Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Really Great New Year's Eve Day in Tuscany

Florence, Italy - I'm in Florence traveling for my employer, Wabash College, with students learning about the Italian Renaissance. New Year's Eve and Day are days off from out hectic schedule.

For two months I had been trying to set up a winery visit or two for the day off. I have posted on the Wabash website with several photos. It is more of an overview and a not full of detail but take a read. I had great Chianti Classico for under $20 (US).

I'll have a lot more in the next few weeks on this great trip.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Imagine This: East German Reisling!

I can't believe I'm posting on Christmas Eve, but the house is now empty of brothers, their wives, grandchildren and great grandchildren so it's just me and good ol Mom!

I was on my way out the door Tuesday and literally grabbed a bottle of wine. I had a bottle of German Riesling that I had been told was pretty good - by a German no less!

A little bit of Internet research before popping the bottle raised my interest. Bernard Pawis is an East German winemaker. Why that should be a surprise to anyone not familiar with German wines is that most Riesling comes from the Rhine River valley area.

Pawis is a relatively new producer. His 2006 Riesling Edelacker Qualitatswein trocken is a $30 bottle of wine.

It is a really smooth Riesling. Instead of the usual tartness and acidity you get a big dose of orange with enough mineral to make this a great wine from front of the palate to the finish.

It was a nice change of pace which made it a great evening wine nibbling on snacks and Christmas eve pork roast, ham, and all the trimmings.

This one is probably going to be hard to find in the U.S. He is not a big producer and this one was hand carried from Germany.

Note: Not exactly the right label in photo, but close!

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Joyous Holiday Season to All!

Here is wishing everyone a great holiday season - however you spend the holiday reflect on the meaning of the season and the value of your family and friends.

I hope to find time to post over the next few weeks. I will be traveling to Florence, Italy, over the holidays and hope to have a few opportunities to write about the wine and cuisine of Tuscany. I am traveling because of my job so that comes first!

I may get a posting up this weekend, but depart for the great Renaissance city early next week!

Happy Holidays!

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Old Ghost is Powerful, Great Zin! Wow! Bam! Zap! Bang!

If you like great Zinfandel and occasionally a really big Zinfandel, Klinker Brick is a name you need to know.

I tried Klinker Brick's Old Vine Zin earlier this year and just loved it. That Zin is usually available in the upper teens. You can find my blog entry here.

Friday night I opened a bottle of Klinker Brick's signature wine, the Old Ghost Zinfandel - a 2005. Wow! Bang! Zap! - I feel like using words from the 60s Batman show!

I thought the old vine was a nice, big and well-balanced Zin. The Old Ghost just turns it up a few notches. The wine comes from vineyards that are nearly 100 year olds. The yield is very small but it sure packs a huge punch on the palate.

I'm not sure about every year, but there have been years the winery has limited customers to just one case!

The wine has strong fruit with big alcohol. At 15.5, you'll know you've been drinking big Zin. Always keep in mind too with these big California Zins and Cabernets that the alcohol printed on the bottle is considered by many to be lower than reality!

I loved this wine and will definitely replace this bottle I had been saving for more than a year and a half. The wine ratings folks have this from the high 80s to very low 90s.

It is a different price point. I found it online from $29 to $41. I seem to recall paying in low $30-range when I bought it at Kahn's on Keystone in Indianapolis.

This is dynamite red wine. It lives up to its reputation and definitely worth the higher price!

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Special Treat - Daedalus Gruner Veltliner from Oregon

Every now and then, even with no guests in the house, I reach for something a little special to lift my spirits or just for the heck of it!

Tonight was a "just for the heck of it" kind of night. I grabbed a bottle of Daedalus Cellars Gruner Veltliner. I bought this bottle in the Dundee, Oregon, tasting room during an April visit earlier this year.

Gruner Veltliner is best known as an Austrian wine. Daedalus and others say the small family-owned Oregon winery is one of only two in the United States producing a "Gruner."

You can go to the website link above and read the details about the wine. Here is what I liked. The wine is a great food wine. I prepared some thin pasta, olive oil, shrimp, frozen pees, in olive oil with some garlic and light Italian seasoning. The wine was a beautiful match with the heavy acidity disappearing against the garlic and pasta dish.

The wine is a complex wine. At first sip you might think, "that's nice though a bit acidic." But the more you drink the more you'll come to appreciate such an unusual wine.

Daedalus does ship to Indiana. The winery made just 120 cases of the 2007 with grapes from a single vineyard. It really is something special. The price is reasonable at $21.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Delas Cotes du Ventoux Dry, Tannic Wine

I've really enjoyed some great Cotes du Rhone region wines lately and continue to look for good bargains and good recommendations for those wines or other regions close by.

I picked up a bottle of Delas Cotes du Ventoux (east bank of the Rhone river) recently and popped it open over the weekend. The wine definitely opened up some with time and for my palate was better the second day than the first.

This is a really dry Grenache/Syrah-based French wine. And the tannins were much bigger than I expected or normally find at this price point.

It had the light hints of berry and maybe some floral characteristics but just wasn't to my taste. Interesting enough, Wine Spectator gave the juice 89 points. But all that means is we don't have to agree, now do we?

This was not bad wine, just not the French Rhone that I normally really enjoy. If you like strong tannins with light fruit on the palate instead of the jammy ones, then the Delas is for you!

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Which is Hardest on Your Teeth? Red or White?

Every now and then I run across stories related to wine that I think are worth sharing. That happened today when I scanned for news headlines and saw an interesting piece about wine stains and your teeth.

Here is an interesting story on that topic that might change your conventional thinking a bit.

Go onto your favorite web browser and type in "wine and teeth" and you'll get several interesting articles. For those of us who really enjoy wine and the health benefits of red wine, there is a lot of good information on how to correctly protect our teeth!

Even if you don't read the stories, the most common suggestion for good health is don't rush to brush your teeth after drinking wine. Instead, rinse with water thoroughly and brush later!

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Monday, December 7, 2009

My Story on Wine Chains Featured on Palate Press

My second story for the national online wine magazine, Palate Press, went up this morning.

