Sunday, December 30, 2012

P.S. I Love You More than Old Pop Hit

When I hear "New Frontier" I think of the Old West, or maybe Star Trek. Okay, schmaltzy opening for a quick wine review.

But there are still a few new frontiers even in old wine country. Lake County, just north of Napa, likes to refer to itself as one of those new frontiers. The fruit grown there has been sold to others for years. It has been a great place to grow fruit or even buy property at more reasonable prices than the incredibly unreasonable Napa Valley.

But now more wineries are popping up on the national scene with good wines for your consideration. The "P.S. I Love You" line in the headline refers to a joint marketing effort by a group of California winemakera who grow and make Petite Sirah wines.

I'll write more about Petite Sirah over the coming weeks. Jo Diaz, the able marketing coordinator for the "PS" groups, signed me up for samples and I'm now sitting on several bottles of Petite Sirah at several different price points.

A column defining the grape will probably be forthcoming. But to greatly oversimplify, there is noting petite about Petite Sirah.

I opened a Line 39 bottle of Petite Sirah to have with my homemade chili tonight. Line 39 represent the latitude of the winery property in Lake Country. Roy Cecchetti's winery has gotten noticed the past couple of years with nice words from Wine Spectator Online, Wine Enthusiast, Impact/Shanken Communications, and others.

All Petite Sirah wines are big and bold - some just smoother than others. The Line 39 bottle had nice richness and was certainly big and bold - just the way most describe Petite Sirah. It has very dark fruit, some acidity, and until fully opened up - some astringency. But after the wine has time to breathe, it is enjoyable big red wine.

It's probably most impressive when you consider you can pick this up at your nearest wine shop for a really surprising SRP of $10.

The Line 39 is a great, and inexpensive introduction to Petite Sirah!

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Friday, December 28, 2012

10 of Grape Sense's Top Wines of 2012


Each year lists of top events, products, and moments dominate the media around New Year's. Grape Sense has celebrated 10 top wines each year since 2009.

My list isn't necessarily the 10 best wines tasted; it's 10 of the best wines sampled at a value price point (under $25) in the past 12 months.

In no particular order, here are 10 of the most enjoyable and easy to find value wines of 2012.

Clayhouse Adobe White - The Clayhouse line of wines always deliver well above the $14 suggested retail price point. The white is 49 percent Viognier, 26 percent Sauv Blanc, 19 percent Grenache Blanc, and 6 percent Princess. The wine has floral, identifiable orange, peach, and honey flavors. It's an awesome summer sipper.

Michel Gassier's Costieres de Nimes Nostre Pais White - I love Grenache Blanc.  Two wines make this year's list featuring the grape. It is a smooth and light on the palate wine with hints of lime. It gets big scores from critics. $18, though I've seen it lower!

Gauthier Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - Finding under $20 Pinot Noir is a bit of a needle in a haystack. An aside, this wine normally retails at $30 but I've seen it on numerous occasions under $20. It has great strawberry, smoke and spice!

Sineann Red Table Wine - The words "Pinot Noir blend" normally should scare the heck out of you but this wine works. A noted Oregon Pinot producers dumps Pinot, Cab, Zin, with bits of Cab Franc and Merlot into this wine. It's crazy good. No, make that - CRAZY good for $17.99.

Santa Barbara Sauvignon Blanc - Nothing beats a nice crisp Sauv Blanc with seafood. If you can pick this one up for $11.99 like I did you have an outstanding value. California still makes some the world's most interesting whites.

Mondavi Private Selection Meritage - It's one of the best 'supermarket' lines available and the Meritage might be the best of the bunch. It's a blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot from Monterey County. At $11, or cheaper, it's great wine.

Ca de Rocchi Montere Ripasso - Ripasso has been hot in the wine world. It's a Valpolicella region in northern Italy. Serve this Italian with pasta and your guests will think you spent much more. It's big, rich wine for $18. (Couldn't find a winery website.)

Obra Prima Reserva Malbec - I mentioned this wine in my last column but it needs to be on this list for great value. It's a big wine with huge dark fruit, chocolate, and a balanced finsih. At $17, it's good as Malbec gets in the price range.

Oliver 2010 Shiraz Reserve  - An Indiana wine makes the list again this year with an asterisk. I like this wine so much I'm breaking a rule. The wines here all retail under $25, except for this one at $26. You think you know Oliver wines? Taste the Shiraz blind with friends and see how many are surprised.

