Sunday, August 29, 2010

Durigutti Reserva Best Malbec I've Found Under $25

I stumbled across Durigutti's Argentinian Bonarda a few weeks back and loved. That led me to buy a 2006 Reserva ($23.99) shortly thereafter, and then Durigutti's entry level ($15) Malbec recently.

I tried the $15 bottle Friday night and thought it was quite good in that price range. I'd compare the Durigutti to Altos within the same price range. Both are excellent Malbecs if you find either.

The Reserva is obviously a different price point but it will sure illustrate what you get for a few more bucks!

The wine was a very dark color with wonderful aromas of dark fruit like cherry. On the palate it was big, bold, smooth and velvety. There was a hint of pepper on the finish with very nice tannins.

I can not think of any other Malbec I've had in the $18-$25 price range that I can compare. Wine Spectator gave this one 90 points.

I bought this bottle at Vine and Table in Carmel for $23.99. Interesting, I found it online for $17-$27, so I guess $24 is a decent price.

If you like Malbec and been buying in the $12-$15 range, give yourself a treat for a special occasion and try this bottle with a big grilled steak.

It's great wine.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Banfi's Centine Rose Great Bang for Your Buck

I get a modest amount of wine from marketing companies since I write a newspaper column, this blog, and contribute to Palate Press. The marketers, hired by the wineries, are hoping you'll say something nice about their products.

I've written about it before with the disclaimer I do accept samples with no promises I'll like or write about the wines. I've stuck to that. Frankly, usually if I don't like them I just don't write about them. But for the most part, I'd guess I've written about 90 percent of the wines I've received. There are several in the wine racks around the house right now.

Last night I opened Banfi's Centine 2009 Rose. All of these shipments have glossy and high quality press materials with the best copy writing money can buy.

For example, the Centine: "An enticing introduction to fine quality wines from Tuscany, Centine's trio of red, white and rose proposes clean, straightforward flavors appropriate for every dish, every occasion, and every season. Available at fine wine retailers and on restaurant wine lists nationwide for approximately $11, Centine's accessibility and value is hard to match."

That's verbatim and typical of the usual pitch. Often the marketing power outweighs the wine but I can honestly say not in this case.

The Centine Rose is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. I was prepared for a rather acidic and strong flavored Rose I wouldn't like. The wine was far lighter than those grapes would suggest with a hint of acidity and really beautiful dry fruit.

I have a bunch of Rose on the racks and haven't consumed as much this summer as recent years. It's time to catch up. I'm glad I started with the $11 Centine.

Banfi has wines all across the country and aren't hard to find. If you like Rose, particularly lighter ones will great balance, try this one.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Languedoc with Some Nice Bold Flavor

I've often found Languedoc wines like a boring neighbor - nothing interesting, always around, easily forgotten.

They almost always seem to be a light or watered-down version of better Cotes du Rhone wines. Perhaps that's harsh because I haven't tried all that many but enough to be thoroughly ho-hum about the region.

That was until tonight when I opened a 2005 Domaine de Nizas Coteaux du Languedoc. Wow! This one actually had ..... flavor!

The wine is a blend of 60 percent Syrah, 35 percent Mourvedre, and 5 percent Grenache. I thought it was earthy and herbal. It had a nice big nose, an herbal, spicy, and smoky taste with a long finish.

It was just a lot bigger than any other I've tried in recent years. It's well made and quite fresh.

Wine Spectator gave this stuff a 91. I might not go quite that high, but darn close. If you see this wine give it a try. I bought this bottle at Grapevine Cottage in Zionsville for $13.99.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Indiana-Based Wine Rack Maker Flourishes

My latest newspaper column:

A growing appreciation for wine usually means buying more wine, drinking more wine, and sooner or later needing a place to put all that bottled goodness.

Wine storage systems and wine racks are everywhere with plenty of choices for wine consumers. Finding racks that hold more than a dozen bottles, though, can be a bit of a challenge in Indiana.

Radel Wood Products, Peru, IN., is a commercial wine rack production company that will still build a custom rack for any consumer. Radel’s products are in more than 40 states across the U.S.

“We’re mostly a commercial business but we’ll build a rack for the individual,” said Gerald Radel, a former newspaper pressman. “We do tasting rooms for wineries, custom tasting tables, products for wholesalers, but wine racks are our primary business.”

