Sunday, January 30, 2011

Indy Winter Market a Real Winter Treat

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to write a little bit about food, markets, and such during the New Year - both here and in the newspaper column. After all, foodies usually enjoy wine and vice versa. I also hope to do a few more one-day or weekend trip stories.

I found the Indy Winter Market almost by accident - a long story. But wow, you can click the Indy Winter Market link and see all the distributors. Several bakeries, veggies, meats (bison and such), cheese, herbs, some greens and chocolate. The amazing part is all of this is available in the middle of the winter!

I made the trip to see Julie Bolejack of Chocolate for the Spirit. (She's in the photo at right!) I had written Julie several months ago about her chocolate business and had become friends on Facebook.

There isn't much in life better than good red wine and chocolate so I want to know Central Indiana's chocolatiers! I didn't have much cash on me yesterday so just bought a milk and dark chocolate bar. I'm hoping to get to Shelbyville sometime soon and do a newspaper column and perhaps a video with Julie about pairing wine and chocolate.

Many of the Winter Market vendors also set up shop mid-day at the City Market in Indianapolis across from the City-County Building. Julie sells here chocolates there about 10-2 each week day.

Both are worth checking out for you food and wine people!

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Additional Mendocino County Wine Photos, Video

Last week I joined three other wine journalists for a tour of Mendocino wine country, just north of Sonoma. These visits are hectic with little down time. But I'm not complaining.

The big thing I always take from the experience is the time with the winemakers and winery owners. There is no better experience, education-wise, than walking a vineyard with the woman or man who turn the grapes to wine. The experience provides an opportunity to add context and color to the stories we write about wine country.

In the photo at right, Vern Boltz, holding puppy, is winemaker and owner of Toulouse Winery; Linda Low of the MacKenzie Agency which works with the Mendocino Wine Grape and Wine Commision; and, the others are the members of our wine writers' group. The photo was taken in front of a 1,500-year-old Redwood on the Toulouse Ranch.

We buy wine because we like the taste, the culture, the way it makes it feel. But consumers still like to know the people behind any product. I think that's a big part of what we should do as wine writers.

That busy schedule doesn't allow enough time to get up all the photos and things I do when traveling. Below are several more photos albums, now attached to the appropriate blog entries as well.

I also had one video I wanted to put here. This is with Claudia Springs' winemaker and owner Bob Klindt. We barrel tasted a couple of his wines and then adjourned to a small dining area to taste most of his full line. The video is Bob talking about a number of different topics. The point is about the kind of depth and detail you get from the people who make the wine.

Admitted, most consumers don't get this kind of experience. But I would suggest that if you are serious about wine, when you visit a winery take the vineyard tour. Dive into the "geekiness" of the experience a little bit and improve your palate and learn how wines are made.

Our first winery stop on the three-day tour was at Jeriko Estates. Owner and winemaker Danny Fetzer led us through a tasting of his wines and tour of the estate. Fetzer - yes, THAT Fetzer - makes a couple of dynamic sparkling wines from his beautifuly Highway 101 winery and tasting room. See additional photos from out visit here.

One of the highlights, of many, for me was a visit to Testa Vineyards. Fifth generation winemaker Maria Martinson was a fabulous host. The photo album here is also attached to the original post.

Friday was our busiest day of the trip with stops at Nelson Family Vineyards, Maple Creek, Toulouse, and Claudia Springs. Here is a link to more photos from three of those stops.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sally's Oceanside Tasting; Charlie's Pioneering Spirit

Friday's journal or blog entry opened with a photo of the sunrise over the Pacific. Perhaps it's appropriate to lead this one with this photo I shot around 5:30 this evening of the sunset. After all, it's the last day of a press writers wine trip sponsored by the Mendocino Wine Grape and Wine Commission.

The pace was a little more relaxed Saturday though it was still a full and satisfying end to the trip.

We started with an inconic female winemaker who combines a curiousity for new and different grapes and an incredible tasting room on the coast with just a touch of sass!

