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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