Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dancing Coyote Makes an Awesome Chenin Blanc

Great wine - red or white - doesn't always have to scream in your face or palate to be good wine. Dancing Coyote is a smaller operation than many of its California counterparts but its making a name with unusual white wine grapes.

Several weeks ago I received trade samples of Dancing Coyote's Chenin Blanc, Albarino, and Gruner Veltliner. I read a little of the accompany material and put off tasting the wines. I loved the fact they are making these sometimes-hard-to-find varietals. I also loved they were making the wines in small batches.

I really, really wanted to like these wines. Now, we'll pause because it seems more often than not when you fall in love with an idea instead of a product you're often disappointed.

So my glee was off the charts when the 2009 Chenin Blanc hit me as the best I've had out of California. If you follow this blog at all, or not, I went through a big Chenin Blanc phase a few months ago. I love nice French Vouvray or Samur, was unimpressed with the South African Chenin I tried, and generally very disappointed with the 2-3 California Chenin Blancs I could find.

I loved this wine!

The very first thing I noticed is that it's a much lighter style than the other Califnornia Chenin Blancs I tried. It has tart citrus, a very well-balanced acidity and a longer finish than I ever expected.

The wine retails around $11 but you could have trouble finding it. They made only 218 cases of the 2009.

The winery is family owned and operated and located in California's Clarksburg area. They have about 600 acres of vineyard.

Now what I find interesting is most of the wine press I read and received on Dancing Coyote was on its Albarino and Gruner Veltliner. I have those two bottles in the rack and I'm going to try them soon. I really enjoy both of those grapes. I have never had either from a California producer.

This was a trade sample, but I'd buy Dancing Coyote white in a minute. I've had a couple of trade sample wines recently that I sure couldn't say the same about.

I often link up winery websites here and have included a link to Dancing Coyote. They have a great story. Take a few moments to learn more.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

A New Look for Grape Sense - A Glass Half Full

Should I post a blog to state the obvious? Well, I'm the type of guy who does such things.

I have changed the look of the blog about once a year. Perhaps, it's so I don't get bored looking at it. But I like the new look. You'll find the same items in the right column here that used to be in the left column.

So I'm going to try this look for a few weeks and see how I like it. The URL doesn't change, nothing else changes, so let's run with it!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

A Big, Nice Earthy Bonarda from Durigutti

I've written here a number of times and taken up the cause of Bonarda as a personal mission.

Okay, maybe that's a bit of hyperbole but I love good Bonarda. The grape was the most widely grown wine grape in Argentina before the explosion of Malbec.

It's hard to find 100 percent Bonarda and when I do find one I buy it. I found a good one at Vine & Table in Carmel a few weeks back that I opened tonight.

I opened Durigutti 2007 Bonarda and really enjoyed it with a somewhat spicy pork chop. Yummy!

The wine has a nice, big, and earthy nose. The nose and initial feel on the palate is one of plum, pepper, and an astringency that I like in a nice big red wine.

This was a big flavored wine with very smooth tannins and finish. Additionally, its made by the Durigutti brothers - Pablo and Hector - who have quite a renowned reputation. The brothers started getting real attention working for Altos Las Hormigas winery which produces one of the best value Malbecs I've ever enjoyed.

This wine is a classic Bonarda with a smoky feel you're going to love. If you like Malbec, you need to try Bonarda. It's got a little more going on than many Malbecs but it's a food-friendly wine that many will enjoy.

This wine consistently scores in the very high 80s and can be found around $10.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Column: The Rise of South African Wines

Note: I've decided to start posting my newspaper columns to the regular blog. I write these every other week for 11 Indiana newspapers, reaching about 200,000 homes. I post every newspaper column to a separate blog as an archive. The past columns can be accessed there under Grape Sense, in the left hand column of this blog.

Sports have long been a catalyst for economic development. You don’t have to look any farther than Indianapolis. Indy city leaders built the RCA Dome, Conseco Fieldhouse, and now Lucas Oil Stadium not just for the sports teams but to lure business, improve the economic climate downtown and create new business.

As the eyes of the soccer world look to South Africa, the South African wine industry is trying to capitalize on all of the attention.

Wine production dates back to at least the 1600s but the years of apartheid stymied any international expansion. Right now South African wines are one of the “hottest things” in the wine world.

The World Cup has been the necessary impetus to build the wine brand in South Africa and around the world. Project Laduma started in 2008 aiming to create 2010 wine stewards by this summer’s World Cup. The wine industry’s marketing arm, Wines of South Africa, came up with the job-creating idea to welcome World Cup guests.
WSA funded the drive by having members create specific red wines to be sold to finance the steward training. The red wines sold to the consumer at the $15-$20 price point. About half of the 2,000 workers were identified as restaurant workers but the other half came from the nation’s unemployed.

