Friday, April 18, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: Cruising With Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc

Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc wine labelThe Winey Family (minus the Winey Son because he took his own spring break trip with his buddies) has recently returned from a wonderful spring break cruise. Yes I said "cruise".. and don't start with  me. No, we didn't get sick, the boat was fine, the toilets worked and all was well. If I sound a bit defensive it's because whenever we say we're going on a cruise, someone has to crack a phrase about all the bad things that have happened on cruise ships. I'll put it right out there: we love our big boats! Icky things happen on any vacation - on water or dry land. I know it just makes a better story when you can report on a whole boat full of people getting sick than if you report on the fact that someone's daughter and niece threw up in the car the entire 6 hour drive to a family ski trip. (Yes, I speak from direct experience here.)

OK, I'll stop now. What I really meant to do was to tell you all about my winey experience on board The Explorer of the Seas (Royal Caribbean, if you want to know). Now, I realize that one of the first things that comes to mind when you say cruise is FOOD.  And with food comes wine. At least in my winey world it does. And there is absolutely nothing like the experience of heading to a formal dining room, being served by some of the nicest people you'll ever meet on the high seas, eating amazing food and getting to choose a new wine every night. BUT this time, I stopped choosing a new wine after two dinners. And that's because I discovered Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc (2012, Marlborough, New Zealand, 12.5%). This is so not me. But it was so good that I ordered it again and again. It helped that I was usually eating seafood, which pairs so well with a Sauvignon Blanc! I did switch to a red for one evening, but we were eating lamb and I just had to. In fact, every night when we'd show up in the dining room our assistant waiter would look at me and say "Dashwood?" All I had to to was nod!! How much easier could it be? Oh right, they could open the bottle and serve it to me in a chilled wine glass to make it easier. Oh wait. They did.

dining room cruise picture , Explorer of the Seas, Royal Caribbean
The Winey Daughter and I with
our wonderful waiters!
The first thing to hit you with this wine is a very aromatic bouquet of lime, kiwi, sea air and minerals. The taste was all juicy and tart with just a teeny hint of sweet in there somewhere. I would compare it to drinking a key lime pie. The flavors roll through your mouth: first is the lime, then lemon then a bit of kiwi. It finishes off with some green peppers (kind of a surprise, but it worked after all that fruit.) Crisp and lively - it was one of the best New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs I have ever had. I am going to add it to my favorites. I paired it with silver corvina (a white fish) one night, scallops another night and with the on board show almost every night. ahem.

If you like a tart, refreshing white wine, go ahead and buy Dashwood. It'll run anywhere from $10-$12 and is an amazing buy, in my winey little opinion.  It's readily available, and with warmer weather on the horizon, I'd say stock up on this one!


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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: Cleebourg Pinot Gris - You Can Taste It, But It'll Cost You A Quarter

I love the grocery store! I don't have to try anything on, I don't have to search for sizes, I don't have to worry about if the color will look good on me. I don't have to measure to see if it will fit on a wall/in a room. Nope, at the grocery store, it's just reach and place in the cart.

Another reason I love the grocery store is that there are samples. All over the place. From fruit to soup to cheeses (I cannot resist a cheese sample) to fresh baked bread. I could seriously eat an entire meal just wandering around the aisles. And another reason for looking forward to a trip to the food store?  In Ohio, our grocery stores can sell wine! Yay! And there are samples! Double yay!
coin jar
A familiar sight at
Ohio store samplings!

But, those samples come at a price here. I kid you not. Somewhere on the books is a law that forbids Ohio wine sellers to give away free wine. Including samples. So, no matter where you go - the local store that I shop at (Heinen's, if you want to know the name), or Trader Joe's or World Market, you gotta ante up for that sample. So if you see me in the grocery store, and you hear a bunch of quarters jingling in my pocket, you know I am on my way to the wine sampling.