In the afternoon we joined 400 locals for the annual Crab & Wine festival which supports local healthcare charities. The $75 entry fee allowed visitors to taste crabcakes from 10 different chefs and wines from more than 20 wineries.

The trip ended Saturday night at Charlie Barra's home. Barra, owner of Barra of Mendocino is an iconic figure. Charlie and his wife Martha own a beautiful Fort Bragg home with that incredible view shown above.

Charlie has not missed any of 65 straight harvests and has sold grapes and conducted business with just about every big name in California wine.

The day started with that wonderful view of the Pacific - here is a short video showing what I had outside the double glass doors of my hotel room this morning.

Pacific Star Winery's tasting room is about 12 miles north of Fort Bragg on Highway 1. The rocky cliffs behind the business might make it one of the best places in the world to sip a glass of wine.

Sally Ottoson got started in the wine business in 1972 managing California's first wine bar. She had a Napa Valley winery but eventually returned home in 1987 to Mendocino. The charismatic Ottoson likes to make different wines and age a number of cases from each vintage.

In her tasting room you can find almost anything you'd expect at any Californa winery, except Cabernet, and many seldom found. She makes a 100 percent Carignane and the ancient Italian Charbono.

Her wine making style? "I like to add a little bit of this to a little bit of that," she explains with a big grin and laugh. "We make a huge effort to make wine fun. Don't agonize over it. I make wine the old-fashioned way. I make wine in barrels."

She has several blends on her tasting menu and the label always tells the tasting room visitors what grapes are in the wine. But not always ALL the grapes. "I like to think of that as just a guideline," she laughed.

Most of her business comes through a big wine club membership and tasting room sales. Many come for the view. It's not hard to imagine that if a curious visitor stops by that they're destined to become one of Sally's friends. She'll charm then into a return visit and probably sell them some wine.

The view behind the winery is several degrees beyond stunning. Here is a 30-second video clip I shot of the ocean shore behind Pacific Star Winery.

Charlie and Martha Barra were incredibly gracious hosts to wrap up our trip. Charlie is known for his California wine stories and he sure didn't disappoint. Their home features large glass windows across the back of the house with a stunning Pacific Ocean view.

We tasted our way through the evening and dinner on Barra's wines. An added special twist was to have Chef Silver Canul of Silver's at The Wharf cooking for us in Martha's kitchn. Earlier in the day, Sliver was honored in the professional category for his crabcakes at the Crab/Wine Fest.

Barra got started in the wine business as a 19 year old. He calls himself "just a farmer." Through the years he has built a label and stable of wines respected throughout the state and enjoyed around the world. He's never made the wine and insists he doesn't make too many suggestions. He laughs aloud when noting that winemakers often want to tell him how to grow the grapes, though.

The stories range from funny to wise and are filled with the names who've made Californa wine great. When Charlie talks about "Bob," it's Robert Mondavi, of course. He has been friends with the Wente family (premier Chardonnay producers) for decades. The list goes on and on. He is one of those pioneers who has seen every change since California wine became a world force.

Barra wines are sold in Japan, Sweden, and Canada and most of the U.S. I didn't take any notes. It just didn't seem right. We were invited into the Barra home to hear Charlie's stories and share their great wine. It's all part of a lifestyle the Barras embrace and represent.

I'll have more video, photos, and some overall perspective of this area in the coming days. Sunday it's time to go home and face the snow and cold. I also have two or three stories for the newspaper and probably Palate Press.

But the trip left an impression. Mendocino is real farming with respect for the land and great wines worth their price point. It's a real contrast to some of the state's better known wine regions. Mendocino is worth a visit and a taste.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Preserving the Land; Wine Characters Abound

Mendocino, Calif. – Our traveling group of wine journalists started Thursday on a 2,000-acre ranch in the Ukiah Valley, made its way through the Anderson Valley, and ended the day eating fresh Dungeness crab.

