Monday, March 30, 2009

Great Pinot Noir from Oregon's Dundee Hills

A couple of blog posts back, I wrote about visiting Oregon's wine country in just over a week. Tonight I opened a bottle of Lange Winery Pinot Noir and it brought back memories of last summer.

I visited the Willamette (rhymes with dammit) Valley which has become home of some of the best Pinot in the world. As noted in that posting, these wines are outside the range of the normal under $20-25 wines I generally write about. But I think it's important to talk about the next level once in awhile as well.

I brought back three bottles of Pinot from Lange mostly because of a fun book I read by Brian Doyle. Doyle spent a year following the wine making process and learning all about it. "The Grail: A year ambling & shambling through an Oregon vineyard in pursuit of the best pinot noir wine in the whole wild world." A long title, but a great book.

Doyle wrote several pieces for the soon-to-be-released Winter Issue of Wabash Magazine. He has a simple and direct writing style that is as approachable as Lange's wines.

He spent his year at Lange Winery. I visited Lange last July and intend on going back next week. Tonight I wanted to open one of my Oregon Pinots to judge how they had improved with nearly a year of storage. The Lange 2006 Reserve was still young but a beautiful wine.

The most impressive thing about this wine is how wonderfully balanced it is with a clarity, nice fruit, and beautiful finish. Now I did give it some time to breathe before pouring and did a lot of swishing around in the glass to open up this really nice Pinot Noir.

The wine was a modest 13.5 percent alcohol that is aged 10 months in French Oak.

The Lange family made 2500 cases of this particular wine and the handcrafted nature shows through in every sip. It's just a great wine that's approachable for most people at $32.

Oregon's Pinot is not cheap. And frankly, the $32 Lange wine I enjoyed this evening is about as low as you'll find. They do make another at the $24 price point that was out of stock when I visited the winery.

I scratch my head over last summer's visit and the incredible wines at every stop. I'm really anxious to return. I didn't taste one bad Pinot in about nine winery visits.

I'll be blogging April 8 and 9 about my visits. So as I usually recommend, if you don't find Lange wines at your wine shop I suggest you look for Willamette Valley wines if you're shopping for great Pinot. I would strongly suggest you try any from the Dundee Hills region. It's really great, great wine!

Another beautiful thing about this finicky grape is that the wine goes well with most any food.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Another Okay Choice at the $10 Price Point

In these tough times, I'm picking up more and more wine around $10 and under and trying them specifically because I write this blog and the newspaper column. It's been a real adventure.

Frankly, the wines haven't been great but they have been better than I expected. It's a Saturday night and I just wanted to open a bottle and grabbed a 2005 LaYunta Tinto I had purchased at Cork & Cracker in Indianapolis.

This wine is a blend from Argentina's Mendoza Valley - home of the world's best Malbec. This wine is 28 percent Cabernet, 28 percent Malbec, and 28 percent Bonarda with a 7 percent hint of Torrontes.

I had to do a little research on Torrontes, the most widely planted white wine grape in Argentina. I haven't had a pure varietal bottle but want to try it. I suspect the winemaker puts the grape in this wine much like some winemakers use Vignonier. The little bit of white adds some nose to those big Argentinian red grapes.

This was a bit of a dry and spicy wine. There wasn't much tannin to deal with making it a nice little wine for the price point. I am not sure I could honestly call this a well-balanced wine. The Tinto (Spanish for red blend) is almost always a great value. I would recommend you try this as something different if you come across it.

You should definitely try Tintos from Spain and Mendoza if you're looking for big flavor at a value price!

I think it would be really good with pizza and perhaps pasta.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

Will be Blogging from Pinot Noir Country

Just a heads up to regular readers who enjoy or love Pinot Noir.

I've been very lucky with my work travel. As a member of the Wabash College Public Affairs staff I travel some to visit with alumni and write and tell their career stories.

Last summer I went to Portland and Seattle areas to do just that. Our alumni magazine publishes those stories the week of March 30. In celebration, I'll be headed to the Northwest to host a couple of alumni receptions.

