Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My New Adventure into Sparkling Wines

I take my wine seriously and want to learn more. So today I bought a couple of bottles of sparkling wine.

Last week I felt like I needed to write my newspaper column about bubbly since New Year's Eve was approaching. But I had to do it based on research and virtually zero personal experience. Frankly, I can't remember the last time I even tasted champagne or sparkling wine. It's been a long time.

So I wrote the column, which I'll post to the blog next week. And today I picked up a couple of bottles of sparking wine to get a better feel for those wines.

The wine I opened tonight - New Year's Eve - was a Spanish "A. Duboy" sparkling white wine. I could find very little about the Spanish winery but I did enjoy it more than I thought I would. I 'm not a big white wine fan, though there are whites I like.

This bubbly was pretty easy to drink. The bubbles were rather modest. Anyone who has ever had a champagne-like product may have had the bubbles in the nose sort of feel and this wine had nothing like that. I would describe the Duboy by saying the bubbles were restrained.

The wine was aromatic and had a definite hint of grapefruilt for me. It was easy to drink. I struggled to form a real opinion about it but I'm sure as I open the next bottle or the next I'll then start to build a base for what I like. It was okay, enjoyable, the bubbles were fun and it was easy to drink.

I paid $15.95 for this bottle at Deano's Vino in Fountian Square in Indianapolis, though I did find it a little cheaper online.

I also picked up a bottle of sparkling Pinot Noir from Spain today I'll try another time. I'm headed back to Indy Saturday and may buy another.

Yes, New Year's Eve is the big time for sparkling or bubbly wines. But they are also popular for summer weddings and special occasions throughout the year. I want to know more about such wines. The only way to do it is to drink some!

Happy 2009!!

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May 2009 Bring You Great Happiness and Good Health

I bought some sparkling wine today and going to open one tonight - New Year's Eve. I'll do a post later (typos included) or write it up tomorrow. It's a sparkler from Spain!

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Great Way to Develop an Interest in Italian Wines

One of the fears of doling out advice as I do in my every-other-week newspaper column is a sense of responsibility. I really have this desire to help people enjoy better wine.

So when I suggest a particular wine or a particular grape, I do try to consider it carefully.

There aren't many folks who haven't had some sort of red italian wine with some pasta - even if you're not a wine drinker. Many of us, me included, started with Riunite Lambrusco from the grocery store. Riunite got me started drinking wine. And if it wasn't that for you, it was probably white zinfindal. The path to wine appreciation starts with very humble origins indeed.

Lambrusco dates back to Roman times in Italy. It's an old and noble grape that today is best known for it's cheap supermarket product, though it can be used - and is - to make other wines.

But we are all more serious about our wines now, right; so we are looking for something a bit more sophisticated. I'd recommend a Dolcetto wine. This evening I opened a nice bottle of Dolcetto D' Alba and enjoyed it with some dynamite pasta.

The wine was a 2005 from the San Guilio region. San Guilio is an island in the Piedmont region in northern Italy. This particular wine, (I couldn't find a picture of the label) was a very nice, easy to drink, and enjoyable. Dolcetto means "little sweet one," but the wine is a dry wine that goes great with pasta, pizza, or similar foods.

It is easy to drink and that's the key. Italian wines can be big, bold, acidic and challenging for the average wine drinker. That's why I think a Dolcetto D' Alba is a great introduction to Italian wines.

The wines also fall easily into the category of under $20. You can find them in almost any wine store. Good ones are often no more than $9-$12. So here is a case where I'm recommending a grape. It will get you into the wonderful Old World style wines of Italy.

Graduation ceremonies include Barolos and Brunellos! I'll write about those one of these days too! I wish they came in under $20 but those are much bigger and much more expensive bottles of juice!

And since this blog is supposed to complement my wine newspaper column, I should throw in a quick explanation. Note I didn't offer the name of the particular bottle I had this evening. It's not important. When I write about old world wines, it's largely about Europe. And with France and Italy, in particular, wines are known for the region and much less the name of the producer.

So with that next pasta dish, try a Dolcetto D' Alba. They're easy to find. I think you'll like it.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas to My Loyal Readers!

A very Merry Christmas from Grape Sense!

Howard Hewitt
Crawfordsville, Indiana

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Malbec from Agrentina with Interesting Notes

More on Malbec. Is there a theme?

I opened a bottle of 2007 Zuccardi Malbec tonight that was really an interesting wine. Now, what do I mean by interesting? I tend to use that a lot.

To me 'interesting' is a good thing. Interesting means there are things going on when you get a mouthful of this purple-black wine. An interesting wine requires you to slow down, think bout the wine as you drink it, and see how it changes over the course of a class or two.

This Mendoza region malbec wasn't as smooth as some of the more recent ones I've written about here, but it had some complexity.

Now a confession, I'm not real good at the "nose of currant, hint of mint" sort of things you read in wine publications and in wine shops. But, I keep working at it. I check out the nose and taste the wine and try to identify some things then look at the notes on the bottle to see if I'm even close to what the winemaker wrote.

I'm getting better. This wine wasn't as fruity to me as some Malbecs but it was fairly bold. I thought of blackberries and maybe even the earthy flavor of good chocolate. Imagine my surprise when a little research suggested hints of blackberry, raspberry, currant and chocolate. I'll take getting close.

I've known a couple of people who talk about 'chewy' wines - big flavors, a good balance of tannins and acidity - chewy! I'm not sure I still fully understand that description, but if I do - I'd suggest the Zuccardi is chewy!

My first instinct is this might be a better wine next year. It is a 2007 so its a very young wine.

