Friday, September 28, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Doubling Up With Double Decker

What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words "double decker"? It's a 2 level red bus that roams the streets of London, right? I'm sure that's what most people think of first...but for me, it's a two level red bus that roams the streets of Paris. Here's why...

On the Chunnel Train, 2005
Many moons ago, when the Winey Son and Daughter were in 7th and 3rd grade, our Winey Cousins were living in London for a few years. They were (and still are) the kind of cousins that are your friends, and would have been even if you hadn't been related - pretty cool, huh? They were also the kind of relatives/friends who insisted we visit them for spring break and stay with them in their mews home. Not being idiots (who would turn down free lodging in London?) we flew "across the pond" for 10 days of London. While we were there, we decided that it would be a lot of fun to take the Chunnel train over to Paris for 2 nights. Easy as anything - and a ton of fun to ride under the English Channel. (The Winey Children will tell you the best part was the dining car. Isn't that always the case?)

Winey Daughter & Winey Husband on that
Paris Double Decker bus ride, 2005
Anyway, given that our time in the City of Lights was limited, we decided to buy tickets on the famed Paris double decker sightseeing bus line. (The better to see the city than to speed through it underground on the Metro.) That first sunny spring day, we climbed to the top of the bus and began our journey through Paris. Heading toward Notre Dame, we navigated some rather small and narrow neighborhood streets. As we approached an intersection in one of these charming neighborhoods, an elderly man was crossing the street just ahead of the bus. The bus kept moving forward until it looked as if we would totally flatten that man into a French crepe. Our then 9 year old daughter, being the good Samaritan that she is, decided that she alone would save this gentleman by screaming, at the top of her little lungs, "HEY DUDE. WATCH OUT!!!" First of all, I don't think I'd ever heard her use the word "dude" before this. Second of all, the man obviously did NOT understand what this small blonde child was screaming at him. Thirdly, the bus was a flat front bus and did stop in time to avoid smushing him. Fourth and so on: Winey Hubby and I could not stop laughing. Winey Son couldn't believe his sister had done this. And from that point on, for all these many year, the phrase "Hey dude, watch out!" has been a family joke and evoked memories of a very fun Double Decker Bus ride.

So, where is the wine in all of this? It's in a bottle labelled "Double Decker", a line of wines from the Wente Family Estate. (See my article: Choosing Wente Wines). I was fortunate enough to be sent two of the three Double Decker offerings.

The Double Decker Red Blend (2009, 13.5%, California) marries Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbera together. It gives off a strong cherry bouquet. It is absolutely luscious in the mouth, with flavors of cocoa, mocha and black cherries. The finish is smooth with some very light oakey tones to it(the only oak used to age it is termed "neutral" oak, so there are no biting tannins).

I am loving red blends more and more. Why not take a lesson from Mother Nature and combine the best of what she gives us? This could be a new favorite red around the Winey household.

Now on to the white side of this double decker tasting. The Double Decker Pinot Grigio (2010, 13%, California) brings the scents of tropical fruit and fresh air to your nose! It tastes of zesty citrus, some tropical fruit and ends in a wash of tart green apples. The feel of this wine is smooth as well - but with a tiny bit of a mineral bite before it rounds out into a softer ending. So full of taste and liveliness. (I had some fun tasting this while making dinner: If you eat a strawberry and then sip it, the tartness of the wine really comes out - almost to where you'd think you were sipping a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But, if you nibble a blueberry and then sip this wine, the taste mellows a bit and becomes a bit rounder. YUMMY. And yes, that is the technical term.)

The Double Decker winemaker is fifth generation winemaker Karl D. Wente. He may be 5th generation, but he does wonders on a double decker level. These wines sell for under $10 a bottle and I would suggest a case for your next party. Or simply to fill your wine rack up. I'm heading out, on a double decker bus if I can find one here in the suburbs of Cleveland, to find more of them!!

