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Archive for the ‘Chardonnay’ Category

I was excited to re-try the Tasmanian wines I had lugged back. DGS was a cozy affair – about a dozen people, just enough to squeeze around the dining table. For food, we prepared cheese and chocolate fondue, along with chicken and steak, tons of fruits, bread, and mum-made walnut brownies. Very nice (and affordable) spread, if I say so myself. :)

We kicked off the evening with the bright and refreshing Riesling from Stefano Lubiana, the Stefano Lubiana Alfresco Riesling 2008. Everyone really enjoyed the slight tinge of sweetness and the fizz on their tongues. Wonderful way to get the taste buds alive.

We opened the Bay of Fires Chardonnay 2008 next. In comparison to the Riesling, this was heavy, but with enough acidity to make it lively and not dumb. Now this is a nicely balanced Chardonnay – just a touch of butter and lemon.

We moved on to the Moorilla Estate Praxis Pinot Noir 2008 from Hobart next. Now this one had a lovely nose – fruity, with some earth, just the way I like my Pinots. It had a nice solid body too, though still smooth.

Our next wine, the Pipers Brook Tamar 2004, elicited mixed responses. Everyone fervently agreed that it did smell like ketchup, but some, like RX, was not a fan. Where’s the fries, she asked.

We then went back to Stefano Lubiana, for the Stefano Lubiana Merlot 2006. Now, I remember that it wasn’t my favorite wine from the trip; we just felt like we had to buy at least two bottles from that winery, since we were getting Lubiana to help us ship a case of wine back to Singapore. Nonetheless, it was a solid wine, and RX expressed her enthusiasm for it.

At this point, people were starting to flag a little from the hearty food and wine. So I broke out the Delamere Blanc de Blanc 2004, a beautifully made sparkling that had just the right touch of yeast, bubbles, and sweetness. Loved it!

We sat around chatting and laughing for a while more, about all things irreverent, and then I decided to open another bottle, the Frogmore Creek Ruby Pinot Noir Port NV. I loved this port. The Frogmore Creek tasting was our last winery tasting, and I had resolved not to buy any more. However, the port was so delicious I couldn’t help it. So it was a delight to drink it again, and a bonus when RX decided she had had enough and gave me the rest of her glass. :)

Fun times, great wines. I didn’t check, but I do hope that everyone went away with similarly favorable impressions of Tasmanian wines.

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From the WSJ:

The Top Wine Bargains of 2007
December 21, 2007; Page W1

Just because something is inexpensive doesn’t make it a good deal. In our real lives, we all know that. That beef on sale might be fatty, that cheap golf ball might not fly well and that bargain-priced toy might be full of lead. It’s the same thing with wine. Many of the low-priced wines on shelves these days aren’t good values at any price because they aren’t pleasing. They’re made in industrial quantities from watery grapes and taste more like some sugar-alcohol concoction than wine. This is especially true of the most-popular varietals, the hot sellers such as Merlot and Chardonnay. In a tasting early this year of American Chardonnay under $20, for instance, only six of almost 70 wines rated Good or better. That’s nuts.

At the same time, though, there have never been as many genuinely good wines available at low prices. The trick, in most cases, is to look beyond the usual suspects. The world right now is awash in wine as country after country, from Austria to Uruguay, improves its winemaking and seeks to compete in the international marketplace.

We went back over our blind tastings for 2007 to see how many wines that cost $10.99 or less rated Very Good or better. There were nine. As we looked them over, we were reminded again how important it is to search for bargains in unexpected places in the wine store. Here are those nine wines.

It would not be a good idea to look for these specific labels at this point because we wrote about them some time ago, some really early in the year. What we’ve tried to do is use them as examples to point you to larger categories that might be useful to keep in mind as you look for bargains in the coming year. In one case, as you’ll see, the point is that, regardless of what we think, there are always exceptions. Also, because this list is based on our blind tastings during 2007, some of today’s great bargains — Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, which we wrote about in 2006, for instance — aren’t included. In addition, we found in a tasting that Malbec from Argentina continues to be a great deal overall; three of our eight favorites cost less than $10, though none rated Very Good or higher, so they don’t appear on this list. Having already concluded a couple of tastings for January columns, we can assure you this list will be different next year.

