Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Fabulous Chilean Syrah

I've pledged to break out of my rut and go exploring. Today I had to run to Indianapolis so I visited one of my favorite wine shops - Cork & Cracker on 62nd, near Keystone. Ashley, the proprietor, was in the house and recommended about 5 of the six wines I purchased.

The first one she picked up was a Syrah from Chile. I have suggested in my newspaper column and in this blog that you should follow the recommendations of your wine shop personnel. I'm glad I did today.

She was so enthusiastic about a 2005 Viu Manent Secreto Syrah from Chile that I had to open it tonight. I seered a ribeye seasoned with my favorite rub, finished it in the oven and enjoyed with the wine.

I found this wine online for $11 to $19 and even higher. I paid $14.99 at Cork & Crakcer.

It was about as big a Syrah as I've ever experienced at this price point. It had a big jammy mouthful on the front end and smooth but identifiable tannins on the finish. It was really a great glass of wine.

It was a crazy dark, inky wine in the glass with a a moderate nose. It had a mouthful of flavor, smooth and meaty feel. I loved it.

A little research told me this Chilean winery is like many in South America. Foreign winemakers are flocking to South America to buy up vineyards to make wines. New Zealand winemaker Grant Phelps is the man behind this syrah. He arrived in Chile in 2001 after working for two different Australian wineries.

This wine has won international recognition - a Gold Medal at an international wine show in Brussels, Belgium, in 2007. The judges gave it 94 points on the standard 100-point scale.

The judges said: “Vividly coloured and fragrantly scented, it's deep, dark and savoury yet fruity and ripe with jammy red and black fruits, fine velvety tannins, a rich meaty finish and a succulent aftertaste.”

Find it and buy it if you like Syrah! A great, great wine for $15.

Thanks Ashley!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.comhbn

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mark West One of Best Value Pinot Noirs

It's a Saturday night and I had a taste for some Pinot.

Pinot Noir is probably my favorite wine. The problem is I've tasted enough now that I really LOVE the big ones. The great Pinot Noir. I traveled to Oregon in July 2008 and was fortunate to spend a couple of days in the Willamette Valley. The Pinots there are amazing - but not cheap.

I brought back 8-9 bottles of great Oregon Pinot. And if you see one buy it. If you see an Oregon Pinot and it says "Dundee Hills" - definitely buy it.

But I digress. This evening I opened a good value Pinot Noir - Mark West 2007 Pinot. First, there is no Mark West. Second, I've had this wine several times at home. It's frequently on bar and restaurant menus.

West Pinot is a pretty good value Pinot Noir. The thing I do like about it is that you get a true Pinot flavor and full characteristics though it is a bit thin. But, I paid 9.95 for this bottle at World Market in Indianapolis. How can you beat that? Normally this wine is $12-13-14 in many places.

It does have a pretty strong nose for a light-tasting wine and that's always a big plus with Pinot. There is nothing in the world like the beautiful "stink" of a great Pinot Noir.

The remarkable thing is that this is a well balanced wine at such an affordable price. It's widely available. If you want to try some Pinot and wonder why regular wine drinkers sing its praises, you could do worse than Mark West.

I had about a glass before pairng it with two small roasted chicken breasts. One was just just salt and pepper and the other had a spice rub. It was okay with the food. I also had it with a small piece of 60 percent chocolate after the chicken. It didn't hold up to the chocolate at all. (By the way, my next wine column will be on wine and chocolate!)

I'd recomment Mark West as a great intro Pinot, a great Pinot at a bar, a great value Pinot all by itself. It's not a $55 Domaine Serene from they Dundee Hills by any measure. But it's drinkable value wine that's easy to find at most wine shops.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2005 Guenoc Petite Syrah - Funky but Yummy

I have never had much Petite Syrah. I have enjoyed many Syrahs and the beautiful wines from the French Rhone Valley area.

But I bought a bottle of 2005 Guenoc Petite Syrah (Lake County) Saturday at the Bottle Shop in Lafayette for a reasonable $12.99. I did find the wine online for anywhere from $10-$14.