I might not suggest it as your first Malbec. But it pairs up nice with food, partly because of the bigger flavor. I had it with chili and it was quite good.

I bought this bottle at Cork-N-Cracker in Indianapolis for $13.95 ... a good price based on researching the wine.

So bottom line, if you see Zuccardi in a wine shop and you like Malbecs, this would be one to pick up and try!

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Consistently Great Italian Value Wine

It's hard to find a Tuscan wine that gets nearly universal praise and only costs around $10.

Monte Antico's Tuscana is such a wine. I first found this wine in a small shop 5-6 years ago. I frequently buy it today. You'll find it anywhere from $8.95 to $12.95 at shops everywhere. The Italian producer makes about 100,000 cases annually and they seem to make great juice with each vintage.

The inexpensive blend has 5% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 85% of the great Italian grape Sangiovese. Sangiovese is the base for most red Italian blends. You can also buy many great, inexpensive bottles of 100% Sangiovese at many shops.

The 2004 Monte Antico is just a very easy-to-drink wine. For those who's Italian Red wine experience starts with things like the Riunite at the market, here as an easy step up financially for a great companion to any Italian dish. You get the fruit of the Sangiovese with the Cab and Merlot making it a well-rounded, enjoyable glass with food. It's very smooth and goes great with pasta, pizza, or meat.

I'd call it medium bodied, at best. Wine drinkers who like big Cabs, Zins, or Syrah will find this a bit boring. But I have never grown tired of this fine little wine.

Again, you'll find it everywhere. If you are just getting into wine - this one is a great buy, a great wine. Wine Spectator gave this little gem an 87 for its 2004 bottle.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

A Great, Great Glass of Pinot

I enjoy wines of all type, mostly red obviously. The last few years I've been able to buy some really nice wines and set them aside for special occasions.

I had my office co-workers over Thursday night and opened a bottle of Pinot Noir I had hand-carried back on my plane from a visit to California in 2006. (Yes, hand carried before the laws about liquid in the cabin were introduced!)

The wine was a 2004 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir. It was simply one of the better glasses of wine I have ever enjoyed. Four years in the bottle certainly makes a difference to these high end wines.

Farrell has long been recognized as one of the Russian River Valley's premier producers. This pinot was incredibly balanced and smooth. It was rich to the taste with a finish that had just a hint of tannins for balance. The wine is aged in 100% French oak barrells.

The winery, by the way, sits atop a hill in the rural Russian River Valley overlooking the valley. It's gorgeous.

I can't remember what I paid for it at the winery that far back, but found it on the internet for $43.99. That sounds about right. Some people just won't spend that kind of money on one bottle of wine and I understand that completely. But if they could indulge in just one glass of this well-made Pinot Noir, they might just begin to understand.

During the holidays we gather with friends and family. There's no better time to open a special bottle of wine. The Farrell Pinot was just delightful.

I took the photo at left during my 2006 visit. The winery is one of the area's most beautiful.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Rockin Tempranillo in the U.S.A.

Tempranillo is THE wine grape in Spain. I became a big fan of Spain's tempranillo-based wines 2-3 years ago.

The wines are a great alternative to Cabs and Merlot for steak, or about any food really! The good ones have an herbal nose and similar taste characteristic. The great ones have a silky taste in the mouth and on the finish.

I was on a wine-buying binge this past week in Indianapolis picking up wines at three of my favorite stores. At Cork and Cracker, at 62nd and Keystone, it was actually other customers who pointed me to Twisted Oak's Tempranillo.

The shop owners had convinced me to buy a bottle of TO's Cabernet this summer. It is still in my wine rack. But when 2-3 different, unrelated folks say its a great wine - in a great wine shop - then that's good enough for me to try it.

I had not planned on opening it so soon, but Sunday night my curiousity got the best of me. The 2005 Tempranillo was one of the best bottles of wine I had opened in several weeks.

It was rich and smooth and it does go down with a silky finish. Wine Enthusiast gave this wine 90 points. It retails anywhere from $19-$24. I paid $23.

It's a great buy at that price and worth checking out.

By the way, Twisted Oak has a great and fun website. Check it out here.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Bad Bottle Will Happen from Time to Time

I've been lucky through the years. I've only opened a few bottles of wine that had gone bad.

I opened a bottle of 2005 Bordeaux from the Medoc region Friday night and didn't pay much attention to it as I poured two glasses. I took one quick whiff and thought the nose was rather odd. But it was a quick smell and I thought I'd let it open up a bit and then see what was going on with this inexpensive Bordeaux.

I handed my friend a glass and we sat down to watch television. I got my nose into the glass then and it was pretty clear to me it had gone bad. I took a drink and was convinced.

I had a bottle of corked wine. Read more here. It's not that difficult to tell. You don't have to be an expert.

I asked my friend if he smelled a vinegar-like odor .. and he tried again. He said "it smells like cider" and that was good enough for me. He also took a sip, made a squiggled face and then I poured the wine down the sink. I couldn't remember where I bought it.

It happens. There are wine professionals who say it can happen as often as once every 10-20 bottles. I have been lucky, I guess, because it's never happened to me at that rate.

Now, if it happens to you here is what you do. First, do not pour it out. Just stick the cork back in it and return it to the place of purchase as soon as you can.

Most retailers will replace the bottle or give you purchase price credit because their wholesalers will do the same for them. If they don't take the corked bottle and replace it for you, find another wine store.

Stinky wine. Corked wine. Spoiled wine. It happens.

The artwork above: Peter - The Family Guy - protected by trademark registered by Twentieth Century Fox.

