Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Monthaven Chardonnay - Box Wine Test Underway

It all started with bad wine decades ago and has evolved to a reasonable option in today's wine boom!

Yes, I'm drinking wine from a box! I have actually had a number of people, primarily from my newspaper column, ask me to write about box wine. And that's going to be the topic of my next column.

But just a week ago I received a 3 liter box of Monthaven 2008 Chardonnay as a trade sample. (That means free folks!) I popped it into the fridge when I got home today and drank a little with a pork chop this evening.

Here's the plan. I'm going to re-visit it once a week and see if I notice any signifcant change. Everyone tells me it will hold up, but I think this is a test everyone has to try for themselves.

Today's technology allows for a vacuum seal which protects the wine from oxygen. The company suggests the wine should hold up just fine for 5-6 weeks.

I opened the wine tonight. It is a soft and somewhat rich Chardonnay with oak on the nose and the finish. There's not much aciditiy in this wine. The tasting notes suggest a hint of apple, which I didn't pick up.

I have to add the usual disclaimer on Chard - I'm not a big fan. I like some of the unoaked Chardonnays made around the world but seldom find myself enjoying this style California Chardonnay. But I can identify the taste characteristics and determine if I sense any change over time. Additionally, I'm going to share this wine with a big Chardonnay fan friend of mine for his thoughts while it's new. I'll share his opinion in next few days.

This box is the "Octavin Home Wine Bar." The company is going to use the dispenser on six different wines. Each box will retail in the $22-$24 range. Or, if you will, about $5.50-$6.00 a bottle. So going in, we're talking about wines similar to what you'd buy in a grocery.

The wine is set to be released across the nation in May.

Let's see how it goes. Again, to me it was a drinkable version of a wine I'm not crazy about. But seemed nicely balanced and well made.

Check back for updates - this should be fun. And for those who see my column in their local newspaper, I'll give a lot more detail in my next column.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Exploration of Chenin Blanc Continues with Dry Vouvray

I'm still on my Chenin Blanc kick though I hadn't had any until a Friday night bottle of Chateau Moncountour 2006 Vouvray.

I have had the sweet Vouvrays, semi-sweet, and now really dry Chenin Blanc Vouvray. This winery dates back to the 15th Century. It's very well-made wine.

It's floral on the nose with an almost a honey-like characteristic in flavor on the palate. It is very dry white wine. The acidity was strong when I opened the bottle but opened up after it had been uncorked for a couple of hours.

I liked this wine but it clearly wouldn't be everyone's choice. It's a very dry white. It's easy to drink at just 12.5 percent alcohol and a definite balance and structure I liked with each sip.

I'd think a semi-sweet would be the best starting point for most wine drinkers. That being said, I could see red wine drinkers liking the dry version of this wine even if they define themselves as someone who doesn't normally drink white wine.

Vouvray - the adventure continues!

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Friday, March 26, 2010

An Evening with Joseph Drouhin's Great-Grandson, Laurent

Thursday night's Vine and Table wine tasting with Laurent Drouhin ranked up there in my top two or three wine experiences of all time.

Drouhin was in town to pour the iconic Burgundy 2008 wines. To make that experience even better, I had 20 minutes with the great grandson of founder Joseph Drouhin to do an interview for Palate Press.

So most of my information will be for that story, but I'm sure I'll have a few left over goodies for here and when the story publishes I'll be sure to note it on the blog.

Mr. Drouhin was charming and offered great insight not only into Burgundy but French wine in general. We tasted his Chablis, White Burgandy, and Burgandy. The Chablis (chardonnay, most unoaked or little oak) was simply fabulous - some of the best white wine I've ever tasted. The white Burgandy, more expensive than Chablis because of the appellation just wasn't as enjoyable to my palate.

But the Pinot Noir was lovely. Four wines up to about the $100 a bottle price point were fabulous Pinot in the lighter, earthy Burgundy style.

A fabulous evening - more to come!

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Concannon Wines Protecting Historic Vineyards

Concannon Wines is a California name that's been around a long time. James Concannon founded the winery in 1883, even if the operation was bought and sold a number of times in the 1980s, the family is still involved today.

The fourth generation of Concannons are now promoting it's "Conservancy" line of four wines. The two samples I'm writing about here was accompanied by a letter from John Concannon saying the effort is aimed at "preserving our winemaking heritage and to ensure future generations experience my great-grandfather's vision of creating world'class wines at an affordable price."