I wrote about the two biggest national wine retail chains - Vino 100 and Wine Styles. It's nice that it is the featured story on the site today! Palate Press has been getting in excess of 3,000 hits daily nationwide and has some really great contributors making it happen.

The story of the two chains is interesting. I discovered Vino 100 on work trips to northeastern Ohio for football. Liz even recognizes us now when we make our first stop each fall. I had not been in a Wine Styles before researching for this story. There is a franchise store at 146th and 31 in Carmel, just south of Westfield.

PALATE PRESS: The Online Wine Magazine

Both "concept stores" are helping bring more people to wine. I think that's a good thing! Check out the story and leave a comment!

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ok, So You Haven't Tried Tempranillo Yet?

I have several bottles of young Spanish Tempranillo in my wine rack and lately it seems like they've all been really great bottles of wine.

Tonight I opened a bottle of Legon 2007 Ribera del Duero Roble. And, wow! This was one great bottle of wine!

I've found a couple of great bottles of 100 percent Tempranillo this fall and here's another. There is some woodsy flavor and some vanilla. The tannins are strong enough to hold up to food and it has that distinctive tartness that I use to describe Tempranillo.

The Valtostao Legon comes from 35-year-old vines, providing the layer of flavors and taste beyond the price point.

You'll find this wine up to 15 bucks. I paid $13.99 at Kahn's Fine Wines, Keystone Ave., in Indianapolis. The wine has its fans. Robert Parker gave it a 90 and Wine Advocate called it a Top 100 Value of the Year.

The nice thing about this label is its not hard to find.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Domaine Drouhin: An Oregon Winery I Missed in Two Visits

If you go to any wine region its really tough to get to all of the great wineries. That happened to me in the summer of 2008 and spring of 2009 when I visited Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Domaine Drouhin was on my target list both times but for a variety of reasons I never made it to the winery. Drouhin is a well-respected French name that bought property in Oregon early in the rush to start producing Pinot in this great area. They even sell their French wines in the Oregon winery.

I finally tasted their Pinot Friday night and it certainly lives up to its reputation. A young man at Wabash College, from Portland, brought me a bottle as a gift for allowing him to store a lot of his personal items in my home over the summer.

I opened the 2006 Domaine Drouhin Willammette Valley and immediately got week-kneed at the nose. I think if I keep drinking Oregon wine - which I will - I could blind sniff Oregon wine and pick out the soil from just the nose!

The wine was a very clear and ruby red color that was beautiful in the Riedel crystal I dug out for the occasion. On the palate it was medium-bodied with a spicy and earthiness that only great Pinot can deliver.

There was a sense of muskiness that I love in a Pinot along with a hint of strawberry.This is a very well-make, silky wine.

This wine consistently has been rated 89-91 by the national review publications. This is what I call the classic "next tier" of Oregon wines. Most of the wineries have something around $30 or just under and the next price point tends to be $40-$45. This retails at $39.95 though I did find it up to $44.

It's a great representation of the better Oregon Pinots. If you can't find Drouhin, find an Oregon Pinot Noir.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ottimino Zinfinity Will Get Your Attention for $17

If you like your Zinfandel with some pepper, tannins, and a medium flavor you'll like Ottimino "Zinfinity."

Ottimino is a Sonoma County, Russian River Valley, winery known for its Zinfandel. The winery recently releasted its first Zin blend or "Zinfinity" of 93 percent Zinfandel with seven percent Petite Syrah.

I liked this wine a lot. I was suprised at the balanced flavor against the peppery finish and rather big tannins. The wine is aged 20 months in French Oak creating the big finish.

The Zin grapes come from a number of vineyards including some old vine Zin. I picked up the peppery finish, a jammy dark fruit flavor with a hint of vanilla. This is not a wine for wine wimps.

It's not huge like many California Zins and suprisingly low in alcohol at 13.9 percent. This is handcrafted wine with just 1028 cases produced. The suggested retail price is $17 but I did find it online for as low as $14.

It's a luscious, rich wine with a big wine finish.

I tasted this wine as a sample. I'd pay for it any time. A great glass of wine. I had it with some pasta that included ground veal and mild Italian sausage. The wine was a great pairing and would have held up just as well against seasoning stronger than I used tonight!

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Monday, November 30, 2009

It's All About the Beaujolais - But Not the One You Think!

It had been years since I had tasted a Beaujolais Nouveau but for the sake of wine journalism I bellied up at the wine shop and picked up a bottle along with a 2008 vintage of Beaujolais Villages from Louis Jadot.

Beaujolais is that little area north of Lyon, France, known for its Gamay grape (think of Pinot Noir) and soft fruity wines released each year on the third Thursday of November (by French law) and sold inexpensively around the world.

George Dubouef is the wine's dominant producer and chief promoter. He sells more than 30 million bottles a year! So I bought a bottle of his 2009 Nouveau in anticipation. The wine is exactly what it's billed to be: fruity, pretty direct, no bite and inexpensive.

I spent some time reading about Gamay and reviews of Beaujolais and largely decided I wasn't fond of the flavor characteristics. I can easily see how people would enjoy this wine and serve it during the holidays with fowl and use it as an introduction to more serious wine for non-wine drinkers.

My assessment, 'Okay, but unremarkable.' I can see why people like it. Or, do they like it because of its uniqueness .... the quirky November release each year, the much ado, the total lack of any tannins or bitterness?

The wine has it's critics and some insist the Nouveau craze is fading each year.

As mentioned above, I also bought a Jadot "Villages" that I liked quite a bit. The 2008 has had the obvious extra time to mature. There are very mild tannins and it makes for a very drinkable, but light, red wine.

It has the freshness of the Nouveau but just that little bit of tannin and acidic finish which makes it more appealing to the more frequent wine drinker.

I could see drinking this wine with turkey, ham and sides at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I also believe I'd offer this wine up to a wine newbie with a higher level of confidence than the nouveau. I'd definitely serve the Jadot wine over any Nouveau if I was pairing it with food.

So try a Beaujolais and the Gamay grape, but go for the one with a little age on it!

