Tuesday, September 28, 2010

JanKris a Dynamite $14 California Syrah

I have a hard time finding an inexpensive Syrah I really like. They tend to be out of balance, fruit bombs, too much oak, all sorts of problems.

I have some $30-plus Syrahs put away that are beautiful California wines, but those aren't for a Monday or Tuesday night.

I'm preparing to make a trip to Paso Robles, Calif., in just a couple of weeks so and I've been picking up some wines from the region. I'll be blogging, tweeting and doing Facebook updates Oct. 12-15.

I bought a $13.99 bottle of JanKris 2006 Syrah Monday at Village Bottle Shoppe in West Lafayette, IN. I opened it last night when it was a bit tannic and finished it off tonight.

The tannins softened a bit the second night. I have to call this wine perhaps the best Syrah I've around at the approximate $15 price point. The wine spends 16 months in oak and has a 14.4 percent alcohol level. Despite the well balanced tannins, I didn't find the alcohol nearly as overwhelming as many other California Syrahs.

I like the soft and velty fruit with a hint of spice. I liked the tannins without being overwhelmed and I've guzzled the wine with a bit of gusto both nights.

I was not prepared to like a $13.99 wine this much. If you find it, like Syrah, you should definitely try it.

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Column: Two Great Fall Wine Trips

One-tank trips aren’t just for the summer. There is no better time in the Midwest to take a one-day drive or weekend trip than the fall and enjoy locally made wines. You might even catch some fall harvesting action!

You can find wine trail maps for Indiana and all surrounding states readily available on the internet. In this column, I’ll recommend a southern Indiana trip and an easily-accessible Michigan trip.

Huber Orchard, Winery, & Vineyards in southern Indiana is a real destination year-round. But during the fall they have a Fall Festival with live music, lots of special activities, and big crowds. The kids can pick out their Halloween jack-o-lantern while Mom and Dad enjoy Spiced Apple Wine or Fall Sangria.

Plan your day so you can go a quarter mile down the road to Joe Huber’s Family Farm & Restaurant for lunch or dinner. If Huber’s doesn’t have the best fried chicken, served family style, you’ve ever had then I want to know where you found better.

Another great Indiana wineries is nearby Turtle Run, west of Corydon. The folks there also have a bounty of fall activities and some of the most interesting wines you’re going to taste in the Hoosier State. One thing I like about Turtle Run is you’ll find wines there you’re not going to taste elsewhere. Turtle Run and Hubers make good dry wines to go with the expected sweeter wines you find all over Indiana.

Other fun trips would be to French Lick or Brown County wineries, maybe with a short run down to I-64 to take in Winzerwald. Oliver Winery is the state’s most popular but a good day trip would also include a visit to Butler Winery nearby. Or if you want to visit the Indianapolis area go to Easley Winery downtown and Chateau Thomas Winery just off I-70 in Plainfield.

For readers in the northern half of the state, or those a bit more adventurous, there are great Michigan wineries not far from the Indiana border. I’d recommend you visit a small cluster of wineries situated between Highway 31 and I-94 around Baroda and Buchanan for an easy day trip.

Round Barn Winery, Tabor Hill Winery, Domaine Berrien, and Lemon Creek Winery are all within a couple miles of each other. I visited all but Lemon Creek this summer. Round Barn also has a brewery so you can taste their wines and handcrafted beers. The winery tasting room is in an old Round Barn purchased in Fulton County, Indiana, and moved up to Baroda, MI.

The drive from Merrillville to the Baroda area is just over an hour. From Michigan City, it is under 45 minutes to these four wineries.

Round Barn makes some great dessert wines and a fabulous Gewurztraminer. Domaine Berrien does some Old World varietals you won’t find anywhere else in the Midwest. Go to Tabor Hill for the fabulous Norman Love chocolates and their lighter-style wines.

The links to all of these sites are listed below. You can read about the wineries, check out the maps and plan your trip. If you want to experience the Midwest’s best wines in Northern Michigan, it’s not a one day trip but drop me a line and I’d be happy to make some recommendations. That will also be a future column.

Howard’s Picks - Huber’s Winery Joe Huber’s Restaurant, Turtle Run, Round Barn, Domaine Berrien, Tabor Hill, Two other great resources: Indiana Wine & Grape Council, Michigan Wine & Grape Council.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine for 12 Indiana newspapers, a national wine blog – Palate Press, and his own wine blog at: www.redforme.blogspot.com
Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Check Out A Great Hoosier Wine Blogger

Jeff Lefevere has one of the top wine blogs in the blogosphere. Jeff also happens to be a resident of Carmel, Indiana.

