Monday, November 29, 2010

Dynamite Syrah from Cotes du Rhone

I've used the line before - but every now and then you open a bottle of wine that is just really special. It's a wine that reminds you why you like wine, drink wine, read about wine, talk about wine, and visit wine country.

I had an exquisite Syrah over the weekend that I'm still telling friends about after the fact. The wine was a Clos du Mont-Olivet 2007 Varene. It is 100 percent Syrah from the Cotes du Rhone region in France. The label is known for its Chateauneuf de Pape wines but this moderately-priced Syrah is memorable.

It's big, rich and beautifully balanced. You want more wine geek? I give you more wine geek. The Varene is an intence, black fruit wine that has strength and richness that combines for an elegant feel in the mouth. Still the spice, the tannins, the sheer power of this Syrah is beautifully intoxicating. There is an earthiness that reminds regular wine drinkers of the best Cotes du Rhone has to offer.

The winemaker, Thierry Sabon, is hailed as one of the area's best. Here is a blog post from the Watertown Press in Needham, Mass. The writer visited Sabon at the winery.

I paid $23 for this wine at Vino 100 in Columbus, Ohio.

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J. Lohr Very Nice, Affordable, Available Cabernet

It can be hard to find a really good bottle of wine at the supermarket or local liquor store that delivers great quality for under $15. That’s why this column is about a single bottle of wine.

J. Lohr Vineyards is one of the iconic names in California wine, particularly the central coastal region. The chance to share comments from Steve Lohr, Jerry’s son and COO of the company, made it easy to focus one column on J. Lohr’s Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wine is a rich and well-structured bottle of Cabernet for its mid-teen price. The wine can be found online anywhere from $13-$17. It can be picked up at one of Indiana’s biggest grocery chains for $14.99.

The chance to share Lohr’s comments on the Cab adds a little education rather than a simple review.

“With over 20 years of experience in growing grapes in Paso Robles, we know what it takes to coax the best flavors from our vineyards,” Lohr said. “Our Paso vineyards receive only 12 to 14 inches of rainfall per year, with almost none of that occurring during the growing season. Thus, we are able to limit how much water each vine receives, encouraging the vine to put more energy into fruit maturation than cane and leaf growth. We work diligently to allow just enough sunlight to penetrate the grapevine canopy. If there is too much light, the clusters will suffer from sunburn and turn rosy or raisin – just like humans! If there is too little light, they will not develop their full berry flavors.”

A recent trip to Paso Robles, CA., provided the opportunity to talk with many of the area’s pioneers.

“We feel Paso Robles is ideally suited for Cabernet in part because of the large diurnal changes in temperature (the difference between the daytime high and nighttime low) that occur here,” Lohr explained. “Cabernet needs warm days to bake out the (chemicals) that can lead to green vegetable aromas and flavors, and cool nights to preserve the acidity and color in wine grapes. With a daily swing of 40 to 50 degrees during the summer, Paso has the largest diurnal shift of any winegrowing region in the country.”

The great thing about this inexpensive wine is it tastes like a $20 or $30 bottle. The mouth feel is comparable to a more costly wine.

“We don’t over crop our vines since that dilutes flavors; however, we don’t under crop our vines either since that leads to aggressive vegetal growth and a reduction in the length of time the cluster remains on the vine, leading to sugar accumulation before flavor development,” Lohr said.

“This attention to detail is carried through the winemaking process. We ferment in small to medium size tanks which allows us to closely monitor color, flavor and tannin extraction from the grape skins and seeds. Our focus on traditional winemaking techniques, such as the exclusive use of 225 liter oak barrels to age our Seven Oaks, is more akin to a boutique winery than a winery with good national distribution. Balance in blending occurs with the addition of other Bordeaux varieties to our Cabernet such as Merlot and Petit Verdot, as well as other red varieties which grow well in Paso such as Petite Sirah and Syrah. The finished Seven Oaks is a wine that expresses rich blackberry, black cherry and vanilla aromas and flavors with a plump, softly textured mouth feel and finish.”