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Check out Edward Deitch Blog

I've hesitated to add a bunch of links on my page to other blog sites. Recommending wine is one thing but recommending other wine writers is another.

Two of the blogs I've had up quite awhile are Indiana based while one is just my newspaper columns. I occasionally glance at a couple of national blogs. There certainly are some with a knowledge level way beyond mind and I enjoy learning from them. Some also come with a ton of that "looking down their nose" attitude that makes me wonder who their readers might be!

All that said, I've always liked Edward Deitch's writing on and his appearances on the Today Show. He has a very high knowledge level, he's practical in his advice and offers up great suggestions without a know-it-all attitude.

You might want to give his blog a look. It's named "Vint-ed" and I've linked it in the left column. (Oh, and if you haven't already bookmark "Grape Sense," do it now!!)

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Priorat 2006 Red Wine a Great Value, Great Wine

If you haven't tried and fallen in love with the great Spanish wines and great Spanish wine values it's time to give them a try.

I've written about many really good value Spanish wines in the past. During my last trip to The Bottle Shop in West Lafayette, IN., I took Donna's suggestion and picked up a bottle of Pasanau Ceps Nous from Priorat.

This wine is a blend of Garnacha, Merlot, Mazuelo, and Syrah and its dynamite juice. This dark and purplish wine has a big mouthful of lively fruit with just the right amount of acidity. It's not quite a fruit bomb, but some might use that often complimentary and sometimes derisive description.

Nonetheless, this is a great wine. The wine retails anywhere from $19-$22 and is worth every nickel. This is the best Spanish red I've tasted in this price range.

The wine comes from the Priorat region of Spain. It's a region within the Catalonia area. It's a hilly area that is gaining a lot of attention for its fermented grape juice.

This was my first Priorat but it has gained a lot of love in the wine world. Robert Parker gave this wine 92 points. But Donna's recommendation is always good enough for me!

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Lange Pinot Gris Beautifully Balanced White Wine

Whenever I write about Lange Winery wines I almost feel like I should add a disclaimer in order to maintain a semblance of credibility: I'm a fan!

I brought back a mixed case of Lange wines during an April, 2009, visit that I intend on enjoying for some time. I took a bottle of Lange's 2008 Pinot Gris Reserve home for Thanksgiving and I'm finishing it off tonight (Friday).

The beautifully balanced white was great with Thanksgiving dinner, and honestly even better tonight. I'm not going to go out on a limb and suggest you decant this wine but the acidity relaxed tonight making a beautiful glass of white wine.

The acidity was fine against Thanksgiving dinner but tonight with some mild fresh tomatos and pasta the Gris was a better-than-expected complement.

I got a big nose of lime yesterday on this wine with more-than ample-acidity. Today the limes isn't as pronounced but there is a wonderfully blanced citrus nose that any wine love can appreciate. This is tart with out creating a pucker!

Oregon Pinot Gris is one of this country's great white wines and in some circles still a bit of an unknown. It's definitely worth a try. The great new is Lange wines are available throughout Indiana.

The 2008 Pinot Gris Reserve sells for around $22. This great white got a 90 from Robert Parker. It's light on the alcohol at just 12.6 percent. And every now and then I go off here about handcrafted wines. Lange made just 850 cases of thise nice wine.

Lange also makes a Pinot Gris at the $16 price point that won't disappoint.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Layer Cake Malbec - Bang! Bang! Bang!

Shouldn't a "fruit bomb" of a wine have a little "bang" to accompany it? I think so; therefore, the headline!

If you go to wine shops or better supermarkets it's hard to imagine that you haven't seen Layer Cake wines. Layer Cake Syrah seems to be everywhere. Recently, I recieved a tasting sample (freebie!) of 2008 Layer Cake Malbec. I popped that open to have with a piece of roasted pork.

The Layer Cake line of wines come from Jayson Woodbridge. Unless you're a real wino you might not know the name. Let's just say he makes wines grown in some of the great wine regions of the world. He also makes a high-end Napa Valley Cabernet that starts at $250 a bottle and sells out as soon as it's released.

Fortunately, Layer Cake is his effort to bring great wine to the value wine market. They make their wines, bottle them, and ship them from the country of origin. The Malbec was grown and made in the Mendoza Valley of Argentina.

Oh, back to the fruit bomb issue. Sometimes wine snobs will look down their nose and call a wine like this "jammy" or a fruit bomb. Well, this is one darn fruity wine but what's wrong with that?

Woodbridge clearly follows the modern trend of crafting wines for a younger market by aging 80 percent of the Malbec in stainless steel and 20 percent in barrels. As you would then expect, this is a very smooth Malbec with very palatable tannins.

I liked the wine for what it was - a spicy nose with some pepper and black fruit. It's rather high in alcohol at 14.2 percent.

This is good juice. It's easy to drink and very fruit forward but very true to the Malbec grape.

Woodbridge is an interseting guy. Here is a story from Departures Magazine.

This wine consistently sells for around $15. You'll find some Malbecs better suited to your invididual taste, but Layer Cake is one most are going to like. Also, I'd recommend it as a first Malbec if you haven't enjoyed the great South American grape previously.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Italian Aglianico from Ocone A Darn Good Find!

I seldom get bored with wine, or drinking wine, writing about wine, doing wine research! But on rare occasions when I have to make an effort to post to the blog or crank out a newspaper column, I scratch my head and wonder why I do all this work for no pay.

Then I discover something new or really good and none of the above matters at all.

It happened tonight after a long work day. I had purchased a bottle of Italian wine on the recommendation of the owners at a Vino 100 wine shop in Columbus, Ohio, - Westerville, to be exact.

It was Aglianico from Ocono Winery, 2003, and it was dynamic Italian wine. Aglianico is grown in Southern Italy and dates back to the 6th Century B.C. Supposedly, I learned, the grape made its way to Italy by the Greeks.

The wine has a nose of dark cherry fruit, a hint of coffee or a musty sense to it. It's rich but refined. In the glass, it reminded me a bit of a Pinot Noir by its look and well-balanced taste characteristics but its definitely a medium to bigger bodied wine.

