Friday, December 31, 2010

Grape Sense's Top 10 Wines of 2010

What do you get when you combine Cabernet, Malbec, a Beaujolais, a Chianti, Syrah, and multiple Spanish grapes? You get the Grape Sense Top 10 Wines of 2010.

Are these the best ten wines I tasted in 2010? No, but close. These are 10 of the best wines tasted that were under $20 and purchased in Indiana. Last year, I ranked the Top 10 – this year the best are presented in no particular order.

George Deboeuf’s La Trinquee Julienas - The Gamay wine from Beaujolais has nice fruit structure, tannins, and well-balanced acidity. It will change your mind about Beaujolais if you’ve only had the Nouveau. ($12-99-$15.99)

Domaine de Niza Languedoc 2005 - The French wine is a blend of 60 percent Syrah, 35 percent Mourvedre, and 5 percent Grenache. It has a big nose, an herbal, spicy, and smoky taste with a long finish. Wine Spectator gave this juice a 91. I might not go quite that high, but darn close. ($13.99)

J. Lohr Cabernet - The wine is a rich and well-structured bottle of Cab. It can be found in wine shops from $13-$17. It can be picked up at many Indiana groceries for $14.99.

Etim Seleccion - This is a blend of 60 percent Garnacha, 30 percent Carinena and 10 percent Syrah from Spain. It's aged six months. The wine has an irresistable rich black cherry and spice flavor.($13.95)

Montebuena 2009 Rioja – The 100 percent Spanish Tempranillo is about as good as you're going to find anywhere for $9. Getting good European wine under $10 is always a challenge. Wine icon Robert Parker gave this great wine 90 points!

Errazuriz Cab – The Errazuriz gets its own listing because it’s that good. Chile is making some great wine and the Errazuriz is widely available. They also make a dynamite Sauv Blanc. The Cab is widely available for $19.

Altos Malbec – A consistent 88 to 90 point wine delivers a great punch. Altos offers a deep colored hue with earthiness and a silky smooth finish. You even get a little sour cherry on the mid-palate. ($10-$13)

Il Fiorino 2008 Chianti - This is a really satisfying and easy-to-drink Chianti. The Il Fiorino is the classic and traditional blend of 90 percent Sangiovese with 10 percent Canaiolo. The winery Poggio Romita ages the wine in stainless steel instead of oak. It has that smooth drinkability new wine drinkers are always seeking out. ($13)

Este de Bodegas Alto Almanzora – A critic’s favorite from Almeria, Spain. It's largely Monastrell (Mourvedre), with a little Garnacha and Tempranillo, plus smaller amounts of Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz. It is flavorful with bold raspberry and a hint of vanilla from the oak. ($9.99)

Durigutti Malbec - Last year I ranked my year-end wines 1-10. I didn’t do that this year, but if I did the Durigutti would be No. 1. This is rich wine with a peppery finish. And if you’ve never had Bonarda (traditional Argentinian grape), try Durigutti. The Malbec sells for $11-$14. They have a Reserva that is fabulous wine for $23.99

Howard’s Picks comes down to some personal highlights from 2010. I joined a group of 10 wine writers for a three-day press trip to Paso Robles, Ca, in October. I’ll be returning to California wine country in January.

For specific wines I’d list my discovery of aged French Vouvray (chenin blanc), Ortman Family Wines, Paso Robles, and my first excursions into Amarone from Italy as just a few of many highlights.

Thanks to you for reading Grape Sense and your local newspaper editor for carrying the column. I get lots of great feedback, usually when I least expect it.

Cheers to 2011!

If one of the above wines interests you and you can’t find it, write me at and I’ll tell you where I purchased the wine.
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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Toasting a Merry Christmas 2010 with Riesling, Pinot

It's Christmas morning in Southern Indiana. We had about an inch of fresh snow overnight for a beautiful Christmas card type morning.

Here is hearty wishes for a great time with your family and safe travels during the holiday season.

What wines are you enjoying this holiday weekend?

On Christmas Eve, it was Concannon 2009 Dry Riesling with ham and dinner. Great wine at a great price. Tonight, I'm going to share a bottle of Penner Ash 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir with old high school friends!

