Monday, February 28, 2011

Catching up! A Week-and-a-Half of Wines!

Tonight, I'm catching up on some recent wines I've shared with friends or tasted.

The price points range from $7 to $30 and I have some whites and reds to share. And since I'm reviewing several wines here, I'm going to offer a "recommended, not recommended" type of rating for each.

S.Morris 2007 Petite Syrah - I got this wine through a Paso Robles wine club I joined. It's hard to find many details on this small operation but they sure do know how to make interesting Petite Syrah.

Normally you expect big and bold written all over a Petite Syrah. This wine was full flavored but with outstanding balance and a velvety mouth feel and finish.

It featured dark fruit and a little spice on the finish. (S.Morris 2007 Petite Syrah, $25, Recommended)

Villa San-Juliette 2008 Sauvignon Blanc - Simply put, this was the best Sauvignon Blanc I've tasted in a long time! At $15, I don't think you'll find a better one.

Now, this is a new winery but made 30,000 cases of this vintage. The Paso Robles area tasting room is scheduled to open this year. All of that means you might not be able to find the wine in some states. But the name is going to be one to remember.

This was an elegant Sauv Blanc without in your face tart fruit and/or acidity. I tasted pear and rich grapefruit instead of the usual grapefruit tartness. This is beautiful white wine from California's Central Coast. (Villa San-Juliette 2008 Sauvingon Blanc, $15, Highly Recommended)

flipflop 2009 Pinot Noir - Regular Pinot Noir drinkers often lament that lack of an inexpensive Pinot Noir. I often direct those folks to Mirassou, found in many markets. I'm now going to tell them Mirassou or flipflop!

I was skeptical when marketing friend Stephen Mitchell told me about this new line of wines. There is a cause behind the wine that everyone can support. flipflop wines is working with Soles4Souls to provide shoes for children. Underdog Wine Merchants, the company that does boxed wines for Octavin, is working with flipflop and Soles4Souls to provide 11 million pairs of shoes to needy children around the world.

Stephen told me I wasn't going to believe the quality of the wine for $7 retail. I was convinced Stephen would be right - I wouldn't believe him. Now, first off - it is a $7 wine. If you're expecting a big California style Pinot taste you're not going to get it. But at this price point --- the wine TASTED like Pinot Noir. That's the litmus test for me at the price. It's light in style and very drinkable.

My local Kroger supermarket has a palate of flipflop wines. The company is offering the Pinot, Pinot Grigio, Riesling,Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Moscato - all selling for just $7 each. I tried the Pinot Grigio as well and thought it easily could have passed for a $15 bottle. (flipflop wines, SRP $7, Trade Sample, Recommended!)

Veramonte's Cruz Andina 2008 Malbec - This was a juicy Malbec made from grape regions Mendoza, Uco, and Lujan de Cuyo in Argentina. It's actually a blend of 85 percent Malbec, 8 percent Syrah, and 7 percent Cabernet.

I liked this SRP $19.99 wine a lot. I enjoyed the touch of raspberry and the wine's rich, long finish. This wine has a pretty strong oak presence that doesn't bother me at all, but will put off some wine drinkers. The alcohol is at 14.5 percent.

If you like big and full-flavored Malbecs, you'll like this one. (2008 Andina Malbec, SRP $19.99, Trade Sample, Recommended)

Veramonte 2010 Sauvignon Blanc - This was a disappointment for me. Chilean Sauv Blanc has become one of my favorites. This wine had huge grapefruit and hints of nasty sweat sock. It was quite acidic. The alcohol was a reasonable 13.5 percent and it's a real value at $12.

The Veramonte was medium bodied, but just too much mineral taste for my palate. This is a reputable winery, this white wine just wasn't suited to my palate. I have a bottle of their Pinot Noir I'm anxious to try. It's gotten a lot of accolades. (2010 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc, $11.99, Trade Sample, Not Recommended)

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Friday, February 25, 2011

OTBN - Enough Reason to Open That Bottle!

Twelve years ago Open That Bottle Night was created by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher.

The concept is rather simple. Most wine drinkers have 1-2 or a few dozen "special" bottles stashed away for a special occasion. OTBN is designed to get wine drinkers to open a special bottle - essentially - for the heck of it on a night in February.

You deserve it. It's your money. So pick a good bottle out for this special evening celebrating good wine and celebrating you!

Great concept huh?