Essentially, a Conservancy vineyard sets the property aside with the assurance it's protected forever from urban growth. The Livermore Valley may not be a familiar name even to many wine drinkers. It's a small area due east of San Francisco just a little south of Oakland.

The Concannon samples were a 2008 Chardonnay and 2007 Petite Sirah.

I called on a couple of friends to assist me in evaluating these wines. My boss is a big Chardonnay fan - a much bigger fan than me, for sure. He called the wine a "really nice wine at this price point. It would be good with food or by itself."

He went on to connect with his inner wine geek and wrote "it's fresh, crisp, with a big pear flavor, subtly oaky, but not too much. It had an excellent finish."

This wine spent time in French and American oak and checks in at 13.5 percent alcohol.

The suggested retail price for both of these wines is $15. And Concannon is widely distributed across the country.

I'm fortunate to have a wine buddy just down the street. He comes down once, sometimes twice, a week and we share the bottles we happen to have open. I asked him down to try the Concannon Petite Sirah.

I'm more of a fan of the big wines than my friend but was curious to get his take. The Concannon Petite Sirah is 97 percent Petite Sirah and 3 percent Petit Verdot. Just like the Chardonnay, it sees French and American oak. It's also 13.5 percent alcohol and also retails at $15.

I found the wine to be a bit young, certainly, but a big mouthful of flavor with definite chocolate and a smooth finish as it opened up. He agreed with me on the chocolate but offered up something that surprised me a bit. He was getting hints of caramel. So I looked at the winemaker's tasting notes and found "molasses" - I'd say close enough!

This Petite Sirah is not as big as some you'll find around the price but this one comes from an iconic winemaker and is as well-balanced wine as any you'll find. For $15, its a real good buy!

Anyone who has visited any of California's wine country has seen the explosion of growth over the last few decades. That certainly makes the conservancy movement even more important and appreciated.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Is It Live or Memorex? Primitivo or Zinfandel?

If you didn't get the headline, you're just too darn young! Memorex, the audio people, had one of the great campaign slogans for years - "Is it live or Memorex?" Then at the end of commercial an opera singer or someone would hit an incredibly high note and a crystal wine goblet would shatter! Which was it, live or a recording?

We might do the same with the Italian Primitivo! I really don't recall ever having the grape before tonight though I've seen it for years.

Let's get the mystery on the table for you though. Primitivo has been called the forefather of Zin and other assorted names! But there is a lot of interesting history online about Primitivo. Just Google it if you're a real geek and check it out. It is an interesting debate if you like Primitivo begat Zin begat more Zin begat bad Zin kind of thing!

The grape is grown in Puglia in Italy. Or, if you prefer, the heel of the boot.

But this wine was a nice surprise. Yes, it definitely reminded me of Zinfandel. It had a really big nose, but not as fruity on the palate. It was definitely a full-bodied wine.

This is a $12 bottle (2006 Cantele)I picked up at Village Bottle Shop, West Lafayette, Indiana.

This is a lively/fun glass of wine. It's big enough to please about anyone, though not a lot of mid palate. It is what it is - good $12 wine.

It was good with pasta and would be good with a spicy pizza, I think. Our mantra is to always encourage wine newbies to try something new! So try some Primitivo!

POSTSCRIPT: I wrote the above while cooking and with the first few bites of pasta. This wine has great quality for price point value. It's definitely a repeat buy for me!

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Argentinian Blend Really Easy to Like

Clos de los Siete is a blend from Argentina that is reasonably price, with big forward fruit, soft tannins, and easy to enjoy.

The wine is a blend of Malbec (48 percent), Merlot (28 percent), Syrah (12 percent), and Cabernet Sauvingon (12 percent). (Insert 'kitchen sink' joke here!)

But the end result is a purple wine that has a really rich texture and wonderful finish. I got some mineral quality along with the dark cheery and currants you might expect. But the chocolate and earthy characteristics is what made it a great glass of wine for me.

I didn't know the back story on this wine until after drinking it and writing the first few graphs of this blog post. It seems the wine was made by French winemaker Michel Rolland (his name is on the label). He is often credited/accused of making Bordeaux style wines that are fruit forward and lots of oak. There are those, apparently, who not-so-subtly suggest that's for the purpose of getting big ratings on the 100-point scale that helps sell wine.

