Monday, July 28, 2008

Notes on three whites tried this past weekend

A large birthday gathering yesterday, coupled with heat, humidity, and access to a pool made a great stage to try out three white wines from three disparate locales--Italy, Oregon, and Portugal. Listed in order of worst to first, using our standard 1-5 scale, the results are below:

1. 2005 Spago d'Oro Pinot Grigio Veneto (Italy)--this pale yellow, light-bodied wine had the textbook aromatics going on for a Pinot Grigio (flowers, fruit, etc.). It was very acidic and low in sweetness, and had a moderate length. It wasn't bad, but had no pizazz at all. I have one more of these bottles at home, but may unload it at the next party. Cost: $8.99 Score: 2.5

2. 2006 Anne Amie Cuvee Amrita (Oregon, 35% muller-thurgau, 33% pinot gris, 13% riesling, 10% chardonnay, 6% viognier and 3% melon)--the nose was initially very stingy, but after a swirling of this medium bodied blend, the aroma of fruit salad came forth, as well as apple juice. There was also a scent of wet grass (slightly). The taste was identical to me of a watermellon jolly rancher, less some of the sweetness. The acidity was well balanced with the fruity, almost candylike flavors. It had great length overall. This was pretty tasty, and unlike other whites I've tried previously. Not bad at all! Cost: $15.99 Score: 3.5

3. Casal Garcia Vinho Verde White (Portugal, White Blend)--this was very fruity and sweet smelling. Upon drinking it reminded me of a slightly alcoholic berry flavored Powerade. There was very slight effervescence, and with so little alcohol in this wine (10.5%), it went down very easily. There was very little complexity to this light bodied treat, and honestly, at $4.99, it didn't need it-- Score: 4.0

Until next time!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

California Central Coast Wineries: As Good as NAPA?

By Wine Legend's California Columnist Paul Santinelli


When people think of California Wine Country, they immediately think Napa. Well folks, there are many places for wine in California that meet or beat expectations set by Napa.

I saw a great tee-shirt that had me in stiches... "Napa is for auto parts. Paso Robles is for wine." San Luis Obispo County is producing some incredible wines. This county, nestled between the Central California Coast and inland valleys opened my eyes to new Rhone varietals and in some cases less bold, but more bouquet rich Zins, Cabernets and blends.

We hit five wineries yesterday off Highway 46 between Cambria and Paso Robles. If you only have time for two, Norman Vineyards and Adelaida Cellars are must visits. I'm a big fan of small, family owned estates vs. mass production. I'm also a big fan of friendly, knowledgeable staff who aren't starring down their nose at you and reminding you that tastings are $10.

Norman Vineyards was such an experience. Their tasting room and barrel room is connected and you are greeted by a sweet woman from Mansfield, MA. She poured and poured and poured. They are known for their 'Monster Zinfandel.' However, they had an outstanding reserve Cabernet and a Meritage that were nosefuls of fruit and land. Siobhan liked the Norman Viognier so much, she bought two bottles.

Adelaida has such personality. The man behind the counter, a retired stock broker from SoCal, did a fantastic job of prefacing each pour with a story. Adelaida Cellars had two wines that are must buys, even though they are a bit pricey. Their Nebbiolo was outstanding and had an incredible bouquet. It was so good that I added it to the collection of wines being sent to my childhood friend, Anthony LaVista, who writes a wine blog. They also had two Cabernet offerings that were incredible. But at $60 and $75/bottle, they were pricey alternatives to fantastic lineup of wines.

Other wineries visited and worth a mention: Opolo, Justin and Tablas Creek. All very good.

The thing I liked about Paso Robles wineries... it's not just Cabs, Zins and Chardonnays. Siobhan is a big fan of Viognier and this place had quite a selection. I'm not partial to Viognier, as it is usually too sweet for my taste buds, but some of these wines were incredible. I also found some great Rhone varietals at Tablas Creek, some spanish styled in Tempranillo and the Italian styled, Adelaida 2004 Nebbiolo.

Paso Robles is well worth a weekend adventure!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Results of the July 19 Wine Tasting

Anthony, Joe, and I (the smallest group to date for an organized, themed wine tasting) converged on my house for an afternoon of sampling wines, dinner, and post-dinner relaxation around a fire pit against the backdrop of classic 80's/90's dance favorites.

