Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Winey Halloween Tasting Notes: Hob Nob Wicked Red

That hourglass...
Does anyone else get a bit confused with the current usage of the word "wicked"? Cause I know that in some geographic areas as well as certain teenager minds, "wicked" means awesome, wonderful, amazing. And yet to my Winey mind, I can't but help think of a wicked witch. And not just any wicked witch. The word "wicked" brings a picture of The Wizard of Oz's Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West, telling little Dorothy that when the sand runs through the hour glass, her time is up. I swear to you, that scene from the Wizard of Oz gave me more childhood nightmares than all the flying monkeys put together. (But not more than those damn raptors that can open doors in Jurassic Park...nope, that still freaks me out the most, even as an adult.)

So now you know about my hourglass phobia. Let's talk about some wine.

I found the latest offering from Hob Nob wines and immediately knew it would be this year's scary Halloween wine review. (See above hourglass reference if you are losing me here.) It is a brand new wine, released just last month and it's called Wicked Red (13%, 2011, France). I'm a big fan of Hob Nob Pinot Noir (Winey Tasting Notes: I REALLY Needed Some Hob Nob Pinot Noir), so I was excited to see that they were coming out with a red blend (Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Pinot Noir). And this blend did not disappoint.

The wine is a gorgeous dark ruby red (kind of like those shoes Dorothy wore..). The bouquet is dark stone fruit - mostly black cherry, a little plum and some sharp oak. It tasted of herbs (thyme) and dark fruit (tart cherry) and had a hint of earth in there for good measure. The warm finish was smooth, smooth, smooth mild tannins (and the cherry showed up again here too). Yay!! Another reason why red blends are quickly becoming some of my favorites. The best of the red varietals all together in one bottle!

This is a red that gives you enough heft to make you feel like you're drinking a big red wine - but one that will warm you up, not dry you out. There is absolutely nothing "wicked" (common definition, none of this teenaged stuff) about it. It's a great wine that will fit right in at any Halloween party. It would be "wicked" good with Hershey bars, by the way. And if you are of the mindset that handing out candy bars sounds like this: "One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me", I suggest having a bottle opened and ready to go during trick or treat! You may even want to practice ahead of time, so get two.


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Friday, October 26, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Olive Garden's Porta Vita Wine Line

I will have to admit that I have nothing but fond memories of The Olive Garden. WAAY back when the Winey Son was a infant, a group of us new moms would gather there once a week or so to indulge in the - you guessed it - endless soup, salad and bread sticks (oh man, those bread sticks - try losing the baby weight with an unlimited supply once a week!!). And not one Olive Garden worker even blinked an eye when they realized that the 6 or so moms eating at the big round table each had an infant in a carrier next to their chair. Brave, noble people.

Fast forward 20 or so years, and it's been a long time since I've been to an Olive Garden. This was mostly due to the fact that 1) there was always such a long wait and we had small children and 2) after moving into a larger home, there wasn't one that close to us (call it the boonies if you will, but the Winey Hubby really really wanted a riding lawn mower).

But recently The Olive Garden has decided to give itself a bit of a makeover. Going to the spa, in a way. (The Winey Mom is always, always in favor of a makeover and/or a day at the spa.) They have lightened things up with a new “Lighter Italian Fare” menu and -- gasp -- have decided to go into the wine business with three varietals of its new signature wine called Porta Vita. I go the chance recently to talk with Jennifer Arguello, their winemaker, about the wines. Oh and yup, I got the chance to sip them all too!

So let me start by admitting that I've always been a little hazy when it comes to Italian wine. All those regions on the label, all those grapes I'd never heard of, much less could pronounce. And let's face it, one bad Chianti can scare you for a long, long time. (That's another story though.) Jennifer broke it down for me a bit though, by teaching me that all three of these new wine's varietals come from Northern Italy. Think Alps, not Roman ruins. So you've got the Italian influence, but also some influence from the soil of Northern Italy's neighbors, Austria and Germany.

Let's talk red first. Porta Vita Rosso (11.5%,2011, Northern Italy) is a blend of only in Italy Schiava and Teroldego grapes, with a little Merlot thrown into the mix as well. It has a nose of garden spices like thyme and sage along with some red cherry. The taste is of cherry and darker red berries and the finish is very quick and rather fruity. My first thought on tasting it was that this would be a great starter red. It's got that fruit base to it, very little tannin and would be a good way for someone who is intimidated by a puckery, big red to start off reds. It did pair wonderfully with some Italian cheese (Grada Padano). Jennifer said that she'd love with a plate of big cheesy lasagna, and I agree with her there. You could also sip this wine on its own. And while it's a good wine, I like my reds a little heartier. I don't mind the fruit flavor, I just like it to be a little more tempered than it was. For the record, two of my Winey girlfriends also agreed on this. While we liked it, we were all probably a bit further down the red wine road than the Rosso was.