Merry Christmas!
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Easier Now to Leave a Comment on Grape Sense

I'm blushing a bit, perhaps from stupid embarrassment. I just realized from a Facebook posting - whether aimed here or elsewhere - that the settings I left on default for Grape Sense were rather convoluted.

Or in other words, readers had to jump through numerous hoops to leave a comment. I've fixed it. I would welcome comment on anything appearing in Grape Sense - love it, hate it, or if you have a question.

Sometimes the drive to write and deliver the message is hampered byt he technology - sometimes hampered by the guy not taking the time to make it easy for readers to interact! Please, let's hear from you!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Simple Rules for Wine and Cheese Pairings

Wine and cheese go together like Tom and Jerry, Sonny and Cher, and other iconic pairings.

I’m most frequently asked about pairing wine with food. I recently wrote about pairing wine with appetizers. I’ve written about pairing wine with chocolate.

Finding cheese you’ll enjoy is like finding wine you’ll appreciate. You have to taste and taste some more. But the same as wine, many people become intimidated if they find a large selection of cheeses.

And there is so much more to be enjoyed than simple Swiss, cheddar or Gouda.
“I like to introduce people to cheese by doing a cow’s milk, a sheep’s milk, and a goat’s milkcheese,” said Fred Roesner, cheese specialist at Vine and Table in Carmel, In. “And a lot of the people who come in the store, when I say goat, they say ‘no way.’

Those not familiar with goat’s milk have often tasted fresh and very pungent goat cheeses. “They think of the animal, they don’t like it,” Roesner said.

“When they’ve tasted a couple goat cheeses here they go ‘Oh, wow – who knew? There are some wonderful goat cheeses and not all of them are fresh, a lot of them are aged a little bit and they’re delicious.”

Roesner even recommends fooling your guests just a little. “If you’re going to do something, you don’t have to tell people what it is,” he laughed. “You put a good cow’s milk, a good sheep’ s milk or goat cheese out there and throw in some cheddar or something that they recognize and they’ll love it.”

Pairing wine with cheese is similar to pairing wine and food. Seek out cheese that complements the wine or a cheese that will accentuate the wine by contrast.

“If you have a Cabernet that’s a big wine with big tannins, I’d send over a triple crème, very mild and very creamy. If you’re into the medium reds it gives you a whole wide spectrum of inexpensive cheeses that will go nice depending on your tastes.

“If somebody says ‘I’m drinking a Pinot Noir tonight’ I’d say let’s try this and this and this. With Pinot, you can go light. There is a huge body of cheese right in the middle and a huge range of wine right in the middle.

Roesner might chuckle when asked about his “cheese specialist” title. After working in an unrelated industry in L.A. he decided to retire early. He wanted to work in wine but no openings were available. “So for me it’s been on-the-job training,” he said.

He’s spent the past four years learning about cheese and assisting customers in Vine & Table’s gourmet grocery.

“It’s educating people,” he agreed. “If I can introduce something new to somebody and they like it and their friends like it, that’s great to me. You should eat what you like and drink what you like.”

Howard’s picks:
Swiss Gruyere
- Gruyere is often easy to find at a reasonable price. French Comte is the same cheese, but with a richer flavor to my palate. Comte is $12-$14 a pound, the Gruyere a little less.

Triple Cream Goat Cheese – A triple cream, or crème, is the other end of the spectrum. It’s the creamy and mild delicious cheese that Fred recommended above. A good creamy goat cheese is likely to cost you $18 a pound and up.
Don’t let the price scare you, often you’re only buying a quarter or half pound if it’s for nibbling with wine.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Snooth Names Lange its Winery of Year

If you have ever gone searching for information on a particular wine on the internet there is a pretty good chance you have visited
The site is a great spot for a quick look at thousands of wines. This year the site is handing out awards ... a best of year type of thing.

This year the site named Lange Estate Vineyards, Oregon, as it's winery of the year. Read the story here.

Lange has long been one of my favorites. You can find Lange's great Pinot Noir wines all across the county - and yes, even in Indiana!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Check Out Deano Knows Vino on City360tv

One of my real wine 'mentors' is Dean Wilson in Indianaplis. He operated Deano's Vino wine shop and then restaurant in Fountain Square.

