Monday, January 30, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Looking For Some Italian Sunshine with Vini Ciccariello's Pinot Grigio del Vento

It's happening again...the sparkly snow is being replaced by slush and rain and mud. Could it just get any uglier outside? At least you can walk in the snow without having to scrub the floors every time you come back inside (thank you, doggie dearest). I know that some of us might not be snow lovers, but seriously, I'll take it over grey icky slush and mud any day. Except in July.

So maybe it was the thought of the lovely Italian sunshine that caught my eye when I spied this bottle of Pinot Grigio. OK, more likely, it was the $4.99 price tag, but still.....the whole Italian countryside sunshine thing was appealing.

Vini Cicariello Pinot Grigio del Veneto (2010, 12% Veneto, Italy) has a lot of good things going for it in addition to its price tag. First off, it's a really pretty color. Not a hint of grey. Just light gold. Like the sun in early spring. I need to stop that. It has an aroma of herbs and lemongrass. It tastes of tangy minerals and lime (maybe a teeny bit of lemon, but I really noticed the citrusy lime). To get the best out of this wine, serve it really, really cold (in January in Ohio that is room temperature. OK, just kidding - but sometimes it feels like it is). When it's chilled, it gets very crisp and lively in your mouth and has a medium body (didn't expect that...nice surprise).

It came pretty close to being summertime in a bottle for me. It had to - take a look at the picture on the winery's homepage:

Seriously, how could it not? (That's a pic of the Gulf of Gaeta...the winery is in the hills above it.)

If you like a crisp (no sweet at all here) white, this one is for you. Drink it alone, or with some lighter dinner offerings (just cause we can't/refuse to grill outside at this time of year doesn't mean you can't make 'em in the kitchen). And it's $4.99 a buy one for now and one hour from now?


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Grammy and a 2008 Chateau Darmagnac

As much as I love to go out and troll wine stores, slowly walking up and down the aisles, sometimes you really just don't know where to go with your next bottle. How to choose, how to choose? So in a flash of inspiration a few Sundays ago, when my mother in law (aka Grammy) asked what she could bring to dinner, I quickly replied, "A bottle of wine." (This before hubby or daughter could get in the word chocolate, of which our Grammy always has the requisite Grammy stash.)

So that evening, Grammy arrived with a bottle of Chateau Darmagnac (2008, Bordeaux Superior, 12.5% alcohol, blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc). She was very proud of this wine, as she has been learning about wines from a wine loving "friend" she met in Arizona. (I will decline to go into the "friend" label any more, since it might make my hubby rip his eyes out.)

A little bit of a lesson here for those of you who, like my winey little self, are a bit confused by the French wine "thing". This is a Bordeaux wine - from the Bordeaux region of France. Its appellation is Bordeaux Superior, which doesn't mean it's a really superior wine, it means that it was grown in a specific area of the Bordeaux. So according to the bottle label, this "vineyard is planted on [the] south slope of clayey table-land on the Right bank of [the] Bordeaux". Just go with it this, because Bordeaux has over 9,000 individual chateaux and over 13,000 wine growers. It'll make your head swim trying to learn it all at once. And that's even before you take a sip.

But that's not what I'm writing about. What I want to talk about is the magic this wine bottle spread all over my kitchen when we opened it. The wine itself is a rusty red color. It has a bouquet of pepper, dark fruit and a little (French ?) earth thrown in for good measure. First sip sent flavors of strawberry and cherry and earth all over my moth. The oakey tannins lingered was very nice!

But what was even nicer was the effect the wine had on Grammy. I don't mean that literally - she wasn't "affected" by the wine. But when you take a bottle of French red, add in my (self proclaimed) amazing pot roast, a leisurely family dinner around the kitchen table and a cold January night outside, you get lots of time to talk and reminisce. And that's what Grammy did with my daughter that night. At some point we got on the topic of family history. Grammy talked about her mother, who lived to be 103. She talked about how she and Grandpa (who died before I met hubby) met (they grew up together in a small western Ohio town and by the 7th grade, really didn't like him that way). This led to stories of their college days which led to stories of their early married days (as Grandpa guarded the shores of Lake Erie in the Coast Guard and Grammy served fried bologna because it was cheap!). She told how Grandpa wanted his masters degree after serving in the Coast Guard, so he would get up early in the morning, go to classes and then to his job (he was a CPA). She talked about the CPA/Law firm that he and his older brother started. She told our daughter how much her father was like his dad - kind and thoughtful and quiet. She even talked about the illness that eventually took him from us way too soon.

