Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: At HOME with Kenneth Volk Chardonnay

It was the rare - and I mean RARE - Memorial Day weekend in the Winey Household: nothing to do for three whole days! Oh, this doesn't sound rare to you? Well, we here in Winey World have raised two Winey children. Both of whom play/ed travel sports. So if we weren't in West Virginia over the 4th of July for a baseball tournament, we were in Erie, PA over Memorial Day for a soccer tournament. You can go ahead and substitute the following cities for any of the above: Columbus, Holmdel NJ, Washington DC (try negotiating THAT traffic on Memorial Day weekend), Indianapolis, Dayton and Toledo.

But this year, with the Winey son in training at West Point, and the Winey daughter's travel soccer team taking the weekend off, we were given the gift of three whole days together, at home (Cadet was with us in spirit)! The weather was looking great, too. The weekend started off very nicely with a visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art to take in the Rembrandt exhibit (very civilized, don't you think?) and a showing of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (very enjoyable). The next day found many little chores getting done outside, as well as plenty of hammock time (with requisite trashy magazine). The next night, The Winey Mother in Law came over for the second barbeque of the weekend, and she brought along a bottle of wine. How very very civilized as well....(OK, when she asked what she could bring I said "wine", but still, she is a nicely civilized person).

Her choice was  2007 Kenneth Volk Vineyards Santa Maria Cuvee Chardonnay (14.2%, California). Since the Santa Maria Valley is well known for the wonderful Chardonnay grapes it produces, Volk takes grapes from the best vineyards there (Kenneth Volk Vineyard Estate Vineyard, Sierra Madre Vineyard, and Bien Nacido Vineyard) and blends them together. He also uses a really cool barrel racking system for his Chards, the OXO barrel racking system. So instead of stirring the wine when it's aging in its oak barrel (which requires that the stopper on the barrel - the bung - be removed, letting in some not so desired oxygen), the barrels are actually spun on the racks. They admit that this is a faster, more efficient and much more fun way of flavoring the wines as they age. Seems to me you also get to burn off the calories before you drink the wine - win-win there.

So now you've learned something, you educated Winey reader. Let me tell you about the wine. The aroma is rich with pears and melons. It tastes of warm oak and pear with some apple floating around in there as well. It has a full feel in your mouth - not thick - it's more like a heavy silk feeling. We kept it chilled on the table as we ate, and it was just perfect alongside my (self proclaimed) amazing turkey and cheese burgers. It was just as good later on when the s'more making began.

The wine runs around $20 a bottle. The Memorial Day weekend of family time was priceless!!

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Apothic White and Unintentional Popcorn

Now that the Winey patio is open for business, the Winey family grill is up and running. I love to grill out! Maybe it's just the idea of getting out of the kitchen, but grilling holds a special appeal to me. I have been the family griller for over 20 years now (since bk, which is "before kids" for those of you who need the translation) and as the years progress I have gotten more and more adventurous with the recipes. Plus, now that the latest version of the Winey family grill has a side burner, well...bring on the pots along with the grill racks.

One thing I have never experienced though, is the dreaded grill flare up (where fat drips onto your burners causing flames to leap WAY high - not just blackening your food, but putting your eyelashes into grave danger as well)...at least I hadn't until last Sunday night.

It was shaping up to be the perfect evening: Winey Cadet had come home for an unexpected visit from West Point, Winey daughter had won her soccer game, Winey mother in law on the way over for dinner. The weather was ideal, the grass was cut, all the chair cushions were on the chairs and I had fresh bi-color corn on the cob, garlic bread and some very tasty chicken legs and thighs ready to hit the grill. I also had a bottle of Apothic White (2010, 12.5%, California) chilling and ready to go.

The chicken went in first. All nicely lined up on the lower rack, ready to grill away to perfection. The corn went in next, but on the top rack (we like our corn just lightly grilled - enough to melt all that butter on!). I stepped away to bring out a tray of salad dressing when I noticed a lot of smoke coming from my beloved red grill. I opened the lid and lo and behold: The Towering Inferno was shooting a remake inside my grill. Flames leaped up all over the chicken and the corn (I was momentarily concerned for my eyelashes, but they seemed to be safe). I quickly turned the grill off. But the dripping fat from the chicken (dark meat - a bit fattier, which is why they're so perfect for the grill - up to a point, I guess) kept on fueling the flames.