But the country hasn’t been looking inward only. South Africa exports more than 10 million gallons of wine annually. Nearly 300,000 people are employed in the wine industry. The country produces less than four percent of the world’s wine, ranking it eighth in overall volume.

The country has nine wine regions with the most recognized being Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Constantia. The country grows a lot of Cabernet, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir. Riesling, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc are also plentiful. Chenin Blanc, sometimes called Steen, is the most widely grown grape in the Cape region. It is often cited as South Africa’s best white.

South Africa’s signature grape is Pinotage. It’s one wine many people have heard of and perhaps never tried. It is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The Cinsaut grape normally adds a certain softness and fragrant nose to wine. Pinotage dates back to 1925 and has had its ups and downs. It’s not the most widely planted grape but it is South African’s best known original.

The wine has smoky, earthy, tones that are usually quite smooth. As a point of reference, I’d compare the taste of Pinotage to France’s Gamay grape. Gamay is the grape behind Beaujolais wines.

Now a bit of advice before you rush off to the wine shop, ask for advice. I had not purchased much South African wine before preparing to write this column. My purchases were hit and miss. Fairview is a big and consistent producer. Other names to look for are Neil Ellis, Nederburg, Ken Forrester, Kanonkop, and De Wetshof Estate. Those are just a very few.

Howard’s Pick:
Nederburg 2007 Pinotage:
A beautiful, deep purple wine that has great dark fruit on the front of the palate, a solid mid plate that will keep you interested, and a little bit of oak on the finish for a well-balanced wine! Nederburg makes a very drinkable introduction to South African wines. You can find this bottling at many places in Indiana at $10-$14 a bottle.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Italian Negroamaro Worth a Try If You Like Italian!

I just love trying something new.

This past week I picked up a bottle of Masserie Pisari 2007 Negroamaro from Italy. It caught my eye, in part, because International Wine Cellar's Stephen Tanzer gave it 91 points.

I was looking for an Italian wine and thought, why not?

The wine didn't disappoint. Negroamaro is grown in the Puglia region of Italy, or for most of us think of it as the heel in the boot of Italy.

There is a really strong berry component to this wine and a certain freshness. The grapes are largely from old vine vineyards. It's spicy and has a certain pungency that I really, really liked. There was enough tannin structure to keep the wine from being called fruity.

I really loved this bottle of wine and will by more.

I picked this one up for $13.99 at Cork & Cracker in Indianapolis. You can find the wine online for slightly less.

This was one great food wine!
Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No Ladoga Event Saturday night

This is a posting just for those in the Crawfordsville area where I live. I'm using the blog because I'm out of other ideas.

My name was in a newspaper advertisment on several occasions over the past week or so about a wine tasting event Saturday evening, June 27, in Ladoga, just south of Crawfordsville.

Though I had initially agreed to do the event, circumstances beyond my control have led me to withdraw.

I hope that doesn't create any inconvenience.

I am looking at putting together some sort of public tasting locally, stay tuned.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hard to Beat Trivento's $15 Malbec Blend

A lack of wine education and wine educators leaves a lot of people drinking really bad wine when they could have the good stuff for nearly the same price or just a few cents more.

That first sentence is really why I got into wine writing and started the newspaper column and this blog.

I go through that scenario in my mind each time I find a great bottle of wine under $15. Trivento 2007 Amador Sur is one of those "OMG" kind of wines. Amador Sur is 72 percent Malbec, 16 percent Bonarda, and 12 percent Syrah from the Mendoza Valley in Argentina.

You normally will find the wine around $14, but I found it on the internet at a range of $11-$15. And if it matters, Wine Spectator gave this wine an 89 - pretty good juice.

I liked the wine because it has the nice dark fruit Malbec characteristics I always enjoy with the smoke or earthiness boost from the Bonarda. I've written here before, I'm a huge Bonarda fan.

You also get some pepper and other aromas and hints of spice in this wine. It has a very nice finish with just a mild hint of tannin. You will get a bit of acidity. This isn't as big as some blends you will find but it a darn drinkable wine.

I'd buy this wine again and again. But I didn't the first time, this was a trade sample.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When in Doubt, Go Back to Old Favorites

I've recently been on a forgettable streak of bad bottles of wine. Ugh!

So Tuesday night I turned to an old favorite to shake the funk - Malbec. Specifically, I opened a bottle of Altos 2008 Malbec from the Mendoza Valley. This is a wine that consistently gets 88 to 90 points from the rating folks and delivers a great punch for $10-$13.

Altos offers a deep colored wine with dark cherry, earthiness, and a silky smooth feel in the mouth. You even get a little sour cherry on the mid-palate if you take the time to savor it.

