Monday, September 28, 2009

My First Experience With Uva di Troia

During a recent stop at one of my favorite Indianapolis wine shops, the proprietor asked me if I had tried "uva di Troia." Of course, I answered: "Huh?"

I have to admit I had not only never tasted the grape but had never heard of it.

It's grown in the Italian region of Puglia, near the Italian coast. I really liked the Santa Lucia Vigna del Melogram Uva di Troia a lot.

I found it a fresher taste on the palate than most Italian wines. It certainly was a very dry wine, as most Italian grapes, but the tannins were soft and it had a nice long finish.

There is a bit of a spice to the taste and a really nice balance. This would be good with red meat, mild pasta, and it was dynamite with chocolate.

I paid $14.99 for this bottle at Cork& Cracker in Indy. Santa Lucia practices organic farming.

This was one of the better inexpensive Italian wines I've tasted in a long time.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Maybe Pinot Noir Shouldn't Be Made Everywhere

I get adventurous on my trips to wine shops and advise others to do the same. You're going to have some misses for sure, but you're also going to get to experience some exciting grapes/wines you'd never enjoy without an adventursome spirit.

A week ago I bought a Pinot Noir from Italy. I haven't opened that yet. After tonight, I'm not so sure. This afternoon I bought a Pinot from Argentina. It was Trivento Select 2008 Pinot Noir. And it was from the famed Mendoza region so well known for its Malbec wines.

I tried it alone, with some cheese, good bread, and then chocolate. It had the texture and light feel of a Pinot but I couldn't start to identify the taste characteristics.

My call on any wine is does it taste like the grape. Does it taste like Pinot Noir? I didn't think this one tasted like Pinot at all.

I might add it was palatable, it wasn't bad. I guess the winemaker made the wine he/she wanted to make. It just didn't taste like Pinot Noir.

So the moral of this story is be adventurous, the reward will more often than not out-weigh the risk!

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Nice, Smooth Spanish Tempranillo

Trempranillo and Malbec usually top my list of value wines new wine drinkers should try. If you're tired of lame Merlot, cheap and tannic Cabernet, and bad Chianti, then you should try some Malbec from Argentina and Spanish Tempranillo.

I went though a phase about a year ago where I drank lots and lots of Tempranillo. I sort of wore myself out with it. I recently picked up a couple bottles and last night opened Creta Roble 2006.

Tempranillo is often blended with other grapes to make great Spanish offerings but I like it by itself. This wine is 100 percent Tempranillo aged in a combination of American and French oak.

The taste is really smooth on the palate - easy to drink. There is a hint of earthiness while being fresh and juicy with a little spice.

When you see Spanish Rioja wines the chances are there is Tempranillo in the bottle. But also you should try it by itself for a real taste of Spain. This wine is produced from 70-year-old vineyards. Old vines like that almost always produce rich wines. The vineyards are in the Ribera Del Duero region of Spain.

It has moderately high alcohol at 14.5 percent and is an Eric Soloman selection. I paid $12.99 for it at Cork and Cracker in Indianapolis.

This is one of better Spanish wines for the price point that I've had in a long while.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My First Post on Palate Press Up Today

The wine blogging thing has been fun. A few months back I was contacted by fellow Indiana wine blogger David Honig to ask if I'd be interested in contributing to a new national online wine magazine - Palate Press.

Of course, I said yes!

The online magazine was launched about two weeks ago and is getting tremendous hits. They have rounded up some of the top wine bloggers in the nation as contributors. I'm not sure how I got invited but was happy to participate.

The magazine's editor is W.R. Tish, the editor of Wine Enthusiast from 1988 to 1998.

I was asked to do something on Portugal's emerging table wine values. If you read my blog regularly, you've noticed all the Portuguese wines over the past month.

Well the piece is up today! I worked for nearly four years at the Indianapolis Star, which at the time had circulation exceeding 400,000 on Sundays. Palate Press hit 3,000 and 4,000 hits in its first week. Still, there is something exciting about contributing to a national effort with such great contributors.

You can go directly to my story here. But check out Palate Press and all the great stories regularly.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Yikes - My First 'Stinker" of a Vinho Verde White

I have spent the summer exploring and enjoying a lot of Albarino based white wines. I've had wonderful examples from Spain and Portugal.

Tonight I opened a Adega Coop Ponte Barca white wine. I had their Rose' earlier this year and liked it a lot.

Tonight I opened a $9.49 bottle of their white that was a stinker - literally and figuratively. I opened the wine and took a sniff and it had that "cat pee" characteristic that some use in a favorable way with Sauvignon Blanc. I never liked that description. And, I don't know what cat pee is supposed to smell like though I think it must be close to what was coming from this bottle.

