Monday, June 27, 2011

Mondavi, Clayhouse, and Graffigna - Oh My!

Same old song - I have some catching up to do. So tonight I'm going to try to get current on a bunch of "trade sample" wine I've recently tasted.

Yes, people send me wine to review. There is a whole disclaimer process - including 'no promises I'll review it' and more important 'no promises I'll like it.' But I've written that before and would hope there has been enough credibility established for the skeptics.

Someone once asked why I don't write much about real stinkers. Well, there are two answers to that one. First, I don't go looking for real stinkers. I also consider that some wines I might not like, others might. With those wines, I try to review them for what they offer and how well I think they're made.

I'll throw in what I thought was a real stinker in tonight's reviews just to make the point! How's that?

Let's start off with three wines from the legendary Robert Mondavi. It starts with an example of price point and style.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc - The grapes come from the Central Coast and make a nice light and lean Sauv Blanc. There are no big flavors or acidity clobbering your palate but still nice enough zest and fruit for the price point. This is nice wine for $11 and widely available. (Mondavi Private Selection Sauv Blanc, $11, Trade Sample, Recommended)

Mondavi 2009 Fume Blanc - Most people think of Cabernet when they think of the most iconic name in California wine. But this Fume Blanc has been a favorite of wine drinkers for a long time. It's 90 percent Sauv Blanc and 10 percent Semillon. For those unfamiliar with Semillon it's often used in blending and provide a very nice fruit and softness to any grape combination. The fruit is mostly Napa Valley in this one. This wine enjoys some time in oak and offers up a richness many Sauv Blancs often miss. If you love the strong citrus and acidity of Sauv Blanc but like it with a softer edge, you'd love this wine. (Mondavi Fume Blanc, $20, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended)

Mondavi Pinot Grigio - This is like a bad movie that starts with a disclaimer. I'm NOT a big Pinot Grigio fan in general. I just find it uninteresting. I opened this wine on a hot Hoosier afternoon after doing yard work. It was ... okay ... not a lot of fruiit on the palate .... the acidity was okay ... it was good wine for $11 ... just not memorable. (Mondavi Pinot Grigio, $11, trade sample, No recommendation)

Now some samples from marketing friend Rusty Eddy who represents Clayhouse Wines in Paso Robles. I visited the Clayhouse tasting room in downtown Paso when there in October 2010 and loved them. Rusty had the marketing arm send out their Adobe line of wines. Very good stuff!

Clayhouse 2009 Adobe Red - This blend of 32 percent Zinfandel, 25 percent Petit Sirah, 13 percent Malbed, 11 percent Cab, 10 percent Syrah, and 9 percent Petit Verdot sounds like a kitchen-sink blend - and it might be. But I found it had a wonderful dark fruit, cherry flavor with soft tannins and extraordinarily drinkable. You won't find this in every state - but ask! (Clayhouse 2009 Adobe Red, $14, Trade Sample, Recommended)

Clayhouse 2010 Adobe White - Have you ever opened a bottle of wine that you are "not supposed to like" by all standards - but you just loved it? Well, I'm not sure if the "not supposed to like" standard applies here but I loved this simple, rich, and soft white wine. It's a lovely blend of Viognier, Sauv Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Princess, and Chenin Blanc. This has orange, lemon but above all it has a rich and smooth feel in the mouth that I think many wine drinkers would just fall in love with after a taste. This is damn fine juice. (Clayhouse 2010 Adobe White, $14, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended - nah, make that my second 'Very Highly Recommended" wine of the year. Snobs won't like it. Porch drinkers like me will love it!)

Graffigna 2008 Malbec Reserve - This great Malbec surprised me as it opened up. At first sip I thought 'Okay, so-so Malbec and a nice little wine for the price.' But as the wine opened up it really became a rich and interesting wine for the price. There's pepper, spice, and maybe even some coffee. It was delicious! Robert Parker gave this wine 90 points! (Graffigna 2008 Malbec Reserve, $12-$14, Trade Sample, Recommended!)