One of the fun things about this wine is you could even swig it! Ha!

Altos is produced and owned by Italian wine makers. They age the wine in some stainless steel and then let it soak up a little French and American oak before bottling.

Altos is easy to find in Indiana wine shops. It has all the great Malbec characteristics, with a not-so-subtle smoothness and full flavor.

It's sort of like an old friend, one I'll return to again in the future whenever I'm in a bad wine funk.

: This Malbec is absolutely marvelous with a steak and even better with some dark chocolate - something around 60% cocoa works great!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wolftrap Syrah Blend Bland Red Wine

I have been reluctant since I started writing this blog to really bad mouth a wine. Often I fall back to the "not to my taste, but others may like it" approach.

Or, sometimes I just won't write about a real stinker. Obviously, I don't set out to buy wines I won't like just for my wine writing.

All that being said, I've been sampling some South African wines in preparation for my next newspaper column and because I had purchased very few previously. And, I should add I have found some I really liked - just not this one.

A couple of nights ago I opened The Wolftrap 2008 Syrah, Mourvedre, Viognier blend. I actually had a similar blend from a different producer/different country before and didn't particularly like it. I didn't like this one either.

On the nose you get the richness of all that black fruit of the Syrah but when you take a good belt it hit me as too sweet and almost too smooth or mild on the palate. It's light in body and uber smooth/easy to drink. For that reason, I would say: "not to my taste, but others may like it."

The blend is 68 percent Syrah, 30 percent Mouvedre, and two percent Viognier.

In all fairness there was nothing wrong with this wine. I can think of plenty of wine drinkers who are going to like it. In all fairness and journalistic ethics, I'll admit I wouldn't buy it again even at its great price. If you like a at least a little boldness or earthiness in your wines, this one misses the mark.

The good news is for a wine under $10, you could do worse.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Two Latest Newspaper Columns Posted on Other Blog

I'm going to make some changes over the summer and will talk about that more in the coming weeks in this space.

I just posted my last two newspaper columns (I'm tardy!) on Grape Sense. I use that blog just to archive the newspaper columns and will continue to do so. But starting next week when I write a new column, I'm going to post it here and on the other site.

Blogspot, the Google software that powers this blog and thousands of others, has introduced some new toys for bloggers. I played with a it bit over on the Grape Sense column and will probably re-design this blog at some point as well.

Oh, the two newspaper columns cover younger people's drinking habits and tips for hosting your own wine tasting party.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Simple, Tasty and Smooth Wine from South Africa

I know I have had Pinotage before but it's been years!

So I opened a Nederburg 2007 Pinotage tonight and really enjoyed it. It was simple, smooth, fruity, and not very tannic at all. I could see serving this at a cocktail party when there are few wine drinkers in the room. I hesitate to lump it into a category with Merlot or Carmenere, but its not far off those flavor characteristics.

Pinotage is a rather fruity South African red with subtle tannin and a hint of oak. You'll get rich dark fruit on the palate, a solid mid palate and a finish that is mildly sweet. The Nederburg had 13.5 percent alcohol.

The wine dates back into the 1920s as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. The wines can be found light like a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, an earthier version like a Zinfandel, it is sometimes made into a blush wine, and even Port.

It's a beautiful deep purple color in the glass with pleasant aromas that surpass the price point. This wine can be found at $9-$14.

It's a very pleasant wine. Nothing wrong with that. South Africa is an emerging player in the wine world. The wines from the southern region of the African continent have been selling big around the world.

Try a nice Pinotage as an introduction. It's not a complicated or complex wine, but it sure is a darn drinkable one!

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Columbia Crest Shiraz Doesn't Disappoint

I focus on value wine because that's what most of us are buying for our weeknight vino choices. When searching for a nice Cabernet, Zinfandel, or Syrah it's tough looking at the $12 choices and wondering if any will deliver some bang for the buck.

I was very pleasantly surprised with a recent bottle of Columbia Crest 2006 Grand Estates Shiraz from Washington State. This wine sells $10-13 and is found in many Indiana wine shops. I bought this bottle at Kahn's on Keystone in Indianapolis.

The wine had a fresh fruit nose of black cherry but enough power to make it really enjoyable with a grilled filet mignon. It was silky smooth and really enjoyable. The wine gets a combination of French and American oak during the one-year aging process.

The winemaker also puts in a little bit of Viognier to add some interesting nuance to the wine.

I've become a big fan of Washington State wines and this one just adds to that impression. Columbia Crest is easy to find. They have a line called "Two Vines' that retails $5-$7 with the Grand Estates line just a few dollars more.

If the Shiraz is any indication, I'll be trying more of the Grand Estates label!

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