By the end of the evening, I knew that Grammy had brought so much more than a bottle of wine to our house for dinner. She had brought memories and stories and feelings that all too many times don't get expressed in our harried day and age. My suggestion for you all is to sit down at the dinner table  and have a good long chat with Grandma or Grandpa or Aunt Susie or Uncle Joe - with or without the wine!
Grammy and Granddaughter that night at the dinner table
(yes, she had switched to coffee by then!)
Cheers to Grammies and Granddaughters!

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Trying To Get Happy With 2009 Project Happiness Chardonnay

It was a tough assignment for any wine, I'll fully admit that. Here's how it started:

January. Northeast Ohio. Those of you from this area will need no further explanation. For you foreigners, imagine if you will the color gray. Gray skies. Gray slush. Gray trees. Gray air. Gray hairs (oh, wait, that's another issue...but it still contributed to it). Yup, it was January in Cleveland. The Christmas lights had come down. The presents had been put away or exchanged (literally: my hubby and his mom each bought the other a book that the giftee already they kept the books they bought for each other for themselves!). The dog had begun her "continuously muddy paws" season thanks to the horrid cycle of rain, mud, snow, repeat. My first baby was back at college and my second was deep into the grumpiness of high school final exams. Blah. Blah. Blah. (And by that I mean that blah was pretty much everybody's mood.)

And there I was, wandering the aisles of Trader Joe's, trying to find something new to feed the family for dinner. And there it was. Smiling at me from the Chardonnay shelf (no, I don't normally look for dinner on the Chardonnay shelf...but I did say wandering, okay?)

Yup, a big old smiley face. The kind that speaks to a Mom of my years in a voice that says, "You wore me on a shirt in Junior High, didn't you?" I did. And it was smiling...and it was cute and retro and I thought for once: happiness in a bottle. And it was $5.99!

Turns out that's what the folks at Oreana Winery had in mind when they made this wine. They began pondering what makes people happy? They came up with some of the usual ideas: marriage, having kids, getting your boss fired. But, duh...they were winemakers, so in the end they went with happiness in a bottle.

Project Happiness Chardonnay (2009, 13.8%, Creston, CA) is a dark golden color that gave off whiffs of pear and oak and little white wine vinegar tang. Promising. And then I poured it. OK, a bit heavy on the legs here. Thick-ish. Hmm.... Not being one to give up, I sipped. Tasted oak, pear and apple...but the fruits were kind of overpowered by the oak taste. And then the finish hit me and my one thought was: sour. As in sour fruit. Not a sour apple martini thing...this was just .. sour. And to top it all off, it was thick. I don't like thick. I get enough thick here right now when I trudge through thick snow and put on thick socks and thick sweaters. I do NOT care for it in my wine.

Maybe it was just too much pressure to put on a drink, even if that drink is WINE. Happiness, in winter in Cleveland? You might was well ask the Browns to win the.....never mind.

I will say that if you like your Chardonnay oakey and full bodied, you may very well find happiness in this bottle. I however, will soldier on and try to find it somewhere else. Like the sale rack at Nordstrom. Or the Travel Channel. Or both.


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Monday, January 16, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: The Lure of the Sale! Matthew Fritz Pinot Noir

As I have stated before, I do not normally buy $25 bottles of wine. I leave that to other people to do for me. I know I should probably bite the bullet and up my price range, but there are so many good wines out there that are under $15, that I just don't see why I should shell out the extra $10 (which is 3 bottles of Two Buck Chuck, here in Ohio anyway..). So I am always beyond thrilled when I see a higher end bottle of vino on special. That's how it was with Matthew Fritz Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, 14.3%, 2010). This wine was normally $24.99 .. but on special for $13.99. $11 off? I'll take that thank you very much! (Note here: I write this blog from Ohio, and often the normal prices we'd pay here aren't what you'd pay say, in California or another if you've seen a wine for less, you are probably right - I just have to deal with what I have to deal with. Or take more vacations.)