I was sent these wines for sample purposes. Very happy about it, too!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sipping My Way Through The Lake Erie Islands, Part Two: Heineman's Winery, Put-In-Bay

Lake Erie Islands
The Winey Family decided a visit to the Lake Erie Islands was in order this summer....and it was long overdue. I have lived in Cleveland for 25 years and had never set foot on these famed islands. But that's not as bad as the Winey Hubby, who has lived here for the better part of half a century (I love saying that about him, since I am NOT there yet) and not visited them. It was The Winey Daughter who decided we should all hop the Jet Express Ferry and explore for the day. Bless her winey little heart.

In part one of my winey day visiting our two chosen islands, I sipped my way through the Kelley's Island Wine Company offerings. Same day, a bit later, found us on South Bass Island, the third largest of the islands. The only incorporated village on this 3.7 by 1.5 mile island is Put-in-Bay. And boy, does it work the "only one" angle!!

Put-in-Bay is, at its heart, a Victorian village sprawled out along the shoreline of the harbor. You can't miss the gorgeous homes, the village green, the fudge stores (The Winey Daughter would not let us miss the fudge stores) and the old fashioned charm of the place. You also can't miss the two million restaurants and pubs (OK, not 2 million, but you know what I mean), the trendy stores, the super sized golf carts and what I believe was every single bachelorette party held in the entire state of Ohio that day. It's simply fun, fun, fun. Rent a golf cart and head out to see Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial (War of 1812), The Butterfly House, the putt putt courses, and for heaven's sake, do not miss a stop at Heineman's Winery!

Heineman's Winery
Heineman's was founded in 1888 and at one time was one of 17 wineries on Put-in-Bay. But, as with many wineries, that icky Prohibition law put quite a crimp in their style, not to mention their business. (Heineman's survived by selling grape juice and giving tours of the winery caves.) Quite the shame too, because the soil of the islands as well as the long growing season (Lake Erie keeps it quite temperate late into the fall) makes for some wonderful wine making.

Luckily, that misguided era of Prohibition is long gone, and now about 50 of the island's 1500 acres grow grapes. The Lubrusca (native) grapes are grown on South Bass. The two major varieties are Concord and Catawba. Heineman's offers 16 wines and 2 grape juices (never forgot what saved them during the lean years, did they?). The wines range from the famous and award winning Pink Catawba to a Pinot Grigio to Cabernet Sauvignon and on to sparkling and ice wines.  We were at the end of our visit to the island, and, time being tight, we decided to take the easy way out and buy some of the wines to bring home and sip at our leisure.

The first choice was The Lake Erie Niagara Wine (12%, NV, Put-in-Bay, Ohio). The nose on this was pure summertime: honeysuckle and orange blossom with the same tastes bursting in your mouth. It felt round and smooth and silky and finished with the slightly tart taste of citrus. You can almost feel yourself on the deck of a lovely white boat, skimming across the water and sipping this bit of summer. No, really. It was that full of flavor.

Our next choice was The Lake Erie Island Chablis (12%, NV, Put-in-Bay, Ohio). This is a very pale gold in color and gave off an aroma of faint citrus. I have to admit I was a bit worried by the "faint" thing, but then I tasted it and got a mouthful of candied lemon. It was sweet but with a tiny bit of a zest at the end. This was not as supple a mouthful as the Niagara - think how a Sauvignon Blanc feels compared to a Riesling - but it IS a wine that sweet wine drinkers would embrace. And if you are a bit skeptical of sweeter white wines, don't skip this one. It's less sweet than the Niagara, and filled to the brim with flavors.

We also could not leave without taking 2 bottles of famed Heineman's grape juice home with us. In the interest of fairness, we bought the red Concord Grape Juice and the white Catawba Grape Juice. I will refrain from reviewing them here, but let me tell you that the bottles alone would really class up the kid table at the holidays (or the designated driver's place at the adult table). And...they have an amazing taste. No offense to Welch's...but you just can't beat a boutique variety grape juice!

We had a wonderful day on our island hopping trip. Golf carts, monuments, boats, food...and all that wine! Cheers to my adopted home state of Ohio the sipping pleasure it brought me!