This is a big ol' mouthful of dirt for those who like earthy wines or "terrior."

I was pleasantly surprised by the balance, the smooth tannins and even a hint of mineral in this luscious red wine.

It is a lighter style wine as the color indicates. But it's a wonderful change of pace from the standard Sangiovese-based Italian wines.

I paid $17 for this wine but, if you can find it, $14-$19 is the usually range.

Aglianico is a signature grape in Southern Italy. It was wonderful with a mild pasta dish and some chocolate. This is a surprisingly flavorful wine that will let you know it's Italian but do it with a gentle hand, not a club.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Latest Newspaper Column Covers Turkey Wine!

Turkey wine? Well, not really!

But this time of year there are lots and lots of stories about pairing wine with your Thanksgiving meal. I offer up a primer and some very affordable suggestions in my latest newspaper column.

All of the columns are posted on Grape Sense, there is a link mid-page on left hand side of this blog. Or, just click Grape Sense above.

Pretty cool Wine Turkey, don't you think?

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wyndam Estate Sparkling Shiraz - Not a Typo!

Consider this - a respected Australian winemaker takes an iconic varietal and pairs it with an iconic name and produces a sparkling Shiraz.

Yes, an uncommon bond of the artistic and iconic works of a respected winemaker that leads to the unexpected.

Unexpected, except when it's in the Wine Zone.

Ha! Only a few will get the obscure reference and recognize the photo but hats off to those folks.

Sparkling Shiraz - even the words seem misplaced in the same sentence. Still, I had an email one day offering up a sample of Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Sparkling Shiraz. The curiousity was killing me until the day it arrived and tonight when I opened it.

The marketing folks promoted the sparkling wine as a nice and satisfiying alternative for Thanksgiving. So tonight, I roasted a chicken with onions, apples, thyme and lots of rosemary. I made some sage dressing I added cranberries to and had my little pre-Thanksgiving feast!

I popped the cork on the Wyndham wine and really enjoyed it with my roasted hen. I'm still a little unsure of what to make of it.

The wine certainly has an effervesence as its poured into the glass. It has a dark crimson color and a nose of - imagine this - Shiraz! I picked up more oak on the nose than I did vanilla.

At first I was just confused by the fizz. But after the wine was open for awhile, I was appreciating the rich and spicy Shiraz flavor with the buzz. It's a medium weight wine with a very soft finish. And, its definitely something different!

The wine comes from Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Australia. It's 13.5 percent alcohol with a suggested retail price of $18.

There are several sparkling red wines from Australia, I've learned, and it may take another or two to know what I think of it.

I liked the wine. I'm not sure what to think of the effervesence but it sure is a change of pace. I'd recommend anyone try it. Some are going to love it as something as a big change of pace. I suspect others are going to think they've entered the Twilight Zone!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Domain Lafarge Catalan Cote Est Rockin White Wine

This summer I fell in love with Spain and Portugal's albarino wines. I think I have a new lover!

Rob and Ashley at Cork and Cracker in Indy have recommend Cote EST a couple of times and I bought a bottle on the first or second recommendation. Note: They are persistent, having recommended it a couple of times since.

This is a French white wine blend that is really a fabulous wine for a mere $11.

It's a very light-color yellow wine that will remind you of a Chardonnay on the nose. This wine generally received rave reviews over the past few vintages. They do mix up the blend a little. The 2008 is 50 percent Grenache blanc, 30 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Marsanne.

This is a light flavored wine that still packs a rich lemon and green apple flavor. I alternately thought it reminded me of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. At $10.99, it certainly drinks like a much more expensive white wine. It's full-flavored without being heavy, it has a nice crispness without too much acidity, and it matches up nicely with food. I paired it with veggies and potatoes in a butter sauce and it was awesome!

It's no surprise this is an Eric Soloman selection.

The grapes are grown and the wine is made near the France-Spain border. When Rob first recommended the wine, he referred to it as a "wine with an identity crisis! It sits on the two national borders and from vintage to vintages mixes up the percentage of juice from the three grapes.

But I found this white wine not confusing at all. It's one of the best I've had in 2009!

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Spanish Campo Viejo Crianza with Tapas

I've made it clear here before that I do occasionally accept wine samples for review. I recently accepted and just enjoyed a bottle of Campo Viejo 2006 Crianza.

This wine is 85 percent Tempranillo, 10 percent Garnacha and 5 percent Mazuelo. The wine gets 12 months in oak, has a very deep color and a nose of dark fruit and certainly some vanilla.

I like it for its nose as much as its taste. It's just 13.5 percent alcohol and would be good with a small plates concept.

I have some recipes that have come with bottles of wine as did the ones below with the Campo Viejo. I haven't tried these but of the three I was sent, thought these two sounded pretty good.

The wine is good $10 Spanish wine. Again, comparative to the price point of others in this range, it's a nice choice if you see it in your wine shop.

Enjoy the recipes! If you try them, drop me a note to the email below and let me know. They do sound rather yummy!

Caramelized Figs with Mahon Cheese
Recipe created by Chef Stephen Justynski of Café Madrid, Dallas
Makes 6 pieces

3 figs, cut in half
4 ounces Mahon Cheese (or other semi-firm cheese such as Gouda), broken into crumbles
3 tablespoons sugar
1 rosemary sprig

Lay figs on an oven tray and sprinkle sugar on top. Slide into a preheated toaster oven and broil quickly to brown the sugar. Place the Mahon in the center of a platter and arrange the figs around it. Drizzle with honey to taste.

Pumpkin Empanadas
Makes 6-12 empanadas of varying sizes

1 16-ounce bag of pre-made pizza dough, preferably whole wheat (can make your own dough if pre-made is not available)
All-purpose flour to cover hands and table
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup canned, unsweetened pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet. Spread flour on wax paper or other surface on a table. Roll small balls of dough around in flour and flatten into thin circles a few inches in diameter. Mix filling ingredients together in a bowl; spoon two tablespoons of filling into the center of each circle. Fold the circle of dough in half over the filling to enclose it, aligning the edges of the half-circle of dough. Press down all along the joined edges to seal the empanada. If you wish, add a bit of milk on the top of the empanadas and sprinkle with additional cinnamon and sugar before baking. Bake for 15-25 minutes, turning once.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mando? Mongo? A Unique Spanish Blend

Eric Soloman is a wine importer who just never seems to miss the mark. A couple of my wine retailer friends just shout the praises of this New York man with a nose and palate for great wine.