Yes, they treat us well. And I haven’t even got to the view outside the window 8 feet from where I’m writing this Friday morning! Well, that would be the view in the photo above!

One thing that has made a big impression in the two full days of winery visits is how seriously these producers take caring for the land. Many of the vineyards represent only a small fraction of the total ranch property owned by these family wine operations.

Nelson Family Vineyards was our first stop and such an operation. Chris Nelson gave us a tour of the property and talked about how his parents moved up to Mendocino County from Silicon Valley. The ranch is 2,000 acres but just 168 are planted in vineyard. They also raise cattle; grow strawberries, pears, Christmas trees and pears. Only 300 acres of the ranch are farmed at all.

One thing that is so much fun and educational is going out onto the property with the winemaker and learning the farm to glass process. We tasted the Nelson Riesling (light, mild fruit, and perfect for food) and Cabernet Sauvignon right in the vineyard where the grapes are grown.

We tasted nearly the full line of Nelson wines which were nicely balanced. His white wines were beautiful, the reds a touch light for my taste but still well made. He has a couple of nice – and not over the top – dessert wines including an Orange Muscat. The family originally planted the Orange Muscat grapes at the request of Napa icon Robert Mondavi.

Our mid-day stop was at Maple Creek Winery and very fun visit with vintner and artist Tom Rodrigues. Tom is a noted artist and talented winemaker. His most recent estate Chardonnay is one of his signature wines. His efforts win critical praise at 90-plus points from major wine magazines. The 180-acre ranch is breathtaking from Tom’s home atop the property’s highest point. The land features wild boar and edible mushrooms.

Tom treated us to lunch with a four-mushroom soup, wild boar sandwich with wine reduction, and a dessert of candy cap mushroom cake that tasted like maple.

The Artevino – combining art and wine – Chardonnays were the best in two days of tasting. Tom also makes a white from a grape called Symphony. The hybrid grape was developed in 1963 as a cross between Muscat and Grenache Gris. It was very floral and might remind many wine drinkers of a Gewurz.

Tom’s wit plays out in his wine labels, which he also designs for several other wineries, and in his wines. Let’s say he likes cowboys and baseball. I enjoyed his floral Bucking Blanco white with Symphony, Chardonnay , and Flora much more than the 100 percent Symphony. I’ll definitely get to add a couple new grapes to my “grape list” after this trip.

Just a note on Tom’s art besides wine labels, you’ve probably seen his work. Still an amateur baseball player at 57 years old, his painting of Negro League star Cool Papa Bell hangs in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Moving closer to the coast, our next stop in Anderson Valley was Toulouse Vineyards – known for its popular and award winning Pinot Noirs. Owner and winemaker Vern Boltz talked us through the tasting and explained how he used small amounts of Pinot that had alcohol levels extracted to lower overall alcohol content in his wines.

We jumped aboard a couple of small four-wheel farm “scooters” and toured the scenic property. One of our first stops was a 1,500-year-old Redwood and then the beautiful farm pond that helps frame the hillside vineyards.

Vern is clearly a fun guy, greeting nearly every customer that entered the tasting room while we were there.

The best wine to my palate was a gorgeous Pinot Noir Rose that was rich with Pinot flavor and not just the usual strawberry hints.

Friday was also our busiest day with a final stop and Claudia Springs Winery. Bob and Claudia Klindtfounded the winery in 1989 and make 2,000-2,500 cases annually. Their Zinfandel has won consistent honors.

There story is so compelling because both were social workers before and after moving to the Anderson Valley. Eventually, they were able to turn their focus to winemaking.

“I grew up in Montana,” Bob said, “and in Montana only sissies drank wine.”
They moved to the area in 1994 after driving up on weekends for five years. They are deeply invested in sourcing local grapes and trying new things. Brother Jim Klindt joined the operation and manages their vineyard.

