Friday, July 29, 2011

Concannon's Crimson & Clover Big Fruity/Silky Feel

I've been a fan of Concannon wines even before their savy marketer Stephen Mitchell put me on their samples list.

I jumped at the chance to have dinner with John Concannon earlier this summer when he was working with his distributor visiting retail outlets in Indiana. He usually does one media availabilty per trip, he told me.

So, at Stephen's urging I'm sure, Concannon used that one media availability with me and gave me a bit of a scoop. He told me Concannon was about to add a fifth wine to their dynamite lineup of Conservancy wines.

The new wine would be called "Crimson & Clover" honoring his father, Jim. Jim Concannon was the first to bottle Petit Sirah as a varietal and is a real icon in California.

The wine was introduced this week on Jim Concannon's 80th birthday.

My samples of the new wine arrived yesterday. I was little worried by our heat, but opened a bottle tonight with a ribeye off the grill. The wine will be popular. Seldom can you find a big, fruit-forward red wine with a nice silky texture like this one for $15.

The wine is a blend of 50 percent Petit Sirah, 25 percent Cabernet, 15 percent Syrah, and 10 percent Zinfandel. It gets plenty of time in oak - 18 months in French and American wood. The alcohol is relatively low at 13.7 percent.

Though not particularly sophisticated, a really nice and big fruit red wine. Again, I urge people to judge wine at the price point. And for $15, this is darn good wine.

I wrote a newspaper column about Concannon as well which you can check out here.

I found this story about the Concannon Celebration. There are a lot more like it online.

Send comment or questions to:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Willamette Valley, Day 4 - It's About the People

You can love wine, food, or model trains but in the end it's always about the people that make standout memories.

Friday wrapped up my short visit to Oregon and the Willamette Valley and the trip just couldn't have ended better. Sure, we tasted some insanely wonderful Pinot Noir Friday in the Dundee Hills. With names like Domaine Serene, Domain Drouhin, Winderlea, and Sokol Blosser, great wine is an expectation.

Another big highlight of this trip was meeting Don Lange, Lange Vineyards, Don Hagge, Vidon, and Cliff Anderson, Anderson Family Vineyards. And it was seeing friends like Bill Sweat and Donna Morris, Winderlea, that make visits memorable.

But while making all those awesome stops, and a few more, we met some really interesting and amazing people along the way. I learned a long time ago in the newspaper business, that everyone has a story.

Click on my "Wine Travel Photos" at right for all the week's pictures and here for Friday's photos.

We started our day at Winter's Hill, an Oregon producer most have never heard about. Emily and Peter Gladhart own and operate the small tasting room and brand new winery with a panoramic view of the valley. Their daughter-in-law Delphine, who grew up in Beaujolais and Burgundy, is now the winemaker.

Emily pours the wines in the tasting room. I had visited Winter's Hill two years ago but, frankly, had no memory of the product. Their Pinot Noir was very nice and holds up to most on the hill. It's a great product. Emily is a quiet and unassuming woman not afraid to ask for the sell. But she clearly is living a dream in an unbelievably beautiful spot in the valley.

Anyone who loves Pinot has heard of Domaine Serene owned Ken and Grace Evanstad. We had a marvelous visit and tour thanks to Lucas Willett. Lucas has 10 years of experience in the wine industry, most of it prior to Serene spent with King Estate Winery in Southern Oregon.

Lucas (at left) gave us ample time, answered questions, and was a great host. The thing that stood out was the repeated attention to detail Serene gives their wines and entire operation. Taste the wine, it all makes sense.

Lucas led us through the five story, gravity flow operation. Along the way we met 25-year-old Jason McCluskey who worked as an intern but so impressed the winemakers they hired him full time.

Jason (in photo at right) was preparing to balance the acidity in aging wine when we met him.

Willett had us sample the usual super lineup of Serene Pinot Noir. But he also poured a very unique white Pinot Noir. I'd never had anything like it. They make less than 200 cases and you're not going to find it at your local wine shop. The Coeur Blanc is rich with an almost Sauternes mouth feel. At $85 a pop it's not for everyone, but a very very unique wine.