The personal part of the trip is that I'll be taking two days on my own time, and nickel, April 8-9 to visit the fabulous Willamette Valley - home of some of the very best Pinot Noir in the world.

I had two days there last summer and was just blown away by the quality of the Pinot at virtually every stop. Now, this is not wine at the price point I normally write about. It's higher end Pinot for the most part. But some of the most beautiful Pinot Noir is being crafted in the Valley.

I'm looking forward to going back to a few of the wineries I hit the first time and a few new ones. I'll be blogging those two days about the Valley and the great Pinot. It will probably be the topic of a future newspaper column as well!

In the photos: Top right is the view down into the valley atop one of the many hills. This was home of Bella Vida Winery. And at bottom left, is a the vinyard and a bottle of wine from Winderlea - a new operation with a very storied vineyard. One of the really cool things in the Valley as opposed to Napa or Sonoma is the owners or winemaker is often pouring the wine in the tasting room!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nice Spanish Wine for Under $10

There's nothing wrong with a "nice little wine." That's what I like to call them.

Tonight I opened a bottle of 2006 Protocolo Tinto Vino de La Tierra de Castilla - there's a mouthful. Unfortunately, it's not really a mouthful of wine but it is a tasty little wine that you can probably find for under $10.

This Spanish wine is made of the country's most noted grape, Tempranillo. The winery owns a lot of acreage and produces a lot of wine. This value wine has a relatively smooth earthiness to it that would go nice with mild pasta, pork, or a beef stew perhaps.

The biggest thing I learned about this wine is that it really improves if you open the bottle 30-45 minutes before drinking.

It's good wine, nothing special but again - far better than a grocery store choice. You might not find the label, though it is widely distributed. My advice here is don't be afraid of inexpensive Spanish wines. Tempranillo is a great value wine. Give it a try!

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Surprising Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon

I wrote not long ago about the difficulty in finding good Cabernet under $20. I might have to re-think that as I've discovered a third wine that I think is worth your money.

Santa Emma 2006 Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a dynamite Cabernet from Chile at an extraordinarily reasonable $10.95. I have seen it a bit cheaper and a bit higher on the internet. I picked this one up at the recommendation of Reggie McConnell, wine steward/host at Baeslers Market in Terre Haute.

This wine is a really dark purple with some spicy characteristics and just the right amount of tannin on the finish to hold up to steak. I fired up the grill and put a nice burn on a filet. The steak had a slight crust that I love on grilled beef and the wine held its own against the steak and the smoke cherry rub.

This wine feels very balanced. You get the fruit and the tannins and they balance each other nicely.

This is a great Cab at the price point. It is widely distributed. I'd suggest you give Santa Emma a try if you see it.

A post script: I'm a few steps beyond a novice but not near the expert of so many others. I've learned the past few months from feedback here and my newspaper column that many people want to take the step to drinking better wines. I encourage you to look at the comment posted to my blog entry about the Brunello I had to pour down the sink. There is a great explanation of what happens when a wine goes bad. I have had it explained to me several times and just haven't put enough effort into understanding the various ways wines will go south on you. Thanks to Tony for a full explanation.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Rare Sangiovese Find at Under $14

It's unusual to find a 100% Sangiovese Italian wine that is as fresh and easy-to-drink as Castello di Monastero's 2005 Sangiovese Toscana!

I've admitted here before that I'm not always the best at identifying specific fruit tastes in wines. But I'd defy most anyone not to recognize the strong cherry flavor at the front of the palate in this Italian smoothie. I bought it for $13.49 at Baeslers Market in Terre Haute. (More on that fantastic market in the near future.)

This was about as an easy to drink Italian wine as I've ever had. I was impressed. I had it with the leftover, frozen and spicy meat and sauce I made Friday night. It held up much better than the $24 Dolcetto I opened after pouring out the Brunello - if you've read the previous post.

This is a nice bottle of Italian wine that would go great with any red sauce dish. At $13.49 it's a great value. And, I found it at the same price and even cheaper on the internet.

I've been looking for a good Italian pairing for my \penchant for pasta dishes. This wine is one of the better ones I've had in a long, long time.