Sure, it all looks calm
And then I heard it: Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Whattheheck? Was the grill popping? No...not the grill. But the ears of corn were starting to burn and pop. I was literally making popcorn on the upper rack of the grill when all I wanted was some nicely warmed corn on the cob. Pop. Pop. At this point I had to call in the Winey Husband (twice because there was golf on tv and he REALLY didn't think I meant it when I yelled "I need you NOW!").  His first bit of brilliant advice was to turn off the grill. Well, duh, I already had done that. His second was to rescue the chicken. Which turned out to be sound advice, since the chicken was doing just fine in the flames. His third was to kind of stand there and marvel at the fact that the corn was actually popping. (Note: there were no fluffy white popped kernels - just noisy, blackened bits of kernel flying around.) And once the chicken got off the grill, the flames did die down, leaving three VERY black ears of corn and 2 nicely grilled ears of corn. Oh, and one wide-eyed mother in law who had chosen that very moment to walk onto the patio.

Luckily, the saving grace here was that after my experience with the inferno, I had a lovely cool glass(es) of wine to turn to. (I'm not sure "turn" is the correct verb, maybe I should have said "run to and gulp"?) Apothic White is a medium bodied blend of  Chardonnay, Riesling and Moscato. The aroma was of peach syrup and rose petals (thankfully, the smell of burned corn was not plastered inside my nose). The taste was pure flower garden: flowers and peaches and honey, honey, honey! It finished of honey and then moved to a lime-y sort of tang. Wow! Just what the doctor ordered for a Winey Mom who had nearly entered the family record book under the heading of "Epic Dinner Fail". 

To be  perfectly honest, I could have used a bit more tanginess in this wine, but that might just be the flames talking. This wine was very smooth and luscious in the mouth - Riesling fans will totally love it. But it was a yummy wine that went so well with my grilled chicken (seriously, after all that, only a few pieces of skin were charred, and they were easily removed). Admittedly, we had to saw the remaining corn in half and share it (I, not surprisingly, declined the corn. Just not in the mood for some reason) but the dinner was saved and we would up sitting around and talking for another hour. Great family dinner.Tasty summer wine. And I still had my eyelashes. What more could you want?


Winey Mom side note: In retrospect, I should have just left the chicken alone and not turned it. That would have kept the fat and juices in place and not dripping down into the flames. But then I wouldn't have anything to write about, right?

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: A Little Arrogant Frog In My Pond and In My Wine Glass

I have nothing against frogs in general. As slimy amphibians go, they're really not that bad. They are cute little tadpoles when they're born, have big, funny eyes and I really love their legs breaded with garlic and butter. (Oh stop, like you've never had frogs' legs before? Have you had chicken? Tastes just like it. You knew that was coming, didn't you?!)

I do, however, have some issues with the frogs that have decided to move into the pond in front of our house. They are arrogant little beings who act as if I am Godzilla coming to attack them every time I am out front. They also, apparently, do not like to share the pond with the goldfish that WE prefer to have living there. At least the fish keep the algae down and don't make loud, embarrassing croaking sounds that scare birds and small children.

Those frogs just did not care
that we bought them a pondwarming
I have tried to make my peace with these froggies. We have even gone so far as to embrace their culture and have put a little froggie statue on the rocks around the pond, just to let them know they're welcome.

But do they appreciate it? Nope. In fact, they pretty much hate us. Just walk up the front path and you will hear the sounds of dozens of frogs diving for cover from the big scary monster who dared to use their own front walk. Or - and this is even worse - try driving your car up the driveway and into the garage without smooshing the little buggers who decided to spend twilight on the warm concrete. (One very deadly night, the score was Winey Husband: 2, Frogs: 0.)

So when I saw a bottle Arrogant Frog wine, complete with the picture of a very self assured, suave FROG on the label, I just had to try some. If only to show the frogs who was the Winey Boss around here.