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

A nice, inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon

I once heard someone say its hard to find a nice Cabernet Sauvignon under $20. And, I would largely agree with that assessment. But there are some exceptions.

I stumbled across one recently. I find very few under $20 that I think are worth drinking. It's why I recommend Malbecs and Spanish wines to friends.

The wine was a 2006 Domaine Jean Bousquet Cabernet. Jean Bousquet was born in France where he worked the family vinyards until buying land at the base of the Andes mountains in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

I always research wines online and was mildy surprised to see Wine Spectator gave this wine an 87 .. a pretty high rating.

I thought the wine was nice, but rather unremarkable. It was very smooth and soft tannins and easy to drink. It would be a great Cab for a new wine drinker. I enjoyed it, but just didn't find anything memorable or remarkable about it. It wasn't the big bold flavors I love in a Cab. But that being said, I might buy it again and would heartily recommend it to anyone who is relatively new to Cabernet Sauvignon.

It is certainly better than anything you'll find in a grocery. I bought this one at Mass Ave. Wine shop in Indy for $12.99.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

A Beautifully Smooth Rioja Blend!

I emerged from my Malbec fasciation tonight to pop open a bottle of a really nice Spanish Rioja Red.

Vina Salceda Rioja Crianza is a beauty for the $12-$15 price point. I thought the taste was big and rich. The tannins were pretty smooth on the mid palate. This was just a very nice value bottle of wine.

If you are new to Spanish wines know that they age them before sale. This wine, as an example, is aged 15 months in American oak and then another six months in the bottle before it's released for sale.

This 2004 bottling got 85-to-upper 80s in most reviews I found. For the price, it's a really nice wine. The blend is dominated by the great tempranillo (90%) with some Graciano (5%) and Mazuelo (5%)

The alcohol is light at 13%. I'd put this nice wine near the top of my list to show people you can drink great red wine for under $15.

I bought this bottls for $15 at Mass Ave. Wine Shop in Indianapolis. If you see it, buy it!

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rose of Malbec from top Female Producer

Since the day I converted this blog to just writing about wine, I've been in a "Malbec" sort of mood. I do that ... going from varietal to varietal in a 2-3 week or month period.

Several weeks back I picked up a bottle of Malbec Rose'. I have had rose' made from almost every imaginable grape, but didn't recall having a Malbec version.

I bought it for the novelty, and knowing I love Malbecs, and then today learned it was from a very prominent winemaker in Argentina's Mendoza Valley. And, the winemaker is also known as one of the country's top female producers.

Crios by Susana Balbo (2008) was the wine I brought home for Thanksgiving. Reisling, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Noir are often recommended for your Thanksgiving picks and those are great choices. But if you want to be a little more original try a dry Rose' with the turkey.

Again, the wine was a 2008 - a very young wine. It had a typical Rose' nose of strawberry. And for a wine at 14 percent alcohol it had little burn. It was very easy to drink and a wine I wouldn't hesitate to serve guests.

From Susana on the bottle: "meant to be enjoyed during its vibrant youth" is how Balbo introduces the wine. Old-vine malbec grapes create a richer, spicier wine than most other rose's from around the world."

I enjoyed this one a lot. It's smooth, yet a rich and balanced mouthful of wine.

It's very affordable too. I bought this bottle at Village Bottle Shop in Lafayette. With these type wines the price varies wildly. I paid under $10 for this bottle but I found it on the internet at around $12.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Perplexing Bonarda Grape

I believe I once read there are more than 5,000 grape varietals being used to make wine all around the world. I believe it.

Two years ago I was in San Francisco at a very cool, small wine bar and read about Bonarda - from Argentina - on the menu. So I tried it. The wine I remember was big flavors, deep cherry, smokey, and very interesting.

So a week ago I was pleasantly surprised to find a 100 percent Maipe Bonarda at Vino 100 on the north side of Columbus, Ohio. I paid $15 for it. I had previously purchased Maipe Malbec and found it pretty darn good.

I opened the Bonardo tonight and now am confused. This wine, while easy to drink, didn't have any of the strong characteristics I remember from my previous experience. It was very drinkable, but not memorable. This was a 2008, so it was very young.

I got on the internet and did some 'bonarda research.' I found a wine blogger comparing it to Merlot, an insult to this noble grape - but he might have been on to something. While this particular Bonarda was certainly drinkable, it had no outstanding characteristic. They usually are first described with the word I used above: smokey.

The Maipe bottling was from Argentina. It's believed to be similar to the Charbono grape seen sparingly in California, or more likely Bonarda Piemontese from Italy.

Nevertheless, it has spurred me to look for a bigger and better Bonardo wine - like the one I loved in the city by the Bay.

For the adventurous, I'd say pick up a bottle any time you can find one. It's very inky in color. It has a certain mineral or earthy quality that "big" wine drinkers will enjoy.

Maipe was a mystery. I had a hard time making up my mind on this wine. But I intend on finding another Bonarda for comparison.
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Friday, November 14, 2008

Fabulous Pinot Noir from Robert Stemmler Wineries

In my newspaper column "Grape Sense" I keep the wines to those under $20 or so. I do invest in some higher-end wines for special occasions.

Tonight is a bit of a special occasion for a very good friend, so before dinner I opened a bottle of 2003 Robert Stemmler Carneros Pinot Noir.

Stemmler was widely recognized as California's Pinot pioneer for years and years before much of the wine world fell in love with Pinot. He retired in 1989 and sold the winery that still bears his name.