Baker's Dozen Wines - Okay, I promised! I was sent these four samples from a marketing firm representing the winemakers who were introducing non-traditionally sweet wines ... sweet Chardonnay, sweet Pinot Noir, sweet Cabernet (you read that right), and sweet Pinot Grigio. Indiana was a test state for the wine, which makes some sense considering Hoosiers taste for sweeter wines - particularly our homegrown ones. I just tasted the Pinot Noir and Cabernet - and to say they were an undrinkable mess would be an understatement. Cabernet should be dry - Concord is sweet. I like trying new things and respect people trying new things. This was a bad idea from the beginning. And don't get me started on the labels which look an awful lot like a famous jelly and jam company. (Baker's Dozen wines, Cheap, Trade Samples, Absolutely NOT Recommended, don't think about it ... buy local sweet wines from your state winery instead!)

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Concannon Celebrating Its History with Petit Sirah

There’s nothing better than a glass of wine with a great background story. Concannon of Livermore, Ca., offers both to consumers with an eye on the environment and great wine.

The Concannon family arrived in California in 1883 and has been operating continuously by the ensuing generations down to John Concannon today. John’s father Jim Concannon is a California wine pioneer. Jim is also widely credited for America’s first 100 percent Petit Sirah.

“This is our flagship wine,” John Concannon said during a recent Indianapolis visit. “My father was the first to make Petit Sirah in 1961 as a varietal. For years before, it was a blending grape used in Burgundy. We’ve actually trademarked ‘America’s first Petit Sirah.’ So, we’re celebrating 50 years.”

Besides the bold, rich Petit Sirah, Concannon is also known for helping lead a conservancy movement in the Livermore region, which is just east of San Francisco. Concannon and other area vintners have placed their vineyards in an independent trust that assures urban sprawl will never take over the historic area’s farm ground.

Concannon makes four wines, soon to add a fifth, from the Conservancy properties – Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Sirah, and Chardonnay. They retail at $15 and represent some of the best value varietals you’ll find at the price point.

But Concannon is best known for the small purple grape with all the big flavor. “This is actually a very sacred process how we make our Petit Sirah,” Concannon said. “We harvest the fruit at night, let it cool down, we bring it in and throw it on the sorting table. We sort out the berries, throw them through the rubber impalers and release the juice. We add some yeast and we’re making wine like the Egyptians did.”

The grape can be difficult to work with for a 100 percent varietal wine. “This wine is a little devil,” Concannon said. “What we’ve learned in 50 years it’s all about controlling the oxidation rate. During the first six months we lock it down in stainless steel and then the next six months we’re putting it in American oak, medium toast (that’s our spice rack). This is where the old school winemaking comes in because during the last six months we’re putting the wine in these 55-year-old vertical, upright barrels. They are French oak from Bordeaux. The wood is inert so it’s not giving off any flavor but the porousness of the wood accelerates the oxidation rate, speeding up the aging process. That gives it a nice soft mid-palate.”

The end result of all that hand crafting is a wine that’s anything but petite. “This wine is the St. Bernard that wants to sit in your lap,” John laughed. “It’s a very friendly wine but it’s big.”

And while many people shy away from big red wines it’s easy to recommend Concannon’s version because of the roundness. Concannon shared recent A.C. Nielson statistics showing Petit Sirah as the second-fastest growing varietal in California behind Pinot Noir.

He suggests pairing the wine with any food that has spice or pepper along with steak, barbeque, or Asian food. “If you have heat in the meal, bring it on. This wine can keep up with it.”

I love this wine with a nice charred steak.