This wine was Arrogant Frog Lily Pad Red (2010, 13.5%, Languedoc, France). It's a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot - and given how much I've been enjoying blends recently, that was promising. It was a very dark purple color and had rather heavy (unfroglike) legs to it. The aroma was of warm oak and pepper. It tasted of licorice and oak and earth (frogs like dirt, I guess). There was just a little hint of some stone fruit (cherry, plum?) but it was faint. The finish on this froggie was long and puckery with a little bite at the end.

I'm sure some people would just happily ribbit their way through a bottle of Lily Pad Red. I however, found it to be a frog wine that takes itself very seriously. I really don't think it's a sipping by the pond type of wine. Nor is it a wine for anyone who is unsure of the whole red thing.  It's more of a wine to serve with a very civilized dinner (no, you don't have to eat frogs' legs with it, but wouldn't that be quite the theme meal?)  Beret not required, but it would certainly set the tone!


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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Everything In The Kitchen Sink White (but not MY kitchen sink)

There is an old expression that talks about "everything but the kitchen sink". It refers to a crowded place, as in, "That closet has everything in it but the kitchen sink." It can also refer to a somewhat senseless question asked by husbands at certain times of the year: "Why are we taking everything but the kitchen sink with us on vacation?" It can also be an answer to a related question uttered by moms everywhere as they get ready to leave on vacation: "Do we have everything?" "Everything but the kitchen sink." (We won't go into ensuing conversations that may result from such exchanges. I'm a Winey Mom, not a marriage counselor.)

So, since this white table wine is made up of 36% Chardonnay, 32% Chenin Blanc, 21% Gewurztraminer and 11% mixed white varietals, it's kind of easy to see why it might get the name Kitchen Sink (12.5%, NV, Sonoma, CA).

Please note the proximity of the sink
as well as the dishwasher.
 Point proved.
I find it somewhat amusing that the expression as well as the wine refer to the fact that there is a lot of "stuff" in a kitchen sink. Because I must tell you that in my house, things seem to go anywhere BUT the kitchen sink. I believe that it is some sort of genetic wrist condition that my husband passed along to my children. It makes them physically incapable of actually putting anything INTO the kitchen sink. They can get things onto the counter near it...or on the cutting board that sits beside the sink itself...but not INTO the sink. (Please note that this condition also applies to putting dishes and utensils into dishwashers.) The only ones not affected by this are me and the dog. But then again, I'm not really sure about the dog, since she's a 10 inch high Maltese who can't actually reach the sink.

As you can tell, I am slightly agitated about the state of my home's kitchen sink. But happily, that is not the case with 750 milliliters of Kitchen Sink Artisan White Blend.  The bottle is filled with aromas of pear and lush tropical smells - think mango. The tastes that fill your mouth are of summertime flowers, honey and vanilla with a tiny bit of coconut. It feels lush and soft in the mouth and ends sweetly with some lingering honey and an ever so slightly tart tang - sort of like the tart skin on a pear or a green apple.  You can really taste and feel the Gewurztraminer in this wine, but for those who avoid a syrupy Gewurztraminer, the other varietals will save you from that, as well as add in that little zing. This is the perfect wine for sipping or pairing. I am looking forward to pairing it with some spicy grill foods this summer!

So, this is one time that I am totally happy my kitchen sink....but that's because I'm talking about a bottle of wine and not my counter top.


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Friday, May 11, 2012

Winey Reading Notes: "The Billionaire's Vinegar"

In addition to being a Winey Mom, I am also a proud, card (um I guess that should be book) carrying bookworm. I love to read. In fact, if you ask me what a perfect evening would entail, I'd have to include the following elements: good book, glass of wine, fire (fireplace or patio fire pit, depending on the season).

I'm also kind of geeky in that I love history. Many of our vacations include stops at historic sites (and battlefields, which I believe had a direct correlation on the Winey Son attending West Point!).  American history is one of my favorites (other than the history of the English monarchy which in effect, is like reading one really, really long soap opera) and I am especially fascinated by our Founding Fathers. Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson....can't get enough of their bios!