One of my goals on this trip was hit some spots I'd previously missed. Sokol Blosser is one of the Valley pioneers in Pinot Noir. As a matter of fact, they claim their tasting room to be the very first in the Valley.

That's where we met the entusiastic and knowledgeable Forrest Schad. Forrest (at left) was a bit over-the-top enthusiastic but it was hard not to enjoy the guy's enthusiasm. He grows some grapes with his father and a few acres of his own. Ask him about his future plans and you'll get, "I want to be the winemaker at Sokol Blosser."

He poured the lineup for us and it was outstanding juice from top to bottom. They might have the best Rose' of Pinot Noir I've tasted. The Blosser 2008 Dundee Hills Pinot rocked!

At that point in the day I really didn't think things could improve much and it was just past noon. But an appointment at Domaine Drouhin blew us away.

I met and interviewed Laurent Drouhin for Palate Press in the spring of 2010. When I told him I had visited the Willamette Valley twice but never DDO he admonished me. So I had to make it up to Drouhin this trip.

We were greeted by DDO Managing Director David Millman, a most gracious host. We had so much fun talking out in the vineyard we almost never got the winery tour started.

David walked us through the beautiful facility and a tasting of Drouhin's wines. Along the way we met a very young icon - Arthur Drouhin, the fifth generation of the Burgundy family.

David shared a great story of how Burgundy wines afte often named for family daughters but never sons. Apparently young Arthur felt slighted and mother Veronique, winemaker for DDO and Joseph Drouhin, asked family patriarch Robert for permission. But Burgundy families are all about the tradition and the elder Drouhin said no.

Veronique didn't give up easily though and eventually Robert gave his permission to put a boy's name on a white, instead of the traditional red, wine. The Arthur Chardonnay is widely distributed.

Arthur admitted he frequently gets asked about his plans to join the family business, and understandably at 16 he isn't so sure. He was in Oregon on a three-week visit to work in the winery and work on his English.

One of the cool things at Drouhin is the ability to taste Veronique's great DDO wines and then compare them to one of her bottles from Burgundy. The "Laurene" Pinot at $65 isn't cheap for the average consumer, but about as good as Oregon Pinot gets.

We also got the chance to taste a 1999 vintage of the Willamette Valley Pinot. The current release is the entry point for DDO wines at $40. The 1999 is available in the tasting room for $100 - the taste indicated a bottle would be worth every nickel.

The wines on Thursday and Friday just blew us away. I brought a few back with me. A hint for wine country travelers. Always check the fee for a second bag if you're traveling with just one checked piece of baggage.

With the record heat I couldn't ship by ground, air shipping is about $10 a bottle. I brought my wine back for a $35 second-bag charge and it arrived just fine. A suggestion, though, is to find a local UPS store and have the wine professionally packed.

I like it when my Pinot rides home with me.

I do have some other odds and ends about this trip I'll get up in the coming days. I am going to put together a video about the trip for Palate Press but that will be a few weeks away. I have some cool video clips too just for the blog.

This year I faced a choice of visiting Drew Casey, Wabash Class of 2012 and his family, or going to my first Wine Bloggers Conference. That was an easy choice but I've always wanted to attend WBC.

I learned today Portland was selected as host for next year's conference.

What perfect timing!

Send comment or questions to:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Willamette Valley, Day 3 - Day of the Dons

Three days in wine country bring me to the always tough struggle of wanting to share the wine experience through my writing and enjoying a real vacation.

I posted Thursday's photo album to my Facebook page but didn't get it posted here last night. But I was productive this morning. Drew shot nearly all these phots, nearly 30 in the Thursday album here.

Thursday was simply one of the best "wine days" I've ever had. Magnificent Oregon Pinot Noir combined with three interesting and gracious winemakers made for a great day with my friend Drew.

I'm not going to write great detail, rather I'll let the photo album and cutlines do the talking. Lange wines have long been one of my favorites. We started our day by going high up in the Dundee Hills - 750 feet above sea level to be exact - and tasting their incredible wines.