It has the fruit-forward taste of Syrah, a nice but perhaps restrained nose, and very nice but not over-powering tannins. Petite Syrahs are usually anything but - usually they are really big, dark wines. This certainly had a bigger fruit flavor at the front of the palate than all the Malbecs I've been drinking lately, but not as big as many other Syrahs I have enjoyed. It did go down smooth and enjoyable.

Some Syrah and Petite Syrah can be real fruit bombs - a big ol mouthful of wine the minute it hits your mouth. This one wasn't that, but a nice bottle at the price point.

Sometimes you have a "funky" mid-palate quality to wines. I've never found the right words to describe that until opening this bottle. While doing a little online research, I read a review that called the finish a little "dusty." While that may sound a little odd, it seems accurate to me.

And for the newbies, Syrah and Petite Syrah are two totally different grapes. Petite Syrah has been grown in California for several decades. The big ones will really hit you as a fruit bomb with a big peppery finish. This wine had those characteristics in a more subdued fashion.

I had the wine this evening with a turkey loaf. I think it would do fine against burgers, and simple meat dishes. It might be big enough against a steak, but not for me.

The one thing about this wine is that it makes me want to explore more Petite Syrah. I have decided its time to emerge from my Malbec love affair and get back to exploring different wines.

Oh and one more note, and Lake County is nestled at the north end of its better known cousins Sonoma and Napa.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Pleasantly Smooth Chilean Blend

Argentina gets all the raves and press when it comes to South American wines, but Chile is carving a great niche as well - particularly in the value wine market.

Tonight I opened a bottle of 2007 Palo Alto Reserve. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (65%), Syrah (10%), and Carmenere (25%). So you have some big grapes contributing to this widely-available red.

Even though the Carmenere represents just 25%, I compared the wine to the Carmeneres I have tasted. Maybe that's just a Chilean style, but it was quite smooth. The Syrah popped out on the finish with a little, but not strong, hint of pepper.

It's one of those deep purple reds with a nice nose that you can really get in there and appreciate.

I always pour a glass and drink most of that first glass before doing research and writing these entries. I want my comments here not to echo those of others, but to be an honest assessment. I found the wine well-structured, very smooth and easy to drink with just enough going on to be interesting.

The reviews I found online ranged from good to bad, which is always interesting. Well-established wine writers and bloggers went from "thin" to calling the 2005 reserve their "best value wine of the year."

At $11-$16 its well worth trying. I bought this wine at The Bottle Shop in West Lafayette, on the bypass. It is widely available across the country. I'd be anxious to try some of there other reds for comparison purposes.

This was a very nice bottle of wine, not great, but worth the money spent. And that's about all I ask of a $11.95 bottle on a Monday night! I'd recommend it as a great pairing with any hearty food.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Friday, January 16, 2009

Finally Found Bonarda Worthy of My Memory

On my first-ever trip to San Francisco in 2006, I checked into my hotel on the first night in town and hurried to check out the immediate area within easy walking distance.

Down an alley just off Taylor Street in Union Square I found The Hidden Vine wine bar. I looked over their extensive menu of wines. My waiter, in the cellar-like room adajcent to the Fitzgerald Hotel, recommended I try the Bonarda. I had never heard of the grape.

I tried a glass and loved it. I ordered a bottle that was low $20, drank about half and took the bottle back to my hotel - which I was told was perfectly legal. I loved the wine. I have found just one 100 percent Bonarda since and it was disappointing.

But Friday night I opened a 2005 Dante Robino Bonarda and soon remembered why I loved this wine so much. But, it's very strange that I had a totally different experience when pairing it with dinner. Read that update at bottom of posting.

It's a refined wine that immediately catches your attention with the nose where you can detect the oak. It is nice bright fruit on the palate and even and a really smooth finish. Much of what I've read about the grape talks about a hint of smoky flavor. I didn't really get that with this wine but it doesn't matter. This was good juice.

I bought this bottle at Cork and Cracker in Indianaplis for a ridiculously low $11.95. I found it online for up to $14. I say the price was ridiculously low only because of the quality. I know that I'm catching myself praising wines that are 'better than their low price' but this one knocks that concept out of the park.

