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.