whatever aromatics it still had. (Older wines can be very delicate and should be handled gently and with care.) We distributed the glasses, made a very quick toast to the birthday girl, and then dove into the wine.

Looks of surprise were on everyone's face - the wine was still good! YAY! The rich, heavy California Cabernet Sauvignon had mellowed. It's hard tannins had softened into silky liquid strands of fruit and structure. In fact, my mother, who NEVER drinks red wine, commented that it had none of the "dry, bitterness" that she detests in red wines, and didn't smell "alcoholic or strong like most red wines" did.

As we sipped our wine, I explained about tannins and how, with oak and age, they can change from big, harsh and astringent, to smooth and supple - helping the wine to feel balanced in your mouth. We paired the wine with a peppercorn and olive, Parmesan spread and crackers; it went well and didn't overpower the, now more delicate, Smother's Brothers Remick Ridge Cabernet. 

All in all, a satisfying experience that I would recommend to every parent of a newborn...

Find it ~ Buy it ~ CELLAR it ~ Love it!
Salud! KathyD

PS ~ Did I win the coveted "Mother of the Year" award? Nah, but I wouldn't have changed a thing, the hunt for the infamous Birthday Bottles was fun, and the anticipation of opening these wines over the last 19 years was exciting!

PPS ~ I decided to save the other bottles for other momentous occasions that will come up: Graduation from college or grad school; Engagement; Wedding; Birth of a grandchild; or maybe when everything else in the cellar is gone and times are desperate!

Here are some links to reviews on the other birthday wines:

BERINGER Private Reserve 1989: In 1993 Robert Parker said it would stand up through 2007, so I think we have a good chance of another decade!

OAKFORD Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1989: Wine Spectator: Score: 88  Release Price: $25
Issue: Nov 15, 1994: "Offers spice, mint and currant flavors and finishes with firm tannins. Ready now but it should drink well over the next few years. 1,000 cases made."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I went to TexSom 2010 and all I brought back was a lousy spit cup...


Q:     So, 165 wines in one sitting? Just exactly how is that done? I mean, who props you up and rolls you from tasting station to tasting station?

A:     Well, it's not like that. I mean, yes, you DO go from station to station, and each station might have 6-12 wines represented and open for tasting. But, you DON'T drink them, you TASTE them. Therein lies the difference, my friend... AND, even when you TASTE, you don't swallow. I know, I know - Gore didn't inhale - yada, yada, yada.  It's all about asking yourself some questions: Why am I here - business, or pleasure? What do I hope to gain from this tasting event - expansion of my palate, or free wine? What sort of impression do I want to make - industry professional, or wine-tourist? (I was taught this last one by my friend and former boss, Tabitha Crocker, and I try to remember it whenever I step into a room to sample or evaluate wine.)

I have attended some two hour wine tastings where, literally, 300 wines were open for you to sample. Of course you can't event attempt to sample all of them. Swallowing a one-ounce pour from each would be the equivalent of drinking 13 and a half bottles of wine. You'd be dead of alcohol poisoning! Seriously, it's just not done. Here are some suggestions if you're fortunate enough to attend a large tasting event:

When you enter an open table tasting like that, you are given a program listing the wines to be poured. In a perfect world you would scan the list, look for wines that meet your needs that day, and head to those tables. Again, asking yourself some questions:

Work: If I am looking to supplement something in my set at work, am I looking for value wines or premium wines? Red, or white? Pinot Noir, or Cabernet? Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc? Imported or domestic?

Personal: Yes, it's okay to admit you're there for personal reasons! If I am trying to expand my palate, I look at the list and head toward tables representing regions and wines that I want to become more familiar with - Loire Valley Chenin Blanc and Chinon, Spain for some Priorat, New Zealand Pinot Noir...

 If I want to practice food and wine pairings, I grab a plate of food and head for the tables with wines I think will pair well - most of the time I find I'm happy with my choices, but sometimes I have a big miss, and that's good, too, because I have learned something. And that's always awesome!

So, you've checked out the list of wine being poured, you've marked or noted what is of interest to you, narrowing it down from 300 to maybe 25, or 30 - Good for you!! Head to those tables and the tasting begins:

Wait Your Turn: There is always a line, hold your glass by the stem and wait until you're facing the pourer.

Be Nice: Tell them you'd like to sample the _________. (Be nice, they are giving you free wine, so smile, say please, and thank you.) Then hold your glass out and they'll pour a one-ounce sample.

