Thursday, April 26, 2012

Random Winey Thoughts - From Life and My Wine Journal

I am having what I'll call a random day. Seriously, this was my Facebook status this morning: Random thoughts: 1. how did we run out of so much food when we're never here? 2. Finished "50 Shades of Grey" - cannot understand the hype - no plot and the main character is an idiot. 3. I hate dusting. :)  (To my cousin's humorous credit, she answered back by asking: "What is this dusting thing?" I explained it is something that only gets done when company is coming. Nuff said.)

And then I got to thinking that I have a lot of random winey thoughts, too. They are scattered throughout my wine journal. I have been keeping said journal for nearly 10 years now, even before I started writing about wine. At first, it was a way to remember what I liked, what I didn't and where I got the wine. The older entries were pretty much yay or nay on the wine. As I learned more about vino, though, I began recording vintages, regions and alcohol by volume percentages. And I got better at describing the aroma, flavors and finishes so that I could actually write a review of the wine and not just read that I had this at the family reunion, cheap relative brought it and it never ever buy it for myself. Ahem.

Some of these random entries have made me laugh a little - or a lot. Some are old, and the vintage is no longer available..but I think you'll get where I was coming from! So take a moment and randomly travel down memory lane with me, will you? (note: years refer to the vintage of the wine, not the year I added the entry)

Toasted Head Chardonnay (2001) - California. Great name! Lemony.  Better when it's lightly chilled. Great aroma. A good one. (Apparently the name made an impression.)

Wooloomooloo Red Blend (2007) - Australia. LOVE this name! No getting around this, you must let this one breathe. LOTS of wood and tannins. Thin, sappy, not a bit memorable. Too much blending going on maybe? (Again, I was taken in by the name. But not the wine.)

Porcupine Ridge Syrah - South Africa. Yuck. Ick. Ick. Forgot to take the wood out of the wine. Tannins overpowering. Cute label though. (Really? What was my thing with the labels...oh wait. I still do that. Never mind.)

Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon (2006) - California. Smells of cherry wood. Taste is very cherry with a bit of a sharp aftertaste. Very good with meats, stews. (Nothing remarkable about this entry except that I have a dining room full of cherry wood furniture and am wondering if there's a connection.)

Penfolds Koonuga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet (2009) - South Australia. Nose: oak, spice and ripe berry. Flavors of cocoa and oak. Fell asleep. Hubby forgot to cork bottle. Have to go buy another one now.  (note: I still haven't.)

Shelburne Vineyards Coach Barn Road Merlot (2007) - Vermont. Grown in NY, aged in oak in Vermont. Bought on ski trip to Vermont. Lots of tannins. This wine made me sneeze. (Never before, never again has a wine made me sneeze.)

Trader Joe's French Market Cabernet Sauvignon (2005)  - France. Like drinking wood. Really dried my mouth out. Not again. (I actually underlined the last two words a lot in my notes...apparently I really did not like this one.)

I am sure there will be lots more randomness in my Winey Journey. Kind of the way things go around here sometimes. Most of the time.


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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Cracking The Code With Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc

My recent trip to northern California included a 2 day stay in wine country. As I've said before, you have your pick of billions and billions of wineries to tour and sip at. It's enough to make you want to unpack permanently. But, The Winey Hubby and I did have to eventually return to we picked a few wineries to visit. Not one to make anyone/thing ever feel left out, though, I spent the rest of the vacation sipping only wines from California. This way, even if we didn't make it into the actual winery, I got to sip my way around the area.

18th green at Pebble Beach.
Photo by Winey Mom.
Adoration of green by Winey Hubby.
That's why I was sipping a Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc (2010, 12.8%, Rutherford, CA) about 2 hours south of Napa, in the utterly enchanting town of Carmel By The Sea on the Monterey Peninsula. (Yes, THAT town - the one that Clint Eastwood used to be mayor of!)  One of the absolute prettiest towns you'll ever see: fairy tale type houses, adorable shops, amazing restaurants, all leading toward the end of Ocean Avenue and a breathtaking beach. (The Winey Hubby thought the breathtaking factor was largely due to the fact that you can actually see and walk to the hallowed ground of Pebble Beach Golf Club...but we all have our priorities in this life.)