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It Happens! I Just Hope It Doesn't Happen to You!

It was a Saturday night. I made some great spicy pasta that took considerable effort because a good friend was visiting. I opened the bottle and noticed about two-thirds of the cork had wine stain a good 50 percent up the cork.

I thought: "Ah-Oh"

Unfortunately, I was right. I decided during the day I hadn't opened a bottle of really special wine in a some time - Christmas, actually! So I thought I'd open a bottle of 1995 Italian Brunello. I poured some wine into a glass and let it set. I tasted it, and it has a nasty - almost chemical like - taste.

Typically a "corked" wine, where the cork has failed and oxidation occurs, smells and tastes like vinegar. I once had a friend say it tasted like cider. Either way, that's bad.

This was different. This bottle had a nasty and dry chemical taste. I wasn't sure what was wrong, but it was clearly a bad bottle of wine and I had to pour it out.

Now, grab a Kleenex! If you don't know, Brunello is one of the big Tuscan wines of Italy. Brunello is expensive. Most of my wine buys and writing is about wines under $20-$25. But I do buy a little upper end wine.

I've had this bottle for awhile and it cost me, as I recall, about $55. I had had this particular Brunello before and remember the smoky tobacco and leather flavor with great detail. It was recommended by a wine merchant and was wonderful when I tried it so I bought another bottle.

I had taken great care of this wine, or so I thought. I have a 12 bottle wine storage system with temperature control and it's obviously dark. The wine could have been bad when I bought it 3-4 years ago. I don't know.

I guess the point is be careful with your wine. Store it between 55 and 65 degrees in a dark area and you'll probably be all right!

There is nothing more painful than pouring a $55 bottle of wine down the sink!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Dynamite Syrah from California's Lodi Region

It's been awhile since I had a really great Syrah and tonight I had one that was just fantastic.

Earlier this month I bought a Klinker Brick Zinfandel at Vine and Table that was really a nice big wine. I wrote about it March 1 on this blog.

During the same visit I was looking for a Syrah and came across Klinker Brick's 2005 Lodi Syrah and picked up a bottle for $16.95.

I opened it up tonight and immediately was taken by the big fragrant nose on this beautiful and inexpensive bottle of wine. I'm a fan now of Klinker Brick. If you see their label, I'd say buy it!

Good Syrah should have some "Wow" power when it first hits your mouth and this wine does not disappoint. It has a big fruit-forward flavor. The tasting notes from the winery said dried cherry and chocolate. I didn't get the cherry but did get the hints of choclate.

This is a fairly big wine on alcohol at 14.8 percent. The winery made just 1,500 cases. Wines of that limited production suggest they got a lot of love. This wine got a lot of love.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Really Smooth Blend of Two Popular Grapes

The coming of spring weather means its time to rake the leaves and get out the grill. With sunny skies in Central Indiana today, and fresh back from the warm temperatures of Florida, I decided to grill a ribeye!

I went to the wine rack and found a Carlos Basso blend I bought at Vine & Table in Carmel. I remember the wine buyer telling me it was a very, very soft red wine with no real tannin taste at all. The wine is 55 percent Cabernet and 45 percent Merlot.

He was right. That is a good thing and a bad thing. Let me explain. The good thing is that almost anyone in the world could drink this wine with some sort of red meat. Frankly, you could drink it alone with the absense of much on the back end of the palate.

It's soft, dark red wine with some spice flavor and a tad bit of oak. On the the other side of things, it didn't hold up all that great to the ribeye. That's where those tannins come in handy when pairing red wine with bigger-flavored foods.

This wine would be a good safe choice if you're having guests and beef and not sure what they might drink. It's not too big for the non-wine drinkers and palatible enough for those who regularly enjoy wine.

I wouldn't call it wimpy there is some nice flavor but its certainly not a big red wine. Still, at the $10.99 I paid for the bottle its a nice choice at that price point.

I've had some great Malbec from Carlos Basso and would recommend you pick up their label wherever you might see it. They are a fine Argentinian producer. There value wines are widely available.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

A Very Inexpensive, Very Drinkable Garnacha

Sometimes simple says it best.