During a 2009 trip I met Jesse Lange and learned a lot about the Lange operation. I had an appointment scheduled with Jesse for yesterday but he had to cancel at the last minute. Instead, patriarch Don Lange joined us and I was thrilled. Don Lange is one of the real Willamette Valley pioneers and a soft spoken, funny, gracious man.

For those who don't know, Don made his living as a songwriter and musician before starting the vineyards. His college degree is in poetry. It seems more than poetic and beyond my words at 7 a.m. (without coffee) to draw the obviously and symbolic ties in his life. But what a great guy!

Our second stop was just as interesting for differen reasons. Cliff and Allison Anderson planted vineyards in the early 90s and sold their grapes to other producers for years. Now they are making their own wines - Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. They don't have a tasting room, no signs point to their property, and furthermore, Cliff says they never will.

"We want to provide the type of experience I'd like to have," he said. They have plenty of visitors and welcome anyone who'd like to visit and taste their wines but don't want the rat race of a tasting room. At Anderson, the wines will be poured by Cliff or Allison. It's the type of experience you get frequently in Willamette Valley but not the better known names. It's also the type of experience that barely exists in California and bigger producing areas.

Everyone told us we had to visit Vidon Winery and we did Tuesday. Don Hagge, owner, winemaker, and local legend, missed us and invited us back. So yesterday we went back to see Don. Don worked in the Apollo space program and is as vigorous today approaching 80 years old as anyone you'll meet.

He takes a unique approach to his wine making. He uses three Pinot clones which he bottles individually and then blends them for his popular "Three Clones" wines. We tasted the 08 and 09 which were quite different. I seldome use words like "silky, stunning, and elegant" but his wines were that and more.

Our day concluded at another valley icon Lynn Penner Ash. We did the Pinot flight in a crowded tasting room and enjoyed the view.

Today is my last day here and it's doing to be another big one. If yesterday was "Day of the Dons" today will be "Domain Day." We're off this morning to visit and tour the highly-regarded Domaine Serene and then this afternoon Domaine Drouhin. We'll sneak a couple more visits in and then it's dinner in downtown Portland tonight and a redeye flight home.

Send comment or questions to:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Willamette Valley, Day 2: The Gorge & Mountain

No matter how much you love wine, visiting wine country, and touring the vineyard you probably wouldn't go to Napa or Sonoma and not visit San Francisco's famous sites.

If you go to Mendocino most would go out to the Pacific and explore the charming coastal towns.

And as much as I love wine, enjoy wineries, and love learning more about winemaking, I wouldn't think of coming all the way out to the Oregon and miss the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood.

Wednesday was a break from wine - ok, we made a couple of stops. We drove the Columbia River Gorge, which I think is one of the most beautiful places I've visited in the U.S. After a couple of quick winery stops, we then entered Mt. Hood National park.

The day's highlight was driving up the mountain to Timberline Lodge. It's a pretty good day when you can sit at the 6,000 foot level of a 13,000 foot mountain and enjoy he view. We had a glass of Penner Ash Pinot Noir and soaked in the majesty of Mt. Hood.

I have a big photo album here with some expanded cutlines. And giving credit where it's due, I'm visiting with a college senior who attends Wabash College where I work. Drew Casey, Portland, and his family are hosting me this week. Drew is really a great photographer. Most of the photos in the album are his work. I took a few.

Today - Thursday - it's back into the Willamette Valley. We'll start our day at Lange Estate Vineyards, and then visit Winderlea, Anderson Family Vineyards (with its spectacular view), back to Vidon to meet the winemaker and probably squeeze in another visit or two.

Send comment or questions to:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Willamette Valley, Day 1: Vidon Pinot & Republic of Jam

PORTLAND, OR - There is nothing more fun, educational, and exciting than visiting wine country for wine geeks.

One of my favorite places has become Oregon's Willamette Valley. This is my third trip to the region and first solely focused on the wine, food, and people. In other words, I'm not here for work - just wine, food, and cultural appreciation.