J.Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet is easy to find. Try it with the next big beef dish you have planned.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Holidays Such a Great Time to Enjoy Great Wine

I've spent the past two weeks writing and talking a lot about Thanksgiving wine. I hope you enjoyed the "Dudes" videos. We got together this week and tried more Beaujolais - all Cru quality, no Nouveau!

Whatever you choose for your turkey day I hope you enjoy - Pinot to Beaujolais to Gewurzt to Sauv Blanc or soft drinks, coffee, or water - Happy Thanksgiving.

I brined a turkey overnight which is about to go in the oven. I am trying something new with turkey - one of the Beaujolais Cru wines we didn't try the other night. I'm going to open a 2008 Georges Duboeuf Chateau De Grand Pre Fleurie.

I may log back in later today with a short paragaph on the wine.

Happy Turkey Day!

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Nouveau Arrives but Try a Beaujolais Cru

November 18 - yesterday - was the third Thursday of November and the official celebration of the biggest wine marketing coup of all time, perhaps.

Beaujolais Nouveau is released each year at the same time, thanks largely to Georges Duboeuf. I read a marvelous book this summer - "I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine."

The book is fun, great story telling, and educational. You'll see why and how Duboeuf became one of the biggest names in French wine by selling this inexpensive and simple drink.

I had to be near a wine shop yesterday and so I picked up a bottle of Duboeuf's 2010 Nouveau for $11.99. I consumed it with a couple of friends last night and remembered quickly why it just doesn't do much for me. Indeed, if you're serving guests who are not regular wine drinkers Beaujolais Nouveau just might be a great pick. But there is no finish on the wine and a bit of funk that I find off-putting. And by the way, my friends agreed.

For the newbies the Nouveau comes straight from the vineyard, through the fermentation process, bottled and onto shelves - no time, no oak, and not much going on.

With that being said, there are 10 Cru regions in Beaujolais growing Gamay and producing wonderful wines. The remarkable thing is the price range is so narrow in the Beaujolais region. An unremarkable Pinot Noir can cost $15 but a great one can easily be $50 or more.

The Cru wines are aged and present an entirely different and delicious alternative. And one of the great things, as opposed to my Pinot Noir example above, is you can go $5-$20 above the Nouveau price point and get great Beaujolais wine.

The Nouveau is always around $10-$12. But if you buy a Beaujolais Cru - Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié, and Saint Amour - you're going enjoy it much more.

I recently had a Duboeuf Juliénas for $14.99 and it totally changed my attitude toward the Gamay grape. It had structure, tannins, and nice acidity. It was a great bottle of wine.

Beaujolais is a great Thanksgiving wine but go for a Beaujolais Villages or one of the 10 Cru wines. The difference is small in price and substantial in value.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Column: Choices for Thanksgiving Dinner

Note: This was my last newspaper column written mostly from the series of videos found below. My friends, or the Dudes, tasted six wines one evening. The column appears in 12 Indiana newspapers reaching more than 200,000 homes.

What wine to serve with the Thanksgiving turkey? It’s the most frequently asked question of the season and one with plenty of answers.

Let’s talk some turkey about white and red wines which will really highlight your holiday meal.

Chardonnay is a really easy choice. But if it was that simple, who needs a wine columnist? The way food is seasoned, cooked, and side dishes should always figure into the equation of wine-food pairing for any meal.

Recently, I gathered four good friends to evaluate six wines to pair with turkey and the trimmings. It’s a great way to pick holiday wines and great fun.

We tasted three whites and three reds with some sliced turkey, bits of cheese with cranberry, pecans, and crackers. We started with a Michigan Riesling - a classic choice. The wine offers nice fruit and acidity and will pair well with nearly everything on the dining table. Riesling is widely available, just check out a few because the wine does come in sweet, semi-sweet, and dry versions. It’s also acidic (a good thing), but if that turns you off – just read on.

One of the most popular Thanksgiving wines in recent years has been Gewurztraminer. The French and German versions are widely popular for their strong floral and spicy nose and taste. In Indiana, you can buy a Traminette at your local Indiana winery and get essentially the same flavor profile. It is a great choice. But note, the Indiana versions tend to be on the sweeter to much-sweeter side.

Our final white was a very nice California Sauvignon Blanc. The group was pleasantly surprised how well the wine went with the turkey and trimmings. Ask your wine shop for a Sauv Blanc with mild acidity. Many California Sauvignon Blanc wines will go really well.