He's moved on from those ventures and now is working for Kahn's Fine Wines in Indy. He also is doing videos for a multimedia company in Indianapolis.

Check out his new venture. The guy is funny and very knowledgeable when it comes to wine. Here is a direct link to Deano Knows Vino. He's just completed his first episode but it will give you an idea, I'm sure, of things to come!

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Octavin's 'Boxed" Wines Break Down Stereotypes

Several boxed and packaged wines have appeared on the market over the past few years. Heck, you can even buy wine in a can-like container.

I have written previously about the Octavin Home Wine Bar and felt compelled after a couple more samples to re-visit the wines. I was more careful with the last two wines to make a few notes within the time frame and how they held up over the promised six weeks of freshness.

Recently I had the Montahaven Cabernet and Seven, which is a blend of seven Spanish wine grapes.

The most remarkable thing about the boxed wines is the price and consistent quality. The suggested retail on all of the Octavin products is a couple of bucks past a twenty dollar bill. You can find them in some retail outlets as low as $17.99. The price is remarkable when you consider you're getting four bottles of wine.

The other startling thing about the Octavin wines is the preservation system works. With the last two wines, I dated the box when I opened it and made a few notes each time I poured a glass. In both cases the wine tasted virtually identical from week one to week six.

The wine-in-a-box system works well for the single wine drinker or for a big party.

The wines have been about what you would expect, but better than many others at the price point. The two most recent samples were two of the best. The Monthaven Cabernet had nice berry flavor with little finish but it was great to be able to pour a single glass of Cab without popping a cork. The Seven was actually a bit richer on my palate. Bodegas Osborne's Jose Maria Nieto blended primarily Tempranillo with six other grapes. This wine probably had the best finish of the bunch.

I've sampled seven of the Octavin's offerings. Along with the Monthaven Cab, I opened with the Monthaven Chardonnay. For me that was the weakest wine of the group.

But that was followed up by Silverburch Sauvignon Blanc that was the best wine I sampled. As a matter of fact, that Sauv Blanc was as good or better than many I've paid $12-$15 for in retail stores.

The Big House Red and Big House White have been around awhile and are delightful value blended wines. I enjoyed both. The Boho Vineyard's Zinafandel was pretty thin but I did find myself going back to the container to finish it off.

I haven't tried the Pinot Noir but I would say there really was only one stinker in the bunch. The others are decent wines and a couple darn good values.

Again, it is what it is. Just over $20 for four bottles of wine is tough to beat. The convenience of pouring a single glass is wonderful. The wines are better than many you're going to taste for the same bucks.

If you haven't tried boxed wine in years, it's time.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Uruguay's Monte de Luz Cab Franc Delivers

I once had a foreign college student bring me back a bottle of wine from Paraguay. Let's just say the Cabernet is not going to threaten wine off the shelves anywhere in Argentina or Chile.

So I was skeptical when Ashley at Cork & Cracker in Indianapolis wanted me to try a Cabernet Franc from Uruguay.

Domaine Monte de Luz 2008 Carquera Cabernet Franc proved to be a suprisingly nice $11 wine. Uruguay is one of South America's smallest countries but has 300 wineries.

The wine grapes come from the Mohama Mountain, San Jose region. The wine is very soft and round in the mouth with a hint of tobacco and herbs. The balance is very nice and it still holds up to food. I opened the bottle last night and had a glass this evening with some chicken/marinara sauce pasta and it was refreshing.

You can generally find this wine any where from $9-$11.

You'll also find Cabernet Sauvignon and the relatively obscure grape Tannat.

I guess the moral of this story is never be afraid to try familiar grapes even from new countries.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Palate Press Book a Great Gift Idea

About the only thing wine folk like more than drinking the juice is reading and learning more about wine.

One of the really great things that has happened for me over the past 15 months or so was the launching of Palate Press. The national online magazine gives bloggers/writers a chance to be published in a national forum that has earned credibility through selectivity and editing.

I have written 4-5 pieces for Palate Press since its launch along with a handful of wine reviews.