Gaiter and Brecher will actually be participating in a live forum Saturday night on Palate Press if you'd like to join the conversation about your wine or just watch the comments. Here is more information.

Oh, I'm going to open a Tuscan wine from Corzano E Paterno I carried home from Italy just a little over a year ago. It was the one bottle in my suitcase after a two-week visit to the Florence area - but just one day in Tuscany. The 2006 is a Sangiovese, Cab, Merlot blend!

What are you opening?

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Story On Red Wine Stains Up on Palate Press

I wrote a story for Palate Press about red wine stains and your teeth which went live on the site overnight.

Most of the advice seems practical but I had never heard of a few of these tips until recent years. If you drink much wine - red or white - it's worth checking out.

Here is direct link to the story!

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Try on Traminette" Boosting Indiana Winery Sales

Marketers know the best way to sell a product is to have a good product to sell. Indiana winemakers have struggled to find a niche beyond “sweet wines” for years. It seems “Try on Traminette” was the marketing campaign and grape to spur new-found success.

The Indiana Wine and Grape Council and Purdue University started a marketing campaign last year to introduce consumers to Traminette – a wine that is fruity and very floral. The grape is a hybrid that will remind regular white wine drinkers of Gewurztraminer – an annual Thanksgiving favorite. Cornell University is widely believed to be the developer of the hardy grape that grows well in Hoosier soils - best known for corn and beans.

The state designation of a “signature wine” has propelled Traminette to an Indiana tasting room favorite.

“We have seen "demand" for Traminette develop ever since the radio ads that Purdue is running,” said Mark Easley, Easley Winery, Indianapolis. “It is a great aromatic white wine that just needed to be discovered. Something ‘other’ than chardonnay comes to mind.”

The demand for Traminette has been felt all across Indiana’s 54 bonded wineries. More than 30 of the wineries are offering the wine, according to the Wine and Grape Council. The growth has challenged tasting rooms and vineyards. Just two years ago, only 15 Indiana wineries were producing Traminette.

“We are growing it in two of our southern Indiana vineyards,” Easley said. “Our Posey County vineyard gets a lot more heat in the summer months than our Jennings County vineyard. That creates an interesting difference in the amount of "fruitiness" we get from the fruit at each farm. The heat brings out a little more of the Gewurztraminer flavor.”

Easley markets its Traminette as a semi-dry wine with just over three percent residual sugar. It is going to be on the sweet side for most wine drinkers, but not overpowering by any means. Most Indiana wineries are producing Traminette as a sweet or semi sweet/dry white wine. But the grape can be used to make sparkling wines, table wines, ice wines, late-harvest wines, and standard dry to sweet wines.

“We are currently doing a varietal blend of the wine that we sold out of last year,” Easley noted. “Our winemaker also uses Traminette in the wine blends for both our Reggae White wine and our Barrel White wine. We find with the fruitiness and aromatic character of grapes like Traminette, Cayuga White and Riesling, that they step out into their own with a little residual sugar.”

Easley is quick to note Indiana wine drinkers still prefer sweeter wines and most Indiana producers cater to that market.

Christian Butzke, a Purdue associate professor of enology and a former commercial winemaker, is expecting most wineries that don't produce Traminette now will do so soon. He said the ongoing "Try on Traminette" campaign and its initial success would help those new Indiana wineries become recognized as agritourism destinations.

"Startups have the advantage of jumping into an existing campaign," Butzke said. "They can hit the ground running as many people enjoy local artisan wines even in a challenging economy."

That is another advantage the Indiana producers enjoy. Most of the Indiana-produced white wines, including Traminette are under $15 a bottle and low as $7 in some instances.

In the next Grape Sense, we’ll get another take on Traminette from a producer who makes a somewhat rare dry version of the floral grape.

Howard’s Pick:
Easley Traminette
– This family winery is one of Indiana’s oldest, located in downtown Indianapolis. The Traminette is sweet but beautifully balanced. The wine retails at just under $15. The Easley folks suggest a bottle of Traminette with pork loin.
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Ortman Wines Big Hit at Wabash College Dinner

The Friday wine pairings were a big hit! I wrote Friday about how I occasionally help our college caterer, where I work, pick out wines for big events.

Friday our alumni association sponsored a symposium on Food & the Liberal Arts. It was a great afternoon of lectures capped off by a fabulous dinner. I had worked with the caterer and chef to pick out a white and red wine for dinner from Ortman Family Wines of Paso Robles, Ca.