This collaboration of wine and drink consisted of the following menu items:

Anthony: Various imported block cheeses (Swiss, Gouda, etc.)
Joe: Chocolate Cappucino cake
Jon-Paul: Marinated London Broil and Tri-Color Torellini Alfredo

Before eating dinner, of course, was the sampling of 6 wines from France--3 whites and 3 reds from various regions (one of which was a curve ball, not quite from France). Below are the results of worst to first in scoring (using our standard 1-5 scale, 5 being the highest):

1. Domaine des Grecaux Hermera Coteau du Languedoc 2002 (Red Languedoc, 60% Syrah, 40% Grenache), 13.5% ABV. This wine had a pronounced odor of tobacco, leather, and over-ripened (possibly even rotten) berries. The slight brown color to it concerned Anthony and Joe that oxidation had reared it's ugly head. The taste was also that of tobacco leaf, high in tanins, and not much in the way of good flavor. It was a turnoff to everyone, and at $19, or any price for that matter, is a major pass--Average Score: 2.166

2. Chateau D'Auvenier 2006 Neuchatel (White from Switzerland, the "curveball"), 11.5% ABV. This effervescent wine had a nice color to it, but very little in the way of odor. Upon taste, slight pear and lime flavors were detected, and was high in acidity. Though the lower alcohol made the wine an interesting experiment, it was an overall pass for the whole group, particularly at the price level of $32--Average Score: 2.333

3. (This ranking was a MAJOR surprise to me) 2005 Trimbach Gewurztraminer, (White Alsace wine), 13.5% ABV. Having a nose of pineapple and grass, this medium bodied white had a nice color to it. Upon tasting, it bore the flavors of sour apple (Granny Smith, maybe?), accompanied with citrus and other sweet components to it. While I adored the 2004 vintage (see, this one for me was only a solid performer, not an 'above and beyond' kinda effort. Anthony and Joe, however, were not impressed with it. For the price point of $18, I'll stick with 2004. Average Score: 2.66

4. Daniel Rion Vosne Romanee Les Beaux Monts, 2001 (Red Burgundy), 13% ABV. This very light, interesting wine had an unusual odor profile, combining tobacco, berry juice, and cherry-flavored Nyquil. It's slight rust coloring to it resembled more classic reds, an appealing characteristic to me. Upon taste, it was a nice, light effort, with dark fruit and medium tanins everpresent. It was a solid effort to Joe and me, but not a favorite to Anthony. For it's steep price of $65, it will likely not be purchased by any of us, despite it's not-so-bad ratings. Average Score: 3.0

5. Chateau Haut Redon 2004 (Red Bordeaux blend, 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc), 12% ABV. This by far had the nicest nose of all the red wines sampled, with the recognizable vanilla and oak scents. The medium body and pure red coloring was also interesting. Upon taste, medium tanins with not much length were accompanied by a creamy vanilla flavor, similar to a Werther's Original candy, less most of the sweetness. Coupled with cheese, this wine elevated itself from "good" to "marvelous". Considering this blend was only $7.99, it could be argued this wine "brought the thunder" (to echo a common quote of Gary Vaynerchuk). Joe was the least impressed with this wine, but still felt it was good enough for a solid score. Average Score: 3.5

6. La Moussiere 2006 Sancerre Alphonse Mellot (White Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley), 13% ABV-this very light colored effort had a strong lemony scent (lemon cleaner to me). Upon tasting, it continued it's citrus theme, high in acidity, and very dry. It was very light and had GREAT length. Everyone detected a lemon peel flavor on their pallates, and were impressed with this Sauvignon Blanc. Despite being one of the highest priced efforts of the tasting, this one would be worth purchasing again at $32--Average Score: 4.0

This was the first tasting I can recall where such a large percentage of the wines were not up to snuff. While recognizing not every day can be a sunny day (so to speak), I can say that it was nice to finally get the opportunity to host a tasting, and look forward already for another chance to participate in (or host) another event.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Visit to ALBA Winery, Milford N.J.

Jon Paul, Dawson and myself and Max took a short trip out to Warren county on Saturday to take advantage of the state's wine trail weekend. The trip was well worth the effort as it turned out to be quite an enjoyable afternoon. We ended up visiting Alba Winery in Milford, NJ, which is located about a 1/2 hour south west of my home. Our visit began with a stop in their tasting room where we sampled 13 of their wines. The tasting room was located in a actual wine cellar. It was a very nice atmosphere, sampling their wines surrounded by dozens of huge oak barrels aging various types of wine. A $5 tasting fee entitled us to taste all thier wines and got us a complimentary wine glass.

The wines we tasted were:
1.Mainsail White (which JP purchased)
2. Dry Riesling
3. Riesling (which Dawson purchased)
4. Barrel Reserve Chardonnay
5. Rose
6. Old Mill Red (a Blend)
7. Chambourcin (which I purchased)
8. Heritage 2003 (Red Blend)
9. Alba Apple Wine
10. Blueberry Wine
11. Red Raspberry
12. Vintage Port
13. Dolcina
For the most part, we all liked the Whites, especially the Reislings and the Chamourcin. Also, as I recall, we could all do without the fruit wines, especially the Raspberry.

Next we were taken on a short tour of the winery where we were shown how the grapes are fermented, pressed, barrelled and corked. This was quite interesting and Max enjoyed the bottling machine the best. Finally we took a walk through the vineyard which was 30 plus acres of various types of grapes. The interesting part about the vineyard itself was the how little water the vines actually require. In fact were were told they prefer, near drought conditions. Each vine has a root systems that goes 10ft deep and is able to absore enought moisture from the earth to produce fruit. Because it was so early in the season, the grapes on the vines were hard as marbles and could not be eaten.