Domaine Virgile Joly Blanc - I stopped putting the wines in order a couple of years ago, but if there was going to be a No. 1 on this year's list it might be this $12 white from France's Languedoc region. This is goregous Grenache Blanc at a value price.

So there is the list for another year. I could review my blog posts and probably come up with an entirely different 10 on another day. But these are wines I'm confident would not disappoing any wine drinker!

Here are links to my previous Top 10 picks:

2011

2010

2009

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Five Great Wines with Wine Buddies

A big group of wine friends gathered the Saturday before Christmas with some great food items and six great wines. I have notes on five of the six and all five were big winners.

This will be some quick notes on wines you should buy if you see them in your nearest wine shop. I'll list them in the order we drank them that night.

Craggy Range Kidnapper's Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay - The Craggy Range Chard really surprised me. I'm not sure I've ever had a New Zealand Chardonnay before! Based on this one, I might try a few more.

Any time I'm talking Chardonnay I add the disclaimer that I'm generally not a fan. I liked this Chard second best only to better Chablis wines. It doesn't have any taste of oak but sees a bit along with mostly stainless steel. I liked the wine's mouth feel, richness, lime and spice. Not all of the wine dudes agreed, but I also got a rich apple flavor - like apple pie.

It has mild acidity and a pretty soft finish but was still enjoyable. The guys around the living room all liked the wines. I found some online reviews, out of curiosity, that scored the wine well but were rather harsh in description. I didn't find anything harsh about the wine. If you like Chardonnay in a softer style, try this one!

Craggy Range Kidnapper's Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay, $18-$22, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended.

Oliver 2010 Shiraz Reserve - Yes, that's Oliver as in Oliver Winery near Bloomington Ind. Oliver, along with several other Indiana wineries, get lumped into the perception Indiana winemakers only make cheap and sweet wines. There was a time that was an accurate description but not any more.

This is probably the single best Indiana red wine I've ever tasted. I poured the wine blind for the dudes and they all loved it. I asked the most experienced wine drinker in the room if he would have objected if I had suggested a Northern Rhone Syrah before revealing the wine's origin. He thought the French connection made sense after I told the group it was Syrah.

Of course they were surprised but also delighted. Indiana wines have come a long way. Bill Oliver is darn proud of his better bottlings and they sell! And, in the Indy International Wine Competition, tasted blindly as well, this wine was awarded an infrequent Double Gold Medal.

The wine has a great mouth feel with the kind of spice you'd expect from good Syrah. It is very balanced and beautifiul wine.

Oliver 2010 Shiraz Reserve, $26, Very Highly Recommended

Denner Vineyards 2007 The Ditch Digger - This Paso Robles wine is an absolute rock star on any wine rack! I might even be ready to argue that this Denner wine is one of the signature bottles from the Central California region.

This is a big rich red wine with fine balance that's hard not to like for any red wine fan. The blend is 40 percent Grenache, 33 percent Syrah, 20 percent Mourvedre, and 7 percent Cinsault.

The wine has deep blackberry, cherry and chocolate flavors. It has generally been very highly praised with this vintage garnering 93 points from Wine Spectator and 91 points from Robert Parker.

It's big fruit with nice balance and even a freshness that is really desirable in many of the big Paso Robles wines. It's not cheap, but worth every nickel.

Denner Vineyards 2007 Ditch Digger, $50, Very Highly Recommended

Gary Farrell 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir - The Carneros is no Russian River Valley but is a wine you will occasionally find on internet flash sites and special sales. At 50 percent off the list price, this is a great buy.

The wine has a definitely tart cherry if you don't pick out anything else on the palate. The acidity and finish is very average but this is nice drinkable Pinot. It's hard for me to criticize a drinkable Pinot with good fruit at $20 Had I forked out full retail of $40, then this brief review would read differently. But it's good Pinot Noir for $20 it just doesn't live up to a $40 price point or the Gary Farrell Russian River Valley wines.

Gary Farrell 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir, SRP $40, less elsewhere, Recommended.

Domaine Du Gravillas 2007 Lo Vielh - I've been saving this bottle for a special occasion and could not think of any time better than three days before Christmas with my best wine buddies!

This is great wine.