At dinner that evening the chef talked about the meal and I gave a brief background of Ortman and introduced the wines! (Hence, the photo at right!)

See an album with more photos from the event.

Ortman wines represent a very food-friendly style - lighter than many but still full-bodied for food. The dinner featured pork with an apple garnish while the beef was cooked pretty straight forward with salt, pepper, garlic. So the goal was to find a white and red that would fit nicely with both proteins.

I immediately thought of Ortman Family Wines because - one, I've become a big fan; two, they pair so well with food.

We went with the Ortman Chardonnay and Cuvee Eddy. The Chardonnay is in a lighter, food-friendly style that even I like. The Cuvee Eddy just rocks. The Rhone-like blend features Syrah, Grenache, Mouvredre and a hint of Petit Syrah. It has just enough spice on the finish to work with pork or beef.

The wines are very reasonably priced. The suggested retail on the Chard is $18 and $20 for the red blend.

Ortman's distribution is growing. They've been in Ohio for awhile and just picked up Indiana. Right now, Mass Avenue Wine Shop in Indianapolis has the Cuvee Eddy on its shelves. In time the other wines may be available there and certainly in other locations.

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Wine Picks up Traminette Column

It's always nice to get an e-mail, hear from a friend, or just stumble across something I've written in an unexpected place. is a big insider newsletter for anyone interested in wine. The site has picked up a couple of my stories - usually off of Palate Press - but nabbed my latest newspaper column from the Terre Haute Star-Tribune webpage.

My latest column was how Indiana's marketing efforts has led to increased sales in Traminette. The link redirects readers to the Terre Haute newspaper site. You can also find the column here on a blog I maintain just for the newspaper columns.

I'll post that column to Grape Sense tomorrow.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Giving the College Caterer a Hand With Wine

Keeping my wine 'thing' separate from my work in marketing at Wabash College is always a priority. But they do occasionally mingle. I assist the campus catering firm on selecting wines for big events.

The alumni affairs office is hosting a symposium Friday on Food and the Liberal Arts. It's patterned after a similar program last year on Baseball and the Liberal Arts.

I did a little preview video for our college website about the night's dinner. All this has an interesting twist that relates to my October trip to Paso Robles. I shared dinner one night in Calfifornia with Matt and Lisa Ortman of Ortman Family Vineyards. And I'll admit, I've become a huge fan of their wines.

I was hoping to use to Ortman wines at this dinner but, of course, they weren't being distributed yet in the Hoosier state. (I'm now surpressing the usual wine shipping laws rant!) To make a long story shorter, an odd occurent of events led a good friend to Ortman and then Ortman to GrayBull Distributing. That's a story for another day.

We are going to servie Ortman Chardonnay and Cuvee Eddy at Friday night's dinner. Near the end of the short video I introduce the wines. Remind me next time to use cue cards. When describing he Cuvee Eddy I note the traditional Cotes du Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mouvredre - with a little bit of Petit Verdot - except I should have said Petit Syrah!

Check it out:

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A student photographer is going to take lots of photos for me at tomorrow night's dinner and I'll get an album up. It's fun being a part of events like this one. Even more fun when my job and side interest intersect!

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Four Very Different Wines - Good to Great

I've got four quite different bottles of wine for quick review. These were all tasted at various times over the past week with different wine friends.

Penner-Ash 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir - We're opening this week's round of reviews with the week's big winner! If you like Pinot, go buy some - now!

Penner-Ash is a big name in Oregon. Winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash got her start at Rex Hill before going off on her own. I visited her incredible hilltop tasting room in 2007 and was taken with the full-flavored but still medium-bodied style of Pinot Noir. I also remember a great Pinot Noir Rose'.

Penner Ash simply makes beautiful wines. The world tends to agree on this one. Wine Spectator gave the 2006 Willamette Valley 90 points. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate liked it even better at 91 points.

The wine has a gorgeous finish that lingers with you. It has lush and almost satin-like texture. It's the kind of Pinot I don't want to pair with food. I want to savor every sip.

This came from my "stash" of good stuff tucked safely away in a wine storage unit and/or my basement! It's not at the price point I normally write about on Grape Sense but reviewing it allows me to share some wines for special occasions.

Penner Ash is available in most states, including Indiana. The current 2008 release of this wine has a suggested retail price of $45.