Don't just drink it, you should evaluate it using the three S's:

See, Sniff, Sample

See: Hold the glass (by the stem), look at the wine and its color; swirl it a bit (Be careful! you don't want to spill it on your nice white shirt! And that's another thing Tabby taught me - Never wear white to a wine tasting!), so swirl it and check out how it hangs on the sides of the glass.

Sniff: Now do the little "sniffy-sniff" (ala Gary Vaynerchuk) and see if anything smells familiar, if not - well, then do you LIKE the aroma, or not?

Sip: Okay, now we're to the sample part (finally!) - take a small sip, hold it in your mouth and splash it around a bit, then spit it out. Yes, you heard me - SPIT IT OUT.

Every table will have a dump/spit bucket there, and yes - people DO use them. Don't get so disturbed... You'll get another sip, after all - an ounce is pretty big!  If you try the first sip and don't like the sample poured, DUMP IT OUT.

Do not drink it... Life's too short, the tasting is too long, and there are too many good wines to actually swallow something you don't like. Just take your glass and pour the sample into the dump bucket on the table, say thank you to the pourer and walk away, or ask for a sample from the next bottle. You won't hurt their feelings - that's what the dump buckets are there for.

Now you can decide whether to sip and swallow, or sip and spit, the second taste.  If you have a long list of wines to get through, you just might want to spit all samples, or at least 90% of them. Save the swallowing for the ones that make your mouth do the happy dance when you try them, believe me - you'll know which ones they are!

So, now you're tasting like a pro, aren't you proud of yourself?

Tune in for our next lesson on how to balance a tiny plate piled high with wonderful food, a fork, a napkin in one hand and your wine glass in the other hand... Awww, that's not too hard - until you want to take a bite!

Wine tasting, it's not just an event - it's an ADVENTURE!

Salud! KathyD

What do you get when you put hundreds of professional wineaux in a room with 5,000 glasses, 175 different wines, 28 Master Sommeliers, one Master of Wine, three chemists, and one PhD of Geology?

The 2010 TexSom Conference,
of course!

TexSom is an annual event held by the Texas Sommelier Association, a group of Texas wine professionals. This is the fifth year for the TexSom conference and it is unique in that it gathers together so many Master Sommeliers and Certified Wine Educators in one place for the purpose of sharing their knowledge and experience with others who are not as far along on their journey into the world of wine.

As a CSW I enjoyed the priviledge of attending this year's conference and was thrilled to be in the same room with these expert wineaux, who normally charge about a thousand dollars for courses and tastings like we experienced at TexSom 2010.  Attendees paid less than $300 for the entire two-day conference and Grand Tasting!

Even though it was TEX-Som, writers, industry professionals and lecturers from around the country were in attendance. After all, this event is unprecedented. According to Drew Hendricks, co-founder of the event and director of beverage education for Pappas Restaurants in Houston, “It is unheard of anywhere else in the world to have so many Master Sommeliers and other wine experts in one place at one time, offering up their knowledge. And to think it's right here in our own backyard!"

The classes ranged from Chardonnay Around the World, to Wine Flaws, and Geographical Influences on Northwest Wines (hence, the PhD of Geology!).

It was a terrific learning experience, and galvanizing in that it solidified in me the desire to continue my personal journey into the world of wine. I can't really say what I'm searching for, but I’m certain there will be joy (and a LOT of wine) in the journey!

The next few posts will go over my tasting notes, session notes, and provide some photos of the experience.

SESSIONS: Chardonnay Around the World; Emerging Regions: Southern Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia; Classic German Regions and Styles; Emerging Region: Southern France from Gascony to Provence; Emerging Region: South America; and Classic Region: Portugal; Terroir Focus: Geographical Influences on Northwest Wines; Classic Region: Greece; Management of a Beverage Program; and lastly, Technical Seminar: ETS Labs Wine Flaws.

I hope you enjoy this peek into TexSom 2010!
Salud! KathyD

Tasting and Conference Room @ the Four Seasons Resort and Club

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Let's visit the Chicken Ranch...

You've never heard of 
Chicken Ranch Cabernet?
You, my friend, deserve to treat yourself right and find a bottle of this terrific Napa Valley single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Produced by Trinchero Family Estates, the people that have brought you everything from Newman's Own, Little Boomie, Menage a Trois, Folie a Deux and Joel Gott, to Sutter Home. (Yep, that Sutter Home, responsible for the development of White Zinfandel and the cultivation of wine as a daily beverage for the average American back in the 70's.) Wine Spectator said that Bob Trinchero had “introduced more Americans to wine on the table than anyone else in history.” Now that's quite an accomplishment!