They'll also be serving a Porta Vita Rosato (10%, 2011, Northern Italy). Do not let the pink color of this blush wine freak you out! The nose is faintly sweet, maybe a touch of flower and peach. But the taste is absolutely not the syrupy taste many of us have come to expect from a blush wine. I did taste some peach and some flowers...but there was a tart balance to this wine that made me want another sip .... and another (please note that my first taste of this was the middle of the day, and in an effort to keep the Winey Mom upright, I stopped after a few more sips). I took some of this to a Homecoming 2012 recovery session (think Moms at the table after serving 15+ high school juniors dinner before the dance) to share and all of us agreed that this was a very yummy wine. It would go wonderfully with a spicier Italian dish and as you can tell, it is wonderful to sip on its own, as you recover from the trauma of getting your offspring primped, dressed and fed and off to the big dance. The base of this wine is a grape called Enantio Rosato. I'm told these grapes only grow on ankle-twisting hills in Northern Italy, and am perfectly willing to believe this without actually twisting my own ankles. (There is also a little Moscato blended in.)

The last Porta Vita wine is their Bianco (11.5%, 2011, Northern Italy). It has an aroma of fresh, zesty citrus along with some apricot and peaches. This is a smooth wine, blending the lime and the stone fruit flavors wonderfully in your mouth. There's also a lovely mineral taste to it, which I'm told is courtesy of the mountain regions in Northern Italy. The grapes used in this wine are Müller Thurgau (no, I'd never heard of it either) and some unoaked Italian Chardonnay (I am about to start driving the unoaked Chard bandwagon, by the way). This would pair so very well with the creamier Italian dishes. Jennifer brought up the idea of pairing it with lobster cannelloni and I haven't been able to stop thinking about that dish since. Thanks, Jennifer.) It was my absolute favorite of the three...just a lovely, supple white wine.

The idea behind these signature wines was to give the public some fruit forward, aromatic wines. (Seems that we as a Winey American Public really like that in a wine these days.) And while I was a teeny bit disappointed with the Rosso, I'd have to say that the Rosato and the Bianco hit the mark very nicely. I think they'll surprise you with their great taste. Just watch out for those bread sticks. They are addictive.

Olive Garden provided me with an exclusive preview of its new Porta Vita Signature Wines for the purposes of providing feedback and learning more about the new wines. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Pin It

Monday, October 22, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Whip....It's Good!

Let me start off by apologizing to Devo for the above title. But seriously, when you’ve got a wine called “The Whip” (2011, 12.5%, Livermore, CA), and you were a high school junior in 1980, how are you NOT going to start singing that song? And The Whip is good (Whip it GOOD!).  In fact, it’s great, but the song doesn't tell you to "whip it great", now does it?  

Whip It Good
I actually thought about putting this in the Naughty Wine Names category, and then I thought better of it. Somehow, if you place it there, it’s just not as fun and dancing around with funnel shaped hats on your head. (Plus, when you realize that its "sister" red blend is called “The Spur”, the whole thing goes California Wild West and just a bit kinky.) So I stayed New Wave.  

The Whip is a product of Murrieta’sWell, (named after the artesian well on the property), and is a mind boggling blend of six different wines: 39% Chardonnay, 26% Semillon, 13% Gewurztraminer, 9 % Orange Muscat, 7% Viognier and 6% Sauvignon Blanc. My brain actually got a little whiplash trying to take that all in. (The Winey Mom is NOT a math or numbers person.)

The first aroma that whips your nose (I couldn’t say “hit”, now, could I?) is of orange peel. Then a little whiff of mineral..I think the Sauvignon Blanc, all 6% of it, was making itself known here! And then you sip it!!! Wow!! The orange comes through the middle of your mouth, the Semillon bubbles it around the edges and then a bit of vanilla and honey come into play.  It finishes with some mellow oak (some of the Chardonnay was fermented in oak). It was both smooth and effervescent at the same time. That’s quite a trick.
This is a wine that you could pair with so many different dishes that it just begs to be served at your next party. If you have any really Winey Friends, I suggest you stick a bow on it and gift it at the next appropriate occasion. It’ll keep every white wine fan happy – not too sweet, not too dry…just whippingly wonderful.