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sipping My Way Through the Lake Erie Islands, Part One: Kelley's Island

Lake Erie Islands
It was the Winey Daughter's idea, and it was a good one. It was also one a LONG time in coming, because neither I or The Winey Hubby (who grew up in Northeast Ohio) have ever been to the famed Lake Erie Islands. These are a chain of islands most of which fall under the jurisdiction of our lovely state, Ohio. (A few of the islands, most notably and largest, Pelee, are actually in Canadian waters.) They are  known for the beauty, their food, their outdoor way of life and yes... their wineries! Our time was limited to just one day, so we decided to visit the two most popular destinations for Clevelanders: Kelley's Island and then the town of Put-In-Bay, on South Bass Island.

The Winey Family on
their golf cart
One gorgeous sunny Saturday, the three of us boarded the Jet Express and shot across the water to our first stop: Kelly's Island. Kelly's is actually the largest of the American islands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Within its 4.6 square miles lie historic buildings, Glacial Grooves National Natural Landmark, and Inscription Rock, which is covered with  pictographs believed to date back to the 17th century (or as we call it today, grafitti). The most efficient way to get around the island is to rent a golf cart, so we did. Our first stop: Kelley's Island Wine Company! This was one of the largest wineries in the country when it opened in 1872, but a few fires and a nasty era called Prohibition shut it down. It was re-opened in the 1980's, but not at its original location.

Kelley's Island Wine Company
There used to be an abundance of wine vines on Kelley's Island. Most of them have been taken over by natural forest growth though. That doesn't stop the winery from making 6 different wines that are sold at the winery. And they make it so easy to taste them all, because they offer a tasting tray, which gives you samples of all 6 wines. Pair that with a fruit, sausage and cheese tray and the The Winey Family was in for a wonderful snack-y lunch!

Here is a rundown of my notes on the wines:
Pelee Gamay Noir/Zweigelt: These grapes actually come from Pelee Island. The winery describes it as a spicy blend. I would have to say though that these spices were way dark..not savory in the least. The finish was extremely dry...not a favorite.

Inscription White: a very citrusy sour taste of lemon and lime and finished with a taste of green wood. Very dry, maybe needed some time to sit a bit?

Sunset Pink: A blush wine that is crisp with fruit flavors. There was a little kick at the end of this, a hint of thyme. This was very good!

Coyote White: aroma of white grape juice, and the flavor and taste were very similar to that. The winery says it tastes as if "plucked straight from the vine" and  I agree. Very close to grape juice. Not that that's bad, I just wasn't expecting it to be that close!

Long Sweet Red: Never got to taste much of that one. Thank you, Winey Hubby.

But my absolute favorite was the Glacial White (12%, NV, Ohio). It's a pretty pink-ish white color that gives off aromas of white grapes and flowers. It tastes of summer flowers with a tiny little touch of mineral. In fact, there was almost a little bubbling going on there. The finish was crisp around the edges and round and lush in the middle. Very much like a German Riesling and I would put this wine up against any of its German cousins any time! The crisp finish keeps it from being cloyingly sweet, as can happen with the German Rieslings. You just want to keep on sipping this one!!

The next part of our trip involved boarding the ferry once again for the ride over to South Bass Island. Since this article is getting a bit long to fit any island, let's save that wine experience for another day. Look for the Put-In-Bay and Heineman's Winery review  up next!

Winey Side Note: In the meantime, the Kelly's Island Wine Fest is being held September 22 from noon -7 pm. The link to the fest will take you to the Chamber of Commerce site, so you can see all the island happenings coming up. I can just imagine how gorgeous it is there in the fall!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: The Lure of the Sale: Hey MAMBO Chardonnay

Once again, a sale price caught my eye. OK, so did the label. I rarely have a wine that yells "Hey!" to me, but given that this one is actually called "Hey MAMBO", it couldn't be helped, could it? Now about that sale. Half off. From $14 to $7. So really, I HAD to buy it. What able minded self proclaimed expert shopper would pass this up? Not me. (You had that figured out already though, didn't you?)

I will leave it to you to decide about this
back label description.
 But buy the wine, okay?