The wine also seemed a bit cloudy and I worried perhaps the bottle was bad. It had a flat, unpleasant palate - maybe even a bit bitter. I couldn't keep drinking it and perhaps it was just a bad bottle. But, I love Albarino and have written about a lot of great ones.

I bought this in Indiana, if you see the label I'd recommend you keep looking!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Ethical Dilemma of Wine Samples

Write a wine column and get free wine! Wow, sounds like a great gig!

But it's not that simple. And at the risk of a "holier-than-thou" remark or two, it's even more difficult after spending years in the newspaper business where we talked regularly about ethics.

I recently reviewed bottles of Clif Winery Climber red and white that were sent to me for just that purpose - write about them. If that's not clear enough - I didn't pay for the two bottles of wine. That was the first samples I was offered or accepted through about 10 months of writing. The bottles have been in the rack a couple months.

This summer I had the chance to ask a couple of veteran wine writers/bloggers how they handled samples and I found their answers consistent with my thoughts. The offers are starting to become more frequent now, I imagine partly because of my participation in Palate Press.

The vets said they indeed accepted samples with the condition they might or might not write about the wine and there is no guaranteeof a positive review or mention.

Now, with four mouths to feed - newspaper column, this blog, Twitter, Palate Press - I can use all the material I can get!

But seriously, I found the answers "palatable" if you'll pardon the pun. I will live by the above "conditions." And I'll note in my writing if a wine was a "sample" or tasted at some event.

There is a great deal of honesty, crediblity, and comfort in a direct policy.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Climber White OK; Climber Red Rocks!

Two posts back I wrote about the Clif Family Farm and Winery Climber 2008 White wine. It was mostly Sauvignon Blanc and a pretty good glass of wine.

I opened the 2006 Climber red tonight and "wow" is about all I can say. The white was ok. It was a little better than ok, but nothing special. It was a little different with a creamy texture thanks to a blend that included Muscat and Riesling.

But the red was a bigger and more powerful wine than I ever expected for $17. And, my litmus test, it's a wine you would expect to find at a higher price point.

Much like the white, the Clif Climber Red is an interesting mix of grapes. The Climber 2006 is a blend of 32 percent Zinfandel, 28 percent Syrah, 25 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 percent Merlot and 4 percent Petite Syrah.

At first snarky glance, I thought the kitchen sink was missing. But then I put my nose in the glass and got the dark fruit and a big nose of oak and thought this was going to be an interesting wine. It has the spice of Syrah and the peppery finish of a Zinfandel. The Merlot and Petite Syrah add to the smoothness.

Sarah Gott is the Clif Bar folks' winemaker. She is known for her time at Joseph Phelps, the uber-high-end Napa maker of Cabernet and their signature Insignia Cab blend.

She knows what she's doing. This is a bit of a fruit bomb but I'd just call it a mouthful of big fruit-forward wine. It's delicious.

The Napa Valley Register called this a bang for the buck wine. I couldn't agree more!Both wines were sent to me for review as a sample.

I might buy the Climber White but I'd definitely buy the Climber Red. If you see it any where, pick up a bottle and give it a try.

Bottom line: An amazingly big wine for $17!

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Who Am I to Say You Should Drink This/That Wine?

The headline on this entry poses a really good question. And, its a question often debated in the wine world.

I started blogging about one year ago, exclusively about wine. I launched the blog the same time I started a newspaper column. I feel inadequate when I read many other wine writers talk about specific wines. But I also feel, at time, put off by the snobbery.

I can usually spot pretty well-made wine. It's not brain surgery. So I decided to give this wine writing thing a try. I've enjoyed it immensely and its opened some doors I never expected.

For one, I'm hoping to contribute regularly to a new online wine magazine with a national profile. Palate Press debuted last week and managed 3,000-plus visits the day of its debut. My first contribution, on Portuguese wines, should appear in next week or so.

But don't worry, I'm sure in some self-aggrandizing manner to make sure I re-direct from here! Ha! You can jump to Palate Press with the button in the left column on this page.

Already in two weeks there have been two topics in the Palate Press about wine writers, wine critcs, snobs and wine know-it-alls. I found both really fascinating reading. You can read the story here.

I decided when I started this that I wasn't going to get too far ahead of myself. In other words, I'm going to talk about wines within my knowledge range and not try to sound more knowledgable than I really am. If my musings are helpful in any way, then I'm pleased. The feedback has been overwhelming. I think I struck a chord by sticking to the value wine category. What I've learned is people want to drink better wine.

I've also opened a Twitter account, though still getting the hang of how to use it effectively. That's still a work in progress. You can "follow me" on Twitter: @hwhwarren

So I now like to think of myself as connected to the Social Network: Twitter, Blog, Palate Press, and the newspaper column. It's been crazy, good fun!