Howard’s Picks:
Concannon Conservancy wines
– At $15 each, you can’t go wrong with these wines distributed in all 50 states. The Cabernet and Petit Sirah are big flavored wines with a nice smooth mid palate and finish. The Merlot shocked me with its hint of spice. The Chardonnay doesn’t clobber you with oak. These are great wines. Concannon is about to release a new addition to its Conservancy lineup – “Crimson and Clover” to honor Jim Concannon. The crimson stands for the red wines and clover for the family’s Irish heritage. The red blend is expected in stores later this year.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Its Sounds Crazy, But Try Wine Cake

I love to cook but I'm certainly no baker. Like many of my generation my mother, now 85 years young, can whip up some pretty darn good baked goods.

And ... I helped! (get the pop cultural reference?)

Any way ... Mom and I have made this recipe with Strawberry, Raspberry, and Cherry fruit wine. I'm not a fruit wine fan generally but it makes darn fine cake!

I dressed up Saturday's version of Strawberry wine cake with small bits of fresh strawberries as you can see in the iPhone pic I shot shown here.

Wine Cake:
1 box white cake mix with pudding (or regular works too!)
1 cup of berry wine
1 cup oil
1 small box of same berry jello
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs

Combine all ingredients. Bake in greased and floured bundt pan at 325 for 50-60 minutes.

1 2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup berry wine

(I usually take 1/2 cup or more of the berry wine and cook it down to 1/4 cup to intensify the wonderful icing!

I'm tellking ya, this cake rocks!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Catching Up: A Passel of Wine Reviews

I've sipped lots of great and interesting wines over the past two weeks and tonight is catch-up night!

Cristobal 1492 2008 Bonarda - If you're looking for a great house wine or an easy drinker at a great price, this wine is for you. First, many have not heard of Bonarda.

Bonarda was more widely planted in Argentina before Malbec made its big splash. And if you like Malbec, you're going to like this grape. The bigger versions contrast Malbec with a bit more earth and smokey characteristics, I believe.

This wine is a value wine with rich and smooth flavors. You might get a hint of chocolate once you get past the smooth blackberry on the front of the palate. It's a bit softer than most Malbecs with a rich mouth texture.

I like this wine a lot! (Cristobal 1492 2008 Bonarda, $11.99, but I found it under $10 in Indianapolis, Highly Recommended for price point!)

Georges Duboeuf 2010 Beaujolais-Villages - The Gamay grape can be a stinky mess at times but the last two vintages from 2009 and 2010 have provided a great example of how quaffable (that word again!) this wine can be during a good vintage and in the hands of the best winemakers.

The 2010, which won't be released in retail until later in the year, offers a hint of cherry/strawberry and a nice earthiness without the often-typical Gamay funk.

Beaujolais is a wine you should try for the price point. Go for the Crus and avoid the fall Nouveau. A lot of people are going to like this wine. (Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages, Trade Sample, you'll find this wine around the $10 price point and up everywhere, Recommended)

Cooper Mountain 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir - Wow! What a great bottle of Pinot Noir.

This is a lovely Cooper Mountain Pinot with great balance and an uber-smooth finish. You'll get cherry, strawberry and a hint of spice in this real beauty. Robert Parker gave this wine a coveted 90 points - it's not hard to see why.

For those casual wine fans, the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinots are considered one of the best vintages ever from Oregon. I've tasted a handful, and will taste a lot mroe when I travel there this summer, but so far all have been outstanding.

In my experience with Oregon Pinot, you normally would have to hit the $30-$35 price point for Pinot this good! (Cooper Mountain 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, $19.99-$22.95, Highly Recommended)

Huber Winery 2008 Heritage - I don't review a lot of Indiana wine on the blog but Huber Winery often deserves some platitudes. The 2008 Heritage is a blend of 50 percent Cabernet, 40 percent Cab Franc, and 10 percent Petite Verdot. The interesting thing is all three grapes in this wine are grown on the sprawling Huber operation near Louisville, Ky., on the Indiana side of the river at Starlight.

The wine is delightful. I've long said Huber makes some of the very best red wine you'll find in Indiana. They have a litany of awards to prove others agree. This is a red wine you'll think could have come from California or perhaps Australia.