So when I get my hands on a non fiction book about the world's most expensive bottle of wine that also includes: 1) A history of Thomas Jefferson and his love of wine, especially during his days as the Colonies' ambassador to France  2) a history of wine growing in the United States 3) a history of wine growing in France 4) a history of the rise of the wine culture in the US.... well. Go ahead and just imagine how quickly I grabbed it off the shelf. Done? Good. Let's move on.

The above book is titled  The Billionaire's Vinegar  and it's written by Benjamin Wallace. (2008, Crown Publishers). The story centers on the winey antics of the fine wine world, before and after a member of the Forbes family buys a bottle of 1787 Château Lafite Bordeaux at an auction for $156,000. This wasn't just any ancient bottle of fine wine - it was supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson, our nation's second president and one of the greatest wine connoisseurs of his time. The book goes on to describe the issues of the bottle's authenticity and the very colorful cast of real life characters that come into play in the bottle's journey to stardom.

The first few chapters of the book will give you a winey European history lesson that ranges from the strict French tier system of wines and wineries to the start of the wine craze right here in the United States.  Little wine tidbits of knowledge just kept popping up. (Benjamin Disraeli's doctor regularly prescribed Lafite as a cure for his asthma and gout! Thomas Jefferson was George Washington's unofficial wine consultant.) You learn all about Jefferson's great love of wine, wine growing and wine collecting. You also get a great idea of how Jefferson and company spent his ambassadorial days in Paris as they tried to put our little United States of America together, as well as a vivid picture of the French wine growing districts of the 18th century.

Next you meet the modern cast of characters as they interact over the Jefferson wine bottle. Hardy Rodenstock, the pop music manager turned wine expert who claims to have found the bottle (one of dozen) in a walled off Paris basement. Michael Broadbent, the bow tie wearing, bicycle riding wine auctioneer at Christie's. Serena Sutcliffe, the Sotheby's wine guru whose palate is actually insured (think Betty Grable's legs back in the 40's!). The rich Floridian who buys one of the bottles, the comical wine merchant who actually breaks one of the bottles and the former FBI agent hired to find out the truth behind the bottles. I swear, you couldn't make this stuff up.

At times, the book got a bit down and dirty when it described the scientific methods used to verify the bottles' age and the wine's authenticity. But even then, Wallace paints such a true picture of sparse labs and underground testing that can at least feel the atmosphere of the scientific venues, even if you can't wrap your brain around all that science.

As you might imagine, many different lawsuits were filed over the question of the Jefferson bottles. Some have been settled, some are pending, others are tied up in legal muck. No matter what their current status, the story of the wine that started them all is very, very entertaining.

Sorry, just couldn't resist!
It was funny that I read this book now, four years after it was published, because just a few days ago, it was announced that Brad Pitt has been signed to star in the movie version of the book. (Will Smith owns the rights to it.) Now, I am not the world's biggest Brad Pitt fan (he does have moments of brilliance, though - did you see "Burn After Reading"?), but I am a big Will Smith fan. I can only hope that Will's talent leads the production, and it turns out to be as well made as the book is well written!


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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Skinny Girl California Red (or: I'll Take The Extra Calories, Please)

Yikes. It doesn't happen often. And I just hate it when it does. But...there comes a time in every wine lover's life when you take that sip and say, "Blecchh." And yes, that is the scientific term. And no, it's not a positive one.

I was excited to see a bottle of the just released Skinny Girl line of wines on a local wine shelf. The wines are the latest offering from Bethenny Frankel, the creator of the wildly successful Skinnygirl cocktails. The wines claim to be only 100 calories per 5 ounce glass. That's all well and good. But since most wines run about 100-125 calories a glass, how much are you really saving? Is it worth it?

But let's forget the calorie count for a moment here and head on to the real test of a wine. How does it taste? That's what it's all about, right?