I was sent this wine for review purposes. (And I’m very happy about it too.) The above opinions are my own.
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Surviving the Election in a "Swing State" By Flipflopping (the Merlot)

 Election season. When Americans exercise the right to choose their nation’s destiny. When they flock to the polls to let their opinions be known. When debate ranges freely among differing views. When voting is a celebration of our rights as Americans.

 UNLESS you are like me and you live in swing state. Because here in Ohio, election season means that you do NOT answer your phone from primary season on. It means that we haven't seen a television ad for food, clothing or cars since August. We live in constant fear of having our mailboxes explode due to pounds upon pounds of political mailings. And don't even try to drive near the airport/major city/community college when one of the candidates is in town AGAIN to try and swing us to his side. Gridlock.
Let's take this morning, for instance. Since returning from my morning walk 90 minutes ago, I have gotten 2 phone calls. Caller ID tells me they are from Middletown, OH. I don't know anyone named Middletown, OH, nor do I know anyone from Middletown, OH. I don't even really know where Middletown, OH is. So I let it ring. No message was left when the machine picked up either, so you know I was getting robo-called. Our caller ID list reads like this: 22 missed calls, one call from the schools, one from the Winey Hubby telling me he's on his way home, and one the town library (I totally have to remember to go pick up that book). That is all in the past 72 hours. Now, the missed calls each represent a call we didn't answer, because they were identified as "private", “out of area”, Washington, DC, or other towns we don't know anyone from. Twenty two!!! That translates to about 7 times a day that someone in the Winey household looks at the caller id and yells out "Don't answer it!"

I must admit that for a while, it was a bit flattering. Winey Hubby would come home and I would announce that Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Newt Gingrich or the governor of Ohio had called us that day. OK, ha ha...yes, isn't it funny how popular we are? Tee hee. That wore off very quickly, let me tell you.

But then I came upon a bottle of wine that I thought just might make all this a bit easier to bear: flipflop Merlot (2009, 13.5%, California). I’m sure many of you are thinking “How does a wine named after summer sandals make election madness easier?” But remember, to us in the swing states, flip flop is a verb to describe what politicians accuse each other of doing. All day. On TV, radio... OK, I went through this already. So in an attempt to find some humor in all this attempted brainwashing, er, campaigning, I grabbed a bottle.

And let me tell you, if any Merlot could make this election a bit easier, this is the one. It starts with a bouquet of strawberry jam and a touch of cherry cordial. It tastes of black plum with some cherry overtones and a quick bite of blueberry at the end. It’s got a velvety feel to it. The tannins start to do their work in the finish, giving a lovely warm, toasty feeling on the tongue. They’re not harsh tannins by any means…kind of softer, but they do a wonderful job of keeping this Merlot from being way too fruity. This wine screams out for a good book, a comfy chair, a fire in the fireplace and a broken phone.

So now that I’ve got a wine to keep me happy during all this political madness, I just might make it to the end of the election season. And then the Christmas toy ads will start.
My name is The Winey Mom and I approved this message.


Winey side note:  In all the election nuttiness, sometimes basic things get overlooked. So ponder this: a portion of the money from every bottle of flipflop wine sold goes to Soles4Souls, an international charity that gives footwear to those who have none. Now that’s a phone call I would gladly take!

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Winey Fun: Thoughts from 2012 Island Wine Fest, Put-in-Bay, Ohio

The Winey Family took our very first trip to the Lake Erie Islands this summer and I got to visit two of the wineries on the islands (Kelley's Island Winery, Heineman's Winery). We really enjoyed ourselves and were looking forward to our next trip out there. And then something wonderful happened: The Winey Mom was invited by the Miller Boat Line to attend the 10th Annual Island Wine Festival. Now, understand, I may be a Winey Mom, but I am a very smart Winey Mom. And when some very nice people offer a day full of transportation (ferry and golf cart!), wine and food to you and three of your friends, I would never be so unintelligent as to turn that down! (Seriously, would you?)
Our vessel to the festival:
Miller Ferry 

So on a brisk Saturday morning, the four Winey Moms boarded the Miller Ferry and bounced (it was kind of windy and I must admit we got a kick out of the astonished look on the face of our one friend who'd never been on a ferry that could take cars as well as people, much less do it leaping over a very choppy lake) our way across Lake Erie to South Bass Island's Put-in-Bay.  And there, on the grounds of the Put-in-Bay Winery was our festival.

