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.