Bob said Zinfandel had always been a favorite wine but learned quickly he needed to make Pinot Noir. We barrel tasted his latest Pinot and Zin before going up to the tasting room. Both were gorgeous and full flavored wine.

The day was capped with our arrival on the coast and joining the Fort Bragg crab feed at 8 p.m. It’s a west coast tradition of salad, hard bread and cioppino – or for the land-locked, fish stew. Bibs, booze, and heaping pots of spicy broth and fresh dungeons crab isn’t a bad way to end a long day.

(Photo: Part of our group chowing down on fresh crab!)

Today we start off with a visit to Pacific Star Winery which overlooks the Pacific. Then we head back down to Fort Bragg for more crab. Tonight we dine in the private residence at the owners of Barra Winery – again overlooking the ocean. Sunday it’s a long trip home.

Again, these blog posts are more of a journal while on the road. I’ll write more about the wines and about visiting the area in future posts. Also, I’ll be adding a bunch of photos!

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Friday, January 21, 2011

A Mendocino Wine Icon, Great History, & A Pioneer

On these trip visiting 3-4 wineries a day and dining with another 2-3-4 winemakers at night, I've always looked for a good story to tell. Now I admit many of these stories have been told before, but some are not well known and a few go untold.

Thursday's three winery visits in Mendocino County, California, gave me 3-4 great story ideas. It's going to be fun sorting out the options.

Is the best story the iconic wine name you all know, the young hispanic winemaker, the fourth generation Italian woman carrying on the family tradition, or the most iconic name in organic wines?

The old editor in me says that's not a bad list of options.

I generally don't write in narrative or chronologically, but lets do it from the top down. When I'm out traveling, I consider this more of a journal.

Our day began a Jeriko wines just south of Ukiah. The name Jeriko probably doesn't mean anything to you but if I said the owner/winemaker was Danny Fetzer would that help? Yes, THAT Fetzer.

The Fetzer name is widely known. When they started making wine they exploded from 40,000 cases to more than a million in what may have seemed like no time at all. The family sold the iconic brand in 1992 to Brown-Forman. The Fetzer children, including Danny, had a non-compete clause for 8 years. So Danny finally started his label Jeriko with his first vintage of 2000.

Danny was a gracious host in his beautiful tasting room. We started with two sparkling wines.His 2005 Brut Rose ($48.95) wss dynamite bubbly made from Pinot Noir. We tasted his Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet. Then we tasted barrell samples of Grenache and Pinot from the 2010 vintage. There is no better wine education than tasting through a wine lineup with the man or woman who made the wines.

See additional photos from our visit to Jeriko Vineyards.

Next was just one of the greatest wine experiences I've had with a visit to Testa Vineyards. Making a very long story short, Maria and Rusty Martinson are fourth generation wine maker producing old style wines on property first settled by Maria's great grandfather in 1912.

They make the wines much as grandfather Gaetano did calling the red "Black" and the white wine "White." The tasting room, if you will, is an old barn with a 1959 pickup and antique tools Maria's grandfather once used.

All of the family turned out with Mom making gnocchi for lunch, aunts pouring wine, and children helping with the chores. It was a one-of-a-kind experience no million dollar Napa tasting room could ever duplicate.

I had the Black with lunch a blend of Cabernet, Petit Syrah, and Carignan. It was a very nicely balanced wine that paired perfectly with lunch.

Maria gave us a full tour of the guest house and the old cellar where her family started making wines. Maria is the winemaker working with nearby Parducci Vineyards. Her husband Rusty has a construction business but works the vineyards. They have two daughters in college and two teenage boys at home. Charlie, a 17-yeard old high school senior, said he hopes to become a fifth generation winemaker.

See more photos from our Testa Vineyards' visit.

We made our last winery stop of the day deep in the countryside at Frey Vineyards - the first organic winery in the country and the maker of the first certified biodynamic wines in the U.S. Katrina Frey, married to one of 12 children, walked us around the property with nephew Daniel. The story is almost lore in this region. Doctors Paul and Beba Frey moved to the Redwood Valley in 1960. They planted grapes late in the 60s.

