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Archive for the ‘riesling’ 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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New York is actually the oldest wine region in the U.S., but is obviously shadowed by Napa. Nonetheless, New York native Jeff bravely decided to tackle wines from that state last night, going where most wine distributors in Chicago haven’t dared to tread – I know, because we have been asking around. He’d gotten most of the wines shipped back from a previous visit, and carried the rest back in his suitcase on other trips.

So it was that we held our DGS New York wines tasting at Jeff and Zhen’s Saturday night. For the most part, we tried established grape varietals, and didn’t taste native grapes such as the Concord and Seyval Blanc. There were around twenty people in attendance, including three new folks whom I think enjoyed themselves, and would hopefully be around in the future. And even though we tried to end earlier by starting at the much earlier time of 6pm, the tasting only concluded at midnight. Hehe.

We started the ball rolling with a couple of fun wines, a pear wine, Goose Watch Bartlett Pear $12. It was fun, with clear pear notes but not too cloyingly sweet on the palate.

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Next up was a strawberry wine, Baldwin Strawberry $16. Sadly, that was the only bottle that lay unfinished at the end, no mean feat considering we went through 12 bottles in total. It had a bold nose, big, ripe strawberry jam. Alas, it was sweet, waaaaaaaay too sweet, and most people had to cut it with a couple of ice cubes or water it down.

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The Viognier, Casa Larga Viognier $20, we were served next was almost a relief from the lingering sweetness. I say almost because it tasted a little too green and tight, maybe a result of an unfortunate contrast with the syrupy strawberry wine. It’s definitely not my favorite examples of viognier; I could name a dozen more that had showed a much better structure of the woodiness. Bruce and a couple others said it smelled musty. No matter, Aaron and Yeming found that they quite enjoyed the almost refreshing crispness of the wine.

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We got a bottle of Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling $24 next. Aaron and I both agreed that the wine showed a lot of potential in the nose and body… alas only to suddenly disappoint with a finish that plunged into nothingness.

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Happily, the next dry Riesling, Hermman Wiemer Dry Riesling $30, showed really beautifully. It was my favorite bottles of the night, with an elegantly light nose and dancing aromas of pineapple and floral notes, and a soft finish.

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Wine Number 6 was a late harvest Riesling from the same vineyard, the Hermann Wiemer Late Harvest Riesling $30, and again, this one thrilled, though I’d much rather the drier version.

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We tried a third bottle from the same vineyard, this one the Hermann Wiemer gewurztraminer $25 that had the clearest example of lychee notes so far. Beautiful nose, and the slight spiciness of the body was a delight.

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Wine Number 8 was a Chardonnay, the Palmer Reserve Chardonnay $17, and Natalie, upon lifting the glass to her nose, immediately pointed out the buttery popcorn notes, and not just buttery, mind you, but with a little bit of burnt edge to it, as if the popcorn had been in the microwave for a couple seconds too long. How true! I loved it, and especially savored the slight salty edge in the wine.

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We had a Pinot Grigio next, the Hunt Country Pinot Gris $16, and I stand by my statement that I’ve not had many Pinot Grigios that have wowed me, one excellent exception being the Pinot Grigio from Rocca, Italy. This was not it, but tasted pleasant enough, even if it didn’t give a lasting memory.

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After all the whites, we finally moved on to the reds. My second favorite of the night, a Merlot blend, the Rivendell Merlot $17. This one had a funky-ish nose, not quite merlot tasting with its smell of wet earth/wood, but I loved the soft tannins in the mouthfeel and found myself reaching out for refills a couple times afterwards.

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The next red was a Pinot Noir, the Six Mile Pinot Noir $22, and this was a surprising version, the color so light that it could almost pass for a rose. Not quite what I’d expect from a Pinot Noir – a little too tart and almost sweet for my liking?

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The last wine of the night, a Salmon Run Petit Noir from Dr. Konstantin Frank, was interesting. The color wasn’t quite as light as that Pinot Noir, but still a lighter shade than the Merlot. Light and fruity. Apparently a blend of Gamay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvginon (how the hell did they come up with the name Petit Noir???).

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DGS went wild last night, with a tasting of wines from all over the world, in what we’d dubbed Dead Grapes Society Adventurous Wines. We had ~25 people and 16 bottles of wines (some doubled up).

1. Taberno Brut Champagne Style Charmat Method (Peru) $10

We kicked the tasting off with two bottles of Taberno, a Peruvian sparkling. It was a hit, everyone expressed surprise at how well done it was, nice and dry on the palate, with tight concentrated bubbles.

2. Lambrusco Cantine Ceci La Luna 2006 (Italy) $14

Most people haven’t had Lambrusco before, but since Wendy discovered the wine (Lambrusco Reggiano, slightly different from the one we had last night, this being a sweeter version) at Trader Joe’s a few years ago, this has been my favorite pairing with spicy food, especially curry. With a sandalwood perfume and big cherries mouthfeel, there was just the slightest fizz at the finish, as if the wine didn’t want to go without a fight. Really fun and delicious wine.