It's probably a grape many wine drinkers have never even heard of before - Carignan. It is grown in a few spots around the world but most commonly in Southern France.

John Bojanowski and his wife Nicole discovered a now 101-year-old vineyard of Carignan on their Domaine du Gravillas property and have used the grapes as part of the crop that goes into this wine.

Carignan is funky and rich. It's tart yet very drinkable. Carignan is not for beginning wine drinkers - or wimps. John takes this big funky grape and delivers a wine with soft tannins and full-rich fruit. It is stunningly good.

I have to say I was surprised and I was not that the majority of my seven friends tasting the wines above picked the Carignan as their favorite of the night!

Domaine Du Gravillas 2007 Vielh, $35, Very Highly Recommended.

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Something Warm to Drink on Snowy Day

Almost everything shut down in Indiana today!


A drink doesn't always warm the soul and any health guide will tell you alcohol will not keep you warm.
But if you're locked inside during the heavy snow,  something nice and warm to drink might make the blizzard seem less bothersome.

If you have a bottle of red wine in the house and a few basic spices, you are all set to make warm, mulled wine.

A dark fruity red wine will work best. If you are a big red wine drinker try a fruit-driven Zinfandel or Syrah/Shiraz. Any good Indiana Concord grape wine works great as well.

The fun thing about making mulled wine is you can pick the ingredients you like. A basic recipe for a bottle of red wine would include a small amount of sugar (to taste, if needed), a hint of lemon or orange juice, cloves, and cinammon.

Photo:MyRecipes.com
Get out the sauce pan (no aluminum!) and heat up the wine over low heat. Slowly add your spices and other liquids. Do not let the wine come to a boil. Alcohol will reach the boiling point much quicker than water.
Let the ingredients get friendly for 10-15 minutes until it steams. Pour the mulled wine into mugs with an orange or lemon slice, add a cinammon stick if you have one, and you have a warm evening drink that will delight.

Don't hesitate to experiment with your mulled wine concoction. Just taste your warm winter evening beverage as you try different ingredients.

It won't get the sidewalk shoveled, but you'll care less about the snow!


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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Not Many Famous Gertrudes - But That Could Change

There is Gertrude Stein (author), Gertrude Atherton (author), and Gertrude B. Elion (Nobel-winning pharmacist). But let's face it, Gertrude is about the only name that makes Howard feel contemporary!

I was recently introduced to another Gertrude who may not become famous but is quite a shapely charmer. la Maia Lina Gertrude Toscana is also known as Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet.

This uber-value Tuscan blend really, really suprised me. I loved it. La Maialina means little pig - and there is a cute little pink pig on the bottle - she is a charmer.

This wine has wonderful cherry, some hints of pepper and, frankly folks, is crazy good wine for an average price of $12. It is rich, nice acid and all at 13.5 percent alcohol.

This little piggy can come to my market any time. You get big flavor, a nice finish, and even a good second-day wine for $12? Crazy!!!!!

This wine isn't going to overpower any meal but would be great with just about any red sauce dish or even beef.

I've written on previous occasions that inexpensive but drinkable Italian wines are hard to discover. If you find this pink pig, grab a few bottles.Oink! Oink!

la Maialine Gertrude, $12, Very Highly Recommended.I bought this bottle at Indy's Cork + Cracker.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Wonderful Bottle from Dry Creek; Guest Reviewed Chard

Okay, so I have enough wine in the house to occasionally go to the wine rack or storage units to look for a bottle for that night's dinner. Every now and then, I find a bottle that I had forgot all about.

Nearly a year ago I visited Carmel, Ind., shop Vine and Table on a Saturday morning and tasted my first Peterson Winery wine. I pulled that bottle out this week. The other wine reviewed here is a nice California Chard, but the comments come from a much better judge of good Chardonnay than this writer.

Peterson Winery 2008 Shinbone - Peterson is a great little winemaker in Sonoma County's Dry Creek appellation. I actually visited there in March of this year and did a very quick tasting. Peterson's tasting room is virtually adjacent to Kokomo Vineyards.

The Shinbone is a big and rich Sonoma blend of 50 percent Shiraz, 20 percent Cabernet, 20 percent Carignane and 10 percent Petit Sirah. Dark fruit, toasted oak, and rich plum dominate the palate. This is a big food wine, make no mistake. It has a sense of terroir, but if that's too geeky for you  - how about earthiness? The deft touch of the winemaker delivers big without overpowering.