Powers Winery Muscat Canelli (Columbia Valley) 2006 ($10.33) and Maddalena Vineyards Muscat Canelli (Paso Robles) 2004 ($10.50). In general, sweet wines tend to be underpriced because they’re not very popular. Muscat Canelli is a lovely, fresh, light, sweet wine that’s perfect for guests after a big meal. In our tasting, we generally found the wines beautifully made and as charming as a smile. Especially considering the low prices, you really should think about taking a gamble on a Muscat Canelli even if you’re sure you don’t like sweet wines.

Torres de Anguix “Barrica” Ribera Del Duero 2003 ($9.99). If you are looking for bargains — well-made, interesting wines at good prices — you need to spend some time in the Spain aisle of your wine store, and this is just one example. This was one of the most outrageous bargains of the year. We wrote that it was “earthy and soulful, with fine structure and medium weight. Highly drinkable and interesting and just about bursting with blueberry-like fruit.” Ribera Del Duero is available at all price points, but we found that it was a good value up and down the ladder and is definitely a wine to look for.

Bodegas Muga Rosé (Rioja) 2006 ($10.99), Toad Hollow Cellars “Eye of the Toad” Dry Pinot Noir Rosé (Sonoma County) 2006 ($10.99), Château d’Oupia Rosé (Minervois) 2006 ($10.95). Rosé is suddenly very popular, which is both good news and bad news. The bad news, we found in a tasting, is that some wineries are trying to take advantage of its popularity by selling sweet, simple and cynical rosé — exactly the kind of stuff that turned people off to rosé in the first place and could kill this nascent trend. The good news is that there are still quite a few excellent, tasty, dry rosés on shelves from all over the world. These three are from Spain, France and the U.S. American vintners have come a very long way in rosé in a short time and Spain’s rosés have impressed us for some time, but our blind tasting showed that the French still have a very special touch with rosé and, in a hurry or a jam, that’s where we’d look for a lively, dry rosé.

Geyser Peak Winery Sauvignon Blanc (California) 2006 ($7.99). This is a golden age for Sauvignon Blanc, with excellent examples coming from just about everywhere, from New Zealand to Chile to South Africa. With all of the competition, it’s no surprise that there are some bargains to be had. We think American Sauvignon Blanc has found a great middle ground, with some of the weight of Sancerre and some of the mouth-popping liveliness of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. As we wrote about the Geyser Peak, one of our long-time favorites, it “tastes true” — and that is high praise for any wine.

Georges Duboeuf Juliénas 2005 ($10.99). Whenever we talk about bargain wines, we always note that there are some classics, and our best examples are always Beaujolais and Muscadet from France. We didn’t conduct a tasting of Muscadet this year, but we did try a large sampling of 2005 Beaujolais from the 10 villages. We found the wines delightful and excellent bargains, but none more so than this Juliénas from Duboeuf, which we described as a “big, earthy wine that could stand up to a steak. Chewy and complete. Dignified and serious, yet with lively fruit at the core.” Not bad for $10.99. In the coming year, we would urge you to look for 2006 Beaujolais from the 10 villages: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Regnié and Saint-Amour. These are consistently some of the most effortlessly charming wines on shelves.

Penfolds Wines “Koonunga Hill” Shiraz (South Eastern Australia) 2004 ($9.99). This is the exception. Over the past several years, we have been disappointed with Australian Shiraz under $20. In our tasting this year, we found that the vast majority of the wines continued to be simple, sweet and lacking charm. But, on the plus side, the best of the under-$20 wines were better than in past years, and this was the most notable example, a wine that we described as “dark and rich, with real depth. Serious wine, with good spices.” We certainly hope we find more Shiraz like this in the future.

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Every Friday, I look forward to reading the WSJ with much anticipation, waiting to see what Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher have to recommend in their latest wine article.