Radel was in the newspaper industry for years and after a couple of job moves decided to return to Peru to get into wood milling and custom work. When nearby Grissom Air Force Base closed its doors the enormous hangers became warehouses. Cost Plus World Market rented one of the former hangers to use as a distribution center.

When one of Radel’s friends saw wine racks in storage at the Peru base, they bid on building the 44-bottle racks and got the contract. Even with the ups and downs of the economy, Cost Plus remains Radel’s biggest customer. During a July visit, Radel and his six employees were busy finishing an order for 600 of the 44-bottle racks.

He started building wine racks in 1999 in his garage. He’s grown the business and operates now from a building on the west side of Peru on Highway 24.

“We’ve been doing wine trade shows the last five or six years with the last three years really starting to pay off,” Radel said. “Most of our business is in the eastern part of the United States. I have two big customers in Florida.”

He is getting ready to build racks for a tasting room in St. Joseph, Michigan. Earlier this year he worked a trade show at Grand Rapids.

His goal is to keep coming up with new ideas and ideas for custom racks. Though he has built doors for home contractors and even kitchen cabinets, wine racks are now his primary business. He builds racks in Pine, Alder Wood, and Oak in all shapes and sizes.

The wine woodworker became a wine drinker as his business expanded. “I like wine,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t drink a lot of wine until I got into this business but you have a tendency to accumulate a lot of wine. We like to visit wineries when we travel and you usually can’t leave without buying a couple bottles, maybe more if they’re a customer.”

He said Riesling was probably his favorite. Obviously, he doesn’t have any storage issues.

His products can be seen and priced on his website
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Columbia City Post & Mail Joins Grape Sense Lineup

I picked up another daily newspaper for my column, Grape Sense, this week.

The Columbia City Post and Mail joins 11 other Indiana newspaper running the column. I'm grateful.

Columbia City, for those who don't know, is located about 20 mile west of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The Post and Mail is a small daily serving a city of about 7,000 and Whitley County which has a population of approximately 30,000.

A tad bit of irony, Columbia City is known as the home of Thomas R. Marshall who became Vice President 1913-1921. Marshall was a graduate of Wabash College where I work.

So thanks to Ruth Stanley, Managing Editor, for picking up Grape Sense. The Post and Mail puts my combined circulation well over 200,000 Hoosier homes now!

And, by the way, I have a new newspaper column coming later this week. I post them here and over on Grape Sense where I archive just the columns. A link to Grape Sense is in the right hand column here.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Winderlea Pinot Noir One of Oregon's Best

I started getting the urge four or five days ago. I know I have a good bit of delightful Oregon Pinot Noir stashed safely away in the basement. But, what is the purpose if you don't pop one open once in a while?

I opened Winderlea's 2007 Ana Vineyard Pinot and was in Pinot Palooza Heaven! I cut up some nice Michigan Leelanau Cheese, got out the last of the Norman Love "Black" chocolates, cut some small fresh sun gold fresh, sweet tomatoes (which I drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper), and feasted.

I've written about Winderlea a couple of times and here is a piece I did after an April 2009 visit.

The interesting thing about this bottle is that it had a bit of effervescence that I find off-putting. I had decanted the wine a good two hours before drinking. But after getting the wine into the glass and swirling awhile the annoying sense of fizz (new term for me!) went away and it was the gorgeous Pinot I remember drinking with Bill and Donna and their uber cool tasting room a year ago spring.

Robert Parker liked this Pinot to the tune of 90 points. For me, it's the nose of Oregon Pinot Noir. And the Winderlea Ana Vineyard really delivers that nice stinky Pinot nose that makes me silly. Okay, I did use the word silly. Criticize after you sniff a glass of this juice.

Now, here are the downsides. Winderlea ships to a limited number of states but if you can find it - buy it. This particular wine is sold out at the winery and lists for $45.

It is a great representation of what Oregon Pinot Noir is at its best, full flavored, full bouquet, but with a delicate hand and beautiful balance.

Yes, I guess you could say I really liked it!

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Great Video About Cotes du Rhone Wines

I have made many friends and new acquaintances through wine. It's been one of the biggest benefits of my wine writing.

This week I participated in the Indy International Wine Competition which I've written about below. Michael Palmer, Vinture Wine Group, was on my panel for the second straight year. We became friends on Facebook Friday. This morning I noticed a link to a really great three-part video about the wines of the Rhone Valley.

If you care about wine it is very educational and entertaining. Additionally, it makes a fabulous follow up to my most recent newspaper column about the area.

