Archive for the ‘Viognier’ Category

Hey Winos,

For those that missed last night’s “Wines from Asia” event, the final opinions on Asia’s wines were very mixed, to say the least! The one thing we had consensus on is that we wouldn’t mind waiting a while for the next time we feature Asian wines.

Looking forward, let’s keep the theme of new themes. I threw out a couple new ideas below. Please share yours!

1. Classic Cocktails – Steve will take us on this interesting tangent sometime in March or April. More details to come from Steve…

2. Viognier – I don’t think we’ve explored this unique white varietal in depth and I think it’s among the most interesting yet least-hyped whites. I recently had a French Condrieu and a Napa Viongier and, as expected, they were vastly different. Let’s check out how they differ around the globe and hopefully convert some into Viongnier freaks like me.

3. Wino-lympics – Let’s have wines from around the world represent their home countries and compete in brackets based on our collective ratings on areas like taste, nose, structure and complexity. We’ll do a few things to keep the playing field level: keep it under $15/bottle, seperate out red from white and keep the judging blind (good idea, Zhen).

As a side idea to (3), Peishan’s back in the States in March/April and wants to enjoy a DGS while in town. She’s missed the variety of great American wines we take for granted here. In major league baseball form, we could have a “World Series” of American wines in the same format as the Wino-lympics.



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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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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I attended the Old Town Wine Crush last Saturday. For $20, we got 10 “tastings”. I said “tastings” because really, the pourings were beyond generous; we basically each ended up with full glasses of wine. In the afternoon no less.

But quantity, goes the age old adage, is not the same as quality. And disappointingly, most of the wines we tried were duds – intensely boring wines with simply no aromas, body, or finish. After a while, most of us gave up trying to sniff out any fruit/spice/whatever have you and just clinked our glasses and gulped deeply.

There was, however, one wine that stood out in my mind – maybe because I only got a mere whift of it, first from Donny’s glass and then from Jeff’s, the latter of whom got the last dregs of the entire wine festival. But what I tasted stuck with me: flavors of pear, honeysuckle, melon. The whole fruit basket. Beautiful, and not overwhelming on the alcohol side.

Smoking Loon 2003 Viognier; – and under $10. I’ve got to get me more of those.


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As the other Asian who did not venture on the Memorial Day Michigan wine trip, I felt obligated to go on my own outing and explore the wine region closest to the Windy City, the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. The trip was a great break from the city. We managed to fit in all the wineries. So there is A LOT to review, hence the “Part I.”

We stayed at Benton Harbor (features much cheaper lodgings) and drove the 5 minutes into St. Joseph’s and toured the local wineries. We used the handy dandy wine trail map provided by the wineries

There was a lot to do and see, especially since this was a first visit for all of us. So I want to keep this short and informational. We went to almost all of the wineries in the region, and almost all of the tourist attractions in there area. First the WINE…Some general comments:

  1. Stick to the whites, the reds fall a little flat and can be a little too tannin. Rieslings abound, many of them are styled more in the California or French style, meaning less fruity, more mineral
  2. Do leave room to try the fruit wines and dessert wines if you have a sweet tooth
  3. ALL of the tastings were FREE


Best: Round Barn, Domaine Berrien, Tabor Hill

Eh, So-So: Karma Vista, Lemon Creek, Warner

Pass: St. Julian, Contessa, Free Run, Hickory Creek

Round Barn Winery

By far the best experience we had. The winery is nestled in a scenic spot. The tastings are generous and we felt it a rare treat to find a place that makes wine, beer, and vodka.

Tasting: $8= 5 wines, 1 dessert, 1 vodka, 3 beers + Free Glass + Free Tastings at Free Run Cellars

ORGASMIC 😮 : DiVine Vodka ($34.99)- A unique grape vodka, this stuff is smooth, so very smooth, makes-babies-bottoms seem-like-sandpaper smooth
DAMN GOODS 😉 : Gerwurstraminer ($15.99)-floral, honey, spice, complex
NOT BADS 🙂 : Artesia Spumante ($14.99)– fruity, refreshing, sparkling…you could get worse with the price, but you could get better
Golden Ale-
refreshing light, hoppy
GHETTO HOOCH 😦 : Pale Ale, Amber Ale, most of the dry reds