Hubers' Heritage is a nice pick for Hoosiers looking for an Indiana red wine option. (Huber 2002 Heritage, $18.99, Recommended)

Qupe 2008 Marsanne - I love California Central Coast wines and Qupe makes really great Syrah. So when Ashley at Cork & Cracker in Indy had a special on the Qupe Marsanne I had to pick up a bottle.

First, this isn't a wine for every wine drinker. The Santa Ynez Valley grapes are 81 percent Marsanne and 19 percent Rousanne. For newbies, those are traditional French Rhone white grapes.

There is a hint of peach or apricot but the most distinguishing characteristic is a bitterness that is going to be off-putting to casual wine drinkers and some frequent imbibers!

If you want to try something different, this one definitely fits that bill! (Qupe 2008 Marsanne, $18.99, Recommended - for the adventurous!)

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Monday, June 6, 2011

What a Great Story Behind Colby Red Wine

Few industries have proved more generous in recent years than the wine industry. Wine auctions across America raise millions of dollars for great causes annually.

But the story of 13-year-old Colby Groom touches the heart in a way different than corporate charitable efforts. When Colby was barely 10 years old he had back-to-back open heart surgeries. His remarkable recovery and generous spirit now drives his father and others to raise money for charities that promote heart health.

After recovering from the life-threatening challenges, Colby now promotes a red wine blend bearing his name – Colby Red. The boy asked his famous winemaking father if they could make a wine to help raise money for Heart Disease charities.

Daryl Groom is certainly no doting father humoring his ill son. Groom is a world class Australian winemaker who worked for Penfolds before coming to the U.S. in 1990 to work for Geyser Peak and Beam Wine Estates.

The project really took off after a February appearance on NBC’s Today Show. With Walgreen Drugstores on board as a national corporate partner, suddenly 20,000 cases of a California red wine blend didn’t seem like enough.

“Honestly we have been blown away and are quite humbled by the tremendous support Colby Red has received from consumers, trade and media,” Daryl Groom told Grape Sense. “People love the wine and they really want to support the cause. We get lots of emails and Facebook messages daily.

“Because of the support so far this year we have raised $115,000. This is a far cry from the $500-$1,000 my son and I were hoping to raise when he first conceived the idea. Of the $115K raised we have donated $72,000 and quite an additional amount of product to heart related charities across the country.”

The wine, with a suggested retail price of $12.99, can be found in wine shops, liquor stores, and in Walgreen stores across the nation. Of course with a “suggested” retail price, don’t be surprised if you find the wine at a lower cost.

All of the project’s profits go to Colby’s charity. But for a proud dad, there’s more to this project than selling a lot of wine for a good cause.
“Aside from raising the money for worthy charities, which puts a huge smile on our faces, my family has been rewarded immensely in watching our son Colby grow with the process,” Groom said. “From being so fragile post-surgery to a young man who gets on stage at heart benefit balls around the country and confidently and proudly tells his story to help others.”

You can learn much more about Colby Groom, the wine, and the project at and on Facebook at Colby Red Wine.

Howard’s Pick:
Colby 2009 Red Blend, $12.99
– There are no excuses not to try this fruit-forward red wine if you live near a Walgreens. The wine is a cuvee of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Merlot and Petite Sirah. It’s big fruit with soft edges and very enjoyable finish. And by the way, it’s a very smooth and wonderful glass of red wine!

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Vintage Indiana this Weekend in Indy

For those in Central Indiana or nearby, it's a great weekend to head to Indianapolis.

Vintage Indiana "a Festival of wine, food, and fun" has become one of summer's biggest events. I have not been able to attend in recent years because of a work conflict that always seems to hit the same weekend.

But it's great to go visit with all the Indiana wineries and taste their wines. It's also a unique experience to not just taste the wines, but often it's the winemaker pouring them.

Here is all the information you need on the Vintage Indiana website!

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