As usual, I wasn’t disappointed. This Friday’s article presents invaluable suggestions on everyday wines to drink – and to store in your wine fridge. Invaluable because as I’ve been cooking and consequently digging into my wine fridge for that pairing, I’ve finished most of my cheaper bottles and am now left with the dearer ones that I can’t really justify drinking alone on a weekday night.

With each new case, we’d be more and more adventurous. Our most important advice is to try new things and trust your own taste. Stock types of wine that you like, but force yourself to get out of your comfort zone. You’ll find many delicious surprises, wines that will be new friends to greet you at home, wines that make you smile. Here is a case of wines that would make us smile, that we know would pair with anything we might cook for dinner tonight. They are listed from white to red.

• Muscadet from France. It’s the classic wine to have with fish — fun, easy to drink and inexpensive.

• Riesling Kabinett from Germany. This is a must-have with pork and veal, but also lovely to drink on its own.

• Alsatian white from France, probably Pinot Blanc or Gewürztraminer. If we’re calling in spicy Asian food, this would stand up to it. And it’s great with pork roast with herbs or pork with simmering apples, prunes and raisins.

• Inexpensive Chardonnay from the U.S. Most inexpensive Chardonnay these days is sweet, heavy and unpleasant, but there’s a reason Chardonnay is still America’s favorite wine. When it’s good, there are few wines as enjoyable and casual. When we were young, our house Chardonnay was Estancia. We bought it by the case and always had a bottle in the refrigerator when we had informal, happy food like quiche. Over the years, we’ve liked Beringer, Bogle, Cambria, Gallo of Sonoma, Hahn, R.H. Phillips and others as our house Chardonnay, but this is one you really need to decide for yourself. This can pair with anything from fried chicken to seafood dishes. If we saw a lower-priced Grüner Veltliner from Austria or Torrontés from Argentina, we might substitute one of those because they’re more delightful than Chardonnay to sip on their own, before dinner, but those are harder to find than Chardonnay.

• Better Chardonnay from the U.S. or, if there were a reliable one, a white Burgundy from France. Sometimes we make a special meal that needs a white of some stature, and this would fit the bill. We’d probably look for a Montagny, Rully or Saint-Véran from Burgundy, since we’ve had good luck with those. The American Chardonnay would probably be anything we hadn’t tried before because there’s always a new one out there and it’s fun to experiment. By having it in our drink-now cooler, we’d open it instead of waiting for a special occasion.

• Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Chile or South Africa, depending on how much we wanted to spend. Sauvignon Blanc is mouth-watering and hunger-inducing and there are so many good ones today from so many places. These pair with a variety of foods, including salads, hearty grilled vegetable dishes and seafood.

• Beaujolais from France. Inexpensive, good both chilled or warmer, perfect with just about any food from salmon to hamburgers — how could we not have a bottle around? We might simply have a Beaujolais-Villages, but we’d probably have a bottle from one of the villages (See related column).

• A red Rhône from France or a Portuguese red. We often eat comfort food, like meat loaf or macaroni and cheese, and comfort food requires comfort wine. We’d get a Portuguese red if we could find one — we love their earthiness and their low prices — but, if we couldn’t, we’d probably go with one of the lesser-known (and therefore lower-priced) Rhône wines, like Vacqueyras.

• Mid-range Bordeaux from France. If we were having steak or short ribs, we’d have to open a good Bordeaux. We might actually go to the bigger cellar for this and break out something with age, but if not, we’d want to have a bottle of Châteaux Gloria, Phélan-Ségur, Beychevelle, Gruaud-Larose or Pontet-Canet. There’s nothing magical about those five names except they’re wines we’ve enjoyed for decades, so they give us a smile.

• Pinot Noir from the U.S. We’d probably spend about $20 or so on a California or Oregon Pinot Noir to include in the cooler because, these days, there are few wines as reliably food-friendly and delicious. We also find that Pinot is especially fun to linger over, so we’d open it when we got home and sip it through dinner. Good ones always seem like several bottles as they change through the night, and they’re great with a wide variety of dishes from salmon to roast chicken to lamb.