OK, I suppose it's not the biggest issue I will ever have to face in my retail adventures. It is kind of inconvenient and just  plain odd. But it also gives us a lot to joke about at the tastings, especially when someone "buys" you a round for 25 cents. I will also tell you that I am not a Winey Mom for nothing. I will never let a little quarter get in the way of my wine samples. All joking aside, samples are one of the best ways to NOT waste your time and money on a bottle of wine. I can usually tell with just a little sip or two if I will like a wine or not. Well worth digging some coins out of my pocket.

Cave de Cleebourg Pinot Gris bottle label, frontSuch was the case a while back, when I tasted a French Pinot Gris one Saturday afternoon. This was Cleebourg Pinot Gris (2011, 13%, Alsace, France). I have not had a lot of Pinot Gris, and I was glad they were sampling a French wine. I happen to know a little bit about the Alsace area thanks to the Winey Hubby's ancestors. Seems a whole branch of his family is from Colmar, which is in Alsace-Lorraine. The area has switched back and forth from French to German rule over the centuries, but at the time they lived there, Colmar was under French rule. So I was curious as to what a Pinot Gris from the land of the Winey ancestors would taste like. The sample was good, so I decided to spring for an entire bottle.

The first thing I noticed about the wine was that it poured out of the bottle heavily. Sort of like pouring liquid velvet. We're talking full bodied here - you could tell just by watching it! The nose gave off aromas of apple blossom, ripe honeysuckle and heavy summer flowers. The first flavor I tasted was of minerals, then golden honey followed by lime peel. It finished on that lime note, tart and almost sour. It delivered the entire gamut of flavors here - rich, creamy, sweet flavor giving way to a tart, juicy finish.

Buy this wine if you don't like your white sweet…and if you don't like it big and buttery. But if you like big, rich flavor that starts out creamy and end up refreshingly tart, this one is for you.

I'll even spring for the quarter if we happen to meet at a tasting some day!

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: Fog Head Wine and My Foggy Headed Child

What to do when a bottle of wine is a total bargain and has a name that makes you giggle? Buy it in red and white!

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I spied a  new wine offering at a local store. It was being featured in the store's "best under $10" section, which is quite a coup, since they are really particular about their wines. It also had the added attraction of being named "Fog Head". And that's what made me giggle. Because of the three humans currently residing in The Winey House, I am the only one who is NOT a Fog Head when it comes to mornings. Truth be told, if you add in the two Winey Doggies to this list, they would come in second and third, after me. Fourth place belongs to the Winey Hubby. But the winner of the foggy head award is The Winey Daughter. She totally takes after her dad, but being a teenager, adds her own little style to the distinction.
I am only a morning person on December 25th t-shirt
Pretty much sums up
The Winey Daughter's early morning

There was a time when I would have to summon  my courage to go in and wake her up, especially on cold school days. My last words to The Hubby upon heading down the hallway to her room usually were: "Cover me, I'm going in." And I was only half kidding. As a younger child, she would actually growl at me. The kind of growl that's low in the throat and if it were coming from an outdoor wooded area would have me running for my Winey life. As she got a bit older, the conversation moved on to a tone of "Don't Shoot The Messenger". There were times that I actually resorted to tossing one of the doggies onto her. The face licking would commence and although she was predictably royally annoyed, I knew she wouldn't actually hurt those little pups. I am sad to say that I was not so sure about the bodily harm she'd inflict on me, hence the puppy buffer.

Like I said though, she has inherited this trait directly from her dad. The man who willingly stays up past midnight and loves to sleep in and then read in bed in the mornings. I, on the other hand, am in bed early, usually falling asleep while reading, and up on the earlier side of the day. And yet, we stay married. Go figure.