Raising those Wine Festival glasses!
We stood for one quick moment gazing at the tables that held over 350 different wines from all over the world. We raised our glasses, and then headed on in. Our mission was to try as many different, new wines that we could so we'd have a whole new sipping repertoire to head home with. And while we made a lot of headway in this mission, in order to recount everything we sipped, I would need a separate blog (and a much better memory, to be painfully honest). So let me tell you about our sipping highlights.

The very first table we stopped at was offering samples of one of my favorite wines ever: Ménage à Trois. I am a huge fan of their red blend, but they also had their Pinot Grigio and their brand new Cabernet Sauvignon to sample. I will put it simply: find the Cabernet Sauvignon (13.7%, 2010, California) and get some. It was a wonderfully smooth wine, full of flavor and finish! The Pinot was also very good, but on a chilly fall day, the Cabernet stood out as one of our favorites. And this was our first table!!

My one friend had been telling me about this wonderful red wine she'd had at our local wine bar. And lo and behold, right next to the Ménage à Trois, there it was: The Show's Garnacha (14.9%, 2010, Northeastern Spain). Talk about a coincidence! This was my first experience with the Garnacha grape and I was not disappointed! Lots of fruit and a tinge of dark chocolate. I went home with a bottle of this one, easy decision there.

Cute polka-dot label
As we rounded the corner some very cute labels caught our eyes (No, we are not above the cute label draw. We're human for gosh sakes.) My friends decided to sip some OohLaLa Riesling. I didn't have any, but a bottle came home with us, so I'd say go for the cute polka dot labels and try some.

Moscato has been a hot wine this past year, and we couldn't pass up a chance to try some, especially since none of us had ever had Lotto Moscato before. I tasted a lot of bubbly peach and some smooth honeysuckle in it. And yes, a few bottles of Lotto came home with some of us.

Next up was Kendall Jackson. They make a Chardonnay that has become one of my go-to, never fail wines, but this time I spotted a Vintner's Reserve red blend called Summation (135%,2008, California). Wow! Another good reason to drink blends here. My (sloppier by the minute) notes mentioned rich, smooth, mocha and cherry. Second bottle into the Winey Mom carrier.

And then we rounded the corner and hit the Cakebread Cellars selection of wines. I will be honest with you, dear Winey friends, and admit that I have seen this wine quite a bit, but it is so darned pricey ($49 Chardonnay, $82 Cabernet) that I just didn't dare try it. Imagine spending all that money and not liking the wine? Horrors. But, this was the perfect opportunity for a sampling (although even the samples were on the pricey side: 4 and 5 tickets - most other wines were one or two sampling tickets). So I tried some of the Chardonnay. And yes, it was very good. But it wasn't any better than some much less expensive Chardonnay I've had. Ditto the Cabernet. Really, nothing against them, it's just that in my Winey little opinion, you can get wines that are just as good for much, much less.  One of us broke away to try some equally pricey Trinchero Meritage, which was retailing for $56 a bottle. Same thing. Good, but worth the money? Um, maybe not.

Giggle of the day
Back in the land of more affordable Winey Mom prices, we were all stopped dead at the very last table on our circuit.  Because there it was: the giggle of the day: Bitch Grenache (14%, 2009, Spain). Need I tell you that there were a bunch of ladies crowding round that table? Or that the sampling volunteers were having a really, really good time? Probably not. Ok, well, despite the fun pink label and all the thoughts that were running through our minds (we are all mothers of teenaged daughters...and let's just say that that noun works both ways), we reasoned that we loved The Show Granacha (which is Grenache in Spanish) so let's try this one. And you know what? We really liked it. It made the trip back home with us as well, and I have to say we had so much fun asking each other if we had our Bitches with us (not in us, with us).
So, mission accomplished? Well, let's see. Four Winey Moms got to try a whole bunch of new wines. They came home with 12 bottles between them. They had an amazingly fun time with the volunteers and attendees at the Festival. They got to miss sitting at a freezing cold varsity soccer game, sending the Winey Hubbies out on their own. They rode a ferry, drove a golf cart, did some shopping and laughed all day long.
Mission totally accomplished!