After an ugly Monday Indianapolis to Dallas to Portland flight (not a route I'd recommend), my first day Tuesday was off the charts in diversity, fun, and enrichment.

Two of my favorite things - wine and food - took center stage. I'm not going to write wine reviews on these daily updates but, instead, mention places I really liked and what I enjoyed about each. And one of the biggest things about visiting a place like the Willamette Valley is not just the wine, but the people and the food.

See Drew and my photos in an album here. All of this week's albums will be included in the link to the right.

Our day included four wine stops. We started at Dundee, just off Highway 99W, at Four Graces. I had visited the "Graces" two years ago and loved it. Tuesday the highlight was a white wine instead of their Pinot Noir. I found a rich, creamy and dry Pinot Blanc that just rocked. Their Pinots, a bit on the higher price side at $29-$45-$75, are nice wines.

Our second wine stop was in downtown McMinnville - my first visit to the town at the heart of wine country. We sort of wandered into Willamette Valley Vineyard's tasting room and were welcomed by the very knowledgeable and fun Mari Yeckel. Mari - (pronounce it like there are two "r's" .. Marrr-ee)

Mari poured a really nice Syrah based Rose' and several Pinot Noirs. Drew, my host in Portland, joined me with his mother for Tuesday's fun. Drew is a senior in College where I work and has a pretty discerning palate for a 21 year old.

Drew and I both loved the 2008 Tualatin Estate Pinot with hints of black cherry and raspberry. I was taken by the wine's smooth and rich mouth feel. This wine was worth the $45.

Mari exemplied customer service in a customer service industry. We learned just before leaving that she's also a food blogger. Check her blog out here.

Wine stop No. 3 was at the Carlton Winemaker's Studio. These collaborative wine operations are a good place for anyone new to the area to include on their itinerary. Jeff Woodard poured wines from 4-5 of the 11 winemakers represented. Many of these wine labels are names you may not know but offer real quality. Andrew Rich is the headliner and you'll find his wines in many states.

Other labels include: Wahle, Lazy River, Dukes, Hamacher, Retour, and Brittan. Robert Brittan makes the wines of Winderlea and Ayoub as well. His $45 "Basalt Block" Pinot was the best of the lot being poured Tuesday.

In one of my most recent newspaper columns I recommended asking tasting room workers for recommendations on other wineries. We did that Tuesday and nearly everyone recommended Vidon, just north of Newberg.

We got to Vidon late in the afternoon after a mix-up on the tasting room's closing time. The young man pouring, on his first day on the job, agreed to give us a taste of two Pinots. We tasted the 08 and 09. Many have called the 2008 vintage one of the best in Oregon's recent history. But Drew and I both liked the 2009 best.

Vidon has bit of a cult status in the valley. The 09 was "silky" in texture with beautiful balance. I often admit struggling for the right words to describe wine. I've seen "silky" used before but never tasted it. I found the Vidon 'silky' Three Clones Pinot Noir easily the best wine of the day. Easily!

Our lunch, at Mari's recommendation, at the Community Plate just down the street in McMinnville was another big highlight. The latest in the growing 'farm-to-fork' movement didn't disappoint. A great menu with four cold and four hot sandwich choices made our day. The cool urban feel of the place, along with all the young people working the food, was a big highlight.

But even with the Vidon Pinot and Scott Cunningham's insanely delicious hamburger, jam stole the day. Lynnette Shaw and Amy Wilder have created a sensation in Carlton known as the Republic of Jam. Lynnette's secret, she laughs - "I don't like sweet stuff."

The ladies at ROJ take Oregon's incredible fruits and combine them with the area's wines,spices and create unbelieveable taste combinations that lean to the savory side. Many of the jams can be used for entrees or in ways you've never imagined using a jar of breakfast spread.

I did some video with the ladies and plan to incorporate that into a video I'll do for Palate Press in the coming weeks. I've never had taste combinations - in jam or much else - like I enjoyed at the Republic of Jam. They run their small business like a winery tasting room when you visit. You can also order their unique combinations online.