The wine is nice and dry with a very satisfying finish. It does come in at 14.5 percent alcohol and it's only fair to note, rather hard to find. Peterson only made 250 cases of this vintage. But I found it in Central Indiana so it's not impossible.

These folk have a nice sense of humor too. I remember an old large-and-in-charge cat in the tasting room and some quirky humor. On the back of their wine bottle is the Peterson philosophy: 1. No soul-less wines; 2. When the land is poor, no one is rich; 3. If it ain't got the root, it ain't got the fruit.

How can you not love that?

Peterson Winery 2008 Shinbone, $28, Highly Recommended.

Markham 2010 Napa Chardonnay - So I've written here often enough that most might guess I'm not a big Chard fan. I do like some of the unoaked Chardonnay wines and love Chablis. I'm just not a fan of oaked Chardonnay.

So I often hand over a few of my traditional Chardonnay wines to my boss, Jim, who is a Chard afficionado. He has provided me a few notes before and is really getting a knack for identifying tastes, texture, and all those wine geeky things we imbibers enjoy.

Here are his thoughts on the Markham Chard:

"We really enjoyed this wine. It has a beautiful light straw color — not overly yellow and is very easy to drink with or without food. There is plenty of toast and spice on the nose, and maybe a hint of butter or butterscotch. We tasted apple and vanilla. It has a silky texture and enough oak for those who like it, but not too much.

"We had a taste straight out of the refrigerator, where it had chilled for six hours or so. It was okay, but it improved greatly as it warmed. I'd recommend drinking it between 50-60 degrees, which seemed to be the sweet spot. It flattened out a little as we drew near the end of the bottle.

"Typical alcohol content for a Chardonnay -- think the bottle said 13.8 percent.

Drinks like a $20-30 bottle. Much better than the $12-15 grocery retail Chardonnays I've had. But very much worth the suggested $18 retail.
Markham 2010 Napa Chardonnay, SRP $18, Highly recommended.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

How About Splurging for the Holidays


If there is ever a time to splurge on something special, it’s the holidays for most of us. For five years now Grape Sense has focused on value wine under $20. That’s not going to change. But for one column, here are some suggestions that will range $10-$20 higher than the wines normally mentioned in the column.

One of the great adventures in a wine education is discovering price point differences relative to quality. There are many differences of opinion. My experience is that when you break about $15, there is a difference in quality.

Here are some wines for a special occasion that should deliver a real bang on the palate for just a 10 or 20 spot more than the usual $12-$15 bottle. It may take a wine shop to find them, but all should be available in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. 

Lange Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – The Lange Pinot at about $22 is one of the best ‘entry level’ Oregon Pinot Noirs on the market. Jesse and Don Lange deliver better fruit than most at this price. 
The wine remains light bodied and well balanced the key characteristics of great Oregon Pinot Noir.

Klinker Brick Zinfandel – There are plenty of under $15 Zins on the market but few under $20 that provide the bang for the buck that Klinker Brick delivers. This is on my all-time list for great wines under 20 bucks. This is old vine Zin which delivers big fruit that balances the higher-than-usual alcohol. It’s dynamite red wine for winter meals.

Tamarack Cellars Merlot – The oft-maligned red grape is making a comeback of sorts. Washington state producers have been leading the pack in developing interesting Merlot wines with dark fruit, spice, and chocolate flavors. This wine has been a 90-point-plus entry from most of the critics. It can be found at $20-$25.

Ca’ De’ Rocchi Ripasso Montere – This is the best value Italian red wine I’ve ever tasted. Ripasso style wines from the Valpolicella district have been hot. It’s made from the Corvina, Rondinella, and Moliara grapes. The combination creates a fruit wine with some real depth. It’s perfect for food and friends who may not always be big wine drinkers. Look for it at $20-$24. The wine is an incredible value buy.

Obra Prima Reserva Malbec – As much as the Ripasso above is good for wine novices, the Obra Prima isn’t for newcomers. For the wine drinker who likes big dark fruit, dark chocolate, wonderfully balanced acid and tannin, here is a pick for you. The 2007 vintage in current release sells for $17.