The Moms above were the guests of Miller Boat Lines, and were treated to an absolutely wonderful boat ride, tickets to the Wine Festival entry and tasting tickets for this article. (And yes, we wound up buying more tasting tickets..there were four of us, after all :)
We were also the guests of Island Transportation, who provided us with a golf cart to ride around in all day. And thank heavens they did, too! We'd have never made it on foot.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Winey Tasting Notes: Blue Fin Wine & Why The Winey Hubby Was In The Doghouse

Let me start by saying that I love The Winey Hubby. He's a great guy, an awesome dad, a good friend...but when it comes to certain, um, circumstances, let's just say there is a definite deficit in his character.

Without being too graphic (although if you have children, you'll get my meaning easily), let's just say that when certain areas of our children's anatomies have reacted negatively to a virus or tummy issues over the years, the guy is a big CHICKEN. This is especially true when the Winey Children got sick in the middle of the night. ("Um, I'll go start the washing machine, you take over up here.") Or when the diaper was...OK, you get the idea, right? Oh wait, let me just add that he tends to get sympathetically barfy, no matter which end of the child was affected. Not a big help there.

But like I said, he's a great guy, so we kept him around. And then we got a dog. Now, you might think that a canine addition to a household is no big deal. But The Hubby had never had a dog until he was 40+ years old. I'm not sure there were even goldfish when he was growing up. That's not to say he didn't love our Chloe as much as the rest of us. She is an amazing little doggie. But, I refer  you back to the second paragraph of this post. Just replace the word children with dog and you will get my idea of the kind of help I received in housebreaking.

Nine years went by and we decided that Chloe needed a sister. We didn't really want her to be an only dog, after all, and the Winey Children were growing up and getting their own lives...so just a few weeks ago we welcomed Rory into the family. 

Typical puppy that she is, Rory was a little upset the first few nights home. She cried when we tucked her into her crate at bedtime. I guess it got to be a bit too much for the Hubby on her second night here, so he got up, took Rory and went to sleep in the guest bedroom with her. And Rory did appreciate it..she calmed down and slept peacefully. At least until....hold on, let me give you some background here: I wake up early to get the Winey Daughter off to school. It is a full 2 hours before the Winey Hubby usually rouses himself to get ready for the day. On this day, though, shortly after I got up, the Hubby brought Rory downstairs, mumbled something about her needing to go out, and went back upstairs. No biggie. I took the doggies out, romped with them a bit, got the girl off to school and then went upstairs to get ready to go walking with my girlfriend. That was when I noticed that there was an odd....odor...coming from the guest room. And lo and behold, guess what Rory had done ON THE QUILT sometime early in the morning (Both. Okay, there I told you). But...did the Winey Hubby clean it up, or even WARN me that there was a smelly little problem? Nope. He just brought the dog down and trotted off to our bed without even warning me that the queen sized quilt was going to need fumigating. This resulted in his being called an insulting name and being hit with a pillow while he still slept. Before leaving for my walk, I left him this note: "Husbands who leave dog presents for their wives to discover at some later point owe said wife some really good wine, as well as the choice of movie viewing for that evening." I thought that was fair. Very fair. Cause I really didn't smack him with the pillow all THAT hard.

So Winey Hubby dutifully (he's not dummy, after all) made his way to Trader Joe's before he headed home. And being the frugal kind of guy that he is, he decided to buy two bottles of wine, because they were so cheap! So home came a bottle of Blue Fin Petite Sirah (2011, 12.5%, Napa) and a bottle of Blue Fin Chardonnay (2010, 12.5%, Napa). Each bottle was $4.99.

And yes, they were a bargain. They are part of the Bronco Wine Company family of wines (the most famous of which is Charles Shaw, aka Two Buck Chuck) that are proprietary to TJ's. I started that evening with the Petite Sirah. It was a pretty maroon color that gave off a bouquet of black berry jam. And that's where it all stopped. The taste absolutely did not live up to that bouquet. What little I could taste was more of a warm, earthy taste with a bit of fruit that disappeared as soon as it hit my mouth. It finished very dry and tannic. Well, not exactly what you'd hope for after having to earn the bottle of wine the way I did, huh? See my caption at the left and I believe you will gain a true insight to whether or not I'd buy this again.

A keeper!
A few nights later I cracked open the Chardonnay. It was a pale straw gold color with aromas of lime, melon and some faint oak. It tasted of pears and warm oak and a touch of cinnamon and finished with a mellow oakey pear taste. Now we're talking!! This was a $4.99 bottle of Chardonnay that was rich and flavorful - not to big and buttery, not too fruity - the perfect balance. The Winey Hubby was out of the doghouse! I'm adding it to my TJ's list of wines to keep buying (yes, along with Two Buck...I love that stuff).



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