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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