I've simply never tasted anything like it.

Wednesday is a day away from wine. I'm going to drive the Columbia River Gorge, drive around Mt. Hood, go up the the lodge at about the treeline on the mountain, and maybe make one or two winery stops in that area. Then it's back to Willamette Thursday and Friday to visit a few of the most iconic names in Oregon wine.

Send comment or questions to:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Off to Oregon's Willamette Valley for Ton-O-Pinot

Hoping a long circuitous route later today to land in Portland late tonight and spend four days in Pinot Noir bliss.

This will be my third visit to the Willamette Valley. I'm planning on seeing some old favorites and friends and visiting new spots. Oh, and pick up some fresh hazelnuts and jam.

Visiting Willamette always has a different feel to me. It's not as hectic, crazy, and commercialized as most of the California regions. Oh, and the Pinot Noir just rocks. Pinotphiles can drive from winery to winery searching for a bad glass and are unlikely to find one! That's my kind of wine country.

I have an appointment to visit with Jesse Lange, Lange Vineyards. Lange is one of the premier producers in the valley. The same day I'll make my first visit to Anderson Family vineyards with their spectacular views atop the Dundee Hills.

I have a private tour of Domaine Serene Friday morning. I plan on making my first stop at Domaine Drouhin. After interviewing Laurent a year ago in Indianapolis, Drouhin had to be on this year's stop.

I will also meet with two interesting ladies doing fun stuff with Oregon's beautiful wines and fruit and turning it into jam at the Republic of Jam.

I look forward to seeing old friends at Winderlea and making my first stop next door at Maresh.

There's much more but that a small sense of the plans. I'll be blogging each evening, doing updates on Twitter, and have lots and lots of photos.

Send comment or questions to:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wisconsin Wine Story Now Up on Palate Press

I think I've become the roving "states" reporter for Palate Press. I'm happy to do just that, thank you!

Last summer I visited Michigan wineries and wrote a piece about that state's wine efforts that was very well received. I had a ton of positive feedback. Earlier this spring I visited Wisconsin with a similar type of thing in mind.

The story is now featured on Palate Press.

(In photo at right, Steve Johnson and Maria Milano pour me a glass of Glacier White.)

Here are some links of blog entries and photos from my visit not included in the Palate Press Story:

Photo Albums:
Wollersheim Winery
Fisher King Winery
Ledgestone and Parallell 44 wineries

Blog Entries During My Visit:
Wollersheim and Fisher King Visits
Ledgestone and Parallell 44 Visits

Send comment or questions to:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summertime and The Sipping is Easy

With apologies to George Gershwin, summer is the time living is easy and we all look for light summer wines.

Here are some of my latest summer whites and a rose' I've been checking out.

Cristobal 1492 Verdelho - This wine and the Rose' below were easily the big winners of the past week.

I had picked up a bottle of Cristobal Bonarda at Cork + Cracker in Indy and really liked it a lot. I saw this bottle of Portugal's Verdelho grape from Mendoza in Argentina and knew I had to try it.

I loved this wine a lot. It had nice melon, foral and spicy flavors that were simply delicious. It's not a wine to ponder and evaluate - it's a wine to enjoy.

It picked up 90 points from one of the big wine publications and it's not hard to see why. And for $10???? You've got to be kidding me!

(Cristobal 1492 Verdelho, $9.99, Grapevine Cottage, Zionsville, Highly Recommended)

Clayhouse 2010 Adobe Pink - Sometimes I wish wineries producing really great Rose' wouldn't call them "Pink" only because it would be easier for me to get people to try Rose'.

But Clayhouse can call this really nice pink wine any color it wishes and I'd still recommend it. I haven't consumed much Rose yet this summer but I have several waiting in the wine racks. The Clayhouse has set the bar pretty high.

The Adobe pink gets a head start with my heart and head because it's such an interesting blend of 38 percent Mourvedre, 32 percent Syrah, and 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Clayhouse is a Paso Robles winery that benefits from the rich flavors grapes give after a summer of hot days and cool nights.

