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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

2000 Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut

Yesterday’s Veuve Clicquot gave me a big hankering for more sparkling wine and I thought it would be interesting to move over to California. Without thinking, I grabbed this $30 bottle which is way more than I’d casually spend but some recent eBay auctions went better than expected, so why not?

Though it’s good, yesterday’s really grabbed me and this one is just sort of there. I detect some slight yeast right off, lemon mid palate, and orange zest on the finish. Nice, small, constant bubbles, but I have to admit the citric acid is a bit stronger than I’d prefer.

Even at $30, this is acceptable. While some of the flavors don’t mesh quite as well as I’d like, it’s complex enough to make this a much stronger candidate then what we normally drink for sparklers. At this price, I get complexity–-some things I like, but aspects I don’t. A $10 bottle is a whole mess of “this is okay” but nothing really jumps out either way. I'd rather get hit with complexity I like, mind you...but this is still good.

Would I buy it again? Honestly, probably not. There's tons of sparklers out there for $30, many from Champagne, that I'd rather investigate first. I'll visit this one again in a few years perhaps, when I feel my palate is more refined.

Monday, October 30, 2006

N/V Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut

Frequently called “the yellow label,” Fran bought me this for my birthday. To be polite, I won’t look up the price, but if my memory serves me correctly I believe this is in the $40-50 range.

In previous sparkling wine reviews I keep mentioning how little I understand tasting these wines, but I have to say I’m slowly coming into my element. This is clearly an excellent wine.

I like this one...yeast right away and some nice toasty flavors towards the end of the palate, with pear, granny smith apple, and grape flavors abound. The bubbles are smooth and coat the mouth like foam more than anything else.

I like this a lot and would drink it several times a week, but I’d probably say that about any $40 bottle of wine. While I like trying new things, once a price point is hit I stay with strong recommendations from reliable sources or things I time I need a Champagne I won’t hesitate going for this one if I can’t make it to the wine shop.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

2003 A Mano Primitivo

Primitivo is the Italian version of Zinfandel....genetics tests have shown they are the same grape.

It’s a bit earthier than your standard California fact, while it’s the same grape, it’s not like a Zin at all other than the alcohol level. There is plenty of berry fruit and there’s some funk (it’s Italian, after all) and oak. Spice and anise on the palate...anise is a far more common flavor than I think I ever realized before forcing myself to sit down and really think about wine. It’s a nicely acidic wine and would pair wonderfully with any Italian faire.

I paid $10 for this and I stand by it. It’s worth it for that’s a smooth wine, well balanced, simple, food friendly, and the right price.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

2003 Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape

I turned 27 today and to celebrate I decided to crack this one open.

We received this bottle last Christmas from my parents...knowing my parents I assumed this was a bottle we shouldn’t just open on a random evening.

This has been sitting in our brand spanking new decanter for four hours

The nose presents Fran with spice and cherries. I get alcohol and not a whole lot else.

Chateauneuf du Pape are sometimes described as funky and this fits the bill. The finish has a burn and I’m almost getting Port qualities. Tobacco, anise, spice, and lots of earth. A common term to describe these wines is “barnyard” which to those of you who have never visited a barnyard, is a nice term for manure. Believe it or not, that’s a good’s present in this wine and oddly, it’s not offensive. Fruit-wise, there is some cherries and strawberries, but my palate tells me this wine is all about the earth and funk.

I am modest enough to know when I’ve been bested. I know that this is good, there’s a depth here, a level of strange funkiness that, like an expensive Riesling, is desired by many in the wine world. It just doesn’t work for me. Not yet, anyway. A white wine that has hints of gasoline and a red that hints of manure....maybe I'll get it at some point, but for now I’m just not there.

Monday, October 23, 2006

2005 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir

I’ve heard that a decent Pinot Noir cannot be purchased for under $15. The A-Z Winery Pinot we reviewed a while back was excellent under that I decided to go a bit further and pick up this $8 bottle.