They use the Farmers Almanac, a wide array of farm animals and no sulfite to cultivate the family wines and traditions. They own nearly 1,000 acres but only farm about 150. Nine of Don and Beba's children live on the property today. We met Beba very briefly during the tour. She made cookies for the visiting wine writers with wheat grown on the farm and still answers phones in the morning.

Frey is one of the area's biggest producers with 82,000 cases last year. The wines are distributed all across the U.S. and are big in many portions of Europe, mostly Scandinavia.

We tasted the value priced wines and they are different. The Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet all are priced $10-$20. Without sulfites, Katrina recommends the whites be consumed within six months of bottling and the reds 5-8 years. They are lighter and different than traditionally produced wines.

They don't get many visitors deep in the valley and it's a very different experience than any other winery visit. But the Freys are icons who have earned their industry status with family-owned and operated farming for nearly a half century.

Thursday night's dinner was again over-the-top great. We dined at Branches in Ukiah with Guinness McFadden, McFadden Wines, and Cesar Toxquil who makes wines under his name.

Our menu: Filet Mignon pizza and spring rolls for appetizers; house salad with a tart citrus dressing; a choice of veal, prime rib or chicken for dinner. I had the Mesquite grilled porterhouse veal chop with garlic braised Blue Lake green beans, roasted Yukon potatoes, Jack Daniels glaze. Dessert was a decadent flourless chocolate cake.

I'll be walking back to Indiana, skipping the flight I think.

The wines were some of the best of the trip thus far. McFadden's Riesling and Pinot Gris were incredibly well blanced with a richness I normally associate with bigger Chardonnays.

Both winemakers poured Zinfandel and both were some of the best food Zins I've ever enjoyed. For me, one of the biggest highlights of trip was Toxqui's Heirloom 2 - a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Zin, and here's the surprise - Pinot Noir. I liked it a lot. Cesar's wine ranged from $18-$24. He has a great story. He is also working as a winemaker with Danny Fetzer.

We have even more winery visits lined up for today, Friday. We end up tonight in Mendocino for the Wine and Crab Festival and will spend the next two nights on the coast. Will try to get the daily roundup online tonight instead of the next morning.

I have a lot more material and some great photos. I'll be adding more to the blog when I return next week. (NOTE: I'll add live links to all the wineries and restaurant later today or this evening!)

You think consuming all this great food and selection of wines is easy?

Ok, don't answer that!

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Long Journey, Great Dinner & Mendocino Wines

Ukiah, Ca. - Indy to Chicago, to Denver, to Oakland, Ca. can wear an old guy or gal out. But an incredible dinner in Ukiah, CA., with area winemakers can sure make you forget the travel woes and time difference.

I'm on a press trip, sponsored by the Mendocino Wine and Wine Grape Commission, to Redwood wine country. A long day of travel, delays, and mishaps was capped with a fabulous dinner.

The small group of five wine journalists dined at Patrona in downtown Ukiah, a community of about 30,000 north of Santa Rosa or two and a half hours north of San Francisco.

Chef Craig Strattman paired dinner with 10 wines from Mendocino producers who have created a fabulous niche with their Coro wines. Coro is a group of producers making a Zinfandel-based wine judged worthy by a series of independent blind tastings. Coro, Greek for chorus, featues similar labels but is independently produced by each winery.

The Coro standards, simplified, are that the wines must have no less than 40 percent and no more than 70 percent Zin. No other grape may exceed the percentage of Zinfandel. The other grapes permitted are a real variety of wine grapes: Syrah, Petite Syrah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Pimitivo.

What you get, greatly over simplified, with most of the wines is a Rhone blend with a bit more flavor and muscle. But the producers don't go for in-your-face wines, every one of the 10 we tasted was well balanced for food.

The really great thing about the evening is how the chef at Patrona prepared a four-course meal that paired beautifully with the wines.