Fog Head Chardonnay 2012 California bottleBut back to the wine. If a bottle is a bargain and makes me smile, it's safe to say it's going home with me. In this case, there were two choices: Fog Head Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (2012, 13%, California). Fog Head tells us that their wines are "crafted by the elements" of "cooling fog and warm sunshine". Doesn't that sound just wonderful? Foggy mornings giving way to sunlit days on the California coast. I'm in. At least where the wine is concerned.
bottle of Fog Head Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 California
The Chardonnay gives off a nose of mellow oak, pear and yellow apples. The taste is bright and round and full of pear with hints of vanilla and nutmeg. There's a bit of butter and oak, but not overly much. And it all ends in a juicy smack that reminded me of a sour apple lollipop. Yum.

The Cabernet Sauvignon starts out with a nose of sour cherry and sourdough bread. It tastes of coffee and dark stone fruits and some mocha. It finished with the flavors of dark spices - like bay leaf and parsley. It was smooth as silk and full of rich flavors.

The Chardonnay will be the perfect white when you are trying to please Chardonnay fans who cannot agree on the amount of oakiness they want in their glass. The oak here gives the wine just enough moxie to stand up to the oak lovers, but not so much that you are overpowered by it all. A wonderful wine at an amazing price. (I paid $7.99 on special - you will normally find them for around $9.99.)

The Cabernet is for you if you want a big flavored red that still knows how to behave itself. The tannins are rich but not drying. Again, amazing wine at an amazing price.

Nothing foggy here, Winey Friends! In fact, the choice is rather clear headed, if you ask me!


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Friday, March 14, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: Cline Zinfandel And College Memories

Recently I have been on a journey with The Winey Daughter and The Winey Hubby. OK, a few journeys. To look at colleges. Lots of colleges. And to take many college tours. LOTS of college tours. I can now intelligently discuss meal plans, dorm rooms vs suites, big vs. small, majors,  minors AND I can probably point you to the best pizza and/or taco joint at a number of schools around our nation. It's been quite a journey. (Still no decision, though. On her part anyway. I, however, have made my decision: no more outdoor walking tours until the temperature hits 70 on a regular basis.)

There was one journey we recently took though that I didn't quite expect. It came on a Friday night at a nice restaurant in a very fun city. The three of us had arrived in town for the next day's college tour and we were starving. The kind of starving where you order appetizers AND dessert. And of course, since I was there, there was wine. I chose a Zinfandel that night. And while we were waiting for the first of our drinks and eats to arrive, in they walked.

"They" were a very large group of dressed to the nines college students. The girls were in their beautiful dresses, the guys in suits and ties. There were high heels and shiny dress shoes and a few corsages and lots and lots of laughing. Our waiter mentioned that there was a fraternity dance that night and they were there for dinner before the dance. And there I went….right back to certain February night in the mid 1980's, when I was one of those girls. All dressed up for my sorority formal (Alpha Phi at Northwestern University, by the way) and greeting my date. It was our first dance together. We had met at Thanksgiving and had been dating since getting back from Christmas break. He was a great guy. (And if you are wondering, yes, this great guy DID go on to become the Winey Hubby!)

Alpha Phi Pledge Formal, Winey Mom and Winey Hubby, 1983
Yup, this is the dance.
Good heavens.
We were babies. 
But what wonderful memories the sight of those students brought back. The fun of deciding on a dress, of asking a date (OK, after the dance I am speaking of, I never even considered going to another dance with anyone else - and that still holds true 30 years later). The happy chaos in my sorority house as 40+ of us got ready for the big night. The obligatory panic when someone nearly always blew a fuse using one more blow dryer. (We lived in a gorgeous stone sorority house on a quad with about 8 other such buildings. Gorgeous, but old. Hence the fuse issues.)

Alpha Phi boat Formal, May 1983, Winey Mom and Winey Hubby
The Boat Formal Picture
There was the dance itself. Usually held downtown at a hotel. (Although we were also famous for our Boat Formal, held in the spring on a boat cruising along the shores of Lake Michigan.) The dancing. The music - to this day, whenever I hear Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" I will automatically flash back to the dance floor, at this point taken over by my sisters and I,  proclaiming "I got all my sisters and me…" at the top of our lungs. I made some of my best friends within the parameters of that sorority (not to mention my husband) and I keep in touch with many of them to this day. It was, and still is, just like that with them. I could call any one of them and share my joys and heartache and they would be there, ears wide open.