Indeed, the wine is pink or maybe salmon is a better choice of words if you'd like a little more sophistication and avoid the "P" word. On the palate it delivered strawbertry and nice spice along with a dry finish. It was one of the most drinkable and well-made Rose' wines I've had in several summers. I loved it.

(Clayhouse 2010 Adobe Pink, SGR $14, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended)

By the way, Clayhouse now has an Indiana distributor so you Hoosier wine drinkers should seek out the "Adobe" line of wines - they're a great bang for the buck!

Cucao 2009 PX - Here is a new one for me and probably most of you. The PX in the wine's name means Pedro Ximénez. Yes, that's a grape kids! The grape has mostly been used for Spanish Sherry or even brandy.

For those of you looking for something different, here you go. This wine had a unique tartness on my palate. The taste was some cross between apricot, raisin, and lime, and definitely some minerality and pretty strong acid. I could see this wine with cold appetizers or maybe a salad. It is certainly on the dry side and you will notice the acid.

It's worth a try. I really had trouble deciding whether I even liked it or not. On the first night, I didn't care for it at all but on the second evening the acid had calmed down a bit and I found it sort of "intersting." Definitely a wine for the adventurous.

(Cucao PX, $9.99 at Cork + Cracker, Indianapolis, No Recommendation)

Gazela Vinho Verde - Here is an Albarino wine that is definitely different than others I've tasted. This is almost like a sparkling wine or at least a white with effervesence some would consider nearing carbonation. I found it a little odd.

It had bright flavors of grapefruit and a nice tangy citrus flavor that lingered on the palate.

If you like a little effervesence in your wine you're going to like this one. Serve it chilled on a hot summer day and your guests will be impressed with your adventurous spirit.

(Gazelo Vinho Verde, $7.99, Cork + Cracker, Indianapolis, Recommended)

Send comment or questions to:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Have a Plan For Your Trip to Wine Country

Planning a trip to wine country doesn’t require a tour guide, limousine, or a lot advance planning.

Many travelers are including day trips into wine country as they visit regions around the world. Then there are the real wine geeks among us who plan most of their vacation time around wine.

Newspaper Columns like Grape Sense and many internet bloggers seek to demystify wine. Making wine travel simple and enjoyable can be a similar challenge. My wine travel includes two trips to Napa and Sonoma. I’ve made pre-planned trips to Paso Robles and Mendocino County. I’ve done three-day trips into Michigan and Wisconsin wine regions and a single day in Tuscany, Italy.

I’ll be making my third trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in mid-July.
While not claiming expertise, I’ve certainly learned some things you should and should not do!

- You should spend time on the internet and read about the wineries you’re going to visit. Double check hours, tasting fees, and tours.

- Do take a full vineyard tour at one stop. If you want to learn more about wine there is nothing better than a vineyard to winery and then tasting tour. One is enough; tours usually last 1-2 hours and cost double or more the cost of a tasting. Tasting fees range from $5 to $20 depending on the wine region. Some wineries will deduct tasting fees from a purchase and some will not.

(In photo above right, I joined a group of wine writers in January touring Mendocino County, California. Here we are tasting the wines of Jeriko Vineyards. Copyright photo, Tom Liden 2011)

- Do ask a lot of questions. Anyone serving in the tasting room should be able to tell you the basics about the winery and each wine. If the servers can’t answer the basics – the type of grapes and how the wine is made – leave and go to another winery.

- Don’t over-plan your visit. I always plan on going to two or three wineries a day. I have done my internet research so I know others in the area I might like to visit. It allows some spontaneity. Three to four winery visits a day is plenty.

- Do not think of winery visits as drinking. It’s tasting wine. If you can, learn to spit – it’s how the real pros can taste so many wines in a day. If you can’t fully appreciate a wine without swallowing it, learn to stop after a sip or two and pour the remainder in the dump container on the counter.