Go ahead, salivate: Chicory Salad with Soy Glazed Lardoons and Roasted Mushrooms; Lentil Soup with Goat Cheese and Leeks; Grilled Duck with Crackling, Spinach and Pear, Yellow Finn Potatoes Cooked in Vinegar and Duck Fat; Chestnut Popovers with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce.

Most all of the dinner ingredients came from local producers. The Lentil soup was one of the big hits for me. It was savory, rich with a hint of spice near the finish and it worked great with the bold wines.

I'm going to be writing more about the unique Coro concept and the wineries participating in this one-of-a-kind idea soon. But my body is telling me it's 2 a.m. even if the clock isn't. Tomorrow we visit wineries, have another dinner with wine makers and then do it all over again Friday before heading for the Pacific Coast!

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

'Dudes' Blind Taste Two Pinot Noirs

Last fall I wrote about how a group of friends get together every two three weeks and enjoy drinking and talking about wine. It's great fun.

In early November we did a series of videos on Thanksgiving wines. Well, the "Dudes on the Porch," are back with a blind tasting. Our name? Well, we started this in warm weather on my spacious front porch. We've moved inside but the concept remains the same.

The video is pretty self explanatory and a bit of fun. The guys enjoy two Pinot Noirs - with a bit of a surprise at the end.

Visit the Domaine Serene website.

I've actually visited both of these wineries, but Shady Lane Cellars was the most recent. Here is a link to my post the day I visited Shady Lane. And here is a link to my Palate Press story about Michigan wine that features Shady Lane winemaker Adam Satchwell talking about Michigan wines.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Off to Mendocino Wine Country Wednesday

Okay, I have a dog sitter, house sitter, and covered all the bases! I'm off to Mendocino wine country early Wednesday morning for a three-day press tour.

I'll be making my second press visit to California in less than six months. The Mendocino area, geographically at least, sits to the northwest of Sonoma out to the Pacific Ocean.

I'm told it's one of the most beautiful areas of California with natural Red Wood forests and of course the ocean. The area is loaded with wineries - some familar and some not.

We are scheduled to visit, or have wine poured by: Parducci, MacNab Ridge, Jeriko Estate and Winery, Testa Tines, Frey Vineyards, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Saracina, Nelson Family Vineyards, Maple Creek Winery, Toulouse Vineyards, Claudia Springs Winery, and Pacific Star Winery.

Our home base will be in Ukiah, Ca., Wednesday night and Thursday. We'll head to the coast Friday for two nights in a beautiful inn with ocean views. Then one of the real highlights of the trip is a day long visit to Mendocino Coast Clinics' 12th Annual Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting. We have a couple of hours in afternoon to explore Fort Bragg before heading to Marefino, a dinner and wine tasting, at Barra of Mendocino, just south of Fort Bragg.

The trip is sponsored by the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission.

I'll be blogging here each night, Tweeting throughout the day and doing updates on Facebook.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

How Many Wine Grapes Have You Tried?

How many different wine grapes have you consumed? Once you reach a certain level of wine geekiness you'll find yourself thinking of such things.

I started a list a year or so and tried updating it tonight. Then I made one of those cute little word clouds you see on many websites. I don't know that I have every different grape listed here but I suspect I'm pretty close.

A general rule is don't know your Chardonnay from your Roussane until you've hit 100. I'm close enough now not to be embarrassed at 86.

I decided I was list every grape that is in any wine I have consumed. Many grapes are just not turned into 100 percent varietal wines.

It's sort of a fun thing to do. I believe I once red there are something like 5,000 different vareties in the world that can be turned into wine. So I have a long way to go.

If you like these goofy word clouds, click on the thumbnail below and beholds it's beauty! Or is it my gluttony? Well, it's one or the other!

Wordle: 86 Grapes

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

La Vieille Ferme Blanc - I Triple-Dog Dare Ya!