Soloman is a big, big name in retail wine. He was named "Best Importer" by Food & Wine Magazine in 2006 and Robert Parker's "Wine Personality of the Year" in 2002.

Ashley at Cork & Cracker pointed me toward a Soloman import just last weekend - a 2005 Les Alcusses Spanish blend that I just "had to try." I'm such a sucker for a recommendation from those I trust.

This wine is a blend of Monastrell (check!), Tempranillo (the great Spanish grape, check!), Syrah (Okay, sounds good!), ... and Mando (huh?). All I could think of when she said Mando was Mongo from Blazing saddles! But I digress!

Mando is a varietal found primarily in the Valencia region of Spain. It is a dark grape usually high in alcohol. Valencia is in the eastern region of Spain bordering the Mediterranean. Most of my research on "mando" included words like "rare," "experimental," and well ... you get the idea.

But the wine, isn't bad. I admit though the initial nose on this wine was scary as Mongo when angry in that great Mel Brooks' classic. Often wine drinkers use the "barnyard" term in association with earthy wines and particularly with fine Pinot Noir. The nose on this wine was barnyard with the animals still hanging around!

But after a short period of time the wine calmed down and was actually pretty darn good. Robert Parker gave this juice an 89. It's a very dark wine with some vanilla and berry hints. It's soft on the finish ... but definitely has a different taste and nose!

It does have a pretty cool label! (at right)

I'd recommend giving it a try! Mando - who can resist something you've just NEVER heard of before!

In photos: Top right, wine importer Eric Soloman. Center left, Mongo - aka, Alex Karras.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Milbrandt Vineyards Cab Very 'Drinkable'

I'm becoming convinced one of the best value Cabernet buys is Washington State. I've tried three Washington Cabernet Sauvignons in recent months and really liked them all.

Lumping a region's wine together is going to be inaccurate and unfair, but generally the Washington state Cabs are easier to drink than many of the bigger, bolder Cabernets coming out of California.

I opened a Milbrand Vineyards 2006 Traditions Cabernet Sauvignon Saturday night and enjoyed it with a great ribeye off the grill. I finished it tonight with some pasta. It was very good both nights.

The wine is made by Butch and Jerry Milbrandt. They have sold their grapes for years to many different producers but save some of their best grapes for their own wines.

It's definitely a fruit-forward Cab with a hint of the oak used in the aging ... but again, very smooth. The Traditions Cabernet is 75 percent Cab, 12 percent Merlot and some Petit Verdot.

Wine Ennthusiast gave this nice Washington wine 90 po0ints.

The Milbrandts have 1,600 acres in vineyards and make wines at several different price points. This wine is most often found at $13-$16. I bought it at Kahn's Fine Wines on Keystone Avenue in Indianapolis for $15.99. Even though I bought it at the top of the range, I'd quickly add it's a great wine at that price point!
Forget the wine geekiness, this is just a very smooth, nice and easy-to-drink Cabernet. I'm not sure there is any better compliment.

I'm trying something new here tonight - a food site that helps pairing food with wine. Check it out and send me an email if you'd like this type of feature to appear regularly!

Cabernet Sauvignon on Foodista

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On the Search for Under $15 Pinot Noir

Anyone who likes Pinot Noir, knows finding a good one under $15 is like a wild animal safari ... or to lean on an old cliche' ... a needle in a haystack.

Mark West makes pretty good Pinot around $10. Chilean Cono Sur isn't bad near the same price point. Dashwood, from New Zealand, is pretty darn good for around $15. I recently tried an Argentinian Pinot that missed the mark, badly!

So I was skeptical when Liz over at Vino 100 in Columbus, Ohio, insisted a try another of Argentina's Pinot Noir wines.

I bought a bottle of Alfredo Roca 2008 Pinot Noir which sells for about $11-$12. I was pleasantly surprised. From the first sniff of the wine glass, I was sold this was better than my previous Mendoza Valley Pinot.

This wine has a bit of a sweet cherry taste and a mild finish. This isn't memorable wine but good enough to recommend you give it a try. Really good Pinot Noir, like those out of Oregon, are at a price that can't be justified for a Tuesday night. This wine, on the other hand, is one that can be justified for just $11 on a Tuesday night!

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

A $20 Bottle of Dynamite Chianti Classico Reserva

I'm finding myself in an Italian "thing" lately and really enjoying it.

I've complained about Chianti before but found some nice ones in the last couple of months . I had a great Chianti Classico Reserva tonight. I opened a 2007 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Reserva.

Ok, here is an over-simplied overview of Chianti - Chianti is a region of Tuscany. Chianti Classico is a small region within Chianti. The standards in Italy, as with much of the Old World wine regions, are specific to amount of certain grapes used and production methods. The primary grape in all Chianti wines is Sangiovese

The Rocca Delle Macie is a great Chianti Classico. It has an intense nose of berry with a black cherry color. This wine is 90 percent Sangiovese, with five percent Cabernet and Merlot. It's rich with mild tannins but good structure.

You could enjoy this wine with meat or full-flavored pasta dishes. Wine Specator gave this particular Chianti Classico 90 points!

I bought this wine at Costco in Indianapolis. It is widely distributed at prices ranging form the high teens to $24. I paid $19.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cleveland's Lola's A Fabulous Restaurant

There is no better way to enjoy great wine than with great food. Wine and food are such an important part of life in Old World countries like France and Italy. The concept is what Robert Mondavi talked about all of his life.

I had to be in Cleveland this weekend for work and made my second-ever visit to Lola's in downtown. If that sounds vaguely familiar to you foodies that's because Lola's is owned by Food Network Iron Chef Michael Symon.