The famed Lone Cypress,
17-Mile Drive.
Photo by Winey Mom
So after a day of driving 17-Mile Drive - truly one of the most gorgeous drives in this country - we wound up back in town and ready to eat. For our dining pleasure, we decided on PortaBella Restaurant, right on Ocean Avenue. Everyone there speaks with a French accent (loved it!!) and the restaurant itself is pure charm. Once we got seated, I took up the wine list and started reading. And reading. And reading. (Typical of these little gourmet restaurants in California - so for those of us of a certain age, ahem, do NOT go without your reading glasses. Just saying...) With the help of our waiter, I finally decided on a bottle of the Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc. Little did I know I was in for a lesson - with a quiz to follow!

The bottle arrived, and the first thing our waiter did was to uncork it and present me with the cork - making sure I could read the message on it. Very cute. Ribbit! I get it. But then, he turned the bottle around and showed us a top secret code on the back label. TFWYHF. He made us guess what it meant. Living in Ohio, I immediately tried to fit TBDBITL into it, but it didn't work. (Don't know TBDBITL? Sigh. OK, it stands for "The Best Dam Band In The Land" and it refers to the Ohio State Marching Band. But this is waaay off track here.) We kept trying but.... he finally took pity on us and cracked the code: "Time's Fun When You're Having Flies". Wait for it - it took us a minute, too. And then we just laughed out loud!

The label also had the very helpful instruction "Open Other End" on it. I can only assume that this does not apply for your FIRST bottle, but could become necessary on later uncorkings.

Now for the wine itself. It had a bouquet of peach and flowers. It tasted of citrus and apricot and flowers and was light and crisp in my mouth. The finish was of minerals and lime. At no time did I taste or get a whiff of flies (or frogs). And it was absolutely wonderful with my salmon and mushroom risotto.  A great wine to sip on its own or to take to the table. One to buy!

Just goes to show that you never know what you're going to get when you walk into a beautiful little restaurant in a picturesque seaside city. A romantic dinner. An amazing meal. Or a lesson on how frogs party. Travel is such fun!


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Friday, April 13, 2012

Winey Travels: The Grandaddy Of Them All: Robert Mondavi Winery

Heading to California wine country for the very first time is a little daunting. Especially if you love wine. Why? Oh I don't know, maybe it's the billion wineries that line the streets, all with welcoming signs that say "Tasting Today". Talk about sensory overload.

When The Winey Hubby and I made the trip a few weeks ago, we did our research ahead of time. OK, I did some research. His contribution to the trip was to ask every few days, "Which wineries do you want to go to?" I took to Twitter to ask for recommendations. When we arrived in California, I talked to the wine gurus we met in San Francisco. And I pretty much grilled the innkeepers at The Wine Country Inn in St. Helena, where we stayed during this part of our trip. To their credit, no one at the Inn ran away when they saw me coming. They were beyond helpful in suggesting restaurants and wineries. So when we decided that we wanted to do at least one big, well known winery, they told us it had to be Mondavi, right on Highway 29 in Oakville. (Note: nothing is very far away from anything in wine country. Oakville was about a 15 minute ride from St. Helena.)

The famous entrance to Robert Mondavi
Winery. Photo by Winey Mom
Robert Mondavi was truly a pioneer in wine country. Not only did he build the first new winery in Napa since prohibition (1966), but he was also a cheerleader and mentor to nearly everyone else who started wineries there. (The two winemakers who won the now infamous Paris testing in 1976, beating out France with their upstart California wines, were protegees of his. Note: If you can, watch the 2008 movie "Bottle Shock" -it tells the story of the 1976 competition and it's a great movie to boot!)

Our tour started out with a lesson in Mondavi, and thus Napa, history. The Mondavi's actually started out growing the grapes that they shipped off to be made into wine. Our guide explained the different Mondavi wines you'll find today: Woodbridge ("Every Table Deserves the Joy of Great Wine"), Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Private Selection and Spotlight (these are available at the winery only)

The Winey Mom in the tour
On we moved to an actual vineyard (OK, it was one planted just for us tour takers, but it does the job nicely without having to put on boots and take a tractor ride in the middle of your tour). A little agricultural lesson (in which we got our Ohio tie-in: Ohio native Hamilton Walker Crabbe planted the original vines there in 1860) and then we were off to the cellars.