Cherries and some spice on the nose.

This needed an hour or so to open up, A bit of cherries, berries, plums, spice, and oak on the palate...all are subtle, none overwhelm. This starts with a harsh alcoholic burn that fades away with time in the glass.

Overall...well, it’s not that bad, but it’s also not great. A decent table wine, appropriate for a day to day wine, some nice complexity and acid, but there is a harsh bite that makes it tough to flat out recommend. My other complaint is that I like my Pinot Noirs to have at least some earth and this has just about none. It’s okay, at $8 you can certainly do worse.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cheap wine roundup--Sutter Home, Glen Ellen, Frontera

I was browsing the aisle at my local supermarket and found a bunch of these little bottles on sale–$1 each. I figured it would make an interesting post to go through these “lower end” wines and see what they’re like.

2005 Sutter Home White Zinfandel

Many wine people hate White Zinfandel on principle...they will say it’s not wine. Being literal minded–it’s fermented grape juice, so it’s wine. But here’s why we hate it: no acid, no complexity, no finish. It’s a Kool-Aid like product, just sweet—and I like sweet wine—but that’s all it has going for it. It’s ultimately bland and uninteresting. I’m not repulsed, but if all I want is sweetness with some mildly fruit flavor I’d get a Cherry they make that stuff anymore?

2005 Sutter Home Pinot Grigio

Fran claims this and the White Zinfandel taste like vinegar. While I disagree I see where she’s coming from–sugar and alcohol are really the only things here. There’s a little bit of honeydew that one would expect, but really it’s watery and bland. A full bottle of this is $5--for $8 you can get Ecco Domani or Gabbiano which are light years ahead in quality.

2002 Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon

If you had $5 and needed a red wine and were at a grocery store...well, this is your option. The nose is all alcohol, with what seems like wood, but there’s none on the palate. No tannins, but a strawberry flavor that’s pleasant enough and comes out in Twizzler fashion on the finish. Inoffensive, better than anything Charles Shaw, but for a few dollars more you can do so much better.

When I talk about red wine with people who don’t like red wine, I actually will push things like this—many people who dislike the tannins and oak in red wine I think need a stepping stone and this would be a reasonable inexpensive place to begin your journey from White Zinfandel to Chateau Margaux.

N/V (?) Glen Ellen Cabernet Sauvignon

The second I took a sip I thought this was far ahead in quality of the Sutter Home but it really died mid-sip. The nose has some earth and wood, but mainly just has alcohol. On the palate, this starts off almost like a Cab should–a bit of spice, oak, and berry but just dissipates after two seconds. No finish. On the tongue, it’s not half bad honestly...lots of fruit and spice. There’s a sweetness in this that needs food to minimize it....almost reminiscent of cherry pie. ....this one does not taste so good it’ll bring a tear to your eye though, nor will it put a smile on your face ten miles wide. Think Bobbi Brown 2006 versus Bobbi Brown 1991–it’s not exactly what you want, but you’ll still drink it.

2005 Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot

Anyone who knows me and likes food knows that may favorite restaurant is Frontera Grill. How does the wine Frontera, which has no affiliation with the restaurant, compare?

The nose–oak.

The palate has some nice oak flavors with a bit of cherry....smooth tannins and a decent finish. Of these five wines this is the best hands down. The others relied on a sweetness to cover up the lack of complexity. This actually has something going on it...nice flavors, a finish, minimal sweetness...this isn’t bad. For a 187ml bottle at $1 this is perfectly acceptable.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

2003 R Collection Cabernet Sauvignon

A few months ago I was at the local wine shop during a small tasting and a guy came up to me and said “how about you recommend a Shiraz to me for under $20.” I was taken aback to say the least. I don’t look like your typical wine guy and he didn’t look familiar to me, but I politely engaged him in conversation saying that while I don’t actively dislike Shiraz, I tend to avoid them because they’re not my style though I do enjoy them in blends. He asked what my style was and I said “Cabernets and Rhone blends mainly.” He asked me to make a suggestion of something I like for under $20.