All in all, it was a fun and interesting afternoon and we all agreed we'd look to visit other New Jersey wineries in the future.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Worth the Wait--1999 La Spinetta Barbaresco Vursu Vigneto Gallina

A combination of the extended holiday weekend and my approaching 39th birthday compelled me to dust off a wine in my collection given to me a number of years ago by Joe Fernicola at his wedding. It was a 1999 La Spinetta Barbaresco Vursu Vigneto Gallina, currently retailing at a staggering $141.00. While my interest in wine collecting in 2002-2003 was really non-existent, I was strongly encouraged to take good care of this bottle, as it would yield dividends after a minimum of 5-6 years of aging. So I did.

On July 7, 2008, my efforts to preserve this gem were put to the test. This wine was matched up with some good BBQ chicken and mushrooms. Sharing the occasion was a 2006 Colosi Sicilia Rosso Nero D'Avola provided by Dawson, priced at around $8.00. This wine had a nice medium-heavy body to it with an unbelievably pronounced strawberry and creamy vanilla nose. It had a very sweet, jammy, almost strawberry preserve kind of taste--a 'fruit bomb', to say the least. This wine was very enjoyable and for the price, it can be argued it 'brought the thunder'. The average Score for this wine was a 4.0.

Ok, so onto the La Spinetta. It had a rusty red coloring to it, and had a medium-heavy body. After a blast of alcohol to the nose, it calmed down very quickly, then presented a very leathery and cork aroma, with hints of earth and vegetal tones (Dawson even detected manure). The taste was an unmistakable bowl of unripened berries to me with very little, if at all, sweetness on the mid-palate when tasted. Despite the early concern of alcohol (14.5% reported on the bottle), it was very subtle and very smooth, medium tanins, and very dry, but not mouth-puckering. It had a tremendous length and was extremely well balanced. Dawson detected tobacco on the back end, and though the wine got a bit hot on the tail end, we were both very satisfied. Dawson rated this wine a 4.0. Having a personal interest in the upbringing of this wine and seeing it pay off huge dividends in the end, some bias did come through in my final rating of 5.0, thus giving this wine an average score of 4.5. Both Dawson and I thoroughly believe Anthony would have given this wine a HUGE seal of approval.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

NJ Wine Trail Weekend July 12th & 13th

Did you know that we have 34 wineries in the little ole state of New Jersey? Surprising huh? It certainly was to me. The idea of wineries so closes to my home is intriguing to say the least, so when I saw an add for "Wine Trail Weekends" I had to look a little further. It seems all the local wineries collaborate under the umbrella of the Garden State Wine Growers Association and agree to hold 3 weekends a year where there are free open tours of their vineyards. They take place in February, July and November. The following link gives you more information:

I'm definitely going to take advantage of this up coming weekend and take a walk through one if not more of our local vineyards. Anyone interested in coming along? Please let me know. I can't say it will be like visiting Napa or Sonoma, but I sure we'll have a good time. Joe F and I certain had fun at the wine festival in May. Just need to decide whether to hit the 4 vineyards in Warren county or the 3 in Sussex. Hope you will consider joining me.

Anatomy of two not-so-notable summer wines

Hey gang. I took an opportunity on this 6th of July to try two wines flying below the radar in my collection as part of an afternoon birthday party. One of which was a 2005 Il Cascinone, a Piedmont Cortese, from Italy (rolling in at $10.99 USD) and the other was a 2005 Vista Del Mar, a Pinot Grigio from California (hovering at a low $5.99 USD). Below are my ratings using our standard 1-5 scale.

The first on deck was the Il Cascinone, which bore a very citrus nose with a hint of alcohol. Tanin level was low on this wine, but the alcohol was present but not overbearing. There was a nice balance of lime, pineapple, and lemon juice throughout the length. Nothing extraordinary, but not a bad effort. I would purchase again but only if the extra $$ were there and the planets aligned just right. Rating: 3.0.

The second was the wine I'd hope would "bring the thunder", given the price point, and given my interest in lighter, summer wines. This wine bore a body resembling apple juice both in body and color. The taste was a slight hint of peaches and apples with an ever present alcohol flavor through it's medium length. Also low on tanins and acidity, this wine was not terrible, but the heavier body than other Pinot Grigios I've had in the past earns the grade "had a better". Rating: 2.5.

Friday, July 4, 2008

US Imports of Brunello Cleared

As a follow up on the Brunello scandal, the Italian government on July 3rd issued a decree stating that they would guarantee that all Brunello exports were genuine. So thankfully, the threat of US blocking imports is over. Read the article on Winespectator on line. Here a link:,1197,4474,00.html

And by the way....HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!