Here is the first segment. You will find parts one and two on the YouTube Playlist next to this one.

Thanks Mike - this is a great video!

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Back to Back Odd Tastings Challenge Any Palate

The Indy International Wine Competition is the biggest outside California. It's been around awhile too! For the second year, I was a "guest judge" Thursday morning and found the second time around a bit easier.

No question it's a real challenge for the judges to taste wines over three days and maintain some sensory perception on the palate. I stayed about two hours and during that time my panel tasted eight Nortons, nine Rose, 10 Sangiovese, and nine Port wines.

As you might expect, some were very good - and some were not.

The makeup of each panel fascinates me. The Purdue folks who run the show put together a very balanced group. I was taking part as a media person so I participated in discussion and rated each wine, but my vote didn't count.

For the average wine drinker, I'll offer this before proceeding. Last year I really struggled evaluating the wines because I had never had to spit before. It took me nearly an hour of an hour and a half of tasting to have any idea what I was doing. This year I found it easier. I struggled with some wines but largely had some handle on the taste and characteristic of each glass poured.

I was really happy that on most wines I was pretty consistent with the rest of the panel. Now, the fun is always when one person hated what everyone else loved or vice-versa. That has happened to me both years.

But back to our judges panel. I was seated at a table with Michael Palmer, President of The Venture Wine Group (a wine distributor), his family owns Madison Vineyards in Southern Indiana. Marco LiCalzi, an Italian native, is an assistant Professor and Enology Program Leader at the Univeristy of Missouri. Mark Fisher has a great job at the Dayton Daily News as its wine columnist. The leader at our table was Donna Adams, owner with husband Dan of Winzerwald Winery in Bristow, Indiana.

This was the 19th year for the competition with wines from 40 states and 14 different countries. As way of explanation, the judges receive wine in numbered glasses without ever seeing the bottles or knowing where the wines were made.

We started by tasting Norton which is grown around the Midwest. I found most of them a bit astringent reminding me somewhat of Indiana's Chambourcin. (That will probably get me in trouble with somebody!)

Next came the Rose wines which I really love. There were some unique ones, including one made of Petit Verdot and another from Chardonnay. The judges couldn't agree on a couple of those wines which makes for fun discussion. I really learn in such situations as the group debated a particular wine's merits.

We moved next to Sangiovese, which I always enjoy. It probably represented the best quality across the board of any of the flights of the morning. The panel awarded several gold medals and one rare Double Gold. Right before the group broke for lunch we had Port, something I really don't enjoy. I've tasted very few.

I found the category the most difficult. I'm just not used to wines with such high residucal sugar, up to 17 percent in this category. I liked a couple and the rest of the panel struggled finding consensus. There was a Chardonel Port and a Niagra Port that has to be pretty rare.

The judges were very welcoming and lots of fun. We had a great time with the Niagra Port. Mike Palmer insisted it wasn't as bad as the rest of the panel leading Adams to ask for a re-pour. The panel thought the wine had gone bad. The second pour had a strong and recognizable nose of the sweet Niagra grape and moved from not scoring to a Bronze medal.

These competitions are controversial in some circles. The judging and consistency is debated, and fairly so. But I remember Wine Marketing Specialist Jeanette Merritt of Purdue University telling me last year Gold Medals equal dollars for midwestern wineries.

Donna Adams speaks to that in the video I put together at the top.

It is a great learning experience - but if you ever have the chance to participate in something like this, perfect your spitting skills before going the first time. That skill will also serve you well in the great wine regions of the world if you're going tasting.

I felt like I fit in this year. Last year, I was just lost.

I'll post the results from the competition here as soon as released.

In photos: Upper right: Fisher, right, and LiCalzi. Lower left, Palmer takes another taste.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Back Thursday for Second Try at Wine Judging

Last year I had a really great time as a first-time "guest judge" for the Indianapolis International Wine Competition. It's one of the nation's biggest outside California.

I was invited last year to experience what judges at these competitions go through and it was a real eye opener. One year later I'm returning, but I've yet to figure out how they taste so many wines in one day.

I tasted more than 50 in about an hour and a half, spitting all the while, and felt my palate was shot. You can read a newspaper column I wrote about the experience here.

The competition draws more than 3,000 wines from across the country. It has been held for years at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds but this year was moved to the Purdue University Campus.

Purdue employees provide much of the staffing for the big event.