The 2003 Pinot is a beautiful wine with a beautiful nose that gives you the essence of good Pinot. It has that delightful "stank" or "barnyard smell" of a good Pinot. It's a big fruit foward Pinot that has a silky smooth finish. I like it for the big mouthful of Pinot flavor as it hits the tongue. This wine generally sells for $32-$38.

That makes it a special occasion wine for me and for most others. For some people that is a lot of money for a bottle of wine - and it is! But you will have a better idea of where the price points make such a significant difference in wine quality.

I have seen Stemmler wine at Vine and Table in Carmel. The Carneros is fabulous Pinot. They also do another bottling that is just slightly more expensive from the Russian River Valley. If you have the choices and it's just a couple of bucks, I'd recommend the Russian River bottling but both are great wines.

If you find either and like Pinot, buy them. I'd recommend letting them breathe at least a half hour if not an hour before enjoying. A good decanter will give them the oxygen to be just right when you are ready to pour.

The Stemmler wines are an old California name but worthy of others being sold at higher prices.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

If You Go to Cleveland - Visit Lola's

Yes, I've pretty much restricted my blogging to wine but great wine goes best with great food. I had an experience Nov. 7 in Cleveland which must be shared.

While there in Cleveland for a Saturday Wabash College football game, I was able to dine at Lola's in downtown on Friday night. Lola's is owned by Food Network Star and Celebrity Chef Michael Symon.

Four of us ordered different entres and desserts and all were raving about the food. I started with a cauliflower and almond soup. The white cauliflower was carmelized then pureed. It was poured at the table over a mixture of bacon bits, some herbs and raisins. With each bite you got a different sensation. With the bacon the soup was so savory but then with a raisin it tasted sweet. It was a masterpiece.

I had the black bass entre. The fish was perfectly prepared with a very crispy skin on a bed of saffron potatoes with a few mussels and clams in a lobster bisque type sauce. My friends enjoyed duck, lamb and steak all with similar rave reviews.

I'll keep this simple - I've had the pleasure of dining at some top restaurants, but none surpassed Lola's.

Oh, you have to try their french fries - yes fries, but in this case 'Lola Fries.' They take the thinly sliced fries and cook them in bacon fat, they are then rinsed with olive oil and given a heavy dose of Rosemary seasoning. At first I thought they tasted fatty, (duh) but soon the four of us were reaching, elbowing and grabbing at the remaining Lola Fries.

I had a glass of mediocre Sancere (French Cabnernet Sauvignon) that was ok. But the dinner was five star.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Surprising Pinot Under $20

Pinot Noir is often a wine drinker's wine. It's hard to grow and even harder to turn into good wine.

I have a serious growing love affair with good Pinot Noir. One of the problems is a good Pinot under $20 is hard to find. Actually, it's near impossible to find a "good" one. But I have found some I like.

New Zealand is making some great, and realitively inexpensive Pinot Noir. I wrote a few blog entries back about Dashwood which I would highly recommend.

I recently picked up a bottle of Piko from the Mass Ave. Wine Shop in Indy and found it a nice bottle of Pinot for the price range. Now, you serious wine drinkers will think of it as a 'fruit bomb." For the novices, that means you'll probably love it.

The rich berry and plum flavors are very "forward" ... it's like a mouthful of jam - unusual for a Pinot but not a bad way to get introduced to the wine. The grapes come largely from the wildly successful Marlborough valley area.

I've seen this priced form $16-$20. I believe I paid $18 for it. This or the Dashwood would be a reasonable introduction to Pinot Noir. It's big and fruity with good Pinot characteristics.

Give it a try!

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Oft-maligned Wine of France, California

Any regular wine drinker probably has trouble drinking Merlot and not thinking of the 2004 movie Sideways.

The central character, a brilliant performance by Paul Giamatti as Miles, is a real wine geek and he's not fond of Merlot. Let's just say that when his buddy sets up a double date and the girls want to drink wine, Miles makes it perfectly clear in colorful language he will not be drinking any of that deep purple grape.

The one great thing about Merlot is its a great introduction wine. It is a great wine for people who want to step up their wine drinking and trying something more serious.

At parties, large functions, conventions ... Merlot and Chardonnay are often the safe choices frequently served.

For the purpose of my newspaper column, I knew I had to talk about Merlot very early on. So during a typical Saturday night dash to Lafayette, Indiana, I stopped at the Bottle Shop in West Lafayette and bought a few things. I struggled to find a Merlot. I just never drink it.

So I followed by own advice: Choose a name you know or ask for advice. Unfortunately, the shop is near Purdue and it was a Saturday evening. So most of the staff seemed to be college age guys ringing up beer. So I went with the name you know philosophy and it paid dividends.

I bought a 2003 bottle of Sebastiani Merlot for $14.95. I threw some nice beef tenderloin pieces on the grill and set out to test a wine I had left in my rear-view mirror.

I had two small pieces of beef tenderloin .. both with fresh ground pepper and sea salt. I put a smoked cherry spice rub on the smaller piece.

The Merlot held up against the steak without the spice, but fell a little short against the cherry rub.

But this was a nice Merlot. They are always described as "soft," and this one was not different. There is little of the bitterness (tannins) that new wine drinkers find objectionable. It had some body and those deep cherry and dark fruit flavors familiar to Merlot fans.

Sebastiani is a stalwart winery in the Sonoma Valley. The old standbys often produce very good wine even in their less expensive labels. If you can't find the Sebastiana, which is widely available, I'd suggest Robert Mondavi which you can usually find in yr local grocery.