Fleur Cardinale Grand Cru Saint Emilion – If you want to go all out for a special night or impress your friends, reach for Bordeaux. Wines from the world’s greatest regions are famously wonderful and expensive. This Merlot driven blend is a great way to see what the wine world swoons over when it comes to the iconic French region. Robert Parker rates it at 90 points, and I think it’s even a tad bit better than that. It really does taste well above the not-so-cheap price point of $45.

Billaud-Simon Premier Cru Montee de Tonnerre – Taste the terroir of Burgundy with this great bottle of Chablis (Chardonnay) from one of the region’s greatest producers. This wine is stunning with poultry or smoke salmon. Chablis has long suffered from poor imitators. It’s rare you can enjoy a bottle of some of the world’s very best wine for the average price of $25.

NEXT COLUMN: Check out the annual list of Top 10 Value Wines of the Year!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Three Recent Really Great Bottles of Wine

It's time to catch up on a couple of recent bottles of wine I've found to be outstanding. Two Italians and one California Cab rate highly in my book.

Ca de Rocchi Montere Ripasso - This 2009 Valpolicella Superiore is fabulous Italian wine. The wine is a blend of three varieties grown in Italy's north-east. Corvina, and Rondinella are the trio primarily involved in the blend.

The wine is lighter than many Italian choices but the wine drinker is rewarded with big beautiful fruit and a rich smooth finish.

I went back and bought more of this beauty after trying just one bottle. This big heavy bottle of wine comes in around $20. I'm not sure the significance, but this might be the heaviest bottle I've ever picked up with 750ml of grape juice inside. Pinot Noir often features big heavy-bottomed bottles, but this one was even heavier than most. Talk among yourselves!

This Ripasso might be my all-time favorite for under $20.

Ca de Rocchi Montere Ripasso, $18.99, Very Highly Recommended

Attems Pinot Grigio - I've never been a big fan of Pinot Grigio. It never matches up to Oregon's Pinot Gris which I like a lot. I find most Pinot Grigio (particularly the Italian version) to often be thin or uninteresting.

I've now tasted the exception to that stereotyped characterization. This trade sample Attems had an unusual richness that really set it apart from so many other Grigios in the market. It had apple and pear hints on the palate.

The big difference here for  me was the use of some oak. Plenty of Pinot Grigio, Gris, Blanc, etc are often stainless steel only. And generally, I don't care for much oak in my white wine, but it really made this wine standout.

The tech sheet for this wine indicated 15 percent of the production spends time in barrels while the rest is done in stainless steel.

Attems 2011 Pinot Grigio, SRP $18, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended.

Franciscan 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon - There are well-known names and a second tier of names when it comes to Napa Cabernet. And, come to think of it, there are probably three or four or six more categories.

Franciscan is name known to most wine lovers because it is widely distributed. I find their wines to be consistent and good wines at the price point.

The 2010 Cab has all of the characteristics of great Cabernet. I decanted this wine and even saved a little for the next night. It's really good Cab but it needs some time on the wine rack. For me, the wine was just too big with some astringency. But, the more wine you drink the easier it gets to identify what the wine is going to be instead of what it is the day you open it. Did that make sense?

This is going to be a really great Cabernet in another 5-10 years. I liked the herbs, black currant, tobacco, and dark chocolate hints. It had really big tannins, but again - give it some time.

This is a blend with 85 percent Cab, 11 percent Merlot, 3 percent Syrah, and 1 percent Malbec. The wine gets 20 months in oak barrells while 25 percent of that sees new oak. So the tannin structure is huge now but there for great aging potential.

It is a mild 13.5 percent alcohol wine. Franciscan distributes a lot of this wine so you should be able to find it at a good nearby wine shop. For the price point, it's a great wine to go buy two bottles and experiment a little. Open your first bottle and make sure it gets a good decant. Put the other bottle away and don't open it for at least five years.

Franciscan consistently scores 90-plus points for its Cabernet. When aged or decanted properly, this is tremendous value for $28.

Franciscan 2010 Cabernet, SRP $28, Trade Sample, Recommended

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Indy: Fountain Square Finally Taking off Big Time

My Coquille St. Jacque

When I find interesting food shops or restaurants I think it's probably of interest to all my wino friends. If you're a foodie, there is a good chance you like wine. If you're an oenophile, there's an even better chance you love good food.

The near-downtown area called Fountain Square in Indianapolis has been an up-and-coming region for too long. I remember back around the turn of the century (does that make me sound old?), hearing that Fountain Square was the next big thing. Unfortunately, the infrastructure and overall appearance of the area was a mess.