I've added his blog at right - Good Grape - A Wine Manifesto. Check out his most recent post of an interview with a sharp design company in California doing wine bottle labels. It's great stuff.

Jeff is also a fellow contributor to Palate Press. I met Jeff at a Palate Press tasting a year ago - a good guy. Check out his blog!

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Lone Wolf a Ripe Red Wine Blend for Meat

I've barely consumed wine the past 2-3 weeks, not to mention writing about grapes. I hope now to be back in the swing of things.

Over the weekend I opened a bottle of Lone Wolf Red Wine from Paso Robles. This blend was a very reasonable $14.99 at Zionsville's Grapevine Cottage.

I'm intriqued by the Paso Robles, Central California Coast area, because I've had few wines from the region. I'll be making a trip there in October and I will be writing about it.

Until then I picked up this blend on the Grapevine Cottage folks' recommendation. It's a blend of Cabernet and Zin (40 percent each) along with Grenache and Syrah (10 percent each). It spent time in oak and that shows through on the palate. The alcohol tasted hotter than the listed 14.5 percent.

On the palate it was a full-bodied, jammy wine. Think ripe dark fruit with tannins and you have this one. The wine needed decanting when I first opened it and was better the second night.

It was a bit too fruit forward for my tastes. I like big, bold wines but this one just tried to hard. If you like Australian Shiraz, to use the stereotypical example, you'd probably like this wine.

But it was my first try at Grey Wolf Cellars' wines and I'm anxious to try more.

The wine wasn't bad with a grilled bone-in ribeye, but not the balance I expected. It was good enough I want to try more, but not good enough to bring raves!

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back in Swing of Things Real Soon

I know when I ignore the blog the modest numbers drop precipitously. I have been in and out of town for two weeks due to an illness in my family. I should be back to more regular posting the middle of the coming week or around the 15th.

Thanks for reading Grape Sense - The Glass Half Full.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Mazzei's Badiola Very Nice Value Tuscan Wine

I usually find myself not liking the Italian Chianti's with Merlot, I prefer the Caniolo grape in my Chianti wines.

But during a Saturday morning trip to Cincinnati's wonderful Jungle Jim's Market I picked up a bottle of $14.99 Tuscan wine and noticed it was from Mazzei. The producer dates back to the 1400s and remains on the same property today. I had tried to arrange a trip to the Mazzei winery when I was in Italy over New Year's but couldn't work that out.

That alone was enough to get me to pick up a bottle. (And you thought it took more?)

The Badiola might be called Mezzei's value label and so be it. I liked 70 percent Sangiovese and 30 percent Merlot blend a lot - a little too much last night, frankly.

This wine had that nice soft cherry you often get from Sangiovese-based wines but a bigger structure than some without the off-putting acidity. It was well balanced or round, whichever term you prefer!

I had it with a grilled rib eye last night and it was great! This is a great value Sangiovese wine.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Remarkably Bad #Cabernet from California

Journalists, and ex-journalists, are often guilty of getting cute ideas to tell a story. Tonight I was a victim, horribly jaded now, from my own journalistic tricks.

Today, Sept. 2, is #Cabernet day in the social media world. Bloggers, Tweeters (Twitter for the newbies) and wine writers are all drinking and writing about Cabernet Sauvignon today. The - #Cabernet - allows you go search on your favorite search engine and find thousands of entries about the king of grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon.

I was trying to think throughout the day what Cab I could pull from the rack, storage system, or even my basement of goodies. When I got home I had nothing really except expensive Cabernet. I don't like opening those when I'm cooking just for one so I looked a little longer. I had a couple of nice blends but I felt that was not in the spirit of things. I wanted a Cab that was at least 75 percent Cabernet (which California laws require in order to call it a Cab) and not a blend that was half Merlot or another grape.

So this is where I out-tricked myself. I thought, 'Well, Howard you write about value wine. You've been known to bash supermarket brands on occasion so why not head to the Kroger and buy a bottle of Cab. That's a great angle, clever fellow!"

So off Krogering I went and found the ever-growing wine aisle. They actually had a bottle of Louis Martini Cab which is darn good stuff for the price point. I wrote about it back in March.

But I felt like that would be cheating. I picked up a bottle of Alamos Cab, the great Argentinian producer, and held on to that one. Then my eye caught Parkers Estate Old Vine Street 2007 Cabernet from Sonoma Valley. I grabbed that one, a steal I thought at $13.99 and regularly priced at $19.99.

Click on the link to the winery - try to find a Mr. or Ms. Parker, an estate, or anyone with a pulse other than a marketer. My dear wine buddies, that's a clue! And, maybe needless to say, not a good one!