Without hesitation I walked directly to the display of this wine and said it was one of my favorites.

At $18 this is just above my normal price range and I’ve had this bottle on the wine rack for quite a while...I’ve been saving it, I don’t know for what, but I was. Today I realized–what the hell am I saving this for? It’s not that expensive and it’s not difficult to find.

I poured the glass with a bit of fear–I gave this wine top recommendations, I haven’t had it in months, everytime I’m at the shop I think about how much I like it, I even gave my boss a bottle for her birthday telling her it was the best wine I’ve had...have I built this wine up so much that I’m going to be disappointed?

I stopped, and thought that whatever preconceptions I have going in, forget them as much as possible, and just try it.

On my first sip all the fears went away. This is, flat out, my favorite wine. This is the standard I hold other wines to. When I try a $50 bottle, I think how does it compare to R Collection’s Cabernet?

The nose has lots of oak, dirt, and spice. There’s little fruit on the nose, but I do get a suggestion of cherries.

The palate has oak, tobacco, cinnamon, anise, blackberries, cherries, spice, and earth...there’s even a bit of that cola flavor I love. On top of all that, the tannins are smooth and silky. A wonderful balance of earth and fruit. The finish has an interesting start of anise and then fades to strawberries.

This is it, if this bottle was $50 I’d buy it again.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

2005 Santa Julia Torrontes

Inching closer to the Wine Century Club: A Torrontes from Argentina. I don’t recall the price, but it was under $10 for sure.

This wine is, I believe the scientific term is, “meh.” No nose, no real body, nothing really there. It’s inoffensive, which some may argue, makes it offensive. The nose has some citrus, I suppose. It’s mild. Grapefruit and grapes on the palate. No finish to speak of.

So this is where you need to think about cost/value ratio. Even if I paid $8 for this, it’s still $8 for 750ml.

Let’s do the obnoxious comparison: If gas cost $8 per 750 ml, then one gallon of gas would be over $40. What’s the point of this comparison? Even cheap wine isn’t cheap, so you may as well pass up on the stuff that’s mediocre.

Monday, October 09, 2006

2004 Crios de Susana Balbo Syrah/Bonarda

I opened this bottle less than 48 hours ago because I needed some red wine for a recipe. So this has been open for almost two days before this wine was tasted for review.

Other than alcohol, all I get is pepper on the nose

Blackberry with spice, oak, and tobacco on the palate. Smooth tannins, well balanced oak and fruit. When I first opened the bottle I remember thinking it was somewhat harsh, but after a few days it definitely evened out and is quite good. At $10 this isn’t a bad deal.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

2004 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling Qualitatswein

Yep, that’s right....that’s the bottle. Awesome, no? Every so often I get suckered in by fancy packaging and this is one of them. $10 at World Market and the bottle is 500 ml (versus your typical 750 ml bottle).

I get green apples on the nose

There’s a bit of sweetness in this one, but there’s enough acid to balance–exactly what I like. Green apples, honey, and pears on the palate. The finish is a big punch of Granny Smith apples and it lingers for a quite a while.

Cheap Rieslings out of Germany are pretty much right up my alley and this fits the bill nicely.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

2005 The Stump Jump White Blend

This is a blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne and Rousanne.

To me, I get a lot of the Sauvignon Blanc. I don't taste much Riesling and there are some unique tastes that I assume come from the Marsanne and Rousanne.

The nose is mild with tropical fruit with a bit of grapefruit cutting through.

The palate has grapefruit on it, of course...a bit of orange zest as well. It's a fairly dry wine and has plenty of acid so this is a food friendly wine.

My palate prefers a bit of sweetness somewhere in there, and though this has the sharp fruit, there's not a whole lot of sugar which is why though I don't hate it, this really isn't something I'd have again.