But I have to admit that reading the back of the label gave me a bit of a pause. At first glance, I can only describe the little "story" about the wine as self indulgent drivel. If I picked up a book that started out with this chapter, I'd drop it so fast that my (recently acquired) reading glasses would fall off in the rush of wind. But I think that's what they were going for here - a kind of a gimmick to describe the wine in a creative way. So once I got past that, I continued on to the check out.

In the interest of equal time,
here's the front label.
So Hey MAMBO Chardonnay it was. Hey MAMBO (2009, 13.5%, California) is a creation of The Other Guys Wine Company, founded by one of the 4th generation of the Don Sebastiani family. It's actually labelled as a bistro style (translation: meant to be drunk every day) wine and is a blend of 97% Chardonnay, 2.4% Pinot Grigio and .5% Viognier.

The wine is a bright yellow color, which, given the fact that we were once again in the middle of a heat wave, brought cooling thoughts of the bright yellow leaves of autumn trees to my sweaty little mind. The aroma was rich, buttery pear with a hint of cinnamon. It tasted of melon and pear and oak and some tangy star fruit hovered above it all (I think that was the Pinot Grigio talking). The tang mellowed out on the finish.

This was so smooth and oak-y in my mouth, just like a mellow fall day. You know the kind I mean: when there's a chill in the air but the sky is a startling blue and the trees are all different colors in their full autumn glory. If you live in a one season area, you are really missing out on days like this. I know, I know...autumn can be rainy and windy and brown and smell like wet leaves. But when it behaves, there is nothing like sparkling autumn weather and a smooth, oak-y Chardonnay to go along with it!

For a $14 bottle of wine, this was a good one. Since I got it for $7, this was a great one., totally living up to the idea of an every day/bistro style wine. (I mean really: good wine is good wine, but a good wine on sale gets upped to always gotta add in the value, as well as the "I got this on sale" bragging rights).


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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Washington State's StoneCap

Another trip outside California....this time to Washington State, the USA's second largest wine producing state.

I have mentioned before that I got to tour some Seattle wineries a few years ago on a trip with the Winey Hubby. We were limited in time, so we focused on the wineries fairly close to the city. But Washington State's wine industry is centered in the Columbia Valley, about a 3 hour drive southeast of Seattle (give or take the fact that you travelling through mountains...and the weather will play a factor). Stone Cap is actually a second label for Goose Ridge Estates, located in Benton City. All the grapes are grown on the estate - so when you consider that I spent $8.99 for a bottle of their 2010 Merlot (13.8%, 2010, Washington State), the whole estate grown idea is pretty impressive. Lots of winemakers get their grapes from different vineyards (either owned by them at a separate location or owned by other growers). These guys keep it all right in their own backyard (and, I'm guessing, front yard and side yard!).

The last few Washington wines I've tried have been whites, so I decided to go with a red and snagged a bottle of the Merlot of the shelf at World Market. I like Merlot and truly believe that the 2004  movie "Sideways" ("We are not drinking any *%!#ing Merlot!") really did the whole varietal an injustice. It's hard enough to get timid wine drinkers to try red without having the big screen yell it at you, with profanity even. But Merlot is a very drinkable wine - and I lift my glass of it with pride (and on days when the Winey Family is stepping on every last nerve, I do so really, really quickly).

OK, on to the wine. This is a dark red, kind of a rusty red around the edges. It gives off a bouquet of cherry and plum with a hint of vanilla. The taste is wonderful cherry chocolate and plum (yes, I know, reel me in with the chocolate flavor...I will bite, er, sip every time) and a tang of sour cherries and oak. The smooth finish lingered nicely. Yes, a very drinkable, affordable wine. (Hmm...drinkable AND affordable....any bells going off in your minds yet?)

I'd be happy to add more of this in my wine rack and in my tummy. I could see it pairing with lots of different dishes (like osso buco, one of my veal favorites, or swordfish or salmon or Croque Monsieur - which is my family's favorite upscale version of grilled cheese and ham), making it drinkable, affordable and versatile. We have a winner here, folks.


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