So there I sat, getting very sentimental. The Winey Hubby tried to get sentimental too, but fraternity formals obviously don't mean as much to guys as to us girls. (Plus, I'll bet none of the guys ever blew a fuse with a blow dryer. Although it was the 80's… nah. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.)

Cline Zinfandel, 2012, Lodi, CaliforniaAnd the wine I ordered? It was Cline Zinfandel (2012, 14%, Lodi, CA). I wanted a big old red for this chilly night, and I am a big fan of Lodi Zinfandels. This one started out with a nose of black cherry and black berry with a tough of dark, wet soil. The taste began with notes of dark Lodi spice and grass, followed by dark cherries and cranberries. It finished with a hint of mocha latte, smooth at first, then it hit with a little red bite at the end of it all.

This was not as fruit forward as some of the other Lodi Zins I've liked. It was a bit more oakey. I'd still have to call it very, very good though! The bite at the end of it all is what keeps it from being all silky and velvety. It's a bigger Zinfandel than I expected, but that was okay with me.

Buy this wine if you've got a big pot of chili, or pasta with a spicy red sauce to serve it with. Ditto steaks - ooh, it would be VERY good with steak. You will need to let it breathe a bit to calm down the oak (the oxygen will give it a touch of vanilla spice). Don't start any red wine newbies out on this one - especially if you aren't serving it with food. But if you've got a cold night and a long line of memories to get through, pour this and start sipping.


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: Watching "Bottle Shock", Sipping Chateau Montelena

Today I'd like to talk about a particularly inspired birthday gift that some friends gave me this past (significant/big/ends in a zero) birthday. I really don't think I am a difficult person to buy for, because if there is ever any question…go with the wine. Any wine. All wine. Thank you very much. Which is what two of my favorite people did for said birthday gift. But these two inspired souls went one step further.

Chateau Montelena
The lovely Chateau Montelena
photo courtesy of Chateau Montelena
They bought me a bottle of wine as well the movie to go with it.

I am talking about the famed Chateau Montelena, of the equally famed Napa region of California. You have never heard of it? I'll bet you have. While the name Montelena might not jump out at you, you probably have heard of the Judgement of Paris winery. Or the winery that put Napa (and thus California wines) on the map. Or the winery from the movie "Bottle Shock". That would be Chateau Montelena! And yes, the movie is all about the time that one upstart sommelier  brought a Napa Valley Chardonnay to a blind French wine tasting competition, and beat the grape skins off the big boys from France.
Bottle Shock DVD picture
The Movie
photo via Winey Mom
and her scanner

bottle of 2010 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
photo courtesy of Chateau Montelena
The Winey Hubby and I love this movie - very wry humor and full of some great actors. Alan Rickman (in the middle of his run as Severus Snape) plays the sommelier. Bill Pullman plays the vineyard owner and Chris Pine plays his son. And although we are fans of the movie, we have never tried the wine. Looking back, that seems sort of odd, but we had only seen the movie on TV or rentals..we never actually owned a copy of it until this past year. Luckily, our friends decided to skip a box of popcorn to go alone with the DVD and gifted us with a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (2010, 14.1%, Napa, CA) instead.

So about that wine. The nose was full of red apples. The first taste to hit you is of oak and warmed cinnamon. Then you get the apple and nutmeg. (I just realized it sounds like I'm describing an apple pie - and I would have to say that the taste really did describe a nice juicy apple pie - from the top of the crust to the bottom of the apples!) The finish was tart and citrusy with hints of lime. Very full, very round and supple in my mouth. I could really taste the layers of the different flavors.