It was the Skinnygirl California Red (2011, 12%, California) that I spied on the shelf. It's a blend of reds with Syrah being the main grape used. It's dark reddish-pink in color and has the cute little Skinnygirl logo on the bottle. Bethenny herself describes the wine on the back label: "It's a warm medium-bodied blend of my favorite red grapes with a rich aroma of blueberry and hibiscus and a hint of caramel. This wine has a rounded finish..."

I unscrewed, decanted and sniffed. Hard to find an aroma. When I did, it was more like burnt blueberry pie than anything else. I took a sip. Waited. Took another sip. And all I could think of was "dirty water". Not the most poetic or positive description I've ever assigned to a wine. The finish was tasteless and very, very drying. I went so far as to grab the receipt from the store and made plans to throw myself on their mercy and take it back.

I tried again the next day. No go. Two days later. A little more berry came through in the finish - but the taste was still thin and unappealing. That was it, I had given it numerous sips. And was not really willing to keep on sipping. Luckily for me, The Winey Hubby arrived home with a case of wine for a get together we were hosting. I grabbed a bottle of one of my favorite vinos so fast it made his head spin (something you never really see from The Winey Hubby) and poured a glass just to restore my faith in wine and wine makers everywhere.

In an interview with Wine Spectator Magazine, Frankel had this to say: "I wanted [Skinnygirl] to taste approachable, not too dry and not too sweet, a very drinkable blend. I'm not a wine snob—I've found great wines at Trader Joe's. I didn't want this brand to try to be something it's not."

I'm not really sure what she wanted it to be, other than low calorie. And why wouldn't you find a great wine at Trader Joe's for heaven's sake? I think she has her snob definitions all mixed up and should have stuck to margaritas. As for me, pass the calories, thank you very much. Because I'll take tasty calories over low calorie bad taste any day of the week.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Pass Me The Red Velvet Cupcake Please!!

It has been said of Thomas Jefferson, one of the great wine aficionados of his time (oh and he also founded our nation and wrote the Declaration of Independence and was our second president...), that he would find a wine he liked and BAM - that was his wine forever!!! Well, I think I had a Jeffersonian wine moment last week. It all started with a bottle of Cupcake Wine Red Velvet (2011, 13.5%, California). And it was on special. I had really enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon and not possessing the DNA that allows me walk away from a sale, I grabbed a bottle.

Now, I like cake, nothing against it at all. But I really just see it as something to hold the buttercream frosting off of the plate. The more frosting, the better. And don't even think of handing me something with that whipped cream frosting horror. If given a choice, I always choose a fresh white cake. Red velvet cake is a fairly new one in my taste repertoire, introduced by the dessert loving Winey Daughter. But hey, I decided to give this Red Velvet thing a go. It's in wine form, after all.

And wow oh wow! Was I ever happy that I did. This could be a new go-to favorite for me. Red Velvet is a blend of Zinfandel (the base), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. The nose on this is cocoa. Not a bitter cocoa - it's that soft, wonderful, rich cocoa smell that could actually get you out of bed on an Ohio January morning. Underneath this blessed aroma were some berries. And the taste? Powdered cocoa and blackberry with just a hint of vanilla cake batter (yes, I eat the cake batter - and I'm still alive). It was so smooth in my mouth, too. Just like...ok, just like velvet. The finish was of creamy cocoa and some mocha coffee with a smooth tannic bite at the end. Oh my. This was: fantastic!!

I was so excited by this first bottle of Cupcake Red Velvet that I went back to the store and bought two more bottles of it. I never do that. I really had the Red Velvet fever. The second bottle was just as tasty as the first. So no, it wasn't my imagination. This was one awesome wine!

I could easily pair this with steak or lamb. But you really don't need a food with it. It's extremely drinkable on its own. This is one cake that packs a velvet punch. (Sorry, couldn't resist that one.) It's been a while since I sipped on a wine that I knew would absolutely enter into the Winey Mom Hall of Favorites (which exists only in my mind now, but someday I am hoping to break ground outside my brain). But this is one of those wines.

So run out and buy some. Proudly take it to dinner parties, housewarmings, and hostesses. And if you happen to be in my neighborhood (northeast Ohio), bring some to me. Thanks.


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