Earthquake 2008 Zinfandel - I've had fun with the Earthquake labeled wines before. They come from the Michael-David Vineyards in Lodi and are a part of a multi-label lineup of Zins.

As one might expect at just over $20 and with a name like Earthquake, these wines aren't for the beginners in your every-other-Wednesday-evening wine group. The entire line is big, bold wine that packs a wallop.

This Zin had pretty balanced fruit up front but was heavy with the oak. The first thing many are going to notice with the first swig is probably the burn. The Earthquake hits you with 16 percent alcohol - and you can taste it.

Now, all that said - I sort of a like a smack you in the face as Mom would when she caught you swearing as a kid - kind of wine on occasion. This is not a sipper - maybe with some tangy, spicy BBQ or chili it would be a good match. I've bought the Earthquake label before though this one was a trade sample, and would again. Some of the wines have had a little better balance than this one. But if you like big, jammy Zin with some serious punch, you're still probably going to like the Earthquake!

Graffigna 2008 Malbec Reserve - Sour cherry dominated my palate on this basic Malbec from the San Juan region of Argentina. I neither loved nor hated the wine. I got a little plum on the mouth feel and it has reasonable alcohol at 14 percent.

The wine represents great value in a crowded market of similar Argentinian Malbecs. At the $10-$15 range, you can pick up a lot of different Malbec bottles. This one is going to be better than some you'll find in supermarkets - assuming you can find a Malbec. Frankly, there are many better choices in the price range, but the Graffigna is by no means a bad pic. It's good for $10 - or in today's more popular jargon, "it is what it is." (Trade Sample!)

Geyser Peak 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley - About a year ago I started exploring some of these old names in California Cabernet and I haven't really been disappointed yet.

The Geyser Peak was a rich fruit-forward Cab with unobtrusive tannins that would be great for most Cab fans in this price range. I got a little chocolate on the mid-plate with some pepper on the finish - a lovely combination. The suggested retail price is $18 but you're likely to find it a little less in many locations.

This isn't quite as big as I like my Cabernet, but it's a real value in the mid-teen range. It's a balanced wine that's correct Cabernet with a reasonable finish. The alcohol is light at 13.5 percent.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Experimenting With Look of Grape Sense Blog

I want to make some major changes in the look and feel of Grape Sense this summer. I plan to add some tools and links that are more helpful to wine drinkers.

So I'm playing with some looks and color in the current platform I use for blogging until I can migrate the blog to an entirely new template and software. No radical changes right away but some different color combinations and maybe minor changes in layout.

I'll continue to tweak once in a while to find things I like. Thanks for visiting!

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Don't be Afraid to Try a French White Wine

Anyone who drinks even a little bit of wine probably has heard of ABC drinkers – Anything But Chardonnay! Or perhaps you know a “red only” wine drinker next door.

There is a revival going on with several white wines. Chenin Blanc is making a comeback. Chardonnay is becoming less oak-driven and more food friendly. Obscure French grapes are making Cotes du Rhone whites popular again.

Grape Sense focused on the geography of the Cotes du Rhone region in a July 2010 column. The Cotes du Rhone region sits at the very southeastern corner of France above Provence and below Beaujolais and Burgundy. The area is broken down into about 20 appellations or regions.

The reds offer a great contrast to many of the big and in-your-face wines of California, Australia, and even South America. The white wines are much lesser known but are a great alternative to Chardonnay and often a white that red lovers can appreciate.

You won’t find a Cotes du Rhone white wine in many supermarkets or liquor stores. You may have to go to a wine specialty shop. But I’ve found quite a few in Indiana.
The wines have a better balance and some of the earthiness you don’t usually find in whites. There is balance in the good Cote du Rhone whites that make them great as a standalone wine or with food.

There are three primary grapes. The first is Viognier, one of the most floral wines you will ever come across. Viognier is believed to be an ancient grape grown mostly in the northern Rhone region. The variety nearly disappeared in the 1960 before regaining some popularity.

There has been resurgence in Viognier in recent years even in this country. The California Central Coast has more than 2,000 acres planted in the grapes, thanks largely to a group known as the Rhone Rangers who plant red and white Rhone grapes.

A wine made of 100 percent Viognier can be quite delightful. The wine has a huge floral nose that might remind you of apricots or sweet fruit like an orange. Usually the wines are made in a dry style which makes them more interesting for the red wine drinker.