It's the perfect combination of smooth and big for an inexpensive wine. There is some wow factor with this dark purple juice.

I did find the Dante Robino website and a little about them there and on the web. It's a very old winery located on the banks of the Mendoza River in the valley about 600 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. They grow nearly a 1,000 acres of Malbec, Bonarda, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

And borrowing from the website and research: "Dante Robino was born in 1995 in Canelli, a small town in northwest Italy's Piomonte Region. After learning the art and sckill of winemaking from his family, he immigarated to Argentenian in 1920 and established the winery that still bears his name on the slopes of the Andes."

This wine has picked up honors in a couple of different national and international competitions. Do I like it? I'm considering calling C&C to ask if they have any of this beauty left in the shop and hold me a half case or more!

(A POSTSCRIPT): Two nights, one bottle and two wildly different experiences with this wine. Friday night I had the wine with simple red sauce pasta .. not kicked up at all. I didn't like it with the pasta. Actually, it was simple bottled red sauce and ground turkey. The wine didn't pair well at all. It was acidic and tannic and for lack of better words - very "oaky". I'm guessing the acidity of the tomato sauce led to this odd reaction.

A half hour after dinner, it as back to it's wonderful self. So Saturday night, having a half bottle left, I enjoyed it with two pork chops. One chop was baked with a dry cherry/smoke rub and the other had a traditional BBQ sauce. And, it was great. It just didn't work with the pasta - at all!

Frankly, it was as bad with the pasta as it was great alone and with the pork.

You never quit learning with wine!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

It Didn't Take Long - A Blog About Blogs

I just don't spend adequate time promoting the newspaper column or blog, but I took an evening this week and did some work and research.

I has happy to find a couple of Indiana-based blogs and a couple more referred to me by some Hoosier bloggers. I linked Charles' Indiana Wine Blog on the left column here. He writes about Indiana wineries and wine. It would be a great resource when you head to the grocery or Indiana wine shop to buy Indiana product. Also would be great if you plan some winery visits.

He responded and put me on to a couple of other blogs. David Honig, Indianapolis, writes two blogs that are very interesting and a little different. Honig's first effort is 2 Days per Bottle. In that blog he takes a wine and compares the taste from the day he opened the bottle to how it tastes 24 hours later. It's a really great read.

His other blog is equally unique, though perhaps for the only real geeky wine drinkers among us. It's called The 89 Project. If you are into wine then you're familiar with Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast's 100-point rating scales. The magic number always seems to be those 90-point-plus wines. Everyone wants them. But what happens to those 89 point wines? They're often the same price point as the 90-pointers, and how can one subjective point make a difference? Well, that's exactly what Honig and other wine bloggers and journalists do in The 89 Project. They review 89 point wines.

Finally, is one of the great wine blogs you'll find anywhere and that is Hoosier Jeff Lefevere's Good Grape - A Wine Manifesto. His blog has been recognized by regular readers as one of the best. And if you haven't Google-searched wine blogs, there are hundreds and hundreds of wine blogs out there.

Good Grape is a sophistcated, fun site with a whole lot going on. Give it a look.

Happy reading and sipping!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

U.S. Set to Pass Italy in Word Wine Consumption

For a number of years I've been telling whoever cared or would listen about the huge growth in wine sales in the United States.

Just today I saw an Associated Press news story about U.S. wine sales and how we're soon to pass Italy as the leader in worldwide wine consumption.

It's worth a read. I found the story on my favorite news site, msnbc.com - you can read the story here.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Sunday, January 11, 2009

An All-Time Favorite Value Wine

I've been drinking Santa Cristina Sangiovese for a number of years. It never fails to disappoint. And it is a mass-produced wine.

The wine is made by the Antinori family from Florence, Italy. The family has made wine for 26 generations. No, that's not a typo. I knew they were one of Italy's oldest wine producers but didn't realize the family history dated back that far until I did some research. There are several interesting videos about the family on YouTube. Start with this short video and you'll see more in the related video windows.