Leaning into a barrel,
looking up!
The first thing you notice (other than the heavenly smell of fermenting grapes) in the upper cellar is the sheer size of those oak barrels. The grapes come here from the vineyard and soak for a few days. Then their temp is raised to about 86 degrees and the fermentation begins for 8-10 days. The grapes then get to sit with their skins (called maceration) for about a month. The wine is drained and sent one floor down to the aging barrels.
Top view of the fermenting barrels
Fermenting barrel

Aging barrels
The barrel aging room is, for the Winey of us, a beautiful thing! Rows and rows and rows of gorgeous oak barrels just sitting there making wine. Ahh..... We all took a moment to reflect...

And then our "tasting". I use quotes here because this really was a wine lesson as much as it was a tasting. We were taught to swirl properly (with glasses on the table for the more timid of the swirlers), sniff with aplomb and to sip correctly. And with sipping correctly, I mean that we learned to never judge a wine on first sip (kind of judging people on first impression). Nope, sip it, wait 10 seconds, then take another sip and you'll be getting a much truer taste of your vino!

First up was the 2010 Stags Leap Sauvignon Blanc (13.5%). I'm going to talk about this quickly since it's a Spotlight of their very best...but only available at the winery or through a special club (which cannot ship to we were out on that option). The aroma was of pink grapefruit and other tangy citrus. It tasted of sharp limes and minerals with a bit of green apple. It was tart and tangy and lively. Suffice to say, we went home with a bottle of this!

Next up the 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir (14.5%). Our guide described the Pinot Noir grape as the princess, the diva of the grapes. Apparently, she's very touchy, liking a cool, dry climate..or else (she didn't elaborate on the "or else" and I think I'm glad). Pinot Noirs don't travel well, so a good one from California can cost big bucks on the east coast. This wine was dark red with aromas of cherries and plums. It tasted like dark, tart berries and had a soft finish of oak.

We also got to taste a 2008 Momentum (15.5% ABV). This is actually a blend of 6 different reds - kind of a Meritage style. It had a big nose of cherry and black pepper and you could taste the spices and a little cherry/blueberry in there as well. It had a big, tannic finish. So big that we were actually given some gourmet pizza to eat while we sipped it - it really paired well with food. In its own, it might scare you. This was also a Spotlight wine.

And then our very wonderful guide endeared herself to The Winey Hubby forever and decided that we needed to taste a 2010 Moscato D'oro (8% ABV). The Winey Hubby loves his sweet wines and this one just sang with flowers and peaches in the nose and on the tongue. And yes, this too made the trip back home with us.

I loved our time at Mondavi Winery. The sheer wine history there is enough to make anyone raise a glass in honor of its founder. But the fact that he wanted every table in America to be able to have a bottle of good wine on it, that he worked with and advised nearly every vintner who came to the valley, and let's face it, the fact that he owned a jacket made out of corks (see picture at right) made this guy, and a tour of his winery, a day to remember!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Winey Travels: Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards - Add A Little Sparkle To Your Day

As part of a significant birthday present trip for the Winey Hubby (significant being any birthday that ends in a "0" and makes the Winey kids tease you a lot), we recently spent a week in the San Francisco area. I had never been, and the last time WH was there he was a passenger in a car driven by his father. Being the second youngest of five children, I do believe he sat on the "floor hump" for much of that trip. This time we made it a bit more comfy for him.

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyard
Of course, part of our trip consisted of a stopover in Wine Country. We started out in Sonoma, on a very, very rainy spring day and thanks to a number of winery suggestions, wound up at the Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, in the Carneros region of Sonoma, right at the very bottom of Sonoma County. I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant to visit because they specialize in sparkling wines. And I have a healthy fear of such wines and the headaches they bring me. Plus, they all seemed sort of one dimensional. But, it was raining hard, we'd been in wine country for an hour and I wanted out of the car (even though I was seated nice and comfy in the front passenger seat and not on the back seat floor hump).