I, for one, like an occasional fruit forward, big oaky wine. Apparently, lots of people like such wines.

I had this wine with beef tenderloin and it was a great pairing. I think it would also rock with barbecue.

Wine Advocate
gave this wine 90 points with Robert Parker scoring it 91. The best part is you can find it at $15-$18. I have seen it in lots of shops.

This is simply very good wine that I'd buy again.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Italian Wine Story Up on Palate Press, WineBusiness.Com

I have written about my visit to Italy over the holiday and my one day into Tuscany to visit two small Italian wineries.

The contact for the winery visit was Jersey native Anthony Finta. Anthony has a great business idea to bring such wines to the U.S. via the internet. I wrote a story about that experience that went up on the national online wine magazine - Palate Press today. Click here for a direct link to the story.

Then I was very happy this evening to learn that WineBusiness.Com picked up my story for its website. (Go to lower lefthand corner of page - More Blogs - If you wish to see it up there.)

I traded a couple of emails with Anthony today, who was thrilled with the exposure. Then he directed me to his site Florence Wine Merchants, where he hopes to sell the wine. He put up a link to the Palate Press story about his new venture.

I'm thrilled with all the exposure and the exposure for Grape Sense!

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

There is Reason Those "Old" Names are Old!

Recently I've taken to drinking more Cabernet Sauvignon. The grand ol grape is grown all around the world and is best known for the great wines of France and California.

I have discovered some old friends, so to speak. I have bought several "iconic" California Cabernets along with a few new ones. And you know what kids? Those "good old boys" of Sonoma and Napa still know, have always known what they're doing.

I admit with a tinge of embarrassment I had never had a Louis M. Martini wine until this very night. Louis started his California winery in 1933 and the family operation runs it to this very day.

I opened the Martini 2007 Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. You can find it within a range of $12-$16. Guess what? It's damn fine Cab! Wine Advocate and Robert Parker both pinned this value wine at 90 points!

The juice has a huge nose for the price. I get spice, herbs, and some dirt on the nose. I thought it was a nicely balanced and well-made bottle of wine. I'd recommend this wine heartily to those just starting with Cabernet. Sure, it's not a huge wine at this price but it is surprisingly big and even more suprisingly balanced.

This is quality at a Cabernet price point where you usually only see confusion and tricks.

Better yet, Louis Martini wine is widely available. I've bet you've seen the label on the bottle I inserted on this blog.

Pick a bottle up next time you're having steak. I don't think there is any way you can be disappointed with this wine at this price!

I have a couple more in the wine rack I'll be trying soon. There's nothing like 'old friends' - even when you're meeting them for the first time.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

California Garnacha Big Bold, but Not Quite Ready

If I wrote 85 percent Garnacha and 15 percent Tempranillo you're going to say "Aha, another Spanish wine!"

Well tonight you'd be wrong!

I opened a 2007 Odisea Two Rows Garnacha tonight from California. I love those two grapes and was pretty sure what to expect but was taken back a bit by the boldness of this California concoction.

The wine had big spice and big dark fruit flavor. But, for me the tannins came on too strong. It is a wine that spent some aging time in French oak. It is a young wine but one I'd assume meant to be consumed at a young age - or maybe not!

I really, really wanted to love this wine. As I write this entry, the wine has been open about an hour and a half and is starting to smooth out a bit. I'd think a long decant, or another year in the bottle would make this a bold California venture into southern France and Spanish wine styles.

I had it with Chili and the balance was pretty good. The wine was even better with some dark chocolate.

I might just pick up another bottle of this and put it away for a year. I love the effort from winemakers Adam Webb and Mike Kuenz.

I just have a feeling this is darn fine wine when it opens up. Right now it's really tight. Perhaps I'll update this entry tomorrow night when I finish the bottle.

Online I saw this priced up to $25. I picked up this bottle at Village Bottle Shoppe in West Lafayette for a very reasonable $15.99.

I wouldn't say I disliked the wine at all, but I wanted to love it. Stay tuned!

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Ladies - It's the Story You've Waited For!

Red wine may help women keep the pounds off - that's the real headline!

I wouldn't tease you.

