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Thursday, November 30, 2006

N/V Rotari “Arte Italiana” Brut

I’m on an e-mail list called “The 30 Second Wine Advisor” that I enjoy...I tend to agree with the reviews from it, but a lot of times I just can’t get the wine reviewed there. The other day a glowing review came for this one, so I did a quick search and sure enough, my local store had it for $8.99.

This one is from Italy, but don’t confuse it with Prosecco or anything like that, this is from an area in Trento that only does Champagne-style sparkling wines. This Brut wine is 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir.

A bit of yeast, some apple, pear, a bit of citrus, and the always surprising, grape–it’s quite fruity, but there is a hint of toast that gives it some nice backbone. Nicely balanced, fruity, but dry...this one is impressive.

The finish hits you with strawberry and then fades to grapes.

I find this to be significantly more pleasing than that Kirkland Champagne we had the other day for $20. Less than half the price, for a wine I find to be genuinely better...I’ll be buying this often and if you can find it, give it a shot.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

2005 Runaway Red Pinot Noir

A red label, a hammer and sickel, and a photo of Trotsky...oh yes, it’s Runaway Red. Even at $15, this label was too funny to pass up. Capitalizing on Communism? I should break out my Rage Against the Machine CDs (on Sony Records).

On the nose, while there is some fruit–I’m thinking boysenberry–it’s pretty much all must and earth...exactly what a Pinot Noir should be.

The palate shows us a light/medium bodied Pinot with smooth tannins. Some cherry, perhaps plum, and a fair amount of funk. It's more earthy than fruity, but extremely well balanced. This is an easy drinking wine and would have been excellent at Thanksgiving and can pair with I’d imagine almost anything.

I think I’m coming to terms with the fact that though I do enjoy the heavier reds, if I just want to sit and relax with a glass of wine, something like this is what I need. I’d cheerfully buy this one again.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

2003 Kirkland Super Tuscan

This is what’s known as Super-Tuscan. Basically, a Chianti on steroids: 60% Sangiovesse (the typical Chianti varietal) 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot.

This was $20 at Costco and is that store’s private label.

The nose has lots of dark fruit and chocolate with a bit of tobacco and wood. After letting it open for a few hours, I get a very strong hit of cherry cordial.

The instant this hits the palate, you know you’re in for something big...this is chewy wine. Lots of earth, tar, oak, vanilla, tobacco, chocolate, with dark ripe fruit and very firm tannins (I’ll go as far as too firm). I typically think of Italian wine as being “funky” and this one is no different.

Sadly, we’re not frequent Super Tuscan drinkers so I can’t say I have a whole lot to compare this to. I’d probably try a few more of this type of wine at lower price points and revisit it in a few months to see how it holds up.

N/V Sokol Blosser Evolution Lucky #9–10th edition

A blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Muller-Thurgau, Semillon, Muscat, Gewurtztraminer, and Sylvaner–-most “blends” consist of 2-4 varietals, so this one with nine is somewhat unusual. I got this one on sale for $11, but most of the time I see it around $15.

Good acid, a bit of sweetness but not overbearing, this is a nicely balanced wine. I’m going to guess most of the wine in this bottle is from Riesling. There’s just a hint of spice that must be coming from the Gewurtz, plenty of the typical green apple you get on a Riesling, a fair amount of peaches, a touch of apricot, a bit of the grapey taste you get from Muscat. Interestingly, I’m getting some grapefruit/tropical fruit that I at first said “it’s from the Sauvignon Blanc,” yet that varietal is not in the blend.

I’m not as familiar with the other varietals in this blend so I’m sure some of these qualities come from those as well.

Many would call this a “summer wine” and I tend to agree, it’s a good one to bring on a picnic and such. That being said, I believe the acid and touch of sweetness would’ve worked well at Thanksgiving dinner as well.

An excellent balance, a complex palate, a lingering fruity finish...this is an excellent wine and even at $15 would be worth buying again.