My dinner started with a potato/leek soup. It featured bits of braised pork belly with a silky smooth puree poured into the bowl at the table of the pork and some herbs.

I had the potato-crusted sturgeon for dinner that was just tremendous. The sturgeon sat on a bed of carrot, mushroom, onion and bacon in an incredible veal/cabernet sauvignon reduction.

For dessert, and who goes to a restaurant like this and NOT have dessert, I enjoyed the Coconut Caramel Bavarian. It was a very thin layer of chocolate cake with a lightly-flavored coconut cream layer, then a thin dark chocolate wafer on top. The dessert was garnished with big blackberries and toasted pecans.

I really was in the mood for red wine but had never had sturgeon so was unsure. Our delightful waitress assured me the reduction and sturgeon would pair well with a Cotes du Rhone.

We decided on a Jean Louis Chave Mon Coeur 2007 Cotes du Rhone. It was a grenache based wine that was silky smooth with very light tannins. It had a hint of oak that kept it balanced but was really rich and enjoyable.

Now the only bad news is that in restaurants at this price point they really run up the wine prices, as most of you probably know. We paid just over $50 for this wine. When I got back to the hotel room I looked it up to find the normal retail is about $22.

If you're going to have a nice bottle of wine in a fabulous restaurant, you just have to acknowledge you're going to substantially over-pay for a bottle of wine.

Lola's has a fabulous wine list with a wide range in prices. Friday night was my second visit. It's the kind of place you think about returning again as soon as you walk away.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pomelo Sauv Blanc is a Fruity California Wine

A nice Sauvignon Blanc is great in the heat of summer and good year-round with seafood. I opened a bottle of Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc last night with a shrimp dish.

The Pomelo is made by Mason Cellars in Napa Valley. They get the fruit from Lake County which is just north of Napa. This is a value bottling that is very very drinkable Sauv Blanc.

Some people shy away from Sauv Blanc because it is often acidic or very acidic. If you're one of those people, this is the white wine for you.

I opened the bottle to a nose of strong citrus, primarily grapefruit. That's a typical Sauv Blanc. But on the palate there is a strong taste of peach with a very mild mid-palate and easy to enjoy finish.

The texture is very smooth for a wine normally known for minerality and acid. In one review the word "creamy" was used to describe the Pomelo.

By the way, a pomelo is a member of the citrus family often compared to a grapefruit. It's grown mostly in south eastern Asia. None of that in hear but plenty of peach and citrus with a smooth finish.

I found this wine online at $9-$13. The suggested retail price is $10. Disclaimer: this wine was provided for review.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Balbo's Crios 2008 Malbec A Best Buy

I haven't been singing the praises, nor drinking, Malbec much lately so I've picked a couple up.

I had previously enjoyed Susana Balbo's Crios Rose and was well aware of her reputation in the wine world as one of Argentina's real leaders in value wine.

The 2008 Crios Malbec is a really great representation of Malbec, in a lighter but balanced style, under $15.

The Malbec has the dark purple colors of all other Malbecs but this one is done with a freshness and light hand. You will find some spice on the finish and luscious cherries on the front of your palate.

But there is nothing big and scary about this wine at all while still delivering big flavor. You could enjoy this wine with a steak or drink it alone. Balbo is known for making great young wine to be enjoyed immediately. She really knocks it out of the park with the Crios Malbec. Simply put, it's very well made wine. (Balbo in photo at left.)

She is also a darling with the critics who tend to gush over most of her wines. Previous vintages of this same wine consistently scored around 90 points with most major publications.

You can find Crios wines in most wine shops in Indiana. They are a great buy and great wine!

When I have the time (and I'm a couple days late writing this post), I like to check YouTube to see if there is anything on the wine or winery. I found an interesting video under 'leylaswinningwines.' Leyla speaks with a thick accent but offered information about Balbo I had not known before! Unfortunately, I couldn't find much about Leyla but her take on Balbo was good stuff.

You can easily find more of her wine videos on YouTube. Here is Leyla on Susan Balbo:

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tempranillo Focus of Latest Newspaper Column

My latest newspaper column focused on Spain's great tempranillo grape. I have comment in that column from Donna Lattzanio, who operates the Village Bottle Shop in West Lafayette on the bypass.

Donna has been to Spain, visited the wine regions, and even dined with Spanish wine icon Miguel Torres Sr. Miguel Torres would be to Spain what the Rothchild name is to France or Mondavi to the United States.

You can see the latest column here.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Old Vine Zin from Four Vines Good Choice

A few postings back, I wrote about Vino 100 on the northside of Columbus, Ohio. I'll be making another stop this Friday but always enjoy visiting with Liz in her one-year old wine establishment.

Last time there I asked for a couple of recommendations on some really big wine. She pointed me to a California Syrah, which is still on the rack, and the Four Vines 2006 Old Vine Cuvee Zinfandel.

So I opened that one tonight while I started to prepare some pasta. It had been open about a half hour when I took a little sip and I didn't think much of it. It was a little all over the place - the fruit, the acidity .... but I decided it just might get better with a little time.

After it had been open a little over two hours, the wine opened up and was pretty good Zin. It was a big fruit-forward Zinfandel with hints of oak. I felt like the finish didn't have the pepper of some Zins but it was a good bottle of wine.

The Cuvee is made from grapes grown in California from the Mendocino, Amador, Paso Robles and Lodi regions.

I paid $14.95 for this bottle and would recommend it at that price point for those that like a little bigger Zin. Now, this isn't huge like some of the real fruit bombs California produces, but a bigger stronger wine than you normally find at this price point.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dona Paula Rocks for $12 Malbec

I opened a 2007 Dona Paula Malbec over the weekend and was really impressed with its quality for a $12.99 wine.

The wine has a beautiful nose that is dark burgundy in color. On the palate you get dark berries and maybe something like plum. It is rich and smooth like a nice piece of chocolate.

The tannins were mild with a lingering finish. You won't notice much acidity with from this dynamic young winery. It's hard to imagine any Malbec lover not enjoying this lovely red wine.