The bar is open to the dining area - note the old typewriters above the booze
Indy's cultural trail - a walking trail through the city highlighting culture and diversity - finally found its way south of downtown and now Fountain Square is hopping.

A short walking tour Saturday afternoon was delightful capped off with a fabulous dinner at Bluebeard.

A friend and I walked a great antique shop, eclectic home decorating business, tasted mead at the New Day Meadery.

I had visited Pure Eatery on a couple of occasions and we decided to stop in for a drink. We each had a nice glass of Malbec and then decided to split an appetizer. We settled on the pita BBQ chicken pizza and it was fabulous. I suggested we simply order another and forget dinner, but that would have been wrong. Turns out, that would have been very wrong.

I'm one who is always curious and cautious about the greatest, hip, new places. Bluebeard has been getting largely very positive press and reviews on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

We started by sharing the grilled bread appetizer with a small tray of herbed butter, roasted garlic and olive oil and a anchovy spread.

I had scallops (flown in fresh) or "Coquille St. Jacque" - scallops, chanterelle mushrooms, grape tomatoes, leeks, gruyere, and Pea Shoots. It was a medium plate for $18.

My dinner companion had the frog legs in white wine and garlic, parmesan and butter for $15. I thought the scallops were some of the best I've ever had, which is saying something sitting in landlocked Indy. My friend loved her frog legs but were a bit heavy with garlic for my taste.

That's blueberrys between the yummy pudding and rosemary cookies.
We elected to share a dessert and it was really great. We had chocolate and valpolicella pudding with rosemary shortbread chocolate cookies and cocoa nibs. ($9)

With one cocktail and a quartino of Spain's Ostatu blanc, the total bill was $95 before tip and well worth it for this gastronomical gymnastics meet in your mouth.

The restaurant has suffered some criticism for service in online reviews but we were very well taken care of during our Saturday night visit.

The accompanying bakery offers the kind of hard-crusted breads that are just hard to find in Indiana. I brought home a half loaf of multigrain for $3.50.

The restaurant is beautiful and quirky. It's decorated with old books and older manual typewriters. They have a small, medium and large plate concept. The smalls are similar to other restaurants and ranged $11-$18. The medium plates are considered a single serving and were $15-$18 Saturday. The large (two portions) plates ran from $25-$35 the night we were there.

Bluebeard also features a very inventive cocktail lineup and one of the best wine lists I've seen in Indianapolis.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Gift Ideas For the Wine Lover on Your List

My most recent newspaper column (posted below) focused on aerators as a nice gift for the wine lovers on your holiday shopping list.

But, as most know, there are many other goodies for that oenophile besides an aerator or bottle of wine. I did this quick video at home looking at a few of the goodies!

Here is the video:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Put Some Air in It for Winelovers on Your Gift List


From left: VinOair, Soiree, Vintrui Aerators

Buying wine for the wine lover on your Christmas shopping list is fraught with peril. Do you know their tastes? Do you know their favorite varietals? Can you afford their favorites?

A gift certificates for a nearby wine shop is a nice gift. But unless you are certain of the person’s wine tastes, stick with wine accessories. Glassware makes an outstanding gift. For wine drinkers, you can never have enough wine glasses or a good decanter.

There are lots of gizmos on the wine market. You can buy all sorts of devices to remove the cork, to chill wine, and more. There is one gadget though which can be a nice addition to any vino lover’s wine accessories. 

Consider buying an aerator. While the gadget isn’t new to the wine world, it hasn’t been around all that long. And now there are several types, models, and price points. Aerators can be found at better wine and liquor stores and some household stores that carry wine glasses and decanters.

For years wine drinkers would pour their wines into a decanter to soften the bite of the tannins on the finish of the wine. But in our ‘no patience, no time, and can’t wait’ society sometimes that’s not good enough.

Enter Vinturi  the manufacturer of the original wine aerator. Essentially, you pour wine through an aerator and oxygen is infused into the wine as it enters the glass and softens the taste.

Vinturi offers a base model and a Vinturi Tower model (which holds the aerator), a white wine aerator, and a travel model. The base aerator is usually priced around $35-$40. The aerator with the tower holder will cost from $50-$60.

The success of aerators has resulted in more entries into the market. 