Publisher David Honig, an Indianapolis attorney by day, came up with a great idea to publish a "Best Of" electronic and print book. I'm happy that a story I did on retail wine chains is included.

You can order the book by clicking here.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Madison Magazine: Holiday Cocktail Wines

NOTE: I have several irons in the fire when it comes to wine writing. I am about to write my third column for Madison Magazine, a publication of the Anderson Herald-Bulletin. The magazine is a quarterly publication aimed at higher incomme residents in Madison County. Below is the second column I wrote for them, published in November.

The holiday season is jammed with office parties, family gatherings, and friends celebrating the season.

While much is written about wine and food pairings for the main course, wine is an enjoyable cocktail or aperitif. Many people struggle pairing wine with appetizers and hors d’ oeuvres far more than they do counting on the old red-with-beef and white-with-chicken axiom.

There are some rules to making wine your cocktail of choice. There is also the practical matter of serving two or three different bottles of wine instead of trying to stock a full bar for your guests.

Let’s start with easy to match white wine pairings. You want a lighter style white wine that is easy to sip, low in alcohol, and still pairs with the goodies. To really impress your guests, match up a nice semi-sweet Chenin Blanc with goat cheese.
Most wine shops usually carry a Chenin Blanc. But if you want to do something special seek out a bottle of French Vouvray. The French treatment of Chenin Blanc comes in a dry, semi-dry, and sweeter style. Look for “sec” or “demi-sec” on the label. There are lots of options on the goat cheese. I like the soft, funky ones which guests can spread on a plain cocktail cracker.

Buy the sweeter version of the Vouvray and serve it with “Pur chevre” which is 100 percent French goat’s milk cheese. The pairing has a “ying and yang” effect which will impress your guests. There is something about the light sweet wine and the earthy goat cheese that makes a perfect pairing! You will be the hors d oeuvres/wine maven in your neighborhood.

If you’re more jingoistic in your approach to wine and insist on buying U.S. juice, here is another great one. Seek out a nice California Sauvignon Blanc. You’re going to want a wine with that nice lemon, grapefruit taste and some zing on the finish. Try Provenance Sauv Blanc that is widely distributed in Central Indiana at about $15-$18 a bottle.

There are many Sauv Blancs on most wine shop shelves. Just ask your favorite wine shop sales person for one that isn’t as acidic or “grassy” as most New Zealand bottlings.

And here is your treat to pair with that white wine. Using a plain cocktail cracker, place a nice piece of smoked salmon, a little dollop of sour cream seasoned with dill. Then top it off with a few capers and your guests are sure to be all smiles.
Pinot Noir is always a great cocktail red wine and pairs with almost any party snack. I wrote about several really nice Pinot options in the first issue of Madison Magazine.

I’d recommend staying away from the bigger red varietals like Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel, and even Merlot. They really coat the palate and they are usually high in alcohol. Try a nice Spanish Tempranillo which is smooth and lighter in style. French Cotes do Rhone wines are also a fantastic option featuring the versatile Grenache grape. Many Argentinian Malbecs would work as a cocktail as well.

These milder red wines work great with meat balls, salsa, and bolder foods. These food flavors normally call for a bigger wine but keep in mind you’re looking for lower alcohol and something the guest can enjoy sipping throughout the festivities.
My absolute favorite red wine pairing is chocolate. Nice chocolates and delightful truffles are easy to find. Don’t rely on those on grocery shelves, though. There are many specialty shops doing handmade truffles including right here in Madison County.

Some of the basic rules of pairing chocolate with wine mirror those with regular meals. Chocolates or chocolate desserts/goodies at the 60 percent cacao level are going to pair best with the lighter style red wines. When approaching the 70 percent cacao level in your chocolate, you should move to a Zinfandel or Syrah for a great pairing. I’d also recommend you stay with dark chocolates for all your wine pairings instead of milk chocolate.

The best idea is buy some wine, cheese, and chocolate and try the combinations out.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Wine Shop, A Sassy Bitch & Notes

Anyone in the writing business knows sometimes there are ideas that don’t quite add up to individual columns. So, the following items are shared as Wine Briefs.