Still, there are those who want red wine with food regardless of the occasion and there are plenty of choices that won’t overpower the bird. My wine buddies first tried a nice Beaujolais Villages gamay-grape wine. The Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun wine, but for better taste pick up a Villages or Grand Cru Beaujolais. The difference is only a few dollars for much better wine.

The Georges Duboeuf Villages wine was beautifully crafted, light, and balanced nicely against food. It’s also a wine even your non-wine drinkers are going to really enjoy. You’ll look like the sophisticated host serving one of the beautifully-labeled Beaujolais wines.

The final two wines were both Pinot Noir, but from different regions. The first was a light and tasty California Central Coast Pinot at $14. Pinot Noir and Beaujolais are probably the most frequently recommended Thanksgiving red wines. The light Pinot not only pairs with turkey, but again is a good choice if you’re not regular wine consumers.

We also tasted an awesome $30 Oregon Pinot that might be a bit much for non-wine drinkers but will really impress regularly red wine fanatics. The Oregon Pinot is more Burgundian, or lighter in style, but earthy and aromatic wine that is made to impress.

The cook in the house invests a lot of time on Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends. So take a little time to get to a wine shop, ask some questions and pick a really great wine for the holiday.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

'Dudes' Wrap up Thanksgiving Picks with Pinot

This is the final installment of Dudes on Wine, a production of "Dudes on the Porch" wine guys. As I have written on the previous installment, it's really a great example of just getting some friends together to taste different wines.

This group has been getting together since earlier this year and agreed to let me videotape a session for the blog. We had fun, so I'm guessing we'll do it again and perhaps have a few variations on the concept as well.

The final wine was a totally different price point. Our first five wines were all in the mid-teen range. The Pinot Noir tonight is a $30 wine from Oregon. Cooper Mountain 2005 Old Vine Pinot is no longer available. But they have plenty of other Pinots available on their site.

I've long been a big fan of Oregon Pinot and written about it extensively. These are bigger and richer wines than some you'll find but would be beautiful with Thanksgiving if you're entertaining serious wine drinkers.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The "Dudes" Final Episode Monday Night

The "Dudes on the Porch" wine reviews for Thanksgiving will conclude Monday night. I had planned on putting up the last video tonight, but technical reasons have messed with the plan.

I was unable to access the video I produced so will have to post it Monday evening. The final episode features a $30 Pinot Noir and a great discussion between the "Dude" after we go around the room to ask each guy's opinion.

Sorry for the change in plans, the but the final "Dudes" wine review will be posted Monday night.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Dudes Take a Taste of $15 Pinot Noir

The next to last episode of Dudes on Wine .... or Dudes on the Porch ... focuses on Pinot Noir. We tasted a Monterrey County Estancia Pinot Noir which sells for around $15.

Pinot is really a great choice for Thanksgiving dinner. This wine was a lighter one that would pair well. But watch the video for the Dudes take on this tasty, light red wine.

Our last wine, hopefully, tomorrow night will be a higher price point Pinot Noir. I only say hopefully because I had some trouble getting the video uploaded. I'll update Saturday night.

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Michigan Wine Story Has Gone Viral

I know it's self-serving and self-congratulatory, but my Palate Press story on Michigan wine has really gotten noticed.

I posted Monday that Wine Business dot-com had picked it up. Then the one that did get my attention, New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov listed the Michigan story on the NY Times Dining & Wine page under "what we're reading."

My wine-drinking neighbor Patrick, featured in the "Dudes" videos running all this week found a link to the story on several other sites.

Michigan by the Bottle

Hinge Line - a blog dedicated to promoting Traverse City and Northern Michigan

The Never Ending Vacation

Leelanau Peninsula Vinters Associations

Then I found more but some links didn't work so I couldn't post:

There really is a great sense of satisfaction seeing so many pick up on the story. Thanks to all!

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dudes Move on to Thanksgiving Red Wine Choices

The Dudes are ready for some red wine. After a Riesing, Gewurztatraminer, and Sauvignon Blanc, the guys are more than ready to try some red wine with our turkey snacks.