Domaine Berrien Cellars

Although this has less of the fun and flair of vineyards like Round Barn, St. Julian, or Warner, the wines here are surprisingly good and very drinkable. There is a nice outdoor deck where you can enjoy your wine and they will fix you a nice picnic basket of local treats from their fridge case so you can have a little snack. Try the local buffalo and venison sausage. Laid back and unassuming, the standout thing about this place is its wine.
ORGASMIC 😮 : Cabernet Franc Ice Wine ($50.00)– A cool half a benji this ice wine is unique and flavorful. If you like madeira and sherry, you might find yourself forking over the cash for this tasty liquid. With hints of toasted almonds, walnut, caramel, and raisins, its a complex rich drink. I did not regret giving up my 5 bucks for a taste, but unfortunately felt that I could get a better madiera like experience with a true $50 madiera. Still it is neat to see such a rare type of ice wine.
DAMN GOODS 😉 : Vignoles 2006 ($10.50)– A nice summer white, it has hints of pineapple, apple, and citrus. Its a great clean and fruity pour and well worth the price tag.
Marsanne 2006 ($14.50)– I preferred the Vignoles, but this is less sweet and has a lot of great complexity. Hints of spice and honey, this has good body and is very light and drinkable.
NOT BADS 🙂 : Crown of Cabernet 2004($23)– has good body, fruit, hint of oak. Not sure if its worth the $ Viognier 2006 ($18.50)– viogniers are so great in general, complex, flowery, fruity, this one is okay, but again you can get better for the money
GHETTO HOOCH 😦 : Grandma’s Red

Tabor Hill

Probably one of the most successful wineries on the trail, Tabor Hill is definitely has the feel of a larger more professional winery. The restaurant features fine American dining. There are several tasting rooms in the area so where ever you go it is worth a stop to sample. 8 Free Tastings offered.

DAMN GOODS 😉 : Angelo Spinazze’s Spumante ($13.45)- Good complexity, sweet, bubbly, fruity, and floral. Worth the price, especially if you are a fan of sweeter spumante or asti
Classic Demi-Sec ($8.45)- One of their most populat with good reason. A very good basic fruity wine, refreshing and crisp.

NOT BADS 🙂 : Blanc de Blanc ($13.45)- Not as sweet or complex as the Spumante, but definitely in the same vein of style. It is more of a mellow, fruity sparkling white. Some may prefer it over the Spumante if they lean more towards salt than sweet.




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South Africa Wine Regions

To be honest I know little about South African Wines and have not had the opportunity to partake in too many. What I do know is that they are relatively cheap and new to the business and art of wine making. Apparently lots of interesting flavors are coming from this area and their wines are slowly gaining popularity. So it was great to find that the tasting we went to this week featured this region. We tasted 6 wines from 4 different makers and got a brief introduction to Pinotage, a grape unique to South Africa. Here is a good article on South African Chenin Blanc from the NY times, WINES OF THE TIMES; South Africa’s Trove of an Elusive Grape

PS: We’ve actually held a South African tastings before – our second ever Dead Grapes Society meeting over a year ago now actually. I’ve included some information on that tasting my own journal over here, check it out: Wines of South Africa. 😉

Niel Joubert Chenin Blanc 2003 (Paarl Valley, South Africa) $8 – Not Bad 🙂

The cheapest wine in the lot, I was pretty happy to find that this stuff tastes pretty good. Described by the wine seller as a “Lincoln Park, patio sipping wine,” this chenin blanc is simply tasty, but not watery and insipid. I have a cold so not exactly sure what I was smelling, I think it was floral and fruity with hints of citrus. On tasting, it was sweet, refreshing, clean, and light. It’s not amazingly complex, but its definitely worth having on hand, making it a higher end “not bad.”

Sniff- floral, fruity

Sip- refreshing light, fruity, citrus, simple, sweet

Eat- seafood, fruit, grilled meat

I’d agree with the “Not bad” rating. It is a pleasant wine to drink on a breezy evening lounging on one’s deck. I’m looking forward to doing that already! Certainly very crisp and refreshing.

Niel Joubert Chardonnay 2005 (Paarl Valley, South Africa) $9– Not Bad 🙂

I am not sure if this Chardonnay answers the question of whether or not good cheap chardonnays exist. This to me was good but not great. Still it does have nice qualities that would match well with a meal, but definitely not what I would say worth drinking independently. On smelling there are hints of grapefruit and olives. At first taste there is definitely a nice oakiness as well as a cleansing tart acidic finish. I would definitely love to drink this with a seafood dish or something in a rich cream sauce. Like an extra on a movie set, this wine would not be the star of a meal, but would definitely enhance the experience.

Sniff- Olive and grapefruit

Sip- Oaky, tart, acidic, grapefruit, clean

Eat- Seafood, creamy rich dish

This Chardonnay was certainly a ton better than the one I had last week. I’d be keen to do a under $10 tastings of South African and Australian chardonnays, just to get a sense of the differences in style.