The other two grapes are more obscure. Rousanne and Marsanne don’t roll right off most American’s favorite wine lists. It’s not impossible to find a 100 percent bottling of either grape, but it’s rare.

The two are almost always blended. Roussanne is a bit sour or tart and usually gets some barrel fermentation. The characteristics on the nose and palate are floral but nothing compared to Viognier. Roussanne is a rich and spicy white that’s full bodied enough for winter meals.

Marsanne stands out for its deep golden color in the glass. The taste characteristics are often described as nut, spice, and pear.

Individually the wines are probably interesting for real wine geeks. But when the three grapes are blended together you get a rich white wine that will appeal to those ‘red only’ people, easy to pair with food, and introduce your wine friends to something brand new.

Howard’s Picks:
La Vieille Ferme Blanc
– Here is a Cotes du Rhone white that’s pretty easy to find. It has a couple of other odd grapes not mentioned above (Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc) but it’s a good representation of what you’ll find in Cotes du Rhone whites. It does have Rousanne in the blend. I found it easy on the palate with nicely-balanced acidity and a hint of lime. For $8.99, it’s an easy exploration into something different.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Catching up on Wine Reviews with a Bunch of Reds

I find myself falling behind on my basic wine reviews when I'm busy with work, writing and pitching stories to Palate Press, doing some wine work on events, and - oh - I do have a job that pays the bills which takes 40 hours a week.

Ortman 2006 Paso Robles Syrah - I have now sampled four different Ortman wines and continue to be struck by the incredible balance. These may be some of the most food-friendly wines you will find with such consistency from variety to variety. I opened the Syrah with a group of friends during a blind tasting. They picked it out as Syrah pretty quick and joined me in the praises when they learned it was Ortman. The group had tasted the winery's Sangiovese and Cuvee Eddy blend.

The wine starts soft and seems to grow more bold with every sip. There's a definite hint of cherry, style, smoothness and no smack in the jaw like too many Sirahs, Syrahs, or Shiraz - pick one. This is a very food-friendly wine. The Ortman Syrah has a suggested retail price of $22.

Ortman wines are available in some midwestern states and will be available in Indiana very soon.

Earthquake 2006 Syrah - I love the fun some wineries have with their labels and with the text on the back label. "over the top and shattering to the veins, all varietals under the Earthquake label are ... reserve level wines." That gives you an idea. This is the second Earthquake wine I've had from Michael David Winery and they are definitely big wines. This wine is actually the big brother of the Windmill reviewed below.

The Earthquake gives you big dark fruit, very ripe, some earthiness and a big finish. The wine retails at $26, but I've seen the label a number of places for less. I like these big bold punch in the nose wines. It has a bit of Petite Sirah and Cab in the blend but this is big wine, at a reasonable price, for big wine lovers. Though this was a trade sample, I have bought this label before and would again.

Windmill 2007 Zinfandel from Michael-David Vineyards - This is Lodi Old Vine Zin and comes in right where you'd expect such a wine. It has big cherry and smokey flavors with a hint of vanilla. It had a little too much of the 'weeeee' factor (alcohol) before a good decant. But then it quickly became a pretty darn good of $12 wine. It's a blend of Zinfandel and 24 percent Petite Sirah. Grab a dark chocolate bar and you'll find this enjoyable for the price. (Trade Sample)

Buried Cane 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon - Here is a nice value Cab blend for all you big wine drinkers. The Buried Cane, part of the Middleton Family Wines Group, is a nice 75 percent Cabernet, 25 percent Malbec Blend from Washington state. You've got the dark fruit, a rich mouth feel, and good acidity without an overwhelming tannic finish. There isn't a ton of mid-palate on this wine but for $13 its a steal. (Trade Sample)

NOTE - That gets me started, will definitely add a couple more wines to this post Monday night!

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Peru Tribune 14th Paper Publishing Grape Sense!

When I started writing a newspaper column about value wine two-and-one-half years ago I intentionally set my goal pretty high.

I thought 20 newspapers would be a really great goal. Over the weekend I picked up the Peru Tribune in Peru, Indiana, for number 14.

I get frustrated when I send 50 emails to editors, many of who I know, and hear back from one. But sometimes I get a request out of nowhere wanting to add the column and it just makes my day!

It's a pretty good birthday present. I can now say 14 Indiana newspapers and approximately 200,000 Hoosier homes.

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