I don't know that this will lead me to buying more Merlot. But this was nice wine with some super steak tonight. My tastes run to bigger and much bigger wines, but this was very palatible with the beef.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yes, Another Great Malbec

I tend to get into ruts with my wine. I guess calling it cycles would be a nicer way of putting it.

Right now I'm in a big Malbec rut and enjoying every minute of it. I've had some great ones lately. This evening I tried my first Malbec from Caligiore and it was big, bold, dry and most of all smooth! It has some tannins on the finish that would make even the big, big taste folks enjoy it.

This is a big intense wine, very fruity - even spicy perhaps. It's 14.5 percent alcohol so it's a pretty serious red.

It's also an organic wine grown in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

This is a rich, mouthful of wine for those who've tried a Malbec or two and want to try a bigger one. I tend to find the prices of these wines a bit all over the place. I paid $16 or $17 for this one but have seen it as cheap as $12.

It's a good deal at any of those prices. I've blogged about a couple of Malbecs recently and they're great introduction to the grape. I'd recommend the Caligiore if you tried one of those less intense wines and want to take a step up ... still in the same price range but a bigger mouthful of wine!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Delicious Blend from Argentina

I've been on a real Malbec kick lately, and don't see an end in site. I've now bought 3-4 bottles of 2007 Sediento Malbec/Bonarda produced by Lanzarini Vineyards in Argentina, the Mendoza region.

Kids - this wine rocks! An unbelievable price for a smooth wine that soft enough for novice drinkers, but still bold enough to satisfy those who want a big red wine taste.

The wine is a 50/50 Malbec and Bonarda blend. Again, Malbec is a great blending grape from France and the Bordeaux region that has really flourished in South America. Bonarda is the most widely planted grape in Argentina. It's believed to have come from Italy, though there are disputes about its origins.

Nonetheless, at face value you get a grape from two of the best Old World producers - France and Italy.

The wine is super smooth with a a big fruit forward taste and very little after taste of tannins (bitterness) in the back of the mouth. The wine snobs would call it very "approachable."

I had the wine with some kicked-up pasta and it held up great. It would be great with grilled beef or big flavored foods.

The other note with this wine is that it would be a great introduction to bigger flavor but still smooth to the taste.

I paid $11 for this wine at Mass Ave Wine in Indianapolis but have a hunch you might even find it cheaper at a big warehouse wine spot. But even at $11, it's a fabulous buy for a great little wine.

I'm going to buy more!

I couldn't find a link or label image anywhere on the net. It's a bold red label .. with Sediento in large type. Find it ... buy it .. and you'll enjoy it!

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Heard it Through the Grapevine, Col. 1

My first column appeared in the Journal Review today. I haven't heard when Frankfort will debut it. I have talked to a couple newspaper friends today who thought they knew of some people who might have an interest. I'll post the column each week. The tone of the column will often be like this one - heavy on the education side, at least for some time.

Notice the expanding wine section at your neighborhood grocery? Or, have you seen the specialty wine shops popping up in more urban areas?

United States wine sales have grown at a dramatic rate in recent years, more on that in a moment. The sales are spurred in part by young people and non-traditional wine drinkers. Whether it’s the allure of a so-called sophisticated adult beverage, red wine’s widely-reported health benefits, or just curiosity, wine is finding its way into more homes than ever before.

Today is the first of what will become an every-other-week column about wine. The whole topic of wine scares some people – too much to choose from, not knowing which wine to buy for dinner, and the snobbery of wine experts.

First, I am no sommelier or connoisseur. I’m not an expert at all. But I have spent considerable time the last several years learning a lot about wine. I’ve found over those years a lot of friends turning to me with wine questions which furthers my interest in learning more and more about wine. I’ve traveled to Sonoma and Napa Valley in California. I spent a few days this summer in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

My qualifications – I like a nice bottle of wine in the price range of $10-$20. I read, shop, and spend a lot of time looking for good wines in that range. And, interestingly enough, value wine is the niche market growing the wine industry.

Total wine sales in the U.S. went up four percent in 2007. The number has continued to climb significantly over the past 15 years. The U.S. wine market is in the midst of one of the biggest business booms in history, increasing 66 percent in volume from 1993-2007. (U.S. Wine Institute and the U.S. Department of Commerce)

So, what will we do in the column? I hope to offer a little wine education to those who may drink some wine and would like to take a step up with their wine consumption without paying the big bucks. Second, I will write about types of wine and specific wines.

There are many great wines in the $10-$15 range that are substantially better wine than you can buy in the grocery. Before local grocers complain about the new column, there are some drinkable mass production wines. Bogle, Smoking Loon and some Yellow Tail immediately come to mind as palatable wines. What I’ve found with those wines are some varietals are decent bottles but others are not-so-nice.

So how does a couple of bucks make a difference? Think of it this way: Choose one of those supermarket wines with a familiar name. Odds are they are making thousands and thousands of cases of that Chardonnay you just picked up for dinner. If you go to a wine shop and get assistance picking a Chardonnay for just a couple dollars more, I’m betting (and writing this column to suggest) you’re going to find a substantially better wine.

That bottle from the shop probably came from a much smaller producer. So if you buy a bottle that is one in 500,000 or a bottle that is one in 5,000, which do you think got the most attention? Which wine was handcrafted? We’re going to call them value wines and bang-for-your-buck wines.

And that’s what this column is all about. I also visit Indiana wineries on occasion and will write about those as fun places for a one-tank-trip. I’ll write a lot about South American wines, which right now are some of the best wine available in the value-price range.