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Clif Family Winery: Sustainability in Farming

In the 1990s I was bicycling a lot and even got into distance riding. It was during that time I found the tastiest energy bar - Clif Bars. The others all tasted like cardboard or worse.

I was surprised to find the energy bar makers have gotten into the wine business. The Clif Family Winery and Farm is located in Napa Valley and practice sustainable farming. I have a bottle of their Climber White and Red. Tonight, I opened the white wine.

The Climber White is an interesting blend of 88 percent Sauvignon Blanc, two percent Chenin Blanc, three percent Chardonnay, three percent Riesling, and four percent Muscat.

While the Sauvignon Blanc dominates the wine with typical citrus notes and minerality, the lighter wine grapes - particulary the Muscat gives the wine at texture of creaminess. It's a nice change of pace from the expected 'zing' of most Sauv Blanc!

This wine would be an excellent introduction to Sauvignon Blanc for those afraid of the acidity or sharp flavors. It has a smoothness missing from most Sauv Blancs. It would work really nice with milder flavored fish off the grill.

This is a nice wine at a very reasonable mid-teen price point. The white makes me anxious to try the red!

There's lots of great reading on the Clif Winery website. Here is a video where winemakers Gary Erickson & Kit Crawford talk about farming.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Little Bottle of Spanish Wine With Big Taste

I bought a half bottle of SantoNegro Crianza "Barrel Selection" red wine at Mass Ave Wine Shop in Indianapolis today. How can you beat $4.99 for a couple nice glasses of wine?

The juice is 60 percent Monastrell (think Castano I've raved about) and 40 percent of Spain's most traditional red grape, Tempranillo.

It was smooth with some cherry and hint of vanilla, I thought. It had enough tannins to be taken seriously and a really nice finish for an inexpensive bottle of wine. It was nothing fancy and nothing memorable but was a darn nice glass of wine on the cheap.

I write about these and pick up bottles like this one to encourage people to try something different and/or try something new.

This was a nice half bottle of wine.

In photo: I think I could be a hand model???????!!!!????

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This Is Just A Really Bad Idea

The photo above may look a bit odd. That's because it's an altered photograph and a really odd idea.

The photo is of Germany's beautiful Mosel Valley. The Mosel is arguably one of the finest Riesling producing areas in the world. The German government, as part of an economic stimulus plan, is proposing building a bridge over the valley.

So the photo is real the bridge is an artist's concept imposed electronically on the photo. The Mosel River empties into the Rhine River. I was lucky to drive up the Rhine River in 1994 and its a beautifully captivating area of Europe.

I came across this story and illustration and was stunned that the German government, which supports so much of the country's history and culture, would fund such an eyesore. The story also suggested the bridge would only reduce the drive in the area by about 30 minutes.

It would be a shame to see such a gorgeous area ruined with something like this!

So, just a rant I guess! The bridge is a really bad idea!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Latest Column Features Interesting Hoosier Winemaker

I just posted my latest newspaper column to Grape Sense, the link in the left column on this page.

I wrote about my two-day July drive along the Ohio River and stops at seven Indiana wineries. But most of this column is devoted to Jim Pfeiffer at Turtle Run. He is doing some really interesting, fun and tasty things at Turtle Run.

Turtle Run is not far off I-64, west of Louisville, and well worth the trip. I have a bunch of other notes with Jim I hope to write up and get on the site here in the next week or two.

For now, the latest column is up!

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Grenache Noir That Rocks!

I've enjoyed French Grenache and Spain's Garnacha for a couple of years now. So I was very intriqued when I came across the Domaine Lafage Grenache Noir at Cork and Cracker in Indianapolis.

It was an $11.99 bottle of French wine so I thought ... what the heck?

I popped it open to night to enjoy with some pork chops I did on the grill and it had incredible "wow" factor. This was a really smooth, rich feel in the mouth and super smooth finish. After a little research, I learned there is no oak aging for this wine and its unfiltered - what you taste is what you get!

This had a dark fruit flavor with a little spice on the end. It opened up with some time out of the bottle and turned form a bit of a fruit bomb when popping the cork to a nicely blanced, dry red wine. I think you could drink this with about any mild to medium flavored dinner dishes.

I had not seen a "Grenache Noir" before but it make perfect sense after drinking this one. You get a milder dose of the beautiful Grenache grape in a style similar to a Pinot. It's a beautiful combination.

At this price point, LaFage is a great, great value wine.
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One More Portuguese Table Wine - A Good One, Too!

I've milked the 'research' bit about as much as I can on the Portuguese red table wines and finished off the last red. It turns out the best was last.