Trinchero Family Estates in Napa is laughingly referred to by their staff as the, "House that White Zin built..." largely because their White Zinfandel is the cash cow that provides the resources that have allowed them to develop other very successful brands. Bringing us back to their own eponymous label ~ Trinchero Napa Valley.  They produce 12 high-end, low-production wines; six of them are single- vineyard Cabs... And all luscious.

Their most readily available (3,330 cases produced), and entry-priced ($35.00), Cabernet is the Chicken Ranch. The grapes for the Chicken Ranch are sourced out of the famed Rutherford Bench growing area of Napa, along Highway 29.  This wine will be a bit difficult to locate because it has (mostly) a restaurant distribution; it's usually available through the winery, but the '07 vintage has been sold out for awhile and the '08 is not expected to be released until later this fall.

So, alot of information about the wine, but how does it taste? What's it drinking like right now?

In the glass the Chicken Ranch is very pretty, crimson to purple in color, with a tinge of magenta/pink on the rim. With a bit of air, it begins to unfold with aromas of sweet, dusty fruit. In the mouth it feels medium to full-bodied, with a hit of tart, red-fruit* up front ~ like sour cherries, or cranberries, wrapped in a deep, dark chocolate powder, it tastes dusty, with a chalky/mineral quality and soft dry tannins. The finish is fairly long, with spice-like, lightly licorice notes.  I opened this bottle two days ago and it was delicious, but it has continued to evolve and open up and is still fresh today. The winery suggests it is ready to drink now, but capable of being cellared for another 10 years.
Find it ~ Buy it ~ Try it ~ Love it!
Salud! KathyD

* In my review, I said that I tasted tart, red fruit ~ like cranberries or sour cherries... I wasn't content with that and I googled red currants, because I've only tasted red currant jam, and that is definitely sweet. Click on the link and you will find that red currants are "quite tart," so now I have expanded my palate to include red currants ~ Awesome! That's why I love studying wine, every day is a new discovery that will enhance your wine experience! kd

Trinchero Napa Valley, and their Chicken Ranch Vineyard Cabernet:

San Francisco Chronicle Top 15 out of 80 wines tasted...

San Francisco Chronicle, May 2010:  Trinchero Chicken Ranch Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($35) "With help from winemaker Mario Monticelli, the Trincheros are getting serious about their single-vineyard efforts. Produced from a parcel on the edge of St. Helena this shows off the subtlety of valley-floor fruit done right. Filled with a juicy plum notes, plus accents of dried leaves and graphite. Forty-five percent new French oak needs time to fold in, but it's a classic, seamless profile with solid herb-edged tannins."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Happy Champagne Day!!

If there was EVER a day to drink Champagne (or any sparkling wine), today is the day! 

It is offically National Champagne Day, a day to recognize Dom Perignon and others who contributed to the development and perfection of this awesome libation! 

There are some who say that December 31 ~ New Year's Eve ~ is the official day of recognition for Champagne, but truly it is August 4.

Of course, bubbly can only be called Champagne if it is from the Champagne region in France, otherwise the proper term is 'sparkling wine', 'bubbly', or ~ the other French term for a sparkling wine made from an area outside of the Champagne region is 'cremant'. (Although 'cremant' has three distinctly different definitions, but for today's purposes it will mean "not from Champagne!")

Classic Champagne is made from a blend of three different varietals: Pinot Noir, (yes ~ your white bubbly is made from a red grape!), Pinot Meunier (another red grape pronounced: moo-nyay) and Chardonnay. The wine will be white/golden if no skins are used in the production of the wine. A rose` results when the juice remains in contact with the skins for a prolonged period of time.

In the US ~ particularly California,  most sparkling wine is made using only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Champagne undergoes two fermentations, one in the tank/barrel, etc. and the second one takes place in the bottle ~ this is the 'method champenoise' or traditional method.  Sparkling wine can also be made in the Charmat method (in tank for the second fermentation), and then bottled/corked afterward.

For a quick, fun look at the sparkling wine process here is a video from Schramsberg, in California.

Don't forget to celebrate this day with a bottle of Bubbly ~ you'll be glad you did!

Find it~ Buy it~ Try it~ Love it!
Salud! KathyD 

"Come quickly ~ I am tasting the stars!"
Dom Perignon 1693


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