They make 300,000 to 400,000 cases of Santa Cristina every year which normally scares me away. But I've never had a bad bottle. They first produced this wine in the 1940s but have made a few changes through the years. Perhaps the biggest of those changes came in 1994 when they added 10 percent Merlot to the Sangiovese. It softened the wine. The glass I had Saturday night had hints of cherry and herb. It's medium bodied with a moderately smooth finish. Still, there is enough heft to this wine and some acidity to hold up nicely to food.

The wine "experts" generally tend to praise this consistent Italian gem. And the best part is the price point. You will find it in wine shops and the big discount stores with wine selections in the $9-$12 range.

If you have not moved beyond the Lambrusco, this is a good introduction to better wine. If you're a regular wine drinker, you'll be surprised at the structure of this inexpensive bottle.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Missing Link Zin Missing A Lot

Early on, if you're a serious wine drinker, you learn not to buy wines with cute bottles, cute names, or some gimmick. I've lived by that rule. But every now and then, the marketers get me.

Saturday I bought a bottle of Missing Link Zinfandel. It was under $10 and very clever.

The back of the bottle reads as follows:

"You've evolved as a wine drinker. You're past monkeying around with entry level wines, but you're not about to ape over those insanely expensive "cult" wines either. Well, stand up straight and stop dragging those nuckles ..."

You get the idea. I opened it tonight and it smelled funny, but not like it had gone bad. The taste was thin ... and weird. Good Zin has a big fruit forward blast and a peppery finish. Even thin zin has some of the same characteristics. This had none of those things. It was sorta bad, but not awful - I drank some and poured the rest out - probably a couple of glasses.

The wine was a 2007 from the Lodi area in California.

So remember the rules - avoid the gimmicky wines! No cats, dogs, poetry, nor movie stars, weird shaped bottles or catchy names. Clearly some of these wineries spend more on marketing and packaging than they do the wine!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Please Note Some Blog Changes

A quick note to regular visitors to Grape Sense - A Glass Half Full.

I'm really getting into this and decided my columns and periodic musings need some order. I have created a separate blog (see Grape Sense in left column) for just the newspaper columns. I will use this space to write about the wines I'm drinking and my wine ruminations.

Grape Sense will be just the newspaper column. That helps me out when introducing the column to new newspapers. And if you missed one earlier, they should be much easier to browse through now!

It was exciting for me to know Seymour and Terre Haute started the column last week. It was even more exciting to get an email from a distant relative of the Bogle family still living in Jackson county. Bogle makes a decent supermarket brand.

I was thrilled to get three emails from the Terre Haute region. One reader wanted some Indiana winery advice and the other some wine suggestions. The third was a "wine guy" for Beasler's Market which has a nice wine and beer selection. I exchanged a couple of e-mails with a great guy who helps manage their wine selection. I plan on making a Saturday visit soon.

But I do appreciate the feedback. Keep the email coming! And, (a plug) if the newspaper column is running in your community let the editor know you appreciate it!

Thanks - Howard

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Friday, January 2, 2009

Nothing Quite as Tasty as a Nice Chianti Classico

For most wine lovers like me, it's all about a great wine at a great price!

I opened a bottle of Chianti Classico Friday night that really fits that bill. Brancaia Chianti Classico (2003) was one of nicest inexpensive Italian wines I've opened in awhile.

Hats off to the folks at Cork and Cracker in Indianapolis who recommended this super value wine at $14.99.

This is 100 percent Sangiovese that is silky smooth that was aged 18 months in French Oak. What I like about it is how it held up to food. Many of the Chianti's are fruity and easy to drink, but disappear when paired with food of strong flavor.

This wine was very smooth on the palate with enough punch on the back side with smooth tannins and the French Oak aging to hold its own.

A bit of education here. There is Chianti and Chianti Classico. Remember that Italian and French wines are named by the region. It's pretty simple, Chianti is a major Italian wine area based largely on the Sangiovese grape. Classico is an area within the Chianti region.

This was a super bottle of wine for the price. I made some kicked up pasta and it paired up perfectly.

This is not a mass produced wine either, just 4,500 cases. And, it got an 88 from Wine Spectator. If you're near Cork and Cracker, by the old Glendale Mall in Indy, stop in and pick up a bottle. I'm sure you'd see it elsewhere too.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com