It's not bad, don't get me a dry white that I'm not offended by, this is almost a ringing endorsement, I just am the type who has to really love something to stick with it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

2005 St. Gisbertus Eiswein

I was browsing the Sunday newspaper ads and casually looked at the flyer for Aldi which had a in bold letters: EISWINE: $9.99. It must be crap I assumed, seeing as the cheapest eiswines from Germany I’ve seen are more than double that.

But alas, I was driving by Aldi and felt Eiswein for $10? I was too intrigued not to give it a shot.

The nose shows lots of honey and something vaguely like pineapple upside down cake...not just pineapples, but pineapples with perhaps some caramel and added sugar.

The palate is pretty much nothing more than apples. This tastes like apple juice. There’s no real burst of complexity...after letting it linger on the palate for a while I get some pineapple and a bit of apricot on the finish.

I wouldn’t call it crap, but I wouldn’t call it a great quality eiswein. It’s drinkable, if you’ve never had German style dessert wine do not hesitate picking this up to get a general feel, this is the type of wine that’s just almost’s not quite good enough to warrant buying again, especially since I’ve had some great late harvest wines within a few dollars of this one that are exponentially better.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

2002 Jean Leon Terrasola Muscat/Parellada

The quest for 100 varietals continues with this blend of 87% Muscat and 13% Parellada. We’ve had tons of Muscats, a varietal we like and that typically has some sweetness in it, but the Parellada is a new one.

I opened this bottle knowing the varietals but not knowing anything else about it (I bought it a while ago and forgot where it was from), on my first sip I thought “hmm, tastes like Spain.” Sure’s from Spain.

What does “Spain” taste like? Typical words I’d use are funky, strange, and interesting.

The nose is mild, but I get honey.

Being mostly Muscat, this has a lot of those qualities but the Parellada clearly pumped something into it. This is fuller bodied than I’m used to, not terribly sweet, and has plenty of acid. I get a bit of honey on the palate, but it’s mostly orange and floral notes. There’s enough acid to make your mouth water for quite a while on the finish. There's something else that lingers, but I can't place it...floral, almost like chamomile.

It’s not bad, but it’s not something I’d buy again.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2004 Bonny Doon Big House Red

I continue my pursuit of the Wine Century Club with this blend of red wine. It’s got Carignane, Petite Sirah, Sangiovesse, Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah, Malbec, and Montepulciano. They don’t disclose percentages, but I’d guess the earlier in the list, the higher the percentage.

The only grape in there I haven’t had in that lot is Montepulciano...but blends count, so I’ll check that one off the list.

You can find this bottle almost anywhere for under $10...catch a sale and you may get it for $7. If you see it on sale, I’d suggest you pick a bottle up.

We let this one open for a long time before drinking it.

We both get anise and alcohol on the nose and not much else.

Blackberry on the palate, with some nice smoke, spice, and wood. This blend is made of pretty much all unusual varietals and it gives it a unique quality. It’s a fuller bodied red wine that demands heavy foods...think grilled.

A tremendous value from a reputable winery...if something is made by Bonny Doon, I don’t hesitate picking it up.

2005 Hope Estate Hunter Valley Verdelho

Further working our way to the Wine Century club, I present you with a Verdelho made by Hope Estate in Australia.

Most of the unusual red wines we have are good, but I can't say there's a varietal of red wine we flat out do not like...Shiraz tend to be hit or miss, but a decent red varietal is a safe bet...whereas there's lots of white we don't like....the best Chardonnay out there, we'd probably hate...lots of Sauvignon Blancs we don't care for, there's a whole style of Riesling we dislike, I'm hesitant with a lot of these whites.

Fran gets florals notes on the nose, all I get is pineapple. The palate is somewhat like a Sauvignon Blanc...tropical fruit, grapefruit, lots of acid, not sweet, and it has a lemon-lime finish. I had two glasses over two nights and pitched the bottle.