New Fishers Wine Shop
Any time a new retailer opens an Indiana wine shop, it’s worth a mention. Small retail is tough but wine shops and gourmet grocery stores really have to fight to find a niche.

Tasteful Times, at Olio Rd. and 116th St., Fishers, is a delightful shop with a big supply of gourmet grocery items and an eclectic wine selection. The store was opened by Ian and Linda Sadler along with their son Jonathan.

“We wanted to combine offering the finest products with having some fun,” Ian Sadler said. “We’re passionate about good food and good wine as a family and with friends.”
The British couple are delightful hosts. The grocery includes a wide mix of meats, cheeses, dairy products, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, flavored oils, and I was told a very popular Bloody Mary mix.

The wine selection included many labels not seen in other Indianapolis shops. “We’ve been very selective because we don’t want to carry wines that everybody else has,” Sadler said. “We also want to carry wines that we’d be proud to serve in our home to family or friends.”

Wines with Funny Names
Many a wine critic or writer will bash “critter” wines or wines with cute names. Much of the criticism is well founded. But I continue to stumble across some worth consideration. “Sassy Bitch” wines are available throughout Indiana.

Tami Fricks, a Macon, Ga., native started the company after talking with friends about how confusing wine buying can be for the average consumer. She and her husband wanted a good product with a catchy name and seem to have found both. They traveled to Chile and found boutique winery Casa del Bosque and then launched Sassy Bitch wines.

They are currently producing four wines right around the $10 price point - Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a Merlot. The Cab was named a Wine Enthusiast “Best Buy” this year.

I received media samples of the Cab and Pinot. I would describe them as good $10 wines. The Cabernet is rather soft without much of a finish but better than some I’ve tasted at the price point. The Pinot Noir was the better of the two. It’s hard to find a Pinot under $15 that is drinkable. This one doesn’t have big fruit but it is nicely balanced and drinkable.

Obviously, they wanted to have fun with the name (enough said), but the wines are good $10 values.

Stand up for Shipping Rights
You’ll be reading a lot about Sunday liquor sales over the next few weeks. But nothing is stranger than wine shipping laws and Indiana’s laws may be the most ludicrous in the nation.

Did you know if an out-of-state winery has a Hoosier distributor it cannot directly ship to you if you visit their tasting room? Did you know it can cost more than $500 to get an Indiana license if they don’t have a distributor and want to send you the 12 bottles you just purchased? It goes on and on.

Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, introduced the bill to allow Sunday sales. His quote, as reported in the Indianapolis Star, is what really caught my eye.
“No government, in my opinion, should create a monopoly in any one area,” Boots said. “We need to have a free-market society. We need to have a free-market environment where everybody can compete.”

Well said and I couldn’t agree more. Write your U.S. House representative and ask him to oppose H.R. 5034 which would cripple wine producers from all states. Write your state representatives and senators to ask them to tear down the antiquated three-tier system and to allow direct wine shipments to Hoosiers.

Welcome Aboard
Just a quick shout out to new readers in Monticello, Indiana. Editor Trent Wright has added Grape Sense to the Herald-Journal!
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Monday, December 6, 2010

Sale of Paso Robles Winery; Online Wine Sales Report

I subscribe to a number of online wine sites and get daily e-mail updates on wine news headlines.

A couple of interesing news items hit the inbox this morning. I realize not everyone reading Grape Sense has the same level of interest that I do, so sometimes those story are worth repeating.

I was somewhat surprised to see this Wine Spectator story announcing the Fiji water people had purchased Justin Winery. Justin and Deborah Baldwin will continue to run the winery but won't have the financial commitment of owners and winemakers.

You can read the full story at the link in the paragraph above.

During my October Paso Robles visit I had dinner with a group of Paso Robles Pioneers, including Deborah Baldwin. She was charming, knowledgeable and poured Justin's great 2008 Cabernet. It's really one of California's best.

In what now seems like a previous life, I frequently bought wine from The online wine retailer lost its Indiana distributor so no longer ships here. (Insert profanity-laden tirade here about shipping laws.)

You can check out the P.R. Newswire story here.

Anyway they just announced their Top 100 wines of the year. It's significant because they are the nation's biggest online sales site. There should be lots of recognizable wines.

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