This wine has been noticed by the critics. It has consistently been rated around 90 points on the oft-used 100-point scale. I most recently saw it at The Bottle Shop in West Lafayette but it is widely distributed.

Dona Paula started its operation in 1997. The resume of the estate's three winemakers is impressive. The trio studied winemaking in Chile, France, Italy, and Argentina. Dona Paula also has a beautiful website. Check it out here.

Malbec continues to just explode. I came across an interesting factoid that 40 percent of Argentina's wines now come to the United States. Exports here tripled between 2002 and 2006.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Check Out Site Highlighting Local Wines

Yes Virginia, there is wine made across the country in places other than California, Oregon, and Washington State. I found an interesting site the other day that emphasizes just that point.

The good folks running the site linked to my most recent entry on Turtle Run. Check out the website.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nothing Like Turtle Run's Dry Tortuga

Jim Pfeiffer, owner and winemaker, at Turtle Run Winery near Corydon in Southern Indiana prides himself on the unique taste of his wines.

This summer he talked about his approach never wanting to do the same Chardonnays and Merlot everyone else produces. The self-described Picaso, or mad scientist, invites winery visitors into his production area while he is mixing and blending and dreaming up his latest creations.

One of his most successful blends is Dry Tortuga. It is a non-vintage wine of 72 percent Chardonel and 28 percent Vignoles. Now, lets stop here to talk about those two grapes. Chardonel is often compared to Chardonnay, but its a grape that is heartier than traditional Chard grapes; therefore, easier to grow in Indiana. The taste characteristics are similar. Vignoles is going to be really different to those who've never tasted it. Vignoles is a hybrid grape. It makes sweet wines with a bouquet of flowers and usual low acidity.

During a July visit Pfeiffer was blending the two grapes and trying a shot of Sauvignon Blanc. At one point he added intentionally over-oaked Chardonel. He tried a pinch of sugar. He did a little bit of everything that day. Later I learned he tossed the formula he settled on and started over.

I opened the Dry Tortuga tonight and it is different, but in a good way. I found I enjoyed it with food more than alone. It has some hints of vanilla and orange but, frankly, I really struggled to put my finger on why I liked it so much. You'll be reminded of Chardonnay. It is definitely a dry wine. The description of the grapes might make you think sweet but Tortuga definitely is dry wine.

I had it with some shrimp and angel hair pasta with garlic. It matched perfectly. The Dry Tortuga sells for $15. The wines can be hard to find unless you're really close to Southeastern Indiana.

Pfeiffer's wines offer a lot of different taste characteristics than the other 42 Indiana wineries. Another example is "Red My Mind." Pfeiffer combines Merlot and Chambourcin and comes up with a red wine that has characteristics similar to Pinot Noir. Crazy? Yes! But delightfully different! A visitor might not like all the taste combinations, but all are well made and something new from an exciting young winemaker.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ruffino Chianti Superiore Good for Bigger Pasta Dishes

Ruffino is one of the most recognizable names in the wine world. The iconic Italian brand has been making Chianti - in bottles wrapped like a basket - for decades. The basket bottle is gone but a century-plus-30 years of winemaking delivers a really nice glass of Chianti for the price point.

I wrote about the Ruffino Chianti, their most basic wine, just a couple of weeks ago.

The latest bottle is the Ruffino 2007 Chianti Superiore. I'd call it a cherry bomb! No it's not the kind we older folk remember from youthful Fourth of Julys, or even the one John Mellencamp sang about in the 1980s. The Sangiovese blend has really bold notes of cherry.

The wine has nice balance and a smooth finish. Old world wineries are learning from many of the new world winemakers. This Chianti is aged in stainless steel but no oak.

The Superiore is 75 percent Sangiovese with the other 25 percent including Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot - all within Italian regulations for Superiore production.

The result is a fairly simple but nicely-flavored Chianti Superiore that is bolder than the $9 Chianti and will hold up a better to big flavored pasta dishes.

It's obviously a young wine from the old world but one that is easy to drink with a smooth feel on the palate and a mild acidity. The alcohol is certainly in check at 13.5 percent.

As I previously wrote, trying these Ruffino wines is like rediscovering an old friend. The recommended retail on the Superiore is a very reasonable $12.99. I found it on the internet anywhere from $9.99 to $15.99.

In the spirit of full disclosure: I received these wines as samples from Ruffino's marketing arm in New York!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's a Beverage, Ingredient - NO! It's Cake!

You can drink wine!

You can cook with wine!

And yes, you can eat wine.

Tonight I'm letting my inner Julia Child, or is it Bobby Flay, come out to talk about and share a recipe.

I made a trip Sunday to Huber and Turtle Run wineries in Southern Indiana. It's a crazy time of year for the southern Indiana folks who all seem to host fall festivals. The crowds at Hubers are fun, exciting and really big. As a matter of fact, Huber's restaurant just down the road from the winery and farm market was beyond packed. The fried chicken is so good the Colonel would blush.

The dining room, which must seat several hundred, was full along with the two party barns with lines out the door.

But I digress. After the Hubers visit I headed over to Turtle Run which I discovered in late July on a two day driving vacation along the Ohio River. I've written newspaper columns and on this blog about Hubers and Jim Pfeiffer's Turtle Run based on those trips.

I wanted to buy some Dry Tortuga at Turtle Run. It's one of those interesting blends that self-described "blendaholic" Pfeiffer loves working on, playing with, and offering his customers as something different from most Indiana wines. Look for a future review on the Tortuga.

But while I was doing a little tasting my mother was checking out the Raspberry Wine Cake. I had a little bite and thought it was interesting then went back to the wine. But good ol' Mom picked up a copy of the recipe. She didn't tell me she had the recipe until we were 15-20 miles down the road.

"But Mom, you don't have any raspberry wine," I noted, (nothing gets past my sharp skills of observation!) But that didn't deter Mom who was thinking it was an interesting recipe.

We drove another mile or two and I realized I had brought Mom some cherry wine from Winzerwald Winery from that two-day river drive. So why not substitute cherry for raspberry?

We did just that Sunday night and the cake has been a huge hit. I've now shared it with three friends - all rave reviews!