3. Chateau Bela Riesling Sturovo Region, Muzca 2003 (Slovakia) $14

This was a dry riesling from Slovakia, which doesn’t really produce much wine, especially not since it split from the Czech Rebpulic in the early 1990s. To be honest, I don’t remember much of this wine, except for the fact that it was drinkable, though not memorable. We started to play some wine trivia at this point. Did you know, for instance, that Prohibition lasted from 1920 through 1933? And that it only ended because of the Great Depression? The government, after thirteen long years, finally realized that the mobs were getting out of control running the speakeasies and smuggling operations, and that the population condoned the mobs because they needed their drink. Of course, they might have chosen to stubbornly – and pig-headedly – stick their stand if not for the fact that they were losing millions and millions of dollars from alcohol tax. Anyway.

4. Dragon’s Hallow Unoaked Chardonnay 2005 (China) $10

Did you know that China has actually the world’s fifth largest vineyard area and is the seventh largest wine producer??? Even so, I think the Chinese should stick to making rice wine. The chardonnay we had could be likened to a thick-headed fellow, stout and completely insipid and stupid. I gulped it straight down; some others (notably the Chinese people in the room) tossed it out. However, some people professed to liking the unoaked style, so perhaps there’s hope for the Chinese wine makers after all. Oh, in case you were wondering, Jesuit missionaries are believed to have been the first to encourage the planting of vines in China in the mid 19th century.

5. Kerner Slifskeleni Neustift Abbazia di Novacella 2006 (Italy) $17

This was one of the favorites of the night. Sihao said it had all the characteristics of a Gewurztraminer, and I have to agree – a little spicy, with strong notes of lychee and roses. Interestingly, the two bottles I picked up were from Italy (at the enthusiastic recommendation of the Sam’s wine expert), although this is a grape most commonly found in Germany. It’s a cross breed from a red grape Trollinger and Riesling. Speaking of cross breeds, another trivia question: what is Cabernet Sauvignon crossed from? Answer: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

6. Tinta da Anfora Vinho Regional Alentejano 2005 (Portugal) $12

Mm, quite a few people said they really liked this wine, which was quite tannic, but otherwise full bodied with lots of fruit and spices. It’s a blend of Portuguese grapes, including Trincadeira, Aragonez, and a little Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh, and did you know that Portugal is the largest producer of corks in the world?

7. Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato 2006 (Italy) $16

Another favorite of the night – those Italian wines really are something! Given the huge popularity of the wines Barolo, Barbera, and Moscato in Piedmont, it’s little wonder that Ruche does not get in the spotlight too much. I really enjoyed this smooth, and light-bodied wine.

8. Bull’s Blood Egi Bikarer 2003 (Hungary) $8

There’s a story behind the label, “Bull’s Blood” (don’t you love stories??). Anyway, as the story goes, in 1552, when the Eger fortress was under attack and looked to be giving way, the defenders, in a last desperate bid, downed copious amounts of red wine for liquid courage. Their hands must have been shaking from terror, for they spilled the red wine all over their chests. When the attackers saw these men running towards them with red chests, they thought the defenders had been drinking bull’s blood, and their courage faltered and they fled. And so the Eger fortress stood for another day. I think I’d have to bring this bottle to parties – it makes for a great conversation opener (I think anyway), and is really fun to drink.

Wine Spectator writes:

“Bull’s Blood must be made from at least three approved red varieties. Most producers use a fair amount of Kékfrankos, because its sturdy character and acidity provide backbone. Also used are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

The wine’s hallmark, though, is the indigenous, spicy Kadarka grape. During the Communist era, Kadarka nearly disappeared from Hungary because its sensitivity to rot and its tendency to grow close to the ground made it very labor-intensive.

But today, Kadarka — which can produce balanced tannins and complex flavors, such as black pepper, cherry jam and cloves — is viewed as essential for a quality Bikavér, and producers are scrambling to return Kadarka to the vineyards.”

9. Skouras Red Saint George 2004 (Greece) $7

I’ve had this light bodied wine on a few occasions already, and really enjoyed it – it is a great pairing with meatballs and pasta, and I might even stock up on more as my house wine. After all, at $7, it’s really a bargain, especially when you consider that Yellow Tail costs the same amount.

10. Garnacha Marco Real Navarra 2005 (Spain) $10

I think our palates were tiring by this point for I still have half a bottle of this sitting at my desk right this moment. Anyway, Garnacha is the Spanish name for the grape Grenache. Flavors of dark berries, it is juicy and great to drink on its own and with food.

11. Chateau Henye Tokaji Dry 2006 (Hungary) $13

I first came across Tokay in Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and had been lusting after it. Tokay is normally a dessert wine, but this version we got was off dry, and so wasn’t cloyingly sweet.

12. Four Seasons Collection, Muscat Red Dessert Wine, Dionysos Mereni (Moldova) $6

I had to look Moldova up on the internet to see where it was… – somewhere in Eastern Europe. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, “Moldova may be one of the geographically smallest states of the former Soviet Union but it has more vineyard, 108,000 ha/267,000 acres in 2002 according to the OIV, than any other apart from Ukraine and the table grape producer Uzbekistan. It has the greatest potential for wine quality and range, thanks to its extnesive vineywards, temperate continental climeate, and gently undulating landscape sandwiched between eastern Romania and Ukraine.” We rounded off the evening with a bottle of Muscat, which was surprisingly palatable. Sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.

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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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