I really enjoyed this wine. I could easily see it as being a go-to white. It's very accessible - enough oak to give it some style, but not too much that you can't taste the bevy of flavors. It will cost a bit more than wines I usually review (about $50) but hey, I got it as a gift. You may want to do that as well - pair it with the movie or there is also a book ("Judgement of Paris" by George Taber). There is no rule that says you can't buy a gift for yourself, either. Just saying'.  If you like white wine, you will love this one, as well as the history behind it.


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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: Canvassing the Campuses With Campus Oaks

I don't know about all of you, but recently, the word "campus" evokes a certain anxious excitement around the Winey Household. This is because we are smack dab in the middle of the Winey Daughter's senior year in high school. And that means she will be heading off to college in the fall. But not if she doesn't pick a college to attend.

I had it coming to me: I thought that all the pain, torture and eye-rolling joy and wonder of choosing which colleges to apply to and then filling out those applications would be tough. All those options to take into consideration: location? "NOT anywhere in this state." All righty then, let's just talk about the in-state tuition break? "NO." Size of school? "I don't know." Majors available? "I don't know." City or campus? "I don't know." How about the school Winey Mom and Winey Dad met at? "NO."

To give her credit, after some initial trips, we did narrow a few things down. NOTHING in state. (Really? Two very fine universities have accepted her. But it seems that residing inside the same state lines as her parents is NOT an option.) South is good. (I believe this is a direct correlation to the number of -0 days we've had this winter.) Very, very small colleges are out. (OK sure, I'll give on this one. Going to a college smaller than your high school might be tough.) A few got tossed out just because she didn't get a good feeling on the visits. (I do not knock this way of deciding - you can get a real feel for a school just by strolling on campus.)

So here we are, still in decision mode. Weighing the options. Filling out the FAFSA. Where does a Winey Mom turn? One guess.

bottle of Campus Oaks Chardonnay 2011Yup, there's a wine for all of this.  And it came to me as a Christmas present.   Two bottles of Campus Oaks wine, proving once again that Santa knows each and every one of us and is well aware of the things we need to make it through the next year of our lives. And no, I really didn't care if there were any oak trees on the campuses in question. There was wine in the bottles and that was good enough for me.

The first bottle I tasted was the Chardonnay (2011, 13.3%, CA). I uncorked it shortly after New Year's. It's a very pretty light gold color with a nose of fresh sea air mixed with fresh cut oak and minerals. It tasted of cinnamon and pear and vanilla and finished up with tart spices - you could especially taste the cinnamon here. A very smooth, round wine. You can tell it spent some time in the barrel, but it wasn't one of those wood filled, buttery Chardonnays. I'd describe it as mellow and flavorful. A great Chardonnay for white wine lovers - not so dry that you need to pick the wood out of your teeth after you finish it, but not so fruity and tart that you think you are drinking a Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon Blanc. It paired well with LOTS of food, since we were on a mission to finish up the holiday leftovers. So go ahead and serve it with baked brie, shrimp, buffalo chicken dip, and pizza.  (I never said there was a theme to those leftovers.)

bottle of Campus Oaks Old Vine Merlot 2009
A few weeks later I opened the Old Vine Merlot (2009, 14.5%, CA). I have come to learn that if you put the words "old vine" on a bottle, the chances that I will like it are very, very good. And this wine did not disappoint. It's medium bodied and a dark red in color. The nose is cherry and raspberry and again, some newly cut oak. The taste was out of this world! Blueberries and raspberries and oaky vanilla. There was definitely some lip smacking going on here, especially at the finish, which was full of velvet and tart cherry. Yummy!! I really loved this wine. It's  perfect if you are trying to convince someone that red wine is not the devil and is actually very good. It's very balanced, fruit forward and has that little tannic kick at the end.  Sip it or pair it, either way. Another winner for the Winey Mom winey win list.
And as for those colleges. The three of us, in some combination or another, will be spending the rest of February visiting and re-visiting some of the top runners. As much as I tease about it, we are very proud of her for working so hard and ensuring that come next August, the Winey Household will be a Winey Empty Nester Household. Gulp.