I'm printing the recipe below. But the wine cake is different. In many ways it's like a wine - sweet at first but then tart. In the way of full disclosure, I'm not a big fruit wine fan. But the cake was darn good. And, Mom and I had a great time making it.

So here you go --- the good folks at Turtle Run Winery call it Raspberry Wine Cake. I'm going to call it Berry Wine Cake. All you need to do is match the jello flavor to whatever fruit wine you have handy!

Berry Cake
1 box white cake mix with pudding (only one I found was Pillsbury)
1 cup of berry wine
1 cup oil (Mom insisted on less than one cup - she was right!)
1 small box of jello (as noted above, matching the wine flavor. Mom and I used sugar free)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
4 eggs

Directions: Combine all ingredients. Bake in greased and lightly floured bundt pan at 325 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

1 2/3 cup of powdered sugar
1/4 cut of wine (I actually reduced the wine over low heat to get to 1/4 cup to intensify the flavor in the glaze)

Drizzle GENEROUSLY over cake when cooled.

So dig out the baking pans, channel your inner chef/pastry chef and give this a try. I'm telling you "wine cake" rocks!

I also found a YouTube video (several actually) about Huber Winery. Check them out. I've embedded one here with Ted Huber talking about the wine making process.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Big Beautiful California Pinot for a Change!

A change of pace is always good. I've become such a big fan of Oregon Pinot Noir when I want an upper end glass of wine I sometimes forget I have some California Pinot in the basement.

Generalizations are never 100 percent accurate but California Pinots tend to be higher in alcohol and bigger bolder Pinot Noir.

During a 2006 California visit I drove the Russian River Valley in Sonoma and visited the real icons - Bynum Davis, Gary Farrell, and others and stumbled across a new winery - Arista.

Arista is primarily a Pinot producer and a good one.

So tonight I opened (what I recall being) a $35 bottle Nicol Vineyard 2006 Arista Pinot Noir. The Nicol Vineyard is actually in the Napa Valley. Arista has its own vineyards and buys some fruit as well, or did.

Arista is not a huge producer and made only 164 cases of this wine.

The Pinot had a huge nose and beautiful structure though it is still a little big and out of balance on the finish. There is a cinnamon or spice characteristic to their wines that I really likely. It's a bit of a smokey wine. This wine spent 11 months in French Oak .. so it has a big finish.

Arista has only been around since 2002 and is finding its niche. I have a couple more bottles in the basement, including some from estate grown fruit. I'm anxious to try those in a few more months or another year or two to see how they age. This is good Pinot Noir.

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Newest Newspaper Column is Published

My latest newspaper column is up on Grape Sense. You can go back and read others and see the latest on that separate blog. I release a new column every other week, but they are published at different times by the eight newspapers running it.

In that column I note the newspapers have a combined circulation in excess of 90,000. That number surprised me a bit. But it is nice to reach that many potential readers. I need to go back and work on a few other newspapers about running the column.

I've been doing this a year now and wrote the column - a bit self-serving, I know - about one year of wine writing.

When I logged in to write this short post, I noticed this is my 200th blog post since starting the wine blog!

Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chilean Pinot Noir - No Not a Typo!

Chile and Pinot Noir is a pairing you don't often see in the same sentence. But new world Pinot Noir is coming along nicely in some regions.

I tried an Argentinian Pinot recently and was unimpressed. But I must say tonight's Chilean Cono Sur 2008 Pinot was pretty decent $11 wine. The wine comes from Chile's premier wine growing region the Colchagua Valley in western Chile.

The winery uses "green" friendly growing techniques and makes its wine from 100 percent organically grown grapes.

This particular wine had a taste of berries on the palate that was initially unpleasant but really improved as the wine opened up. This is an inexpensive Pinot that needs chilled and needs opened before drinking.

It has a nice Pinot "stink" and - shocker - it tastes like Pinot Noir! The acidity improved considerably, as you would expect, with that extra time open.

This is a pretty good inexpensive Pinot Noir. Give Chilean wines a try because they tend to be great, great values.

The Cono Sur is 14 percent alcohol and anywhere from $11 to $15. I paid $10.99 at Cork and Cracker in Indianapolis.

I like the sophistication of Oregon and California Pinot - but the price is considerably higher. For under $15, this Chilean Pinot is pretty good juice.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

An Often Over-Looked Italian Classic

I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Chianti. Actually not just Chianti, but most red Italian wines.

I love the taste characteristics of the Sangiovese grape - the black currant, dark fruit, and a certain earthiness and acidity! But it seems like most of the under $15 Chianti is not well made. I find one good Chianti for every four or five so-so or awful ones.

I have used space here and ink on newsprint in my newspaper column to frequently knock "supermarket" wines. For years I had avoided Ruffino Chianti. If its sold in supermarkets, it can't be very good - right?

And geeeeez, it used to have that cheesy basket thing on the bottle!

Well, (ever so humble) - I was wrong. I recently received a shipment of samples from Ruffino and tonight opened the first one. This was Ruffino's basic Chianti. It's a $9 bottle of Italian wine.

You know what? It was pretty good! It's a lighter flavored Chianti, for sure, but it was balanced and clearly a well-made wine. The 2008 is 75 percent Sangiovese with some Canaiolo and Colorino blended in. It has a light nose with a hint of spice.

It's not a big wine. But it is a perfect wine for your pasta dishes and perfect for anyone that stays away from really big-flavored red wines.

Common sense has to tell you - or me - that if a wine has been around forever (like 100 years in Ruffino's case) ... if a wine is found in lots of supermarkets, that someone must be buying it. The wine must be palatable. Well, this wine was far better than palatable. I'd serve it to guests. This bottle was sent to me for review, I'd buy this Chianti in a minute.

It's always rewarding to be surprised. I never mind being wrong about something when I find a wine that's this enjoyable for $9.

I looked around YouTube for something on Ruffino. I found an old promotional video in Italian. But then I found this nice video about Italy and Tuscany from Ruffino. There are slides from Florence and the Chianti region. It's beautiful!

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