Remhoogte Aigle Noir 2003 (Stellenboch, South Africa) $13- Ghetto Hooch 😦

Honestly, I had a hard time finishing my 1/4 glass worth. Far too bold for my taste, the nose had an acetone, strong metallic quality and it had a taste to match. Spicy, acidic, and bitter all at once I felt my tastebuds burn and churn. This is a blend of the pinotage and several other grapes. There is definitely the metallic quality of the pinotage but somehow with the other flavors introduced by the other grapes, bitterness and spice, it does not seem to work. Like a bad American Idol contestant, it’s a garish mess.

This is certainly where our tastes differ. I’d actually rate it a “Not bad”. Granted, it is not an easy wine to sip, but I really liked the minerally, earthy feel of it (~30% pinot noir). It was a little too tannic though, but nothing some decanting can’t help. I liked the fact that even though it had only 3% of Pinotage, you could still taste a tinge of metal in it. A pretty serious, complex wine. I somehow think it could pair well with some braised duck. Mmm.

Withington Merlot 2003 (Paarl, South Africa) $19- Not Bad 🙂

For the price, I might go with something else, but it’s a pretty nice glass I must say. The nose was pleasant, rich, and buttery. The taste had nice tannins, and a very smokey, nutty quality. It reminded me of sweet pipe smoke and buttery leather chairs. The finish was nice and dry, leaving your mouth ready to receive any succulent food pairing. I definitely would love to open this puppy up with a thick steak and maybe slide into that buttery leather chair while I am at it. 😉 It’s a sophisticated glass, but does not have the complexity you would hope for in a bottle for 20 smackaroos.

Sniff- rich butter

Sip- smokey, nutty, tannins

Eat- red meats- steak, lamb chops

This Merlot was pretty pleasant to drink, but I don’t have my notes and I’ve already forgotten how it tasted… so I guess it’s not all that memorable. For $19, it’s pretty steep – I’d sooner spend that money on the Port, erm, which is precisely what I did. 😉

Niel Jourber Pinotage 2003 (Paarl, South Africa) $11- Not Bad 🙂

Oh Pinotage….how stinky yet tasty you are. The smell wafting from the glass cut right through my cold and reminded me a little of gasoline and rubber, pungent with each whiff. On tasting you get this surprising spiciness with a great acidity and bitterness. The flavor of Pinotage is described classically as a rusty nail, and after experiencing it for myself I have to agree. It’s a great complex wine with a lot of guts and glory. Gladiatorial in nature (is that a word? according to spell check it is 😉 ), this wine is rough and bold with a metallic brashness too it. I think it would go great with red meat because it just screams blood. I would definitely bring it to a bbq or a meat eaters convention. No cowboy would be ashamed to drink this glass with his prime rib…well except that he’d have to pronounce the word Pinotage like a Frenchman…he he 😉

Sniff- gasoline, rubber

Sip- metallic, sharp, acidic, bitter, spicy

Eat- Red meats, BBQ….MEEAAAT!

I’d go as far as to rate this a “Not bad – damn good”. It was thoroughly enjoyable, with a nose so distinct, I’m confident that I can sniff it out blind. I’m not sure I agree with the bloody allusions, but it certainly has some kind of raw, elemental nature to it. Some scent of freshly stripped wood? It’s pretty light though, very quaffable. I’d want to try it with sushi actually. Heh.

Allersverloren Vintage Port 2002 (Swartland, South Africa) $19- Damn Good-Orgasmic 😮

Ok, this is semi-orgasmic largely because 1. its a great port and 2. its simply awesome for the price. I nearly squealed with glee when I realized how cheap it was. A tawny port can really burn a hole in you wallet, but this one has a lot to offer with relatively little monies. More importantly, the beauty of ports is that if you keep it in a cool, dark place you can hold on to it for years and slowly sip you way through the bottle. On first whiff I got hints of raisin, dark chocolate, and coffee, the first sip followed suit. There was a lot of complex rich dessert flavors that bring to mind decadent dark chocolate cakes and wine soaked plums. It tastes like a cross between a ruby port (bold rich fruity sweetness with less caramel and nuttiness) and a tawny (raisin, caramel, nutty, and coffee). The hybrid car of ports, its economic, fun to drink, and pretty damn good.

Sniff- raisin, coffee, dark chocolate

Sip- nutty, toffee, caramel, raisin, coffee, dark chocolate

Eat- dark chocolate, rich dessert, creme brulee

Yes, this was good. I’m a Port lover, and this one has got to be one of my favorites. I loved how it isn’t as sweet as most other Ports, though it’s definitely thick enough. Flavors of dark chocolate, raisins, and burnt caramel. It’ll be absolutely delightful with a molten lava cake.

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