The wine guru who found this wine for my favorite wine department is Vin Hunter. He "works" for Heinen's, a locally owned gourmet grocery store here in Northeast Ohio with one of the best wine departments I've encountered in a grocery store...ever. He gets his hands on some really cool vino.
So taking Vin's word for it, I grabbed a bottle and gave it a swirl.

The bouquet was strawberry and cherry with pepper and a hint of something astringent and sharp. Just a hint though...kind of gave it a little kick for my nose. The color was a darker cherry red. The first taste was of roses (no, I've never actually eaten roses, but I am pretty sure that's what they'd taste like) and earth. Whoa! Cool pairing there - a fragrant taste offset with something down and dirty! Sort of the way I feel after gardening for the day - nice and happy and content, but covered in dirt, in a good way. It really made me start longing for my garden, which was quite the unfulfilled longing here in Northeast Ohio in January. The finish was tannic and not too long...just enough to go back in for another sip.

It was a good wine. Interesting blend of tastes. I don't know if I'd go for roses and earth again, but I'm glad I got to taste it once. I'll probably just head back to the garden the next time I want to mix those two elements. Was it a $25 bottle of wine? Well....maybe not in my little corner of the wine world.  But then again, I only paid $13.99 for it, didn't I?


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Friday, January 13, 2012

One Mom's Winey Idea: Light Your World With Vino D'Light

The following falls under my personal "duh why didn't I think of that?" category. It also solves a winey problem that I have been struggling with.

Ever find a great bottle of wine that, even after it is empty, you just want to keep? Maybe you found it on a wonderful vacation and brought it home as a remembrance. Maybe you got it for a special occasion (like a promotion to Wine Goddess). Or it has a label that just makes you laugh out loud or goes really well with your living room colors. What to do? I keep them on top of a hutch in my kitchen, which puts them nearly out of eye sight and as time goes on, gives each bottle less and less space (and more and more dust) on top of the hutch.

My pal and fellow Ohioan Shelly Dall came up with a way to put those bottles to good use AND add some winey atmosphere to your house: cut 'em down and turn them into candles.

So creative, so green and so ....winey! A simple way to re-purpose your favorite wine memories and keep those bottles out of the dreaded (gulp) recycle bin.
How does one get started on such a winey business? Shelly admits freely and without shame: "I love wine! Everyone knows it." (Isn't she terrific?) And like many moms, she was always "looking for something to do". We've all been there. Kids at school all day. Dog sleeps most of it. You can only clean so much before the fumes get to you. Out of the workforce for a while. So why not turn a passion into a business? Really, it's everyone's dream. Shelly got the idea for her candles from a wine loving friend in another state. She knew she could swing it because in addition to loving wine, she  had married a very handy husband - one who could use a tile cutter without numerous trips to the emergency room. With hubby on board to do the bottle cutting (just a little off the top please), a bulk order of soy wax, wicks and 2 very large double boilers on her stove, Vino D'Light was in business.

Admittedly, it was a slow start. Let's face it, there are a lot of craft shows and bazaars where a vendor can get tons of reading done. Her big big break came when she heard about one specific very popular and well attended local (Cleveland area) holiday bazaar. The show had been booked for the 2010 holiday season already...but she got herself on the list for the 2011 show and from then on, all was winey and waxy and busy. In addition to wanting to memorialize a great bottle of wine, people have asked Shelly to do candles as wedding decor and group gifts.

She has gotten good at it too: Shelly can pour about 25 bottles in 2 hours these days (and hubby has equally honed his cutting skills). The candles sell for  $15-$20 depending on the size of the bottle and yes, they are refillable. You can contact her via Facebook on the Vino D'light page or by searching Vino D'Light.

In my winey but humble opinion, this is one great idea! A mom who started a business that recycles and encourages people to drink wine. Brilliant! I'm sure you all have a bottle or two (or fifty) that you'd like to have her transform. But you'll have to get in line behind me. I have years of wine memories that I want to start burning around my house!