Are you stil in a bit of a post-holiday stupor? Many of us are suffering from a little bit of that.

I thought of the holidays this evening when I finished off a bottle of La Vieille Ferme blanc - a nice white Rhone blend from France.

I kept thinking to myself, 'Self, who wouldn't like this white wine?' I'd pour this for anyone and take a shot they'd like it. My regular wine drinking buddy drinks very little white and usually poo-poos anything I make him drink.

Ironically he really likes Cotes du Rhone red wines. So I poured the white and he liked it! He really liked it! (wait, that's another iconic 80s ad line!)

The wine is simple and straight forward and cheap, don't let the grapes scare you. The juice is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and frankly two grapes I had never heard of previously - Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc! Who knew?

I get mild and balanced acidity to go along with a little hint of lime. Many folks will pick up floral hints.

I paid $8.99 for this little gem and found it as low as an unbelievable $4.99 on the web.

Try it; you'll like it. It's that good. C'mon, give French whites a try.

And it's guaranteed your tongue (and palate) will like it. Your tongue won't stick either.

Try it.

I double-dog dare you!

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Sartori Regolo Rosso Veronese Dynamite Italian

A lot of people getting into wine have to force themselves to move beyond the unknown. You can spend your life drinking Merlot and Chardonnay, and perhaps a few other varieties, but there is a world of other grapes that you just might like if you'll give them a sip.

I've always enjoyed most Valpolicella wines but they're often a bore - a tad thin or a bit too sour on the finish.

Tonight I opened Sartori di Verona's 2007 Regolo. The wine is made from the Corvina grape, grown in northeastern Italy. It normally makes up about 70 percent of the wine in a Valpolicella. I thought this wine was better than any straight up Valpolicella I've previously tried. It wasn't to the level of Amarone, the premier wines of the region, but it was delicious Italian red wine.

The Sartori was a full-flavored wine that was definitely dry and not overly fruit driven like many of the lesser Valpolicella offerings. It was soft and rich in the mouth with a little bit of cherry evolving to sour cherry on the finish.

The wine spends 18-24 months in oak but the tannins are very supple and smooth. This wine gets distributed in the U.S. by the Banfi folks so it should not be difficult to find.

It was great with some basic pasta and even chocolate after the meal. This is one of the best Italian wines I've tried in a long while.

This great juice was a trade sample with a suggested retail price of $19.99.

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Clif Blend, Concannon Riesling Good Values

Some catching up is in order. I recently consumed a couple of "trade sample" wines that were both pretty darn good.

I've written before about Clif Family Winery - the energy bar people originally - and have enjoyed almost all of their offerings.

Back in November my wine drinking buddies - Dudes on the Porch - raved about the Clif Sauvignon blanc.

Just the other night I wanted some red wine and went shuffling through my racks and remembered The Climber 2009 red wine from Clif. The Blend: 63 percent Zinfandel, 21 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent Syrah, 2 percent Merlot and 2 percent Petite Sirah. It's got a little blueberry going on and some spice. I'd tell a friend it's tasty red wine with just enough punch to keep you happy but not so much to scare away novice wine drinkers.

To me it was like a straight-forward Zin without huge fruit punch or finish but very drinkable.

Here is a link to something I wrote a little over a year ago about their basic red and white blend.

To me it was like a straight-forward Zin without huge fruit punch or finish but very drinkable.

Riesling any one?

I remember falling in love with Riesling when I first started drinking a lot of wine. I have tried to come back to it lately with mixed results. Imagine my surprise at Christmas when I opened a $10 (srp) bottle of Concannon Riesling and found it much better than some I had tasted lately at a much higher price point!

Concannon is a name in wine that is easy to find and delivers a consistently good product. The grapes are grown in California's Central Coast region. The wine really has a nice nose with hints of pear and a nice acidity to balance the mild sweetness.

This also was a trade sample - but as I sometimes say when noting the wines were sent to me - I'd buy this one. I recommend you buy it as well!

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