The newer in-bottle aerators have an advantage as less messy. Both of the samples I tried have a rubber-sealed neck which goes right into the wine bottle.

Soiree has a number of party and wine home supply gadgets. The Soiree is a bubble with a spout. When you turn a wine bottle completely upside down the wine swirls over the bubble and into your glass. The Soiree offers a less expensive alternative at $20-$25.

The third aerator was an in-bottle type with a sleek spout for pouring. VinOair from CorkPops would be great for travel or taking to a party. The VinOair is the least expensive of the three at $16.
But do these things really work? Ask any regular wine drinker with aerator experience, and the answer may vary.

For me, they do a nice job of making a big red wine ready to drink. And I’ve been surprised an aerator  actually helps on some white wines that have a real acidic finish.

I received samples of all three aerators and tested them with wine drinking friends. All three worked just fine and definitely softened the wine. The Vinturi is elegant; the VinOair is the most convenient, while the Soiree was the pick of my wine buddies on taste. 

An aerator is a gift a wine friend might not have in their collection yet. All three companies have good websites where you can find local retailers.

EDITOR'S NOTE: All three aeration products were provided as trade samples.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

R Italian Market Adds Diversity to Indy's Southside

Indianapolis' food scene is really evolving and exciting. If you haven't checked out many of the new restaurants, the farmers market, the winter market, and other food happenings you are missing out.

A friend told me about a new Italian market on the southside near where I used to live. R Italian Market on 135 in Greenwood is a nice addition to the southside.

The market is owned and operated by Dave and Lynn Rodgers who came to Indiana in the late 90s. They missed the Italian foods available on the east coast and opened R Italian.

It sits  on 135, or old Meridian for southsiders, just south of County Line Rd. and accross from a Bonefish Grill restaurant.

I met Dave and sampled a few things. They have a nice range of meats and cheeses. One of the things I immediately noticed was prices. Their Parmesan Reggiano was $3-$3 a pound cheaper than I've found on the northside of the city. Even the always-expense Prosciutto was less than I find than the other side of town.

They also featured some wonderful crusty Italian breads, meatballs, and other Italian specialities made on site and pastas they buy from artisans elsewhere.

It's hard to find places like this. I love sharing them.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir is Surprisingly Good

Robert Mondavi = Napa Valley.

Robert Mondavi = Cabernet Sauvignon.

Robert Mondavi = California wine icon.

Now if we were playing a word association game all of those responses would be good ones if you mentioned the name of legendary winemaker and wine ambassador, Robert Mondavi.

But what if we offered this one - Robert Mondavi = Pinot Noir.

Huh? Pinot? Who? What? Why? Pinot Noir? Mondavi?

It might go something like that. Fair or not, Mondavi is associated with Cabernet or maybe his iconic white Fume Blanc (or Sauv Blanc, if you want to get technical.)

So when I received a 2010 Mondavi Pinot Noir sample I wasn't skeptical, I just didn't really know what to expect. Fair or not, not many people associate the great Mondavi name with Pinot. When we think of Pinot we think of the Sonoma Coast and the Russian River Valley.

Now, it's also fair to say the Carneros region in Napa Valley was cool long before Pinot was cool when it comes to Pinot Noir.

I recently popped open the bottle and like, 'wow dude, (or dudette), this is good Pinot!'

Okay, it has 7 percent Russian River Valley fruit to complement the Carneros but it's very nice Pinot. The grapes hare hand picked, it sees about one-third new oak barrels, and the wine is still pretty young.

I loved the really nice spicy, soft black fruit flavor. The wine was marvelously balanced and smooth. It had hints of a forest floor and a few fall pumpkin pie spices. It was beautiful wine.

I've written before that we take the icons for granted. I tasted five or six $100-plus Mondavi Cabs earlier this year and was really impressed with the consistency and quality. This little $27 Pinot is a welcome brother to the winery's better known bottles!

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chenin Blanc Proves Great Thanksgiving Pairing

Like many wine drinkers, I find Thanksgiving a time to experiment with wine pairings. As I wrote in my newspaper column, published below, the annual "Thanksgiving wine pairing" newspaper column is a challenge and a drag. How many times can you say 'Chardonnay and Reisling go well with turkey and if you want a red try Pinot Noir.'