My intent with these six videos is to show how much fun tasting wine together can be, how much you can learn, and that your opinion counts just as much as the person sitting next to you.

The Dudes have elected to tastes a Beaujolais Villages wine - Georges Duboeuf's Julienas. It's a 2008 which you can find in better wine shops at a very, very reasonable $12-$14. Note, this is not a Beaujolais Nouveau - that simple little wine that arrives with great fanfare each November fresh from the French vineyards.

The village, specific appelation, wines are usually aged for a few years, see some oak and offer a much higher level of refinement. The wine is really a great Thanksgiving wine for the serious and non-serious winos at the Turkey Day table.

The entire Beaujolais region is rich with history. The history of this wine is that it was greatly enjoyed by the journalists and newspaper people Deboeuf would bring the Julienas each year to taste his wines. They, of course, in return would spread the word with great humor about these simple but enjoyable wines.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Okay, Stand By for Wine Name Dropping!

One of the really great things about having a national outlet like Palate Press for wine writers/bloggers is you never know who might read your work.

I got an e-mail this evening from PP Publisher David Honig. He saw something in the New York Times that was pretty darn cool.

The Dining & Wine section of the newspaper has some of the top writers in their field. Many write regular features, blog, and contribute in several ways in our multi-media world.

They run an occasional feature on what their writers are reading. So imagine my glee to see NY Times Wine critic Eric Asimov listed my Palate Press story on Michigan wine! It's just a mention, and not by name, but pretty cool to see my story mentioned in such an iconic American newspaper! Read more about Asimov here.

That's pretty cool.

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Dudes Check out Sauv Blanc for Thanksgiving

This is the third of six videos on wines for Thanksgiving. If you haven't been following along, it's simply some guys who like wine and talking about their wine choices.

It shows how easy it is to get together and enjoy wines with friends. Here is the schedule we're following:

Monday: Riesling
Tuesday: Gewurztraminer
Wednesday: Sauvignon Blanc
Thursday Beaujolais
Friday: Pinot Noir, California Central Coast
Saturday: Pinot Noir, Oregon

Tonight, we are tasting a traditional Sauvignon Blanc blend. This one comes from Clif Family Winery in California. This is a really nice clean-tasting wine that oenophiles will enjoy with the Turkey.

It's known as the The Climber White. It is 80 percent Sauv Blanc with 13 percent Pinot Gris, 5 percent Riesling, 1 percent Pinot Meunier, and 1 percent Muscat.

The grapes come from Napa Valley though I may have said Lake County, to the north, in the video. The winery is near St. Helena in the northern area of Napa.

This wine retails for $12 - a really great buy. This bottle was a trade sample.

Be sure to check back the next three nights when we move to red wines and the fifth "dude" joins the tasting.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

'Dudes' Tackle Round Barn Gewurztraminer

Tonight is Episode 2 of "Dudes on the Porch" Again, this is a group of my friends who get together regularly to sample wine. They agreed to do a video session for the blog and we had a blast.

Of course, we tasted the wines all in one evening but I cut it into six episodes with a new one scheduled for each night this week. You can go back for any you may have missed.

Here is the schedule:

Monday: Riesling
Tuesday: Gewurztraminer
Wednesday: Sauvignon Blanc
Thursday Beaujolais
Friday: Pinot Noir, California Central Coast
Saturday: Pinot Noir, Oregon

Tonight's wine is another from Michigan, Round Barn Winery's Gewurztraminer. The wine has been a popular selection, in recent years, for Thanksgiving. It is one that many will like because of its very floral and spicy characteristics. Check out the video.

The first two wines tie in with my piece currently up on Palate Press about Michigan wine. But you can find Riesling and Gewurztraminer widely available from many different regions and in different styles. Riesling is usually avaliable in most supermarkets.

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Michigan Story Picked up by National Biz Publication

Palate Press has been a great outlet for wine writers/bloggers across the country. Sunday night my story on Michigan wine went up on the site and I've already had some great feedback.

I was thrilled this morning to learn that Wine Business, a national trade site, picked up the story as well. Just scroll to the lower left corner. Here is the link.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

"Dudes" on Michigan's Leelanau Cellars Riesling

I've been promoting the "Dudes on the Porch" Thanksgiving wine reviews for a couple of days now and tonight - it's officially "Dude" time.