• An informal red from Italy. We imagine many people, like us, eat lasagna, pizza and other casual Italian dishes pretty often, so we’d want to have a wine to pair with those. We might just go with Antinori’s delightful, inexpensive Santa Cristina, but perhaps we’d have a bottle of Barbera d’Alba or Dolcetto instead.

• Malbec from Argentina or Carmenère from Chile. We don’t often have game, but if we had anything that reminded us of game — a rich stew, or an herbed roast — these would be perfect. Malbec is far more widely available, but Carmenère is the kind of fun, different, often-inexpensive wine that reminds us that there are always new tastes out there to be discovered.

Remember: If you buy wine by the mixed case, you will usually get 10% to 20% off. And wines always taste better with a discount.

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This Memorial Day Weekend, I decided to take a trip to the nearby Michigan wineries – and then on to the not-so-nearby Canadian wineries…

Early Saturday morning, a group of eight of us from the Dead Grapes Society (DGS) made the 1.5 hour drive to St. Joseph, Michigan, where a whole belt of wineries is located. Our first stop was Tabor Hills, where we sampled over five glasses of wines each. Aza, with his sweet tooth, bypassed all the reds and dove straight into the demi-sweet wines and ice wines. He and Amelia quickly found that they didn’t like the vineyard’s rendition of Gerwerstraminer, which had spicy overtones. While he waxed lyrical over the $78 bottle of icewine that the manager Bob kindly let him try (it was noted down on the tasting sheet as “unavailable”), Amelia was taken with a bottle of semi-sweet Riesling Bob called the “romance wine” – evidently, everyone he’d recommended the wine to subsequently gotten married or engaged. I liked the ice wine tasting – in my notes, I’d written: “HONEY SUCKLE, HONEY, in the nose, body and finish. Beautiful.” I found the other whites – a couple of blends, the Riesling, and a Chardonnay pleasant-tasting but simple. They were all on the sweeter end of the scale, but then, the sweeter ones tend to sell better. I was disappointed with the reds that I tried – a Merlot, and a Cabernet Franc. Both wines were weak, watery, and flat in the finish.

Since it was noon (eastern time) at this point, we headed over to Tabor Hill’s restaurant for lunch. The restaurant is set on top of a hill and the tall elegant french windows offer a beautiful view of the green vines below. I could see why the vineyard is a favorite with the locals; it’s a relaxing and pleasant way to spend the weekend. I had grilled white fish washed down with a glass of Blanc de Blanc. The steady stream of bubbles from the light and semi-sweet sparkling wine nicely complemented the creamy fish. Quite a delicious combination actually.

Next, we drove around the corner to Round Barns, where we were treated to a long tasting list: 5 wine samples, 3 pis and/or brandy samples, a sampling of their famous grape vodka, four tastings from their still-in-barrel-wines-that-are-only-to-be-bottled-this-July, and two samplings of their own-brewed beer. Bruce was in high heavens over the grape vodka, so much so he was tempted to purchase a bottle ($39.95) right then and there, even though the manager told us that due to Michigan tax laws (a cool $20 per bottle), it was actually cheaper to buy it in Sam’s in Chicago. I had a glass of Cabernet that had a strong “steamed towel” nose – odd I know, but everyone else agreed with my declaration. Again, I wasn’t impressed by the red wine offerings – a Cabernet Sauvignon limited edition, a Merlot limited edition. Steve sampled a Pinot Noveau, which wasn’t actually on the list. That was a much livelier wine, bright and fruity, perfect for a light meat meal. The apricot brandy took me by surprise – its scent, and even mouthfeel reminded me of apricot-flavored hookah, and left a lingering spicy aftertaste. The cranberry pi was interesting – sort of a cross between a madeira (toasted nose) and a port, with a generous serving of cranberries. I enjoyed the yet-unbottled Pinot Noir that is still sitting in the barrel, served by the youthful-looking winemaker who began learning the art at the tender age of 6. The wine was still young, tasted a little rough on the edges and sourish, but evidently the vineyard thought it warranted the $36 price tag – $10 off if you pre-purchased it now, and then picked it up once it’s bottled in July. I think, my favorite Pinot Noirs still hail from Oregon, but Jonathan liked it enough to buy a bottle.