I picked up a bottle of D'Aragon 2007 Old Vine Garnacha from Spain at Vine and Table in Carmel a couple weeks ago and opened it last night.

It's a very nicely balanced wine with a real smooth flavor of herbs and berries. There is very little tannin on the finish and mild acidity.

I was directed to this wine by V&T's wine buyer. It sold for $9.99. I'm telling you for the money, it's pretty darn good juice!

If you want to read the 'geek' specs, check out this spec sheet from the winemaker.

I'd recommend giving it a try. Not sure you'll see it beyond Vine and Table, I believe its an exclusive. But if you have a reason to get to Carmel this is great $10 wine for dinner. This would pair great with mild pasta, olive oil and penne pasta type dishes, or just by itself.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Found a Great Soave in Florida

Cocoa Beach, Fl. - As an old newspaper guy, I just love datelines. Yes, I'm in Cocoa Beach, Florida, taking a few days off.

Sort of sounds familiar, doesn't it? Well, (showing my age) the city is known as the home of fictional characters Admiral Nelson and Jeanne - yes, "I Dream of Jeanne." Cocoa Beach was the home of the NASA astronaut and magical "Genie" of 60s TV fame.

As a matter of fact, "I Dream of Jeanne Blvd" is right next to the beach front motel where I'm staying.

How cool is that?

But, I'm writing a brief entry about La Broia 2003 Soave Superiore. It is a dynamite dry white Italian wine.

I have bought two bottles of it this week to drink in this week's beautiful and warm Florida weather. The temps are in the mid seventies, with dry air and crystal blue skies. The photo in this blog is from a tiki bar at my hotel looking at the ocean.

Oh, but back to the wine. The wine has subtle flavor of apple and lemon, very dry and very balanced wine. It has a somewhat high 13.5 alcohol content. I think it would hold up great to lighter flavored seafood and is dynamite by itself on the beach or poolside!

It's a great wine for warm days! I might just go back up Atlantic Avenue before leaving and buy more!

One other vacation note: I visited Kennedy Space Center for first time every this morning and look forward to seeing a night-time shuttle launch Wed. (tomorrow) night from the beach!

Buy this wine if you see it anywhere in Indiana. And, "blink blink" think warm thoughts!

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Sometimes a Good Idea Just Goes Bad

I like Sangiovese based wines from Italy a lot!

I like a nice big smoky Bonarda from Argentina.

So when someone recommended a 50-50 Sangiovese-Bonarda blend, I immediately snapped up a bottle at a bargain $7.99. I did find it online for $4.99 and consistently for $5.99 before writing this blog.

I usually keep the entries short when I don't like the wine. This was Notro 2007 Tinto de Montana from Argentina.

This wasn't a pleasant experience! I'm sure this wine could serve some useful purpose for ... aaa .. something. But I wouldn't advise actually drinking it.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Two Big Flavors For One Big Wine

I really enjoy a big Syrah and the often-hard-to-find Argentinian Bonarda. So when I came across a 50-50 blend of the two from Argentina's renowned winemaker Susan Balbo I snapped up a bottle at World Market in Carmel for a very reasonable $13.99.

Balbo has become one of Argentina's biggest names in value wine and respected around the world for her emerging winery.

I had previously tasted Balbo's Rose of Malbec and blogged about it. I was impressed enough that when I saw this blend I had to give it a try.

I've had a glass of this wine at this point in the blog, and I'm having a hard time getting a handle on it. It has a big fruit flavor with intense raspberry and spice nose. There is no question its a bit earthy on the nose and palate, thanks to the Bonarda. It is full bodied - a complete mouthful of wine. And, it is a very dry wine. There is some definite acidity but still, a rather smooth finish. It's a 13.5 percent alcohol wine.

I did my internet research and learned this is one of Balbo's favorite projects. Her Malbec and Rose of Malbec have received pretty consistent praise.

This bottle was a 2006 and I just have to wonder what this wine would be like in a few more years. My gut instinct and what I've learned in drinking wine, is that it would be a really great wine.