There are a few points I think anyone can take from the videos I'll publish each night through Saturday. First, is that getting together with friends, tasting wine and talking about wine is a lot of fun. Getting a group together is also a great way to increase your wine knowledge.

Our group has been getting together since late spring/early summer every 2-3 weeks and taste 4-5 wines. Sometimes we have a theme, like this week's Thanksgiving wines, and other times we just bring a bottle and some snacks.

We're thinking about doing more theme nights and maybe more video. If you like these, please leave a comment!

Okay, tonight's first Thanksgiving suggestion is Riesling. There are tons of Rieslings available all across the country in every imaginable price point. German and Alsace region French Rieslings are some of the best in the world. But don't underestimate the versions from N.Y. Finger Lakes region and Michigan. Indiana wineries produce sweet versions of the wine. Washington state produces a lot of great Riesling. You'll even find some Riesling out of California.

So here are the dudes trying a Leeleanau Cellars, Michigan, Semi-Dry Riesling:

This was our first attempt and the lighting could be a little better. I'm learning an editing program to add lots of features to future videos. I also owe a debt of thanks to a local college student who used the Flip video cam and took some photos for us, Drew Casey, from Portland, Ore.

Tomorrow night: The Dudes try Gewurtz!

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Michigan Wine Story up on Palate Press

Sometimes these things take awhile, but the story I wrote about my four days in Michigan this summer visiting wineries was published overnight on Palate Press - The National Online Wine magazine. Click here to go directly to the story.

The Palate Press story links back to Grape Sense for a quick review I did of the wineries I visited in three days. You can see that by scrolling down, or clicking here.

Michigan wine is not yet widely available outside the state but it can be found in surrounding states if you make an effort. The area up around Leelanau Peninsula is really worth a visit.

I blogged each day about my Michigan trip and wrote about the winemakers and wineries. There are more photos and a video in those posts. I wrote six related posts which you can read here:

Visiting an Iconic Figure in Michigan Wine
First Taste of Michigan Wine Impressive
Two Lads, a Schoolhouse, and One Sharp Young Man
Friday was Final Day of Michigan Wine Tour
The Beauty of the Traverse Bay Area
Now it's Time to Drink some Michigan Wine

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Dudes on Porch" Debuts Monday Night

One of the best ways to really enjoy wine and learn more about wine is to drink new wines with friends.

I have a group of buddies who get together every 2-3 weeks and we taste 3-4 wines. We talk about the wine, snack a little, and debate a few other topics. We started calling ourselves "Dudes on the Porch" because it just happens to be all guys and all summer we got together on my large front porch.

Last week I thought it would be great fun to do a video blog episode with the guys. Well, the "Dudes" were up for the video idea. Then "Dude" Patrick thought it would be a great to do Thanksgiving wines. I agreed.

So Tuesday night, Nov. 2, we got together in my living room - too cold for outside - and sampled three whites and three reds we thought would be great for Thanksgiving. We video taped everyone's thoughts about each wine.

I'm going to put the vids up one wine at a time, starting Monday night through Saturday. The videos are pretty simple, not over produced, and about two minutes each. But I think it provides a good example of how palates are different and how much fun you can have doing the same thing.

Make sure to check back Monday night for the debut of the "Dudes!"

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Banfi's Centine Toscana Quaffable Red Wine

"Drinkable enough" is hardly a full-hearted endorsement but sometimes good enough.

I opened a trade sample bottle of Banfi's Centine Toscana and found it very drinkable. The 2008 Toscana is a nice blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

You'll get a little berry and some other rather unidentifiable red fruit on the palate. It is a soft red wine. The tannins are quite soft despite a combined 18 months in oak. The soft finish almost always makes me say that this is a good red wine for beginners. Or, a good red wine to serve in mass quantities.

Banfi has a big lineup of great products. The Centine is the value line with prices around $11-$12. Previous vintages of the Toscana consistently scored in the high 80s.

Again, many people would like this wine. It would be great to buy in volume for a big Italian wedding. A little too soft and supple for my tastes, but it's a producer worth your trust and investment.

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