I have an electronic companion for this column. Each time I enjoy a new wine at home, I intend on writing about it on my blog, Red For Me. You can find it at

I’ll post this column to the blog after each publication and often insert links to go to related sites.

And please write me with questions, comments, or wine suggestions at:

I’ll try to answer either through the column or personally as promptly as possible.
Future topics will include wine terminology, finding a wine shop, learning what you really like, and perhaps an occasional stroll into higher end wine. But the focus will always remain value wine you can easily find for a very reasonable price.

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” – Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Puzzling Sicilian Red Wine

Often if you're a frequent wine drinker, you find yourself puzzled over a bottle. It doesn't happen often for me, but sometimes I just can't decide whether I like a wine or not.

I opened a bottle of 2005 Sedara Donnafugata Nero d’Avola and my opinion changed somewhat throughout. Nero d'Avola is a popular Sicilican grape. Initially, it needed some air. If a wine is particularly tannic, or bitter near the swallowing point - a little oxygen will often soften that bite. Let it breathe 30-60 minutes. But the wine quickly "softened" after sitting open about a half hour for me.

I also found that I liked the wine after a small time in the fridge. Even red wines benefit from a little chilling - not cold .. but slightly less that room temperature of 72 degrees... mid 60s is where I like a red.

This wine was fruit forward with an unusual nose. The first time I put my nose in the glass -- and yes, stick yr nose all the way in there - it reminded me of a Pinot Noir.

It is a very dry wine but interesting. It's the type of wine that might take another bottle to make a real good decision. (tough task, I know) It's probably not for real novice wine drinkers unless you really like your wine big and dry.

I had the wine with some pasta .. ground turkey, bottled sauce .. nothing at all special and it almost over-powered the food. The pasta was ok, but rather bland compared to how I normally would fix it. But it held up nicely with the few bites of dark chocolate I had afterwards.

In the end I'd probably recommend it to people who like such wines, but not newcomers to wine drinking. It is reasonably priced at about $16. I bought this bottle at Mass Avenue Wine Shop in Indianaplis.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Great Spanish Wine - With Rave Reviews

I get a rush when I find a great bottle of wine under $15 - a real rush!

I opened one and enjoyed it tonight. It was a 2005 Celler de Capanes Mas Donis Barrica. I had purchased it at a small Indianapolis shop for $14 - a stunning deal now that I've tasted the wine.

This Spanish beauty is a blend of 85 percent Garnacha and 15 percent Syrah. It's an 'old vine' wine that got a 93 rating from Wine Advocate. I don't always find the Wine Advocate or Wine Specator ratings helpful, but always curious what the so-called experts have to say.

Robert Parker, the Godfather of the wine rating systems, is the key voice at Wine Advocate. This wine, at this price point, is incredible grape juice for $14.

My old wine friend Dean Wilson at Deano's Vino in Fountain Square in Indianapolis always reminds his patrons: "Don't forget folks, we're just talking about fermented grape juice." So I have to give Deano props for the line!

First, let's define what 'old vine' means - and it means exactly what it says. Old vines wines are usually more intense in flavor - snap them up when you can. Old vines produce few grapes, but grapes of more intense flavor. When the vines reach the point they're no longer productive enough, they are torn out and new vines are planted.

"Old Vine" wines often have a big flavor with a smooth richness you can't find in other wines. Try an old vine Zin and you'll understand! And an "old vine" wine at $14 is worth the pick up.

I've really enjoyed Spanish wines for a couple of years now. I have enjoyed some great Grenache. This has dark flavors like licorice and dark cherry. It has a beautiful finish.

This is one of the best structured wines I've tasted in a long time for this price. Nice fruit, nice structre or complexity, with a smooth finish.

I must blush while admitting I'm not sure where I bought this. I'm going to double check next time I'm in the wine shop where I think I bought it, and I'll update that here in the blog. I think I bought it in Indianapolis.

I learned today that my foray into newspaper column writing will debut in the Crawfordsville Journal Review and in the Frankfort Times yet this month. I'll post those columns here.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Good Inexpensive Malbec from Argentina

Malbec is a treasure if you're looking for something other than a Cabernet or a Merlot. As a matter of fact, many wine pundits will tell you Malbec is a nice wine "in between" a Cab and Merlot. I'd agree!

I had a really decent inexpensive Malbec this week that you should try. Maipe, from the Mendoza region of Argentina, is a great bargain. I've had a lot of nice inexpensive Malbecs and this was one of the bests for the price.

Malbecs are often described as "silky" smooth and this one is no different. There is not a big fruit flavor up front that you'll get from some other wines, but it's a rewarding glass of wine.

I'd also serve this to people who are not big wine drinkers normally. It does not have big tannins - or the bitterness that occurs in the back of the mouth with many Cabernets.

I've read mixed reviews online, but mostly positive. It's easy to drink at a supermarket price. It's a very dark purple that stains the wine glass (until you rinse it at least).

I'd be comfortable serving this with anything off the grill, pasta, or maybe even a nice winter stew of some kind.

I paid $14 for this bottle at a very nice little shop in Columbus, Ohio, but have seen it on line for as little as $10. Give Maipe Malbec a try - it's a real value wine!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Something I've always wanted to do

With my interest in wine really growing the past 5-6 years, I've always thought about writing a wine column. While my knowledge pales in comparison to many people, I've learned I have some insight to share for people like me who like those bottles in the $10-$20 range.

So in just a week or so I'm beginning an every-other-week column for the Crawfordsville Journal Review. I've offered it to one other newspaper, and may offer it to others as I get into the routine.

