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!