And another note, I noted above I picked this up for $13.99 and found it on the net for an average price of $17.99! And for those of you who note such things, wine guru Robert Parker gave this juice a 90.

So, in summary: A big flavor, a bit harsh on palate probably for some but an interesting wine.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

One of Best $12 Wines You'll Find!

I have focused on wine under $15-$20 in my newspaper column and this blog because that's where the growing wine market is buying. It's also the majority of what I buy and really enjoy. There is nothing more fun than finding a great $12 bottle of wine. Well, maybe its finding a bottle under $10 - but those are even more rare.

How do I find them? I read a lot, and listen to the recommendations of wine shop employees, owners, or in this case - wine buyer!

I found a really good $12 bottle Saturday at Vine and Table in Carmel. I wrote a blog entry not too far back about avoiding wines with funny or cute names. But I bought Bangin' Red 2005 Napa Valley on the recommendation of Vine & Table's wine buyer, Louis Calli.

I started asking some questions at the tasting bar and identified myself as a wine columnist/blogger and he jumped in to answer some questions and walk around the shop. I'm thinking of going back and doing a visit just to get his opinions on some things for a future newspaper column, if he would be so kind.

The point I went away with was how important it is for a shop like the one in Carmel to have a wide selection of wines under $15 and even $10. He pointed out a couple I purchased.

The Bangin' Red had a rich and fruity taste with plenty of oak on the back end to make me shake my head at a wine that sometimes can be found for under $10.

I'd say the juice has some spice, definitely some dark fruit, with medium body and despite the oak a rather smooth finish.

The label "Table Wine" has long taken a bad rap! It's often a blend of grapes that reads like what the winery had left over after making the good stuff. This wine had Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Zinfandel - and the kitchen sink. But it will surprise you because it's darn good!

A regular blog reader asked me to note more often how a wine pairs with food. Tonight I had some pasta, a tad bit more spicy than I normally make it. I was testing a mixture of flavors for a dinner I'm making later in the week. I simply used ground turkey and Italian sausage with onion, red peppers, and garlic along with canned seasoned, diced tomatoes. I mix the sausage 2-1 in favor of mild over hot.

The Bangin Red held up better than I expected. It might not be my first choice, but as opposed to other reds it held its own against pretty big flavor.

And the final endorsement: I had some 70 percent cocoa chocolate and the wine held up pretty good. Afterwards I tried a couple small bites of 60 percent cocoa chocolate and it paired really great.

Bangin' Red rocks!

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Zin Not For the Weak of Palate

You start drinking enough wine and there is nothing better than a great big Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Zinfandel.

Today I found a great big Zinfandel I really liked for $16.49. The 2006 Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel was really great wine for the price. It had all the characteristics of a bigger priced Zin.

One of the interesting things about this Zin is that two of my favorite wine proprietors recommended this wine which sold me on the idea of taking a bottle home. I opened it tonight largely out of curiosity and loved ever sip.

Interestingly online, I found most reviewers praising that 2005 wine and giving the 2006 negative to so-so reviews. I have nothing to compare it to though and thought the 2006 was a great bottle of wine.

The wine has an intense fruit-forward flavor of deep cherry and a big finish with an alcohol burn down the the throat thanks to the 15.8 percent alcohol content. It is probably not a wine for beginners or the weak of palate. But if you want a big flavor and a big challenge to your palate at a reasonable price, Klinker Brick is the wine for you.

Interestingly, I had bought the winery's upper end bottling "Old Ghost" about a year go. I have it tucked away in my wine storage cooler for a special moment or occasion. It was just over $30 and highly recommended by one of the long-time wine employees at Kahn's Fine Wines on Keystone Ave. in Indianapolis.

If you want a huge taste, try the Klinker Brick Old Vine Zin. I've found it in several places.

The winery story is an interesting one. The winery consists of 15 different vineyards that range from 35 to 110 years old. For years the grapes were sold to other California Zin producers until 2005 when the owners decided to start their own winery.

I also picked up a bottle of their Syrah today for under $17. I'll be trying that in the near future.

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