I'm going to post it here each week with some links and additional information I may not be able to get in the print version. Additionally, I'm telling myself again (for the 7th or 8th time) that I'm going to write about specific wines much more often to complement the print column.

So, we'll see how that goes! Stay tuned and come back!

Monday, August 11, 2008

A good cheap Pinot is hard to find!

I recently visited the Willamette Valley, just outside Portland, Oregon. It is arguably, and many would say not arguably, the best region in the United States for Pinot Noir.

I tasted, and purchased a few, high-end Pinot Noirs. They are nestled safely in my wine storage cooler and basement.

That being said, I've read a lot about New Zealand Pinot Noir the last year or so. I visited The Bottle Shop in West Lafayette Saturday and came across a couple of New Zealand Pinots.

At the recommendation of one of the shop people, I bought a bottle of Dashwood Pinot Noir. I shared that bottle with a friend Sunday night. It was suprisingly good for the price point.

Many wine people will tell you a decent bottle of Pinot Noir - less than $20 is very hard to find. And, up until last night, I certainly agreed.

The Dashwood was actually quite good! It wasn't as big as many of the great Pinots I tasted in Oregon, but it was much better with bigger flavor than many of the wines I've tasted through the years in the same price range.

I believe I paid $14 or $15 for it. I found it online as cheap as $13. I can safely say it's one of the best Pinots I've tasted under $20. It has a hint of cherry, a nice "stank" on the nose, and a beautiful finish for an inexpensive wine.

It has a screw top too! It's widely available, I recommend picking up a bottle and giving it a try!

Monday, July 28, 2008

I keep telling myself to blog!

I've been bad again and again - not keeping my blog updated. I'm on vacation this week and I'm going to try to do some updates.

The biggest thing in my life this summer was two-week roadtrip to Portland and Oregon for the College. I blogged almost every day. Here is link to that blog.

And, I promise to keep updating here .. much more often on wine, politics, life, and such!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Is Age an Issue In Presidential Race?

The answer to the title of this entry is left up to each individual, gentle reader. But I just stumbled across the funniest blog.

It's called "Things Younger than John McCain." It is hilarious.

I certainly won't spoil all the fun but things younger than John McCain include the area code, TV dinners, nylon, velcro and cheerios. And on and on it goes.

Having recently passed a birthday divisible by five, I'm getting sensitive to old age. But I remember writing back in the 80s that Reagan was too old for the job and much of the post-mortem on his presidency bares that out.

McCain would be 72 at (heaven forbid) inauguration in January 2009 - the oldest U.S. President ever.

Any way, read the blog by clicking on its name above - it is humorous regardless of your politics. Wait, many Republicans are humor-less, but that's a different entry!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Great NYT Piece on Wine

I am still at stage I devour stories on web, magazines, wherever I may find them about wine.

I keep thinking I'll use this blog to drink about the 2-3 bottles I usually open per week. Maybe I will.

But today, looking for something else at work, I stumbled across a piece in the New York Times about wine. "Wines Pleasures: Are they all in your head?" is a fascinating read.

It talks about a couple of different consumer taste tests where customers were given a sip of a very expensive and a very cheap wine. Of course, "average consumers" often piced the less expensive. The formally educated eonophile often picked the more expense. No surprise, really!

But the article built a convincing argument that larger, less sophisticated segment of the market is largely manipulated by marketing, wine magazines, critics, and wine snobbery.

I've probably fallen guilty to each of those. But with that being said, I agreed with much of what I read. I'v elinked the story to its title above. If you like and care about wine, it's a great read.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A quick handshake on the rope line!

Philadelphia, Pa. - The old newspaper guy inside of me still likes to dateline things. This morning I was to meet Jeremy because he was headed over to the main campaign headquarters where volunteers are coordinated! It was a chance to get some photos of him out of the office, which almost never happens.

On way over he casually dropped that after that we'd head to train station to see Obama off on his day-long, old-fashioned whistle-stop tour! As an admitted political junkie, I was all for it. See Saturday morning photos here.

We walked the 15 city blocks and Jeremy got us through a couple lines of security. We went down to the old Georgia Lines Luxury cars and got a tour though the train Obama would use today. It was too dark and crowded for photos, but did get one shot that's in the attached album of the back of the train Obama would be using to speak from during the various stops on the way to Harrisburg.

Upstairs a small group of people waited for the Senator. By the time his motorcade arrived security had let some members of the general public into the secure area. Still, I was on the front line and got a few shots you see here. He took his time working the line. I said, "Good luck, Senator," as he reached for my hand and he offered a "thank you."

I've met enough politicians and a few celebrity types I'm not star struck - but it was pretty cool. There were plenty of crazies at the rally last night and even in that small group this morning. But still, not ashamed to admit it was pretty cool.

On the walk over to the station Jeremy was already getting reports of huge crowds at the scheduled stops. Today began four days of canvassing for the campaign - going door to door for Obama. Jeremy's staff had nearly 12,000 people prepared to knock on doors today. Contact would be made with potential voters today through election day to turn out the vote.

"We have a plan in place to contact every single voter in Pennsylvania we want to contact before Tuesday," Bird said.

Back to Indiana this afternoon! The Obama-Hillary show won't be far behind.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Obama Rocks Independance Park

I’ve seen Elvis Presley perform. I have seen Paul McCartney a couple of times along with Aerosmith, John Mellencamp and many others.

But I’ve NEVER seen a political speech before that FELT like a rock concert - until Friday night. Barack Obama rocked Independence Park in Philadelphia. Tens of thousands of people turned out and waited, and waited and waited on the candidate who didn’t disappoint. See a full photo album from the rally here.