Parkers Estate is a product of the Winery Exchange that according to its website is "a full service, corporate brand beverage alcohol company that sources beer, wine and spirits from the finest regions of the world." In simpler terms, it's corporate wine. But honestly much of what you drink is probably corporate wine if you're buying it at the market.

The wine actually wasn't bad on the nose so I held out hope my clever approach to #Cabernet Day would pay off. It was a beautiful dark purple. But then I actually tasting it.

Now in all fairness it's not awful, bad perhaps, but not disgusting. It has a hint of dark fruit on the palate but a flat and somewhat astringent taste that kills the fruit rather quickly. The alcohol is relatively low at 13.5 percent, but on the nose I got alcohol - a bad sign.

I had not had the wine open long when first tasting. It would probably improve some with serious decanting. I found a handful of amateur ratings for this wine which were consistently around 83 points. Low 80s usually mean good wine, but pretty unremarkable. I'd have a hard time getting out of the 70s on this one.

So why pick on this one wine? It's the whole point of my wine writing really. There are really nice Cabernets, and plenty of other wines, less than $15 but you usually will not find them at the grocery. Martini, Duck Pond and Milbrandt of Washington state, and many others make a well-balanced Cabernet that will really surprise you for the price point. (Oh, why didn't I go with the Alamos?)

You shop carefully for your family, loved ones and friends. You should shop just as carefully for your wine.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Keeping Wine Palatable & Wine Competitions

Editor's Note: As an old newspaper guy, with ink in the veins, I still like seeing my column in print. I was reminded of that today when I received a copy of The Chronicle from my friend Publisher Brenda Kleihege.

The Chronicle is a unique publication serving Portage, Valparaiso, Chesterton, and Hobart, Indiana. It is a nicely designed features publication in an area with some strong newspapers. I like this idea and think we're going to see more of this type paper in coming years.

Meanwhile back in the electronic world, here is my latest print column:

With the two-year anniversary of Grape Sense approaching, it dawned on me many readers missed some earlier columns that covered some basics.

I was reminded of that after the column debuted in Columbia City two weeks ago. I got an email from a reader asking: “Should wine be refrigerated after opening? And, how long will wine keep if sealed properly?”

The second question, in particular, is a frequent one. I have a couple of items for today’s column so thought I’d start with the Columbia City questions.

You will find conflicting opinions about both questions but through my years of enjoying wine I've decided to refrigerate white wines, which I think will keep 2-3 days and sometimes a little longer. I do not refrigerate red wines after opening though. I use the rubber seal and air pump device for leftover wine. I honestly don’t believe red wines are drinkable much past 24 hours. I have had a few good up to two days after opening but that’s an unusual exception.

I hope that helps.

2010 Indy International Wine Competition.

I was a guest judge at the Indy Wine Competition again this year and really enjoyed the experience. Just imagine tasting, spitting and trying to evaluate 50-plus wines in an hour-and-a-half!

Readers interested in Indiana wine can go to the Indiana Wine and Grape Council website for a full list of winners.

Several folks in Indiana really scored big. French Lick Winery was honored for its 2008 Traminette as the competition’s White Wine of the Year. Oliver Winery, Bloomington, won the Winemaker of the Year Trophy, which honors the winery winning the most gold medals.

Indiana wines compete with more than 2,700 wines from around the world. But there is also an Indiana grown wines division. Other Indiana winners included Huber for its 2009 Vignoles and 2008 Knobstone Blaufrankisch. Easley Winery was honored for its Pink Catawba.

Visiting Oak Hill Winery

Whenever I’m driving the Hoosier byways and have a little extra time I try to find a nearby Hoosier winery to visit. Recently I stopped in at Oak Hill Winery at Converse. Converse is about 15 minutes east of U.S. 31, on Ind. 18, north of Kokomo.

Rick Moulton has a small operation of about 1,000 cases a year. He makes mostly dry wines from grapes usually associated with Indiana’s traditional sweet wines. His style is very different than most. Not only does he make a dry Concord red wine, among others, but he makes them in a very light style.

Howard’s Picks:

Summer is winding down so instead of a specific wine recommendation how about some generic suggestions. Next time in the wine shop pick up a bottle of dry Rose’ and give it a try. Rose’ is great by itself and great with most foods. Pink Wine isn’t for wimps anymore!

The other summer suggestion would be non-tradition whites. More than a year ago I wrote about Albarino, which comes primarily from Spain and Portugal.
You can find good Rose’ and good Albarino at most Indiana wine shops. These wines also are great values ranging anywhere from $10-$15 for really good ones. You can buy great ones around $20.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com