Check out the Reuters story that I found on here.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

FoxGlove Cabernet is a a Rich, Smooth Cab for Price

It's hard to find a smooth and rich California Cabernet for $14.

But that's exactly what a 2007 Foxgove Paso Robles Cabernet was with steak one recent night. It offers that big dark fruit flavor with just 13.7 percent alcohol. That's almost unheard of out of California.

I enjoyed the smoothness of this cab that had very mild tannins. The wine has a bit of Petit Verdot and Cab Franc.

The wine is made by Bob Varner ans shows restraint and a deft hand compared to many California Cabs you'll find at this price point.

Wine icon Robert Parker gave this Cab 89 points, calling it "an absolutely spectacular bargain." If you want a well made Cab under the $15 price point, this is one of first California cabs at that price I can heartily recommend.

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A Great New Zealand Unoaked Chardonnay

There may be as many styles Chardonnay as you'll find in Cabernet around the world. But for many folks they've never even tried an unoaked Chardonnay.

For the record, I'm not a fan of the big, buttery, oaky, vanilla-tinged California Chardonnays. But I have grown to really like the versions done in stainless steel.

Last week I opened a New Zealand (Hawkes Bay) unoaked Chardonnay. This means the wine was aged in stainless steel instead of the traditional oak. The result is a much more crisp and light flavored wine.

The wine was crisp with hints of lemon and was great with some shrimp pasta I had prepared. You might get some melon on the nose but the nice acidity and clean Chardonnay flavor would be a real eye-opener for anyone who's never had this an unoaked Chard.

Babich is known for its really nice Sauvignon Blanc. I was suprised how much I enjoyed the unoaked Chardonnay. At just $13, it's something different worth a try!

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chile's Wine Industry Also Hit by Quake

I've written about numerous Chilean wines over the last couple of years - extolling the virtuals of the Syrahs, Cabernet and native Carmenere.

The devastating earthquake had a big impact on the burgeoning wine industry. I saw several stories this morning on the topic and noticed Ed Deutch, who's column I link in the left rail, has a roundup which includes some information I also saw on

Check out his column for an update from Chile.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Two More Newspapers Pick Up 'Grape Sense'

I've lamented a few times here how tough it is to get response from Hoosier newspapers when I offer my column. For the record, I give it away. I knew as a former editor that selling a syndicated column is about as tough as it gets.

I also knew a column about value wine wasn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. Though, I would be willing to argue that value wine is where the bucks are now and that younger readers are also wine drinkers.

But I've been heartened by my latest round of emails. As noted the other day, I've picked up the Hendricks County Flyer (43,000 circulation) serving Brownsburg and Avon. Then in the past 24 hours I gained two more papers.

The Shelbyville News joins the Grape Sense lineup with 9.500 homes. I'm also excited about adding The Chronicle, a northwest Indiana weekly paper. The Chronicle reaches 28,500 homes in Portage, Chesterton, Valparaiso, and Hobart.

The combined circulation of my 11 papers is now pushing 200,000 Hoosier homes! That's exciting and I'm grateful to the editors who've picked up the column.

More and more people are drinking wine. It's a lot of fun sharing a little knowledge and direction to those new oenophiles!

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Pick on Wine for Haiti Auction a Great Syrah

Seldom will I ever write about a wine that is almost impossible for you to find, but tonight is such an occasion.

Palate Press - the national online wine magazine - is finishing up a Wine for Haiti Auction raising money for the earthquake victims of that nation.

It's been a big success. I bid on a lot of wine from The Girl and The Fig restaurant in Sonoma, California. The restaurant has an exclusive Syrah made for its customers by JC Cellars' Jeff Cohn.

The three bottles - 2005, 2006, and 2007 - were valued at $190. I won the auction with a bid of $125, so I got a bargain.

I opened the 2006 bottle Saturday night. This is big, incredibly well made Syrah. The wine had huge dark fruit and a spicy characteristic with big but well structured tannins. It was one great big glass of powerful wine. I like the big ones, but will admit it was more enjoyable the second night. This wine could certainly be aged for awhile.

You actually can buy the wine. Currently the 2007 vintage is available off the restaurant's website for $50 a bottle.

It was fun winning the auction bid. I'm anxious to see how the other two vintages compare but think I'm going to give it some time before I open another.

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