Obama gave largely his standard stump speech but opened with appropriate mention of the founding fathers who worked just a short distance from where he was speaking to craft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

He hammered Hillary Clinton harder than I had seen in recent clips – to the approving roar of the masses.

But for me one of the most amazing things wasn’t the speech, the huge crowd, or the amazing setting for this political rally. What I saw afterwards was astounding!

Thousands of people headed south from the historic area, of this most-historic city, to the city’s center. And they simply took over Market Street which leads to Philly’s famous city hall.

Teenagers, older women and everyone in between halted traffic and had something of an Obama march. They chanted “O-BA-MA” or “Yes We Can.” It was joyous – regardless of your politics. And when was joy and politics last used in the same sentence?

I’ve heard pundits for many months now say Obama’s campaign is more of a “movement” and Friday night that became much easier to understand!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Truth, justice, and well . you know the rest

Just a short entry. I'm a newshound and admit it. I regularly monitor for the latest news. Great site, easy to use and I highly recomment it. They link to lots of the nations top newspapers and bring little gems to my attention that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Today - another example of how the current Republican administration has undermined the very process of good government. Same old stuff you say - and you'd be right! Same old stuff they've been doing for seven years.

Read this story in the New York Times about how former Attorney General John Ashcroft got a sweetheart contract from a federal prosecutor with no bidding process. The contract is estimated to be valued at $28-$52 million dollars.

It may draw a congressional inquiry.

As a side note, Ashcroft visited Wabash last May and in a public speech spewed the usual neo-conservative point of view to no one's surprise. And for anyone who has followed his career, equally not surprising was what a jerk he was to a couple of students during the question and answer period.

This adminstration has surely had some cast of characters!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Saturday Debates So Telling

I'm easily entertained at times and found myself home this past Saturday night (Jan. 5) when ABC had both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates for televised debates.

It was fascinating. And this comes from a guy who never misses Chris Matthews and loves politics.

Watching politicians of both parties spew the usual crap and seldom tackle real issues is frustrating. I'm starting to buy into the reasoning that maybe, just maybe, Americans are finaly fed up. But, I'm not holding out hope just yet.

Huckabee and Obama's recent success suggest it could be the year of the outsider. But we need more primaries to figure that one out. I was taken by Mike Barnes, long-time Boston Globe political columnist, saying he had seen nothing like Obama's stump speeches since 1968 and Robert Kennedy.

I had not thought of that comparison but there are similarities.

But back to the debates: It was interesting to hear Huckabee - who's policies I find largely wrong, wrong, and wrong - come to Obama's defense. He said if the Republicans don't spend more time talking about what they're for instead of against, they would have no chance against a candidate like Obama.

And when Obama was asked about the Republican's earlier lame, tired, labeling him as a "liberal" - that most evil of words - his repsonse was appropriately dismissive. In essence he said, 'Listen, they're going to say that about whoever the Democratic candidate is in the general election."

To quote a great Democrat, and addressing the evil "liberals," -- that dog don't hunt!

So here comes the rant. I honestly believe the Republican candidates are sooo out of touch. They fell all over themselves praising President Bush - a strategy that seems to have little benefit for a man with a 30 percent approval rating.

They railed that Radical Islam just wants to kill us and, more amazing, our policies in Middle East have nothing to do with Islamic feelings. During my four school years at Wabash College, I've covered 4-5 prominent Islamic/Middle East scholars - almost all of Islam/Middle Eastern descent - discuss the political situation. And every single one of them say the U.S. interference and occupations in the Middle East is the biggest problem we face ... and the best recruiting tool for the radicals.

How about the Republican's defense of big oil? How about big Fred Thompson saying he had no problem with the oil industries record, enormous profits?

It's like the Republicans have one play book, they never update it, they never change it. They are still wearing out Ronald Reagan's name, and his demonizing of the world liberal. They're still advocating trickle down economics that trickle down on the head of the middle class.

I am not enamored with much of the Democratic field either, dear readers. But I'm starting to buy into the Obama concept of positive leadership, hope and change.

McCain and Hillary are wrong, I believe, experience is over-rated. The president should be a bully cheerleader and surround himself with the very best people. Wouldn't Joe Biden make a great vice president? Or, Johm McCain?

Presidents set the agenda, and in recent years just preach to the choir - their core constituencies. Isn't it refreshing to hear Obama and Huckabee talk about unity and making an attempt and minimizing partisanship.

I'm not niave enough to think they'll totally achieve that lofty goal but at least they're talking about it in a way that gives hope.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Big Day for Political Junkies

Besides wine, of course, I'm a big political junkie. Chris Matthews is my hero and seldom miss his show any weeknight I'm at home.

For us junkies, today is the first day of Election Cycle 2008 - though it does seem the election has already drug on for more than a year before today's first votes are cast.

I can't say I have a favorite candidate in the field yet. I love the give and take and would really like to see someone break from the field with a pragmatic agenda to reduce spending, fund education and medical research, and restore the U.S. credibility around the world. But that's my agenda.

I'm a little jealous today of one of our Wabash College sophomores - Patrick McAlister. He and two old high school buddies have spent the past few days in Iowa going from political rally to political rally. I'm jealous. They are documenting their daily experiences in a blog - Political Equinox. All three young men are from Fort Wayne. They've been interviewed on Fort Wayne TV, and their blog has been referenced all across the Blogosphere.

And yes, I've again dropped off face of earth on my blogging responsibilities. I enjoy this. I want to get into a regular routine. I will. That shall be my New Year's resolution - that and the waist line. Ugh!