I did make a few other suggestions but I also like to experiment with wine and food  - and not just with Thanksgiving. Actually, I'd suggest it's great palate-expanding exercise for any regular wine drinker. How about a Soave or even Pinot Grigio with your red sauce pasta? And one of my favorite exercises is trying to get white fish lovers to try a 100 percent Mourvedre or a nice Languedoc red blend.

Ying and yang are friends of mine and I'd encourage you to find your inner wine geek and break the molds. Drink what you like, experiment, and ignore the same 'ol, same 'ol.

Now, that being said, I didn't go crazy this Thanksgiving day but I did do something different. I love good Chenin Blanc. I had never done Chenin Blanc at Thanksgiving but the more I thought about it the more I thought it should be a perfect pairing.

If you like bone dry and minerality in your whites, you've got to be sampling Loire Valley whites.This Domaine des Baumard 2008 Savennieres was simply outstanding. Indeed, bone dry was the first words that registered in my turkey stupor when tasting this wine. I got lemon, richness, and complexity that was a perfect partner for the bird.

An interesting sidenote, I found this bottle in an unexpectedly large wine shop in Columbus, Indiana. It was marked at $24.50. If I had better internet access visiting Mom, I'd double check the price point across the net. But it's taken a Herculean effort to get the photo uploaded, through Photoshop, and this blog posted. My guess is that's a pretty fair price. If you like your whites bone dry the Baumard is outstanding.

Now, I think I'll finish the bottle off with a turkey leg!

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Something New, Something Old for Holiday Turkey Pairing


The Golden Rule of wine and food pairing is a simple one – if you like it, drink it!

But when the family gathers for the turkey feast or at Christmas time something more is often expected. How about something different? Or maybe it’s time to serve up something a bit more extravagant!

An occupational hazard for wine writers is the expected column of wine recommendations for the holidays so who am I to disappoint?

The first rule of picking wines for a big meal is do not overly focus on the main protein. Think about all of those side dishes and the different flavors. That makes almost any wine a good pick. But with the Turkey and main course there are some certain winners and perhaps a few you’ve never tried worth picking up.

A good domestic Chardonnay will work every time. You can buy palatable bottles at the grocery or most liquor stores. I recommend value labels Robert Mondavi, Mirrasou, and flip flop as very drinkable wines if you want to keep you’re price point under $10 a bottle.

Dry Riesling is another outstanding choice. Frankly, there is so much good Riesling made in the U.S., you don’t need to think foreign to find a great bottle. New York and Michigan are areas really emerging with their Riesling wines. Washington state winemakers are producing great Riesling. Several Midwestern wineries are doing Riesling as well.

If there is a decent wine shop nearby there are several other great choices. 

If you like drier wines but want a big nose of autumn in your glass try a Gewurztraminer or Viognier.  Gewurzt is one of the most aromatic wines in the world. It can be fairly sweet to off-dry. Viognier, my choice of the two, is a drier white wine with hints of apple, pear, and spice. For an even better pairing go drier with a Pinot Gris or Chenin Blanc.

For the extravagant dinner gathering, splurge for the world’s best white wine – Chablis. Better wine shops will have a few labels to choose from. Chablis is Chardonnay made in a dry, crisp style with tremendous minerality and acidity. Real Chablis comes from Chablis, France and nowhere else. 

Frankly, don’t buy the other stuff. Chablis would be awesome with any poultry. You can find great bottles starting in the $20 price range and up. Domaine William Fevre, Billaud-Simon, and Drouhin are just three labels which consistently make outstanding French white wine. 

Here is an option many people just won’t think about or consider, but Rose’ wines make a great pairing with poultry. Rose is that nice middle point between white and red wines and the quality continues to skyrocket vintage to vintage. Find a French Provence Rose or an Oregon Pinot Noir Rose for your Turkey.  Midwestern wineries make pretty good to outstanding Rose’ wines. Just go for the dry Rose wines regardless of region to match well with your dinner.

The red of choice has long been Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving. And again, if you are sticking with value look for the labels mentioned above.  But if it’s off to the wine shop, consider a French Beaujolais – and not that Nouveau stuff. Find a Beaujolais Cru wine from Julienas, Morgon, or Fleurie. The Gamay-based wines are very affordable at $12-$18 and great with food.

If you want to impress pick up any bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir above the $30 price point. It is sure to be a huge hit with your guests. (Lange is a personal favorite.)

Next Column: Gadgets for the wine lover on your Christmas list!

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