There's gonna have to be a wine for that too. 


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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winey Tasting Notes: Chocolate and Wine

We are a few days out from Valentine's Day, which means that all our Winey hearts are turning in one general direction: wine and chocolate. A classic combo if ever there was one. And yet it seems that everyone has an opinion on how to pair them with each other. The first words that comes to my mind  are "constantly and abundantly". But I'm guessing that we'd all like to get a bit more specific than that. I  mean, why ruin perfectly good chocolate or perfectly good wine by making them play nice together when they simply cannot.

A lot of folks will tell you that sweet wine pairs better with chocolate. Others will tell you that big reds can be paired with sweet chocolate. Or that you should never pair an extremely dry wine with chocolate at all. Yikes. Lots of opinions, lots of decisions.

Rosa Regale sparkling red wine and Brix Smooth Dark ChocolateIt will come as no surprise to you then, that some inspired soul went out and developed a line of chocolate made to pair with wine. It's called Brix and I was lucky enough to get a sample of their Dark Smooth Chocolate, along with a bottle of Banfi's Rosa Regale (2012, 7%, Italy). Rosa Regale is the perfect wine for Valentine's Day - it's all pretty and pink and bubbly and it has a rose on the label. (Don't judge me here, I love a frilly Valentine, especially when it is inside a wine bottle.) The Brix box suggested that this particular chocolate (there are 4 varieties) would pair well with Champagne, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Vintage Port. So since Rosa Regale is bubbly and berry sweet (think strawberry and orange blossom and elegant little bubbles), it promised to be a yummy outcome.

bottle of Rosa Regale sparkling red wineFirst, I sipped the wine. Then I had some of the chocolate. It was a very mellow dark chocolate, by the way. Then I sipped some wine with the chocolate. The combo gave the wine a bit more of a sharp taste - more cherry than strawberry. It almost changed the texture of the wine, in that the bubbles felt different when the chocolate hit them. (Although this could also have been the amount of chocolate in my mouth. I truly have no self control went it comes to a gourmet block of chocolate. And I've grown to accept this about myself, OK?) Either way, I did love the bubbles paired with the smooth texture of the chocolate. The chocolate took on a bit more creaminess while the wine took on a deeper flavor. Pretty cool!

label of Rosa Regale sparkling red wineNot being in any way, shape or form research minded, I nevertheless decided to do a few more chocolate tests in order to make my pairing experiment a bit more chocolately scientific. I gathered up some semi-sweet chocolate. (OK, yes, it was in the shape of morsels. Come on, you can't tell me you all don't raid the baking cabinet when you desperately need a chocolate fix. It's like every Mom's secret stash.) This time the strawberry flavors of the wine were pretty much gone. The wine took a tangy, citrusy flavor.

And then I went for milk chocolate. Full disclosure here: this is my favorite kind of chocolate. In total opposition to the rest of the Winey Family, who love their dark chocolate. So I had to delve into my stash. And the combo of the sweeter milk chocolate with the sweet fizzy wine was NOT the way to go. The wine and the chocolate both lost their flavor. The finish did have a raspberry taste to it, but until then - nothing.

So I learned a few things here: I can't imagine any dry white wine going well with this chocolate. A sweeter Riesling would be fine though. Dark chocolate with a sweeter wine is heavenly. I think the milk chocolate needed a red wine (to make it more like my favorite chocolate treat: chocolate cherry cordials) as its partner. And the milk chocolate. Hmm...this is tough. I need to do a LOT more testing I think. By the way, the Brix folks suggest that their very dark chocolate be paired with a big red, but I am going to reserve judgement until I try it. So Winey Hubby, take note!

Let me know if you have a favorite wine and chocolate pairing. I am looking for testing options!

Happy Valentine's Day! Cheers!

I was given this wine and chocolate for review purposes. The opinions are all my own. Pin It