Of course we wanted a tour - they had caves after all! It being a quiet Tuesday, we were the only two people on the tour, which started out with our guide Tammy handing each of us a glass of 2006 Blanc de Blancs (100%  Chardonnay, 12.5%) and ordering us to start sipping. Well, okey dokey - things were looking up! A little history lesson told us that Ferrer was the very first sparkling wine winery in Carneros (wine country has a bunch of different "regions" within its famed counties...this is one of them). They grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes there - and these are the two most important grapes to grow if you want your wine to sparkle. I was learning a lot. And the Blanc de Blancs? It sparkled with tastes of pear and lemon and was almost creamy in my mouth. Definitely NOT one dimensional! Hmm....
Sparkling wine on a riddling rack
A walk to the next building found us in the actual wine making facility. We got the bird's eye view of the entire process, which, when you're talking about Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine, is known as Méthode Champenoise. In a nutshell, this is the wine making "recipe" allegedly developed by Dom (Pierre) Perignon, a Benedictine Monk in the Champagne district of France in the 1600's. (We're talking some major history here!) It centers around blending wines into a cuvee (blend) which is then bottled. Sugar and yeast are added to make the bubbles. Once the bottles are bubbled, they are put on riddling racks so that all the leftover yeast settles in the neck of the bottle. The yeast is then extracted by actually putting the bottles into a freezing solution, freezing the yeast and popping it out, saving the bubbly good stuff underneath it. A “dosage,” (mixture of white wine, sugar and brandy) may be added at this point to increase the sweetness. The wine is then re-bottled with a thick cork, and topped with the famous wire cage to hold up to the pressure of the carbon dioxide trapped inside the bottle. Sparkling wine can have an alcohol content ranging from 12%-14%.

You get to see this entire process in the wine making room - and it's quite amazing. For as much as machines help with the bottling and freezing and corking, there are still some very knowledgeable human eyes down there watching and tasting and testing. At this point though, we were poured another glass of sparkling wine and ordered to sip again! This time, we were tasting a 2004 Royal Cuvee (67% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 13%) which had been yeast aged for 5 years (longer than the first wine we tasted). This one was very lively on the front and sides of my tongue. It was much creamier in texture and had an apple, cherry flavor to it. The Winey Hubby really liked this one a lot. I did too, but was still a bit partial to the Blanc de Blancs we'd tasted first.

Next up was a peek at one of the caves. No, we didn't have to climb a hillside and evict a family of bears. This cave was right in the winery, complete with brick walls and stretching WAAAAY back into the hillside next to the building. And then, not to take away from the cave or anything, but Tammy decided that we must taste the wine that has recently come into the spotlight in Sonoma. So we were poured a 2006 Jose S. Ferrer Pinot Noir (100% estate grown Pinot Noir, 13.5%). There was an aroma of smoke and plum, followed by those tastes with a dash of pepper thrown in. Yum. And since hubby is not a huge red wine drinker, I got some of his too!

2000 Carneros Cuvee
Don't you just love the
shape of the bottle!?
I can't say enough about how nice our guide, Tammy, was. I could tell we'd have fun right away when we both started moaning about teenagers for one reason or another. When our tour was "finished", she led us back to the tasting room and told us she'd help if we wanted to buy anything or get something to eat. And then she decided that we really hadn't had enough of an education thus far and told us to sit down and wait a second. Having followed her orders for the past hour, we weren't about to stop then. And out she came with two more glasses. She put them in front of us explaining that she had talked so much about their top of the line sparkling wine, the 2000 Carneros Cuvee (55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay,12.5%) and how you really could taste the difference in a wine aged 10 years and that it won Wine of the Year in the 2012 Winemaker Challenge Wine Competition that she thought we needed to taste some of it. Again, being the intelligent pair that we are, we sipped. And boy was Tammy right! This wine was creamy and soft and tasted of lightly oaked fruits with maybe a hint of smooth vanilla. Wow. Just wow. Away went all my preconceived notions of sparkling wines. This was amazing. And yes, we left with a bottle of it, along with another Pinot Noir that will hopefully appear in a review at a later date.

Our first wine country winery, and it was a good one! The process of making a sparkling wine is fascinating - if you ever get the chance, grab a tour. And if you happen to be in Sonoma, grab it at Gloria Ferrer. The winery had been recommended to me by three different people prior to the trip, and their recommendations were totally and sparklingly justified!


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Friday, April 6, 2012

Win a Happy Face Repurposed Wine Bottle Candle!