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Hide Out With The 120 Cabernet Sauvignon

The first thing my eye about this bottle of wine was the big number 120 on its label. 120 what, I wondered??? 120 grapes? 120 blends? 120 proof (wouldn't that be the mother of all wine hangovers)?  Nope, the 120 refers to 120 Chilean patriots who hid in the Santa Rita wine cellars during their fight for Chilean independence back in 1814.

I have often wanted to go hide in a wine cellar. This feeling usually comes upon me at specific times. How about at 6 am when I head down the hall to wake the teen aged daughter for school? Or when I come home and the dog is just sort of standing in the kitchen with an extremely guilty look on her face. Or when hubby calls in the middle of the day and his first word is "Um..." (usually followed by a statement relating to his attendance at a pro sporting event that I am NOT invited to). Or when the aforementioned teen is asked to do something to help around the house and you can just HEAR the eye roll happening. So I thought that this might be a good wine for me to bring home and sip on.

The label on The 120 Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile's Central Valley, 13.6%, 2008) says this Cab has an aroma of berries, clove and vanilla. My nose, however, said just dark cherries. In fact, I wrote down "aroma totally of black cherry", so I guess my nose really meant it, huh? The color was red with a touch of brown to it. My first taste was of earth.  No bite at all...But a bit of a dry hint (touch of oak?) to it. And then a lovely maroon aftertaste. Smooth and soft. No nasty biting at all going on here - just some silky Cabernet Sauvignon. I remember thinking "Now this is a Cab!" I really liked it. Especially since I paid $7.99 for it. (I try not to let price influence my evaluation of a wine, but let's face it, you always like to wear the designer top you got on clearance just a bit more than your other clothes, right? Pride in your astute shopping ability? You bet.)

I'd definitely get this one again. I might not even hide in a wine cellar to drink it. But there are times... let me tell you...there are times!!


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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Winey Wise Words From A Founding Father!

"By making this wine vine known to the public, I have rendered my country as great a service as if I had enabled it to pay back the national debt."
~ Thomas Jefferson

Well, now we KNOW what our founding fathers really thought.
Go Jefferson!


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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Northeast Ohio's Candlelight Winery Cabernet Franc

There is something infinitely special about sipping on a wine in the place where it was "born". Which is why I love to visit and eat at wineries. Now, living as I do in Ohio, you might think that I need to travel quite a ways to actually do this. But no!!! Ohio has some amazing wineries - from the shores of Lake Erie right through the northeast part of our state. In fact, that's where you'll find Candlelight Winery - right around the corner from me in Garrettsville, Ohio. So I get to put on my "local" hat as well as my "family owned" hat when I write about their wines.

Great story here: Hubby and wife, twin girls. Hubby's passion was to start a winery. So they did!! They produce 17 wines - red, white and specialty - and have a reputation as a family and community friendly winery (not to mention for offering some great live music!). They grow some of the grapes in their three small vineyards, others are brought in from other growers.

Visiting the winery is a bit like visiting good friends (full disclosure here: I count the aforementioned wife as a good friend). And what better way to drink wine than with good friends, right? On one such visit, Candlelight was offering a "carry out" special - a bottle of their normally $16 Cabernet Franc (12%) for $6.99. Never being one to pass up a sale, especially on a wine that I'd been sipping all night, I purchased a bottle for my own in-house consumption.

Franc (check out the Candle on the label'll know immediately which "Frank" they mean) is a rusty red color with a bouquet of dark fruit, cocoa and some pepper. Medium bodied, it tastes of pepper and ashes and smooth plum. There's also a hint of the cocoa and a touch of oak.  Not a wine for the faint of red wine drinkers. I guess you could say it's a complex wine, with all that taste going on. But there's no conflict in the complexity! (Wow, I don't think I've ever written a sentence like that before.) The medium finish brings out the tannins in the oak taste.  It really was the perfect wine for a winter evening.  We paired it with a plate of white and yellow Cheddars - yummy!

There will be other reviews coming from mother in law hasn't stopped raving about the stay tuned!

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