It's interesting, but not something we'd try again I'd say. I'd hope that in our quest for 100 we find something unusual that really grabs us, but this one isn't doing it.

2004 Colonia Las Libres Bonarda

The next few wines will feature strange varietals because I recently discovered something called "The Wine Century Club" join, you have to have tried at least 100 different grape varietals. Looking at the list, we've had 63 and being a tad bit OCD, getting at least 37 done by the end of the year is a serious goal I intend to meet.

The good news is that since these varietals are unpopular, they tend to be less expensive. The bad news is they're lack of popularity makes them somewhat difficult to come by.

Right now it's not too difficult hunting down strange varietals but I'm sure once we get to 95 we'll hit a huge brick wall.

So, here we are...a $6 Bonarda from Argentina made by Colonia Las Liebre.

After a few sips, this just tasted strange to I picked up the bottle and there it was: "unoaked red wine." Most red wine we drink is aged in oak, so this tasted a little off, but now that makes sense. And now that I understand what it is, I can judge it accordingly rather than "this is odd."

On the nose, we both get strawberries...almost Twizzler like.

So here's the funny thing...I seem to taste a bit of oak in this one. Since it's a unique varietal, it's something I never had before and I just can't place my finger on it. It reminds me of Grenache in a way. Plenty of earth with some berries and some smoke. I taste what I'd generically call "black fruit" (think plums, black grapes). But even without oak it's still get some body to it.

An excellent wine for $6, if you're in the mood for a new varietal this may be worth your time.

2003 Pepi Sangiovesse

We didn't feel like cooking, so we opted to go for pizza for dinner. I browsed the aisle looking for something interesting and this Sangiovesse caught my eye. Well Pepi drink with pizza as well as Pepsi does?

This one is darker than I'd expect from a Sangiovesse.

Raspberries and strawberries on the nose.

Cherries, raspberries, earth, and spice on the palate. Tannins are mild and smooth making this an easy drinking wine though I do find it to be heavier than a typical Chianti.

2005 Terrazas de los Andes Malbec

I felt like something a bit different than the big named reds so I grabbed a Malbec from Argentina. I picked this up for $10.

Lots of oak on the nose and not much else. Mild tannins, plenty of earth, some spice, a little berry fruit, and a bit of tobacco on the palate. The finish lingers with raspberries. It's a smooth wine, it's light-medium bodied, and quite easy drinking.

This is pretty much the ideal wine to bring to a dinner party or serve to guests...the price is right, the wine is excellent, not too complex, and not too heavy so it can pair with almost anything. This wine is certainly case worthy....I look forward to moving into a larger place where we can stock up on wine like this.

2004 A-Z Oregon Pinot Noir

I was in the mood for a Pinot Noir so I headed straight to the under $15 section and picked this one up just at the edge of price range at $14.99.

Not a whole lot on the nose.

Pepper, herbs, mint, eucalyptis, and earth on the palate with a bit of raspberry. If you like earthy Pinot Noirs this is for you. It's a fairly easy drinking wine, light bodied, and enjoyable by itself.

If you want to give an earthy Pinot Noir a shot, this is a good one to try, it's excellent and the price is right. If you prefer fruit bombs, this is not the one for you.


So we went a while without posting, but our wine drinking did not stop....just some computer issues that are now resolved.

There's a few more updates I have to put up. Unfortunately, we weren't as diligent with our tasting notes in the downtime but I reckon that quick phrases here and there are better than nothing.

2005 Chateau Lamothe de Haux

I was at a wine shop today and realized that Fran and I really have never had a white Bordeaux before. We've tried a few at tastings, but nothing I can remember. So I picked up this bottle for $13 to give it a shot.

Orange zest and grapefruit on the nose.