A couple nights ago I opened a bottle of Quinta Do Alqueve 2006 Tradicional. Indeed, this red wine features Portugal's three primary red grapes - Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Trincadeira and Castelao.

Again, Touriga Nacional is the primary grape in Port, but also used for red table wines. This $10.99 wine I bought at Kahns on Keystone in Indianapolis was the nicest of the 4-5 I tried in recent weeks.

This was a medium bodied wine that was satisfying without the too-ripe or overly earthy characteristics of some of the others I tried and wrote about on this blog.

I've had a hard time putting a finger on these reds. I found a few reviews, including wine columnist Edward Deitch, who said it reminded them at times of a Cab, other times as a Merlot and yet sometimes Pinot Noir.

The wine comes from the Ribatejo region, in central Portugal and just north of Lisbon, where a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are grown along with the traditional Portuguese grapes.

This exercise solidifies for me the importance of trying new things and new grapes. Portugal's reds are definitely a little different, but give them a try!

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Pilheiros a Bigger, Bolder Portuguese Wine

I'm still working my way through some Portuguese wines for my upcoming piece in the new Palate Press. (See entry below)

I found one at a slightly higher price point that was big and bold. Pilheiros 2004, from J&F Lurton Winery, had the same earthy tones of my previous exploration of Portugal's unique grapes but this one was bigger and bolder. Still, the tannins were surprisingly light after the wine had been opened for a while.

The grapes are Tina Francisca, Tina Roriz, and the predominant Touriga Nacional grape found in most Portuguese table wines. It is from the big red grape growing area of Douro.

This was a more complex wine than the Grilos previously reviewed here. I find myself still struggling for an accurate flavor description of these interesting grapes. It is a dark, spicy, even woodsy flavor.

The alcohol is at 14.4 percent and the wine spends some time in oak. There is no question big food would match nicely with this wine. I paid $19.99 for this wine but found it online for as low as $15.

If you like bigger red wines, you should give Portugal reds a try. I have one or two more in the rack I'm going to open over the weekend.

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Palate Press is Live!!!

For the past couple of months a large group of dedicated wine journalists have worked at putting together an online wine magazine - Palate Press.

David Honig, an Indianapolis attorney and wine blogger, is the site's Publisher and Founder. There is an impressive list of contributors headed by Editor W.R. Tish. "Tish" - as he is known - is a former editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine.

The contributors list even includes your humble blogger! I'm working on a piece about Portuguese wines for later this month.

But click the links and check it out. You'll find tremendous writing and wine information. It's on the level of any of the national wine magazines. Some of the bloggers contibuting have huge followings on their own blogs.

There is a button on the left hand side of this page to take you directly to the site. Check it out!

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Finally Found a Pretty Darn Good Portuguese Red

I've been trying some Portuguese red table wines for a piece I'm writing for later this month on Palate Press. Palate Press is a new nationally-focused online wine magazine.

I was asked by the editor to do a piece on Portugal's table wines. So I'm doing what I like to call "research!" Ha!

To make a long story short, considering I've written about it here before, I finally found a very nice red wine. Chamine' Vinho Tinto from Cas Agricola Cortes de Cima red wine is a really nice glass of juice.

The wine is a blend of five grapes, big and juicy with great body and smooth finish - just a touch of tannins. The grapes are Tempranillo, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine comes from one of Portugal's
Alentejano region in south central Portugal east of Lisbon and bordering Spain.

I had the wine with a grill America's cut pork chop and grilled asparagus and it was great. This wine holds up to about anything on the market at the $12.99 price point. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it strongly.

I bought this bottle at Kahn's Fine Wines on Keystone in Indianapolis.
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Nothing More Fun than Tasting With Friends

There is nothing more fun than sharing wine with friends. If you've never done a wine tasting with friends then you're really missing out.

An old friend in Frankfort, In., asked me to walk a group of friends through a half-dozen or so value wines this past Friday night at his home. We had a really great time!

It's fun to ask what characteristics others are picking up from the grapes. It's always fascinating to see who likes one wine and not another.

We tasted seven value wines: Casa de Vila Verde Albarino, Cruz de Piedra dry Rose', Mark West Pinot Noir, Maipe Malbec, Castano Monastrell, Duck Pond Cabernet, and Patrick Lesec's Bouquet. The price range on those selections is $7-$13. By the way, I've written about every one of those wines on this blog. You should be able to use the Google search at lower left to find those entries!

We had great food, great conversation, and a great time appreciating these wines.

You really don't have to have anyone to lead the group through it, unless the group really wants a little education along the way. A group of friends can do it very simply. Just pick up some wines and talk about them! Google those wines and learn some detail.

There is really not better way or better fun to increase your wine appreciation than enjoying it with friends!

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