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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