Happy Spring! As a welcome back to days of green grass and sipping wine on the patio, The Winey Mom is giving away a vanilla scented candle made by her pal at Vino D'Light. In a previous life, the bottle held Project Happiness Chardonnay, but it has been upcycled to light your evenings!

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment below (just choose the "name/url" option under the profile dropdown and enter the name you'd like to use - you can skip the url field) telling me about your favorite outdoor sipping area. Is it a patio, a deck? Is there a pond nearby? Is it a balcony? A picnic blanket? I want to know (mostly because I'm nosy but also because I can't wait to start sipping outside myself.)

This contest will run from Friday, April 6, 2012 until midnight, Friday, April 13, 2012. One winner will be chosen randomly (via on that date, thereby nullifying the whole idea of bad luck on Friday the 13th. I will post the winner on the blog, Twitter and on my Facebook page. The winner then has until Tuesday April 17th to contact me so I can get their name and mailing address. Once you do, the candle will be lovingly packaged and shipped on its way to you! Retail value of the candle is approximately $20.

Since The Winey Mom lives with a Winey attorney, she would be mocked without end if she did not direct you to the Contest Rules page. Please read them. It took her a long time to figure it all out and she'd really like it if someone at least looked at it.

This is a picture of the candle.
 Please note that The Winey Mom makes
no pretense at being a professional photographer.
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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Happy Alert: Cookies Made To Pair With Your Wine!

Cookie is a happy word, isn't it? Add the word "gourmet" in front of it and the happiness just ramps up another notch or two. But...what if you added the word "wine" to those two words? OK, calm down now. You need to read the rest of this.

What could buy some gourmet cookies that were specifically crafted to go with different varieties of wine?  I was very intrigued by the whole idea of choosing a certain cookie to sip with. I don't normally eat cookies as I drink wine. I eat crackers and cheese, appetizers, dinner or nothing. But cookies and wine? This all came about because I recently won (yes, I won something!) a box of Cookies and Corks Sparkling Wine Pairing cookies. The box contained three different flavors of cookies that were made to pair with sparkling wine. There was Parmesan Thyme, Zesty Lemon and Sea Salt Chocolate Oatmeal. The cookies came with suggestions of what exact kind of sparkling wine each would go nicely with (Brut, Prosecco, Demi-Secor or Brut Rose). I wanted to give each cookie its due, without giving me the mother of all headaches, so I decided to go with a lighter bodied sparkling white, Barefoot Pinot Grigio Sparkling Champagne, which gave me some dryness as well as some citrus flavor and lots of those bubbles!

The cookie box suggested "sip, nibble, sip" as the best way to enjoy these cookies, so I committed this mantra to memory and began my test.

First up was the Parmesan Thyme cookies. Sip. Nibble. They were very herby and earthy - no getting around the "thyme" part of the ingredient label. They were also very dry. Sip. Um, well. I would have to say that the bubbles turned the thyme taste into a grassy flavor. And while I have nothing against it as a ground cover, I don't like to eat grass.

Moving on, I opened the Zesty Lemon cookies. Sip. Nibble. WOW! The bubbles exploded again in my mouth and the lemony flavor really came through. Sip. These cookies took out any of the sweetness in the wine and made it into a dry bubbly. Nibble. The lemon jumped around my mouth and once again amped up the bubbles - I could feel them on the inside of my lips (hmm...I would have to say that's a phrase I never thought I'd write, ever). This would be a great cookie on its own too.

Next up were the Sea Salt Chocolate Oatmeal cookies. Sip. Nibble. The chocolate soared with the sweeter flavors of the wine. Sip. The bite of the sea salt made my tongue tingle when the bubbles hit it. Nibble nibble nibble. Let me just say this right now: I would die for these cookies. They were my absolute favorites. I would eat them any time, anywhere and would gladly hide them from the rest of my family, no guilt whatsoever.

But the winner of the "pairing" had to go to the Zesty Lemons. They really did bring out the best of the bubbly without overpowering it or losing their flavor.

This would be so much fun to use at a wine tasting party!  I could see so many wild conversations since you aren't just tasting wine - you're adding the cookie factor in as well. And if you love your cookies as much as you do your wine, you're in for a fun night!


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