Friday, November 24, 2006

N/V Kirkland Signature Brut Champagne

I was perusing this food message board and a few people were speaking very highly of Costco’s private label wine, Kirkland. The thing that interested me has that these wines are by no means cheap...most were $20 and they went as high as $50.

This Champagne–that’s actually from Champagne–was $19.99. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real Champagne for under $25 in this area, and most are much higher. According to the label, this is produced by Sas Janisson, a producer who puts out a Champagne that runs $30-$35.

Lots of fruit on the palate, pears/apples, some tropical fruit, a bit of citrus, and some toast as well. It’s fruity and when I think Brut, I think drier than this, this strikes me as more of an Extra Dry. The finish has some nice yeast that’s balances with acid and fruit and I even get a bit of pecan at the tail end.

A while back we had Moet & Chandon White Star and did not like it one bit. We also had the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin which we loved. I’ll put this right in the middle. At $20, a Champagne of this quality will be in a half bottle.

If there’s a special occasion coming up (New Years, perhaps) and you want to pick up a few good bottles at a great price I’d say go for it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

2005 Mount Pleasant Cuvée Blanc

This is an odd review to write. Most of the wine we buy and review are things we’ve either tried, come with strong reviews from people who know basically what we like, or are so inexpensive that I’m very forgiving.

We received this wine with our “wine club” membership from Mount Pleasant. Knowing this one saw some time in oka, I didn’t even put this one on the rack, I just let it sit on the counter for a few days to settle it down, chilled it, and cracked it open.

Retailing at $14, this is made from the Vidal Blanc, a hybrid grape that can withstand harsh winters so you’ll find this a lot in the Midwest.

The nose has a bit of pineapple and oak.

For lack of a better way to describe it, this tastes like Pine-Sol. A bit of lemon, a bit of pineapple, and a lot of pine. There’s some acid, but that just makes it taste like a cleaning product....the wood flavors turn what could’ve been a decent wine to something unbearable.

The finish has lots of vanilla at first and fades away to Pine-Sol....unpleasant is an understatement.

This is really all a matter of taste, the notion of white wine in oak repulses me...I thought I’d give it a shot, but alas....terrible. Lots of people love this style, it just does not work for me.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

2003 Pierre Sparr Gewürztraminer Reserve

Lychee and apricot on the nose.

It’s fruity–peaches/stone fruit but not all that sweet, I get lots of floral notes and a reasonable amount of honey. The finish does have a bit of spice, but not as big as I’m used to.

This is pretty much like this is what we’re used to (US style), only everything is a bit more subtle...slight sweetness, slight spice, but firm acid. I don’t say that as a bad thing really, because it’s all still balanced and not overwhelming as some other Gewurtz we’ve had tend to get.

I like this a lot, but Fran does not. Fran needs a bit of sweetness and lots of acid to balance it out.....I do prefer that, but this is still good. It maybe a “a bit” sweet but compared to a lot of the Gewurtz from Germany, this is bone dry.

It’s not bad, for a $13 Alsace Gewurtztraminer it’s a decent representation of the Alsatian style.

If all you know is Oregon and Germany for this varietal, I’d say pick this one’s not as bone dry or pungent as some Alsatian Gewurtztraminer that I’ve had, but it’s heading down that road and worth checking out for that fact alone.

Monday, November 20, 2006

2005 Gnarly Head Old Vines Zinfandel

This one was going for $8 and came with praise from a friend of mine so I figured I’d pick it up.

The nose hits you with alcohol–not too shocking when it’s 14.5%. Other than that, it’s pretty green—-bell pepper in particular–which is a bit troubling.

The palate releases all fears though–blackberry, overripe strawberry, plums, some oak and spice on the palate–overall I’d call it jammy. The tannins are smooth and this is a very easy drinking wine. We’re eating it with pizza which is a great match, but I’d imagine any sort of BBQ would compliment this well. This one needs a lot of time to open up, pour your glasses at least an hour before you drink.

Without decanting, the finish has a bit of burn and fades very quickly. After letting it open for about an hour, the alcohol burn is no longer present and I get plenty of long lasting blueberry, though there’s a peculiar green taste in the background—if you’re drinking this with food it’s not detectable, but on it’s own it’s there. Present or not, it’s still a lot better with some time to open, and for $8 it’s not going to be perfect.

In spite of the minor problems, I’d say this one is strongly recommended and I’d buy it again without hesitation.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

2006 Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils Beaujolais Nouveau

This was the most expensive new Beaujolais the local shop had, retail was $15 but since I was there the first day it was $12.

It’s amazing how different this one is from the Georges Duboeuf.

No real nose, maybe a bit of strawberry but not a whole lot.

Dry, even a bit tannic, this one reminds me of a very light bodied Pinot Noir. Raspberry, strawberry, a bit of spice, even some earth, and I actually get a hint of wood even though (I’m assuming) this hasn’t seen oak.

This bottle had quite a bit of sediment in it, so I’d recommend either decanting it or storing it right side up and dumping those last few ounces.

I will say this—I grabbed this off the rack, opened it, poured it and it was pretty terrible at room temperature. I thought I’d throw the chiller on it and give it a second shot, and sure enough—drink this one chilled! Most things I read suggest Beaujolais Nouveau is better chilled–-I say, don’t even think about drinking it without at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

2005 Hans Wirsching Iphöfer Kalb Silvaner Kabinett Trocken

I’ll be honest, I’ll grabbed this one because of the interesting bottle shape and also because it’s a Silvaner–one more checkmark off our Wine Century Club list.

Being a German wine, I assumed–even as a Kabinett–this would be, at least a little, sweet. Of course, sometimes we learn things the hard way—this is not a Kabinett, it’s a “Kabinett Trocken.” “Trocken” means dry and this one certainly is. My knowledge of the word “Trocken” was limited to “Trockenbeerenauslese” which is a sweet wine, but the Trocken is a reference to dry grapes (so overripe they’ve dried out).

Maybe a bit of white grapefruit on the palate and some grapes as well, perhaps a bit of melon, but overall I’d say lots and lots of minerals making this one bone dry. No real finish to speak of. Not our typical style of wine and not a wine I’d have again.

If you like dry, unoaked wine, this may be right up your alley. Give an offbeat varietal a shot and pick up a bottle. If a bit of sweetness is required for your white wine, then avoid this one.

Friday, November 17, 2006

2005 Niebaum-Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs

This is Francis Coppola’s winery’s sparkling wine named after his daughter Sofia. It comes wrapped in pink cellophane, a good marketing gimmick as it certainly stands out. The wine itself is pale gold, typical of Chardonnay based sparkling wines.

The nose has nothing but fruit, no yeast or anything of that sort.

The palate on this one is extremely simple—all we both get is grapes. Maybe there’s some apple, but this is a grapey wine. I always find that to be a bit refreshing, a wine that tastes like what it is. There’s really not a lot going on, no subtle flavors that I pick up, just a good, drinkable wine.

The finish on this one consists of one flavor whispering something inaudible to the other leaving it all up to interpretation even though all we want is a real resolution.

At $16. I’m not sure I can give this one a strong endorsement. If you find it on sale for $12ish, I’d say go for it. If you have something like an anniversary or birthday, it’s certainly an attractive package. This one also comes in cans which wouldn’t be half bad for a picnic.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

2006 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

The third Thursday of November is the day Beaujolais Nouveau comes out...a fruity wine that really shouldn’t be aged more than a few months, if that. Let’s be blunt–it’s a marketing thing more than a wine thing. This wine came out today and it’s “a big deal” because it’s “Beaujolais Nouveau day”....why is it a big deal? Well, the producer of Beaujolais Nouveau say it is....but I’m a sucker so you better believe I ran out and got me a couple bottles.

Beaujolais Nouveau are made with the Gamay grape using a process called carbonic maceration, which means the grape juice isn’t what ferments–the entire grapes themselves ferment and from what I understand, explode on their own.

This one is $8 and is the cheapest and probably most widely available Beaujolais out there.

The nose has some raspberry.

The palate is fruity with berries, black, rasp, and even a bit of blue. Simple, a bit acidic, and there’s even a bit of tannin–so this is surprisingly (but, and this is important–relatively) dry. This is really a good wine if you don’t like red wine but want to start learning a bit more and acquiring the taste. If you’re going to a party–say Thanksgiving dinner with the family–and want to bring something that will please everyone, you can’t go wrong.

When I’m making poached pears, I grab Beaujolais Nouveau because it’s so fruity and simple...this vintage is no different.

If you like fruity red wine—or if you don’t like red wine—go right ahead and drop $8 and pick up a bottle. Maybe it’ll help bring you over to the red wine lovers side. If you know red wine, then you know what this is...drink it with frozen pizza, Burger King, or a microwave burrito, and stop being such a goddamn snob and enjoy something simple.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

2005 Ditka Da Coach Pinot Grigio

Thought I’m not a football guy, I am a huge fan of Bill Swerski. So, when I heard Ditka was putting his name on a series of wine, I didn’t hesitate picking one up. I figured a good place to start was a wine that’s tough to mess up, Pinot Grigio. Of course, it’s also the cheapest Ditka wine at $9. There’s a “Kick Ass Red” blend going for $40 and I think the others push the $20 line.

On the nose–well, it smells like Pinot Grigio. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but once you try a few Pinots, you know it—grapes, maybe some minerals, and a bit of citrus.

Lots of fruit, not a lot of acid–about what I’d expect at the price. The palate is mainly lemon...lots of lemon. There’s also some grapefruit, apple (think Golden Delicious) and I’ll even say a bit of citron. For all intensive purposes, there is no finish.

I’ll say this: this wine does not have any sort of “alcohol” taste, it’s incredibly smooth—the translation of that is that it’s dangerous wines—you can finish the bottle and not even notice it. It’s simple, easy drinking, and quality-wise what I’d expect from an under $8 wine you can find in any grocery store across the country.

My prediction: After Ditka wins a one on one brawl with a hurricane in Las Vegas, he will spend all of his money buying every vineyard on the planet and all the wine you know and love with be preceeded by “Ditka’s”—Ditka’s Silver Oak, Ditka’s Chateau Margaux, Ditka’s Mollydooker, etc.

The final verdict: I didn’t expect to have my socks blown off and I didn’t. It’s not the best Pinot Grigio, but no one claims it is. It’s decent and while I’d sayt the price may be a bit high, you’re buying a name, and if you’re going to pay for a name, it may as well be DIT KA.

Monday, November 13, 2006

2003 Li Veli Passamante Negroamaro

Negroamaro is a varietal from Italy that you don't see often for one reason or another. This is our third Negroamaro wine and it's fairly typical of what we've had before.

The nose reminds Fran of cherry cough syrup, alcohol and all. I do get alcohol on the nose, as well as some cherry (not cough syrup though), and a bit of earth.

Basically, if you like Chianti, buy this one. Fruity (cherry specifically), lighter bodied, smooth tannins, a bit of pepper, and plenty of acid--a great food wine, especially if you're having pasta with a red sauce or even pizza. Not the most complex thing in the world, but it's beautifully balanced and has just the right level of spice and fruit.

At $8, this is a steal. In fact, I doubt you can get a Chianti of this quality at that price. Strongly recommended.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

2005 Stone’s Throw Riesling

Stone’s Throw is a Wisconsin based winery which gets their grapes from California–this Riesling, in particular, comes from Monterey County. This one retails for $17.

I get lots of peaches on this one, with some spice–think of a lighter peach pie filling. I’m also getting plenty of apricot. It is a bit flabby though, there’s not enough acid and it has a very strange structure (or lack of). It’s not really a bad wine, but it’s certainly not a $17 bottle.

I’d recommend giving some of Stone’s Throw’s wines a chance, especially if you’re in the area and can visit the winery (we have yet to, but plan on it) but I’m not sure that, at this price point, this one can be strongly recommended

Saturday, November 11, 2006

2004 Mount Pleasant Norton

Towards the beginning of this blog we reviewed a white wine from Mount Pleasant negatively. A bit later, we reviewed a $25 Cabernet Sauvignon, and ultimately felt that while it was okay, it was not worth anywhere near the asking price. This is the only winery which we’re “members” of and I have to say that two mediocre wines in a row really shook my confidence.

So, here we are with a 2004 Norton. Norton is a varietal found in the Midwest and if you tour wineries in the area you’ll find a lot of terrible wine made from it. When we visited Mount Pleasant, we both agreed it was the best Norton we had, but also the most expensive at $35.

Norton’s typically are dark and this one is no exception. It’s dark purple, but looking at a full glass, it almost seems black.

The nose has lots of pepper, black fruit, and a touch of alcohol.

On the palate, this reminds me a bit of Syrah. Lots of pepper, licorice, and spice on the palate, but there’s also plenty of blackberry–to the point that I’d call it jammy. As soon as it hits the tongue, it seems to taste like blueberry but that changes to blackerry. It’s a nice but strange balance of strong jam and strong earth–a big wine for sure. I thought I was getting tobacco, but I think it’s more just smoke. The tannins are extremely smooth and silky, no burn or anything of that sort.

The finish is long–starting with prunes and fading away to raspberries.

I’m glad that my memory has held up....if this one was a disappointment, I probably would have quit our club membership. This is, hands down, the best Norton I’ve encountered. An excellent wine, regardless of region or varietal. Complex enough for the nerds, yet smooth enough for the friends-–highly recommended.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

2003 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese

French and German wine labels can be tricky–every time I think I know what everything means I realize I actually have no idea--so I’ve decided that when we drink them, I’m going to start breaking them down so eventually I know what the hell I’m doing.

2003 is the vintage.
Joh.. Jos. Christoffel Erben is the producer.
Erdener Treppchen is the vineyard.
Riesling is the grape.
Spätlese is the QmP (let’s simplify it as “sweetness level’) designation.

There you have it.

This one was $20 which is more than a typical day to day wine, but I had a hankering for a Riesling and this was the only thing I had handy.

This was described to me as a “wine drinker’s wine” and I’m going to agree. This punches you in the face with acid with a bit of sweetness to balance it out. Lots of time I talk about Rieslings that are sweet with enough acid to balance it–this is the opposite.

The nose has some grapefruit and something else, but I can’t put my finger on it–something non-fruit, which I’m still not good at detecting.

Fran gets pineapples on this with a touch of grapefruit on the finish. I completely disagree. To me, this is all grapefruit–-pink grapefruit, sweet and tart with some minerals for good measure. There’s some spice on this that reminds of Gewurtztraminer. As the finish lingers, I get notes of honey and pear....the finish on this wine is one of the longest I can remember having with a Riesling.
Spicy, acidic, sweet–pretty much all the best qualities I look for. I’d buy this again without hesitation.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

N/V Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noir

I figured we'd open a bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate the new path the country is heading down.

Domaine Chandon is a producer of sparkling wine out of Napa. I wondered if it was the same Chandon as in Moet & Chandon, producer of Dom Perignon among others...and sure enough, it is. The Moet company opened the winery in 1973 making this the only French owned sparkling wine producer in the US.

As useless as that sounds, Moet & Chandon is a highly reputable company which suggests quality.

Anyway, this Blanc de Noirs is salmon in color. It's fruity and toasty, a touch of sweetness, but certainly not a sweet wine. To me, I taste a bit of blueberry which seems strange--Fran gets strawberry, but that's not what I'm getting...somewhere in between--huckleberry?

Actually, it hit me what this reminds me of....there's a soda company called Jones Soda. You can buy their stuff pretty much anywhere (in the midwest anyway) and one of their claims to fame is a Thanksgiving pack with a turkey flavored soda, a stuffing soda, brussel sprout get the idea. Jones Soda makes a flavor called Fufu Berry and this tastes like a mild version of that.

In fact, now that thought has come to mind I can't taste anything other than Fufu Berry in this. Bah.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

2003 Casa Silva Coleccion Carmenère

Here we are getting ever closer to the wine century club with a Carmenère from Chile. Carmenère is actually a fairly interesting grape. It was originally found in Bordeaux but in 1867 insects (Phylloxera) infested all the vines and destroyed every grape and vine. Luckily, the grape was exported to South America in the 1850s, so it still exists. Chilean wine tends to be a good value, this one was $9.

The first thing that struck me with this wine was how dark it is. At a very deep purple, no light gets through this one at all. The nose has a hit of alcohol and cherries and not a whole lot else.

The palate is fruit bomb with a hit of alcohol. There’s some tannins to balance it out a bit but very little oak--this is for all intensive purposes, all fruit. Black fruit–plums, blackberries, cherries, and the like.

After this one opens some subtleties of spice and oak come through. A hint of herbal notes–mint for the most part–are present, but really only seemed to come through after being open for five hours. If I had to compare this to anything, I’d almost say a Zinfandel. Fruit, high alcohol, perfectly paired with pizza, grilled or roasted food, anything heav.

This is a fantastic wine, especially at the price. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 06, 2006

N/V Stone’s Throw Winery Field Blend Red

After having the Stone’s Throw White I had a good idea what to expect with this—light bodied, smooth drinking, somewhat simple, and acceptable.

And....I was right. For a $10 bottle of wine, you can do far worse. A mystery blend of grapes, I can’t pick any out....if I had to compare it to anything I’d say a very light Chianti. Nothing bold or firm like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz, this is far lighter. Fruit right away--cherries and blackberries-–though present, there's not much oak or spice, but there’s a bit of earth to give it some balance.

A simple red wine, fine for the price, and a good one for a simple meal or picnic. You can do better for your money if you’re looking for complexity and oak, but if you want a good wine you can enjoy without worry this is another fine one.

N/V Stone’s Throw Winery Field Blend White

Stone’s Throw is a winery in Door County, Wisconsin. Most of the wineries in the area focus on fruit wine, but this one gets their grapes shipped in from California and consider themselves to be a bit more serious.

The Field Blends are the cheapest wines they offer in red and white at $10 a pop. No varietal information, just a miscellaneous blend that is from a field not designated for one type of grape.

Basically, we have a very simple, easy drinking, and perfectly acceptable wine. Citrus notes, a bit of lemon and even some citron. A hint of acid to balance it out a bit, but not a whole lot....this is a fruity, sweet wine that’s perfect for a picnic or BBQ on a hot day.

If I had to compare this to a varietal, I’d say I pick up a hint of Pinot Grigio....sweet, quaffable, and good with salads, burgers, and the like.

If you want something you can just drink and enjoy without worrying about the subtle hints on the nose and such, this is a good wine to have.

2005 Monastrell Wrongo Dongo

Here we are with an $8 bottle of WANGO TANGO...oh wait...Wrongo Dongo...Nugent doesn't drink, that's right. I bought this one at World Market as it was a double whammy–-first, it was highly rated by Parker (or Wine Spectator...someone important) and second it knocked off another grape for our Wine Century Club application.

Fruity right off the bat, mild tannins, and a hint of spice. As far as I can tell, this wine has not seen oak and that’s very rarely a pro with red wine. There’s a harshness and burn on the finish that’s unappealing. The front and mid palate hit you with cherries, raspberries, and herbal notes. I get quite a bit of “green” on this–bell peppers, basil, strange flavors under the fruit. Fran feels it is comparable to Charles Shaw, I think that’s a low blow.

For an offbeat varietal, it’s interesting and worth giving a shot if you want something different and inexpensive.