Grassy and mineral notes with loads of grapefruit on the palate. It's quite acidic, my mouth waters for a long while after drinking and it is a dry wine---drier than I normally look for, but I still enjoy it. This is a fantastic that has sold me on White Bordeauxs. I look forward to trying more.

2003 Cotes du Rhone E. Guigal

This is one of our favorites. It's $11 generally, but I've seen it for under $10 which is a steal.

We'll start off with the negative--this wine has almost no nose...I get earth and that's about it. Fran gets some hints of berries, but can't place it.

A little bit of spice, anise, and earth mix with blackberries on the palate. The tannins are smooth and this is an easy drinking, fairly simple wine.

But the interesting thing about it is how stronger it gets as it opens. When you first pour it, it's excellent--smooth and balanced. Let it sit for an hour or two and all of a sudden the tannins firm up, the herbs become stronger, and the anise kicks in. There's still some berries, but plenty of earth shows up well into the evening.

Everything blends together nicely and this will basically go with anything....we're having it with veggie burgers and fries and I find it to be a winning combination. This is another one of those wines that makes me said we don't live in a larger place...if we had a basement or room for a wine fridge, I'd gladly pick this up by the case.

2004 Ironstone Symphony Obsession

The Symphony grape is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris.

While I realize this is a unique grape varietal, it's extremely close to your typical Muscat. Sweet, fruity, with a bit of acid to round it out. A generally inexpensive wine that's usually quite consistent--I don't recall ever having a bad Muscat.

The nose is mainly tropical fruit, apples, and grapes.

Lots of tropical fruit, pineapple, and grapes on the palate and it even has a hint of spice. It's sweet, but not cloyingly so, and acidic enough to be balanced.

I found this on sale for $6 and it's certainly a good deal. If you enjoy Muscats in their various forms, or even sweet German style wines, this would be something to look into. This would be perfect with any sort of spicy faire--anything like Thai, Mexican, or Indian food would compliment it well.

N/V Jonesy Old Tawny Port

Very dark...almost black coming out of the bottle.

On the palate: raisins, walnuts, some vanilla. No alcohol burn, no harshness, this is smooth yet complex. Nutty, long finish.

This is an impressive Port which I consider my "house dessert wine." It's rare that I don't have a bottle at hand. It's a shocking value: at around $10, the price is absurd. Buy this by the case, let it sit in the cellar, and drink at your leisure. It's got a screwcap so I would resist letting it sit for decades, but the complexity suggests it would last for quite a while.

A great wine at a groing grabbingly good deal. Buy it and thank me later.

2004 Cheyanna Red Wine

This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, and Merlot.

Blackberry notes on the nose but really not much there on the nose.

Black pepper, anise, cherry, and blackberry on the palate. Fran gets tobacco notes, but to me it's just oak and spice. In spite of the spicy notes, the tannins are nice and smooth. This is an excellent wine, smooth enough to just enjoy, but complex enough to think about.

This is a repeat buy for us...we've had this wine several times which means it's a great wine and a value ($13 or so). I'll be buying it again without question and seriously wish I had more space to store wine becuase this is case-worthy.

2005 Naia

Grapefruit and some floral hints on the nose.

Grapefruit, lemon zest, and loads of minerals on the palate. This reminds me a lot of a Sauvignon Blanc....a varietal you won't read much about here since neither one us particularly care for it.

We had this at a wine tasting and quite frankly I'm a bit shocked we bought it. It's not our typical style and it didn't win me over. It's certainly not bad, and if you like the grapefruit mineral punch of Sauvignon Blanc, this would probably be worthy of your wine rack.

2004 Two Brothers Big Tattoo White

Big Tattoo White...hey...I have tattoos, maybe I should try it? Yep, that's the mentality, and for $8 I stand by it.

Peaches and orange zest. Sweet, but not cloying, and plenty of acid to balance it out. This is an excellent summer wine...which is why we cracked it open before winter arrives. This is a bargain and strongly recommended.