- Do think outside the box. Sure, if you’re in Napa Valley visit Mondavi. But ask people in the tasting room, other visitors, your motel clerk, the waitress about the smaller wineries that don’t have tour buses in the parking lot. Such wineries will often be your fondest memories.

- Don’t assume all wine vacations start and end with Napa/Sonoma, Paso Robles, Mendocino, Oregon, Virginia, Michigan, and Washington state. Check out wine trails in your state and states nearby. A great start is the Uplands Wine Trail in Southern Indiana. Or, get that internet map out and make your own wine trail!

- Do not drink and drive. Many wineries will offer designated drivers some bottled water or a soft drink.

- Do not try to taste everything at each winery. I ask the tasting room personnel to pour their biggest selling red and white, maybe something that interests my wine palate, and always end with, 'Is there something else you would have me taste?'

- Do have bottled water and some crackers or snacks to balance the alcohol throughout the day.

(In the photo above, our traveling group takes a vineyard tour with Chris Nelson of Nelson Family Vineyards. Copyright photo, Tom Liden 2011)

I will be in Oregon’s Willamette Valley July 19-22 tasting some of the world’s very best Pinot Noir. I will post a lot of photos and write about the experience here each day.

Get in the car this summer and try some new wines!

Send comment or questions to:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mondavi, Duboeuf - Some Classic Wines

I've been spending a lot of time lately preparing for a trip to Oregon's Willamette Valley wine country and it's showed up by the scarcity of blog posts. More on the trip in a later post, let's catch up on at least a couple of really easy to find wines.

Robert Mondavi 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet - Betty Crocker, Campbell's Soup, Coca Cola, and Budweiser are all such iconic and classic brand names. Sometimes we have to go back to those brands to remember just how darn good they consistently are each and every time.

I sort of feel that way about Robert Mondavi wines. I have has several through the years and feel like I should blush to admit I had never had Mondavi Cabernet - his flagship wine. I got a bottle of his Napa Valley Cabernet as a trade sample recently and had it over the weekend with a bone-in rib steak I charred on the grill.

The wine, just like the name, is an American classic. It's 85 percent Cabernet, 7 percent Merlot, 5 percent Cabernet Franc, 2 percent Syrah, and 1 percent Petit Verdot. The wine is big, smooth with a really nice texture and rich finish. Year in and out the Napa Cab gets a consistent 90-91 points from the major scoring publications.

I got hints of dark fruit flavors, particularly cherry, with beautiful balance. Now, before you think I'm going to gush on ... this wasn't the best Cabernet I've had for the price point. The Mondavi Cab was really good. Turning to Mondavi is a bit like stopping at Wendy's or McDonalds on the interstate. You know exactly what you're going to get! Good quality and value in a respected name is nothing to sneeze at.

(Robert Mondavi 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet, $28, Trade Sample - you're most likely going to find it around $20 or even less. Recommended.)

Georges Duboeuf 2010 Moulin-A-Vent - It's exciting to get wines not yet released for sale to the general public - a perk of wine writing I suppose. I recently got a shipment of several of the iconic Beaujolais producer's Cru Beaujolais wines.

George Duboeuf grew up a peasant boy into the Beaujolais region's major negociant. (Neogicant is a wine merchant who purchases wine from much smaller producers and sells them under his own label.) While his name may not equal some of those in Bordeaux, Duboeuf's wines have probably graced more dinner tables than most French Chateau's namesakes.

The Moulin-A-Vent was very smooth and pleasingly light with grilled hamburgers on the Fourth of July! After all, the French were our major ally in the Revolutionary War. That makes Beaujolais and burgers a perfect pairing! It had hints of smoke and soft dark fruit. It did not feature the earthy characteristics that are often much-sought after in French wine but can be a bit gamey in Beaujolais.

The Cru Beaujolais wines are the area's best. As I've written before, forget the Nouveau at Thanksgiving time and try the Cru wines and you'll be a gamay grape fan!

(Georges Duboeuf 2010 Moulin-A-Vent, $16, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended)

Send comment or questions to: