Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sobon Fiddletown Zinfandel 2006 – California

This is a classic Sierra Foothills style Zinfandel. Big, rich, bright tannins and good acidity. Wonderful tastes of chocolate and blackberry. Sobon’s tasting room is a large, rather dark space, but the tasting-room staff were very helpful and knowledgeable. We arrived right at closing time yet we never felt rushed. Indeed, another party arrived after us and were enthusiastically welcomed. Yes. $22 (This wine received an 85 rating from Wine Spectator magazine.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Toward a New Year

We started this wine blog mostly just for fun, and to help us remember the wines we’ve enjoyed over the years.

Apparently, a few others of you have also enjoyed our writings. So far in 2008, we’ve had site visitors from 74 countries (map below).

We’ll probably get a couple of more posts up before January 1, but then we will take some time off until about January 10. Have a great new year.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Columbia Crest Vineyard 10 Rose 2007 – Washington

A nice new addition to our Rose list. This wine, “mostly Syrah,” shows what a good American Rose can be. Wonderful fruity nose of strawberries and raspberries. Deep color – almost so dark pink it looks artificial. The tastes are strawberries, raspberries, and watermelon. Dry yet full. House. $6 on sale, usually about $11.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cambria Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2007 – California

Beautiful rose red color. Bone dry. This is a food wine, not an aperitif sipper. It has a feint nose of strawberries, and tastes of pansies, pomegranate, maybe a little apple and dried flowers. As much as we generally enjoy most Cambria wines, this is only a Maybe. $11

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cambria Viognier 2007 – California

This opens with a blast of tropical fruit and lavender. The lavender doesn’t carry over to the tastes (fortunately), but the fruit does. Notes of lime, lemon, tangerine, and vanilla. Hey, I sound like the label. This is very smooth, with a touch of creaminess (that vanilla), and just enough bite and acidity. Very nice. House/Yes. $13

[We have decided that after we write our review, if we stumble upon a rating/recommendation for a particular wine in one of the wine magazines or elsewhere, that we will note that rating. This Cambria in the 2006 vintage received an 86 from Wine Spectator.]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Blackstone Zinfandel 2005 – California

We wish we remember where we had seen this as being highly rated, since we had put it on our “to-try” list. [Found it. It was recommended in Food & Wine magazine’s April 2008 issue in an article on “Best American Wines $15 & Under.”] It’s another in our recent streak of boring-to-yuck wines. Nose of... red wine, maybe a tiny bit of blackberry. Taste of... old, dried-up, cheap Syrah; no Zinfandel fruit or character. Dry and blah. Not dreadful, but ... No. $10 on sale, regularly about $13

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Glen Ellen 2006 Merlot – California

Now this isn’t going to turn us into Merlot fans overnight, but we love the Glen Ellen region in Sonoma county, California, and saw this wine on the shelf for a mere $5. The nose is of smoke, plum, and maybe some mild, soft fruit like apricots or peaches. The tastes are soft (it is a cheap Merlot, after all) and actually quite pleasant. Nice acids and tannins. Fruit tastes are muted, but are given a bit of zing by a hint of plum, apricot, sage, and green pepper. At this price, a Yes. $5 on sale, usually $6.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Robert Mondavi Moscato d’ Oro 2006 – California

Mondavi winery initially made its name with two iconic wines – their Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sauvignon Blanc dubbed “Fume” Blanc. Both wines captured the American wine-making and wine-drinking spirit, but this Moscato has been around just as long. We remember tasting it many years ago when the winery was newly opened. The nose is distinctly of apricots. This is very low alcohol (8%) and exhibits tastes of apricot, peach, and tangerine. It has an almost sparkly zing, and is very sweet but not sticky, with just a hint of acidity. Yes. $20 (375 ml bottle)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Concannon Pinot Noir 2005 – California

We’re always looking for good, affordable Pinot Noir – they’re hard beasts to find. We used to love Mark West’s Corsican Pinot, until they started sourcing grapes from California. We enjoyed Redwood Creek, but it too changed grape sources. The Beringer we had on our list switched from California grapes to Italy and France – we railed against all these changes before, so all 3 are now off our list. Castle Rock had been a favorite of ours, but it’s currently hard for us to find.

So it was a joy to sample this Concannon. We loved their Petite Sirah, and this wine is in the same quality class. It opens with a great cherry nose, and the tastes are of cherry, raspberries, and earth. We described it in our notes as “somehow light yet weighty.” Velvety tannins. This is a perfect marriage of French and California styles – France for the earth and structure and California for the fruit. House. $14

Friday, November 7, 2008

Amazon Does Wine

Just one issue ago (Nov. 15, 2008) Wine Spectator magazine carried a full-page article about Amazon soon getting into the wine business. Yesterday, in an Amazon shipment we received, was a brochure for a new “Amazon” wine club (actually from a company called 4 Seasons).

There are many such wine clubs around – offering a mixed “surprise” case of wine every few months. We have a wine-savvy friend who participated in one of the early clubs for years, and mostly enjoyed the wines. These clubs can be tempting, as a way to build a wine education without too much effort. The Wall St. Journal is currently heavily promoting such a club.

Personally, we aren’t all that impressed, as every time we research the wines offered in the introductory shipment, they consist of unknown labels. We feel we’d rather grab a dozen new wines from the shelves of our local retailer that we might have a clue about, rather than a dozen unknowns. The per-bottle prices seem similar between the wine clubs and “affordable” retail wines – roughly $10-15 per bottle.

But as the Wine Spectator article noted, Amazon is “the 800-pound gorilla,” and as such could bring huge resources to mail-order wine sales. Our guess is the new Amazon wine club is a way to test the waters with current Amazon customers. We know a fair amount about direct-mail promotion and marketing, and there are very specific conversion rates that equate to “success” in a direct-mail campaign, whereupon a company might continue with a roll-out of a new product or service.

If you’re interested is seeing what Amazon is offering, go to this site.

Treasures from a recent wine-tasting vacation

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ridge Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill 2002 – California

After seemingly years of campaigning, the election’s finally over. Whether your choice won or lost; now, the day after, when it’s finally sunk in; tonight will be a night for a comfort wine. Our suggestion:

Ridge Petite Sirah 2002
This opens with a powerful nose of dried blackberries, cherries, and peat – almost like a single-malt scotch (in a very good way). The tastes are deep and rich of dried blackberries and black cherries, as well as some nice spice. It has some sharp tannins, and the label suggests bottle aging for up to 15 years. We believe it. Yes. About $35 (only available from Ridge’s mailing list program).

Curl up by a fireplace, grab a good book, turn off the TV, savor the wine. The world will be different in the days ahead, but they will come and go as they always have. Enjoy your wines and meals with friends and family every day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Book Review: Robert Mondavi – Harvests of Joy (Harcourt, 1998)

We were first exposed to Mondavi wines in the 1970s, when the winery was new and cutting edge. Robert Mondavi was probably the best known “name” in California wine, and certainly in Napa. (OK, so maybe more Americans actually knew Gallo better as a name, but we’re thinking real wine drinkers here.)

Robert Mondavi’s personal story is interesting, and the book is a good look into the wine industry before it became big business. But, sadly, this book is so poorly written that you want to rush through it to get to the meat of the story instead of savoring the nuances as you go along.

Robert Mondavi alludes just once to a writer who assisted him in this work – one wishes that either that writer or the book’s editor at Harcourt would have made a stronger effort to bring the quality of the writing to the level of the quality of the wines Mondavi was producing.

Mondavi Winery was a true innovator in Napa, championing Cabernet Sauvignon, and creating what would turn into one of today’s success stories – Sauvignon Blanc. Mondavi had the marketing wisdom to call it Fume Blanc, and the wine’s distinctive differences from the French white Bordeaux style made it one of Mondavi’s signature wines.

Today, the winery with its Mission architecture and surrounding vineyards still stands as a Napa Valley icon, but the winery is now owned by Constellation Brands, and many of the “Robert Mondavi” wines at the lower end of the spectrum taste like industrial stuff from a factory. (True, the Mondavi Private Reserve Cabernet is still highly sought, and of estimable quality.) Harvests of Joy ends before Mondavi lost the company to a big conglomerate, but reveals the lead-up to that event.

Robert Mondavi died less than a year ago, and it pains us that such an incredible winemaker and inspiration could have produced such a pedestrian work. We never met Robert, so maybe his words in Harvests of Joy truly reflect his personality. But if the intent of a writer is to entertain, illuminate, entrance, and inform his or her reader, this book only serves well in the last sense. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in the history of the Napa wine culture (and how it became the Disneyland tourism dynamic it is today), this is well worth a quick read.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

French Presidential Burgers

The BBC is showing a video of a French take on burgers, based on the two U.S. presidential candidates. Our question, what wines go best with each burger?

“US presidential burgers are on the menu at an upmarket Parisian hotel named after the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought alongside George Washington in the American Revolution.

While Americans are fans of French Fries, the French can now chose between the two presidential candidates.

Barack Obama fans go for the O'Burger, a Hawaiian-style sandwich - with shrimps, pineapples, curry and herbs. It pays tribute to the island state where the Democratic candidate spent most of his youth.

But fans of red-meat Republican candidate John McCain opt for the Elephant Burger. It featuring southwest-style ingredients popular in his home state of Arizona, including guacamole, mildly spicy salsa and grilled lamb.”

Our wine choice would be a Beaujolais Nouveau to accompany the McCain burger, and a Loire Chenin Blanc to go with the Obama burger – French wines with French food. But since the candidates are American, how about these two American wines instead: McCain - Bogel Petite Sirah; Obama - Grgich Hills Sauvignon Blanc.

No vegetarian onion burgers for these candidates.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Carlos Basso Vendimia Tardia 2005, Mendoza – Argentina

I don’t think we’ve ever had such a divergence of opinion about a wine. This should serve as a perfect example that the writers and tasters in Wine Spectator, or John and Dorothy from the Wall St. Journal, or Lettie Teague from Food & Wine, are all human, with human opinions and personal tastes. Francesca thought this sweet dessert wine was full of apricot and honey; Ken thought it tasted like mouthwash or cough syrup. The nose is of grapes and honey and peaches. Equal parts Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Viognier, it’s decidedly sweet, with only the barest hint of acidity on the finish. Ken compares most dessert wines to Hungarian Tokaji (“the wine of Kings and the King of wines”), and this comes up incredibly lacking. We suggest you make your own opinions on this one. For Francesca a Yes; for Ken a No. $16 (500ml bottle).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cathedral Ridge 2007 Riesling – Oregon

Cathedral Ridge is a medium-sized winery in Hood River, Oregon. It has a modern tasting room and a good selection of wines to taste at no charge. This is simply a wonderful wine. Floral notes and roses on the nose. Tastes like a fresh honeydew melon. It’s a subtle, almost sensuous wine. The finish lingers and then softly fades away. Yes (House if it were widely available at retail.) $15

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bolla Bardolino 2005 – Italy

This is the Italian equivalent of a cheap Beaujolais, or of American box wine. As light and watery as an inexpensive Chianti – there’s not much of anything here. If you feel you just have to sample a little of everything, or if you love vapid light wines, then give this a try. It’s not undrinkable, we just wonder why anyone would bother. No. $8 on sale, usually $10.

Friday, October 17, 2008

V. Sattui White Zinfandel 2006 – California

V. Sattui is the ultimate height of Industrial Wine Tourism in Napa. A huge tasting room, tour busses in the parking lot, a giant cheese and gift shop, picnic tables on the lawn. Although we had enjoyed Sattui wines in the past, we needed to get out of this DisneyWine experience as soon as possible. We quickly bought a known-reliable White Zin to take with us to lunch (at Jack London State Park, not at SattuiLand). Nose is (surprisingly for a white Zin) distinctly of melon. The tastes are peaches, strawberries, a tiny bit of sweetness, and a tiny bit of acid. This is totally a picnic sipper, and well done. Yes. About $11-12

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wines for Comfort in the (Financial) Storm

It’s coming up toward the season for holiday dinners, sharing wines, and watching your portfolio’s meltdown. To help you make it through the financial storm, especially at this time of year, we present our suggestions for the best Financial Comfort Wines. These are wines that are soft and soothing, yet are also affordable (especially affordable). They have some depth to them, much more so than light, fruity, summer sipping wines. All are readily available and under $10 (either regular retail or so frequently on sale that you shouldn’t have any problem finding them for less than $10). Even an inexpensive wine can make you feel rich, or at least happy. (We have previously reviewed many of these wines – see our archives for specific reviews.)

Columbia Crest Syrah – Washington
Fruity, smoky, goes down easy.

Ravenswood Zinfandel – California
Full, dark, spicy, and fruity.

Red Diamond Syrah – Washington
Plums, black cherries, depth.

Bernard Griffin Cabernet-Merlot – Washington
Filling to go with winter stews and chilis.

B&G Vouvray – France
A white with weight, but lots of character.

Columbia Crest Pinot Grigio – Washington
Fresh, yet depth to match with food.

A-Z Pinot Gris – Oregon
Smooth, easy drinking, but firm structure.

Cristalino Rose Cava – Spain
Not big, not serious, just fun.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay – Washington

To show how even less-expensive wines can change between vintage years, here are our observations of the 2005 and 2006 versions of this wine. We tasted these wines separately (several months apart), and wrote the second review without referring to our notes regarding the previous vintage.

2005: Nose of citrus and baked apple. The taste has a “little” everything – a little citrus, a little butter, a little oak. It’s too “white wine” without any good, distinctive flavor or character. Maybe/No. $10 on sale, usually about $14.

2006: Nose of apples and tangerine. Tastes of apple and a surprising amount of “buttery oak” for an inexpensive Washington Chard. There’s also a bit of spice going on in the flavors. A Yes for Francesca; Maybe for Ken (probably because of the oak). Same price as the 2005.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Our Favorite Cookbooks, Part II: Francesca’s Favorites

As usual I have waited until the last minute to write my “5 favorite cookbooks” article (Ken writes with ease and in such an interesting, creative way . . . not me, i have a tendency to try too hard with my limited writing skills and I’m too wordy), but since today I need to pick my “Wednesday night dinner” choices, this is perfect timing.

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook
When Ken and I first started our romance together, I was a strict vegetarian (salmon once a year on my birthday) and he was still eating meat & chicken, supplementing with his love of fish & pastas. Our eating habits soon changed . . . I started eating more fish and he stopped eating meats. Christmas morning at my parents a few years ago, one of the presents to my mom was this cookbook. Ken and I immediately snatched it from her and began to look inside like two little kids. This cookbook offers a variety of creative main dishes, breakfast & brunch ideas, soups, pastas, casseroles, stir-fries, salads, and condiments. Accompanying this storybook of vegetarian cooking is an array of beautiful pictures to feast upon.

Vegetarian Planet
“350 big-flavor recipes for out-of-this-world food every day” . . . filled with little tidbits about some of the more unknown, hard to find, obscure ingredients.

Horn Of The Moon Cookbook
I happened upon this cookbook when planning a self-catering-accommodation vacation to Vermont to enjoy the autumn colors. In addition, we have a border collie whose name is “Moondoggie” and I seem to gravitate to anything with the word “moon” in it. Nonetheless, this is a wonderful little cookbook. The recipes (which come from the restaurant of the same name in Montpelier, Vermont) are quite simple using basic ingredients, yet fun and inventive.

Café Paradiso Seasons
Each chapter is devoted to a particular season – late spring, summer, autumn, winter, and early spring (with a chapter on outdoor cooking as well). At the beginning of each section is a list of the fruits & vegetables grown during that time of year. The pictures are deliciously enticing, the preparation instructions are incredibly vague, but the end results are very tasty and I love challenging my experience in the kitchen.

Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers
We have several Moosewood restaurant cookbooks, and this one is definitely my favorite. Excellent every day recipes for a wholesome, well-balanced diet . . . down-to-earth cooking fun.

(See Part I, Ken's favorite cookbooks, on this previous entry.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Snoqualmie Riesling 2006 – Washington

Lots of nice floral nuances on the nose. Tastes of honey, with some definite sweetness and a touch (not enough) of acid. A tangerine and pineapple aftertaste. Ken Maybe, Francesca Yes. $8

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Buyer Beware: Grape Trickery at Beringer, BV, Redwood Creek, Mark West

We used to claim that some of the best affordable Pinot Noirs came from big producers such as Beringer. But the Beringer Pinot we loved was from California. Then Beringer began sourcing grapes from France, and later from Italy. We liked those wines less (France) and a lot less (Italy). So we sorta gave up on Beringer Pinot.

Last night, we opened a Redwood Creek Pinot we were familiar with and it was completely different from our previous bottles. What happened, again, is that the winery stopped sourcing grapes from France and it’s now Italian. A similar experience happened with a BV Pinot a few months ago.

BV is now owned by Diageo; Beringer by Beringer Blass; Redwood Creek by Gallo; and Mark West by Constellation. (At least they were the last time we looked. Huge beverage companies trade wineries like commodities nowadays.) All are just little parts of big wine conglomerates, and the factory wines they are producing more-and-more taste like it.

In our opinion, if a winery is going to completely change the source of its grapes, it needs to produce a completely different label highlighting that fact. As it is, maybe the less-knowledgeable (or rushed) consumer will be fooled and just buy a bottle of cheap Pinot and be satisfied enough to buy it again. But our guess is that the quality and flavor fluctuations will turn off many customers – like it has for us.

We don’t want to scrutinize every label, especially of a wine we’ve had before and enjoyed. So guess what, Beringer, BV, Redwood Creek? We’re just gonna buy someone else’s wine next time. Guess this just gives us a chance to try other new and potentially interesting wines.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Our Favorite Cookbooks

Not too long ago, we got to discussing our favorite cookbooks. As much as we invent and create, we still enjoy collecting and using cookbooks. We even have our Wednesday Night Dinners, where we randomly choose a recipe from one of our cookbooks. (Of course, we always seem to add, subtract, spice differently, or adapt almost any recipe we try. Truly, as I type this, Francesca is making a zucchini risotto that was originally a carrot risotto in the cookbook.)

Ken’s Favorites
(Next week, look for Francesca’s reviews of her favorite cookbooks.)

The Complete Asian Cookbook
If you want just one cookbook covering just about everything Asian – Thai, Japanese, Burmese, Indian, you name it – this should be on your shelf. Authentic recipes, often requiring hard-to-find Asian ingredients that may not be available outside larger cities. Nonetheless, a great book.

Great Dinners from Life
Life magazine used to run a feature on Great Dinners, where the entire meal was presented – appetizer, soup, main, dessert, as appropriate. The recipes were compiled into this book in 1969. I can’t think of another cookbook that has so many successful recipes. Plus, the photos are gorgeous and inspiring.

Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers
The Moosewood cooperative has been running a successful restaurant for decades, and producing cookbooks for nearly as long. The food is mostly vegetarian, but the newer cookbooks (such as this) include some fish and seafood recipes. We own several Moosewood cookbooks, but this is my favorite.

Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery
Old. This 12-volume series was published in 1966, and despite its age is still an incredible reference. If you want to know the history of asparagus, or the basics of how to make a hollandaise sauce, this is great. Probably only available in used book stores or thrift shops.

Horn of the Moon Cookbook
This was a cookbook I resisted actually liking. I found several recipes that sounded good, but they always seemed full of Tofu or earth-hugger grains; or the spicing seemed just too wimpy. Well, consider myself chastised. As we always do in the kitchen, we modify a lot, but the recipes in Horn of the Moon have consistently been excellent.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Chipotle Mayonnaise Recipe & Bogle Petite Sirah

Carvers Restaurant in Durango, Colorado, is a wonderful casual restaurant and brew pub that serves (among other dishes) great sandwiches and burgers with a signature Chipotle Mayonnaise. Chipotles are smoked Jalapeño peppers, and usually sold in cans in a tomato-like Adobo sauce. (On a totally unrelated note, a friend of ours in Durango always gets strange looks from the Carvers waitresses when he orders a veggie burger with bacon.) Being friends with the owners, we were able to coax from them the Chipotle Mayonnaise recipe. Despite the fact that recipes can’t be copyrighted, we wouldn’t want to give away the exact Carvers recipe, so here’s our slightly modified version. (Besides, the original recipe calls for ingredients to make gallons of the stuff.)

  • Chipotles in adobo sauce chopped very fine (2-3 chiles from a 6-oz can – the rest can be successfully frozen for later use)
  • Tablespoon fresh crushed Garlic
  • Tablespoon chopped fresh Cilantro
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • Tablespoon Honey
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • (Alternately, all ingredients can be added to a food processor to make this Chipotle base mix.)
  • Mix Chipotle mix with your favorite Mayonnaise – start with maybe a cup of Mayonnaise for the above amount of Chipotle base mix.
  • Add more or less Mayo depending on your heat tolerance and the strength of the Chipotles.

This is wonderful with any kind of sandwiches, burgers, nachos, other Mexican dishes, and even seafood cocktails. If you’re ever in Durango, stop by Carvers and try the original. The restaurant also has the best craft-brewed beers in the region. (Carvers was the second micro brewery in the state, opening just a few months after New Belgium, of Fat Tire fame.)

The most recent time we used Chipotle Mayonnaise was with some veggie/mushroom/cheese burgers. We accompanied it with....
Bogle Petite Sirah 2005 – California
We’d forgotten how much we liked this wine, and we hadn’t re-tasted it since we started writing these wine notes. Nose of dark cherry and pepper. Smooth, integrated tastes of boysenberry and spice. Just enough tannins to give the wine some weight. Very much along the stylistic lines of the Concannon we reviewed (and especially liked) previously. This, too, has that almost Zinfandel tone to it. House. $12

Friday, September 26, 2008

Scallop & Onion Stew

We’re back from a good trip to Scotland, and although we didn’t return with any Scottish wine, we did have one of the best dinners of our lives (Three Chimneys restaurant on the isle of Skye), had a couple of interesting whiskey tastings, and enjoyed randomly buying inexpensive wines from various market shelves. We also brought back a few books, including a Scottish fish cookbook.
Last night, we adapted a scallop and onion stew from the cookbook.

  • Quarter large scallops, or leave tiny bay scallops whole
  • Simmer in a little water and white wine until done
  • In a separate pan, sauté finely chopped onion in butter until soft (not brown)
  • Add a tablespoon of flour to the onions when done, and then add the scallop liquid
  • Boil for a few minutes, then add scallops, about a quarter cup of cream, and a dash of Dijon mustard
  • Heat (but don’t boil) the stew, and transfer to individual baking/serving casseroles
  • Top each casserole with a mix of bread crumbs and grated Scottish cheddar
  • Broil for a minute or two, just until the top begins to slightly brown and the cheese melts
  • Serve with mashed potatoes (we used non-mashing red potatoes from our garden and they were great)
We paired this with a Mayacamas Sauvignon Blanc we previously reviewed, and it was an excellent match.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


We’re off to Scotland for the next 3 weeks. Visiting the Highlands and Islands; driving on the other side of the road; sampling a wee dram of Whiskey here and there. We are planning to get away from technology as much as possible, so we’re NOT taking a computer and don’t plan on any posting. Also, that means any comments to this blog won’t be moderated until we return. See you all again in late September.

For your enjoyment until then, here are a few of our totally biased “best of” entries from the past year:

Our House Wine List
Famous Fish Tacos
Wine Tasting Travel Tips
French Onion Soup
Teriyaki Salmon with Mushroom Risotto

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cambria Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2006 – California

Nose of ripe apples. Tastes definitely along the California profile, but some earthy notes. Nutty, crab apple. Some nice acidity, but not the minerals of a French Chard. And definitely some of that California buttery oak, but not overwhelming. Limited production, you probably won’t find it at retail (but available to the mailing list and on the website). Yes. $22

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

B.R. Cohn Woody White NV – California

This is a wild child. It opens with a nose of... honeysuckle? key lime? The tastes are grapefruit, floral, and maybe some mango. It somehow has an overall “tropical” feel to it, and is crisp and full (but not creamy) at the same time. Very unusual, and we like unusual. It tastes like the bastard love child of a Sauvignon Blanc and a Roussanne/Marsanne, although the label does not indicate what grapes are used. We try to evaluate wines without input from the winemaker, but will send them a note to see what this is made of. House (depending on availability)/Yes. $15

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

French Hill Petite Sirah 2005 – California

We discovered French Hill – in the Sierra Foothills of California – several years ago on a winter trip to Yosemite. We had a fine Cabernet Sauvignon and a wonderful Zinfandel Port which are no longer made. Yet the wines we found on this trip were still great. This opens with a full, deep nose of mixed berries and black pepper. Tastes are of a mixed bowl of berries, black pepper, smoke, and boysenberry. It’s rich and chewy, and with very dry tannins. This would be a great pizza wine. Yes. $28

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Momokawa Silver Junmai Ginjo Sake

“Typical” sake tastes and nose. An alcoholy rice and honey profile. This particular sake has bits of baked apple and mushroom notes. Francesca called it “vodka with flavor.” We enjoy sake both cold and warm. We tried this cold, as the brewer recommended. A Maybe cold (not nearly as good cold as an unfiltered sake such as Pearl). Warm, it’s nice, but just another sake. About $10

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cartlidge & Browne Pinot Noir 2006 – California

Wonderful nose of cherry and chocolate. Tastes of cherry, maybe a little plum, pomegranate, and chocolate (the label says “anise” and we could maybe find that). Very smooth, with a soft finish. Yet as it spends time open, it weirdly develops some nice acidity on the finish. Yes. $14

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

B.R. Cohn Roadster Red Non-Vintage – California

Bruce Cohn is the long-time manager of the Doobie Brothers, and his winery tasting room is filled with musical memorabilia. His wines aren’t too bad, either. The tasting room was bright and lively, and the server knowledgeable. We generally shy away from inexpensive red blends, but enjoyed this a lot. It opens with a nose of blackberry, cherry, and spice. The tastes are smooth, with nice acidity and mild tannins. The primary flavors are roasted plum and dark blackberry. Cohn is into restoring old automobiles, thus the wine’s name. Yes. $15

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kestrel Lady In Red Non Vintage – Washington

Friends brought this over for dinner, having picked it up at Costco (which has been known to have some nice wines). To us, it’s just another red wine. Better than the “standard” of cheap reds (Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck - aka “2 Buck Junk”), but still just a red wine nonetheless. This has been well-rated by Wine Spectator, but for us, it’s a Maybe at best. (We originally didn’t know what our friends paid, but having found out it’s $21 retail, we’d really not bother.)

This is a good time for a digression about personal tastes. We read the popular wine press, and often agree with many of the writers – especially Matt Kramer in Wine Spectator and John Brecher & Dorothy Gaiter of the Wall St. Journal. All writers have personal favorites, and despite trying to be impartial in their reviews, their own upbringing and taste preferences can (and do) color their recommendations. Remember that applies to us, too. Another Wine Spectator writer, James Suckling, seems to be on a mission to deify all Italian wines, while we seldom find anything beyond ordinary in almost all Italian wines, no matter the price. Our suggestion, of course, is to taste a lot of wines, and read a lot of wine writers and their reviews. Once you can say, as we did above, that you agree with a taster’s tastes, then you can begin to rely more on their recommendations.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir 2005 – France

Dry, French, and minerally. A little rustic. (You know, we just used that word – one we’ve seen in respected wine magazines – for the first time. We actually don’t have the faintest idea what it really means, but it somehow seems right for this wine. We think of maybe barnwood and hayfields.) A bit of plum on the nose. Similar to the Redwood Creek French/California Pinot we previously reviewed, but with a bit less fruitiness. Yes/Maybe. $10 on sale, about $13 retail.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sauvignon Blanc & Steamed Salmon

A friend mentioned recently that we haven’t been discussing food and cooking as much as we should. So... we’ve been playing with a new bamboo steamer. Food comes out crisp and moist (is that a contradiction?). The other night we put salmon (with a little mild teriyaki sauce) on one tray of the steamer, and some sliced parsnips on the other. The salmon was incredibly moist and tender, and the vegetables retained their flavor and texture and went well with the teriyaki. Japanese rice with green onions on the side.

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2006 – New Zealand
If you’ve ever had a “typical” New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you know the wine’s basic profile – this Nobilo could be the prototypical one. The nose is zingy, citrusy, with some grass and dried flowers. Somewhere underneath there is a hint of more depth with olive oil and herbs. (We make it sound like the nose is more dynamic than the taste. Remember that our sense of smell has a huge impact on our taste buds.) Drinking the wine, it has a clean grassiness and tastes of grapefruit and lemon, with bright acids and a tart finish. This and Brancott are our two favorite inexpensive New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. House. About $12.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A-Z Pinot Gris 2006 – Oregon

This is a “halfway” Pinot Grigio. It’s not the Junior Chardonnay style, but neither is it dry and crisp. Floral and pear on the nose. Tastes more toward the crisp style (our preference), with notes of dried pears and ripe apples. Yes. $10

[Update: As previously mentioned, if we find a wine rated elsewhere, we will note those ratings but only after we write our reviews. This received an 89 from Wine Spectator.]

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Grgich Hills Fume Blanc 2006 – California

We were rather unimpressed with Grgich – a winery we’d heard so many positive reviews about, and whose Zinfandels we were just dying to try. The tasting room experience was unimpressive, and the Zins were just rather common (especially given our stated love of big, fruity Zins such as Turley or Ridge). When we visited, we liked this Sauvignon Blanc enough to buy a bottle, but when we tried it at home we were overwhelmed. We’ve said before that the tasting-room experience can color your impression of a wine, and this is a perfect example. This Grgich Sauvignon Blanc is near perfect. Nose of pineapple, wet grass, and straw. The tastes are a smooth grassiness (rather than the bright, tight grass of a typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc), with good acid and fruit balance. There’s a tiny bit of oak/spice, and tastes of pineapple and melon. This wine could be an aperitif or a dinner wine equally well. Truly exceptional. House/Yes (not a full House only because of the price). $28

[Update: As previously mentioned, if we find a wine rated elsewhere, we will note those ratings – but only after we write our reviews. This received a 90 from Wine Spectator.]

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rayun Syrah 2006 – Chile

Nice. A good touch of cedar on the nose. Tastes of cedar, pepper, and mint; dark but not too dark. Dry and just the right amount of tannins. Very smooth and well integrated for an inexpensive Syrah. House/Yes. $13

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mayacamas Sauvignon Blanc 2006 – California

Mayacamas is known for big, age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and (at least in the past) some monster Zinfandels. The winery is old (parts built in the 1860s), most of the winemaking tasks are still done by hand, and even some of the huge oak casks are from the late 1800s. On this trip to the tasting room (appointments necessary; and leave a trail of breadcrumbs to follow on the twisting, convoluted drive) we were intrigued with the Sauvignon Blanc. This is a big, rich style (more than 15% alcohol) – you’ll never confuse this with a New Zealand Sauvignon or most California ones. It opens with a huge apple and floral nose. The tastes are smooth, rich, and integrated. This, to us, is a very French white Bordeaux style. It has a long, delayed finish. It could easily be confused with a lightly oaked Chardonnay. This is the type of wine, and the type of winery, we want to support. Wines are still made rather like they were half a centaury ago – a good thing. Even if we weren’t in love with every particular Mayacamas wine, their traditional winemaking skill and care shine thorough. Yes. $30

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lost River Cedarosa 2005 – Washington

This Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend has a wonderful deep cherry nose. Rich character, earthy, with a “dark” taste. Spiciness and pepper on the finish. Very smooth and integrated. Yes. About $15.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – Washington

A curious wine. When we like a wine from a winery we don’t know much about, we usually try other wines from them also. We really like Red Diamond’s Syrah, so decided to try this Cabernet Sauvignon. This has a nice, smoky, fruity nose. But then the tastes come on very soft, with some plum notes, almost like a Merlot, and it finishes with a bit of dry tannins. To test our taste buds, right after this bottle we opened a Columbia Crest Merlot-Cabernet, and the two wines tasted darn near identical. Maybe. $8 on sale, usually 12.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tasting Room Notes

Tasting Room Wines & Tasting Notes
Wines sampled in winery tasting rooms always taste different than when you have them at home. The wines are usually at a different temperature than your preference (whites, especially, are generally poured a bit warmer than most folks normally drink them); the occasion is special; and you’re tasting several different wine styles over a very short period of time (reds and whites, sweet and dry, etc.). Thus, we generally try to only review wines we’ve purchased and then evaluated at home. Look for our Tasting Room Notes icon on these reviews, and on posts regarding wine tasting and winery visits.