So I'm going up Thursday morning and giving it another try. It's a real challenge to blind taste 8-12 specific wines and judge them strictly for quality and not against each other. Oh, I do get to vote with the judges' panel - but my vote doesn't count!

I probably won't spend the entire day but I'm excited. I'll be writing something and posting photos Thursday night.

Depending on WiFi and time, I'll update with Twitter posts throughout the day: @howardhewitt

Should be great fun!

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Primer on Cotes du Rhone Wines

This is my latest newspaper column - it's a bit of a primer on Cotes du Rhone wines for newbies. All of my nearly 50 columns are posted on Grape Sense, linked in the right column.

If you like affordable and richly flavored wine you have to embrace the French.
Wine drinkers who want great fruit, a bit of earthiness, and smooth drinking juice, should try wines from the Cotes du' Rhone region.

The wines pair great with food, have a spicy and almost juicy fruit characteristic on the palate, and the better ones give you a taste of what the French call "terrior" - the earth or environment. These wines will give you a beautiful bouquet on the nose that will bring you back again and again.

The Cotes du Rhone region sits in the very southeastern corner of France above Provence and below Beaujolais and Burgundy. The area is broken down into about 20 appellations or regions.

If you're relatively new to wine or French wine, you know there is something different going on with the French. Well, in this case, we're just talking about the wine.

Very few French producers put the name of the grape on the bottle. The French labeling laws are extensive and confusing for the non-French. The wines are labeled by the region where they are grown. The varied and rich French soil, which has grown grapes for decades, produces very different wines from micro climate to micro climate.

Don't expect to see that change any time soon. Italy is the same.

So for great and inexpensive French wines keep your approach simple. Cotes du Rhone means it comes from the region. It might be a blend of grapes from different vineyards. Cotes du Rhone Villages wine comes from a specific region and is usually a little higher in price and quality. There are many great Cotes du Rhone wines under $15 and really great ones aren't unusual at $12.

The top of the line wines are the big, bold and earthy Chateauneuf-du-Pape or "New Castle of the Pope." You can read up on the 1300's and Pope Clement V's residency in Avignon in your spare time.

But the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are generally the area’s best. They are pricey starting at $35-$40

So let’s stick to the Cotes du Rhone. The area produces mostly reds but also some white and rose'. Grenache is the dominant grape. The wine is often blended to include Syrah, Cinsault, Carignane, or Mourvedre.

I've liked the Grenache-Syrah blends best. They deliver big dark fruit flavor from the Grenache with a hint of spice and earthiness from the Syrah.

Many of the producers are very small by Bordeaux, and especially California, standards. But in 2008/2009, the region produced nearly 400 million bottles. It is the second largest French wine-producing region in land mass and production.

Cotes du Rhone has become my fall back wine. When I don't know what I want to drink I grab one. If I want to give a gift of wine I can do so with the confidence the label may bewilder the lucky recipient but they'll like the wine.

Don't be afraid to ask questions at your favorite retail shops. Cotes du Rhone wines are easy to find.

Howard's Picks:
Domaine Lafage Grenache Noir
- This juice is incredible. I looked back at my blog tasting notes and wrote "rich feel in the mouth, and very smooth finish." I've had it several times since that first bottle. It is a great introduction to the region, especially at $11.99.

Patrick Lesec's Bouquet - I've plugged this wine several times but it's for a reason. It was my 2009 'wine of the year' in my newspaper column and online blog. It's bigger in taste than the Domaine Lafage with more herbal notes and a bigger flavor. It has more of the earthiness and pairs great with food. It is dynamite wine for $12.99.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Montebuena Will Knock Your Socks Off for $9

I really get excited every time I open a top-producer Oregon Pinot Noir. I get equally excited, like I did a week ago, opening something new like my first Amarone from Italy.

I get just as excited when I find a really good wine under $10 - and that one doesn't happen as often as the prior two examples.

But $9 wine represents what most Americans are buying and looking for in wine shops. Last night I opened Montebuena 2009 Rioja. It's 100 percent Tempranillo with nice fruit, nice balance, not a ton of finish, but about as good a bottle of $9 wine as you're going to find any where.

Getting good European wine under $10 is always a challenge and this is one you should seek out.

And I'm not the only one who liked it, if that matters. Robert Parker gave this great value juice 90 points!

Was it as good as Creta Roble at $12, no it wasn't. But it wasn't far off.

I bought this bottle at Zionsville's great wine shop - Grape Vine Cottage for $8.99.

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