<b>Tabor Hill</b>

Lake Michigan Shore Barrel Select Chardonnay, $22.95
“Our 2003 vintage is one of our best efforts with this grape. Aged 18 months in French and American oak, this Chardonnay displays well-developed varietal character, great balance and a toasted, buttery finish.” –> It tasted very alcoholic; sour punch.

Lake Michigan Shore Dry Traminette, $13.95
“Made in a dry style, this wine is very much like a traditional Alsatian Gewurztraminer. It has a very fruity, complex bouquet and finishes slightly spicy. It will pair well with most foods.” –> I got a whiff of honeysuckle in the nose; body felt watery but also alcoholic.

Lake Michigan Shore Cabernet Franc 2004, $24.95
“The release of our 2004 vintage shows great varietal characteristics. this Cabernet has a luscious black cherry and berry nose with a soft pepper, chocolate and oak predominating the finish.” –> Smells: hay, farm, sweat; tuna mouthfeel, spicy; slightly bitter finish

Lake Michigan Share Merlot 2005, $31,95
“Our 2005 is one of the best in recent years. Deep color with a plum, dark chocolate and cherry nose. Big cherry, oak and tannin caress the palate with a smooth finish.”

Classic Demi-Sec, $9.45
“Our most consistent winner!!! Soft, slightly fruity and semi-dry… by far our most popular wine.”

Michigan Cherry, $10.45
“The closest thing to cherry pie in a bottle! Made from 100% Michigan Cherries, this wine is softly sweet with a spicy, yet tart finish.” –> Smells like a candy store; interesting nose, but REALLY not wine. Hooch??

Lake Michigan Shore Vidal Blanc Ice Wine 2005, $78
“Intense, vibrant fruit flavors and aromas, blanaced with fine acidity, caress the palate leaving a lasting smooth finish.” –> HONEY, consistently thick throughout the nose, body, finish.

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Buckley’s 2005 Chardonnay (Australia) $13 –Ghetto Hooch :|

The one good thing about that Chardonnay I tried last night – I didn’t pay $13 for it. I’d bought it at the Tasting Room on a whim; it was stacked by the checkout counter, and marked down to $8. What the hell, I thought, might as well get a cheap bottle to try on those stay-in and eat nights. After all, I can’t really afford delicious bottles every other day, and that would defeat the whole purpose of my trying to save money by staying in and cooking. Plus, I was curious to see whether my disdain for cheap chardonnay was misplaced. Maybe my palate hasn’t really grown all that sensitive; maybe I’ve just become a lot pickier, and with no good reason.

But I couldn’t help but be suspicious of the bottle when I tried to open it. The darn cork (plastic) wouldn’t give, and I actually chipped the glass bottle in my frustrated attempts. The wine, when it was finally open, had a bland sort of sweet aroma – none too distinctive, nor frankly, inspiring. It’s like that girl, whom, if you saw on the street, you’d describe as pleasant. Not hot, sexy, but not butt-ugly either. Erm, is that a good enough sensory description for you? The taste itself was pretty disappointing; the first sip was like a sharp punch to the stomach, and then nothing. Oomph…ok, now what? The label on the bottle had advertised the wine as having flavors of “kiwi, melon, peach,” but I got none of those; just one big vague sour-ish flavor. It only has 13.0% alcohol, but frankly it felt a lot more with its high acidity. I’d like to taste test it again though, if only just to see how it matches up to Yellow Tail, my de facto base standard for wines

Sniff: Sharp and sour

Sip: Insipid sweet scent

Eat: I had it with chicken cacciatore, but that was quite a lousy pairing. The peppery chicken would have been better served with a Piedmontese red.

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