Thursday, May 30, 2013

Winey Tasting Notes: Entwine Pinot Grigio and my Food Network Issues

It isn't often that one of my favorite wineries pairs up with one of my favorite television networks, but when it does happen (OK, it's happened exactly once and you're reading about it now), the results are marvelous.

Such is the case with Entwine Wines. They are a product of a partnership between Wente Vineyards and The Food Network. I have reviewed many Wente Vineyards offerings over the years, and it all started because my son and of their VP's sons are in the same class at West Point. Kind of like making friends with the parents when your child goes to preschool, only at USMA they play with real tanks and rifles. Anyway, Wente is one of the country's oldest and longest family run wineries, so make no doubt about it, they really know their stuff.

Look at all that icing.

food network logoAnd The Food Network. I will admit to feeling a bit conflicted about this channel. The big problem is that I love to watch their shows. But unlike an episode of say, Grey's Anatomy, where you come away craving Patrick Dempsey, when you watch Cupcake Wars, you come away craving cupcakes. Or heaven forbid you hit on an episode of The Barefoot Contessa as she is making chicken pot pie. Oh YUM!!! And Paula Deen and all that butter? I am defenseless. A bad thing to be when facing a food craving. And wanting to fit into the clothes in your closet.

osso bucco
Osso bucco... mine looks just like
this one. Really.
On the other hand, because I watch The Food Network, I have learned to make osso bucco, a dish I probably never would have attempted if I hadn't seen it actually come to life in front of me on the small screen. I also was inspired to try risotto (I am not known for my patience, but I learned that this is what you really need when making risotto). And if I do say so myself, I rock those recipes. So I do owe the network a big thank you .... and myself 5 more miles on the treadmill.

bottle of Entwine Pinot GrigioBut we were talking about wine, weren't we? Another area of my culinary life where I am somewhat of a sitting duck. This time temptation arrived in a bottle of Entwine Pinot Grigio (2010, 135, California). I love to try Pinot Grigios because they all have something a little bit different to offer because they're grown all over the world. The French wines are a bit flowery, the German ones a bit sweeter and the Italian ones full of crisp acidity. But this is a Pinot Grigio from the good old USA. The nose was very faint - had a hard time finding it at all, to be honest. The taste made up for that though. This was a mixed tart citrus flavor - but not to the point of puckering you up. Surrounding all that tartness was an almost fruity floral taste. It really rounded out the flavors nicely giving it the taste of a tart green apple - but the flesh of the apple, not the skin. It finished long and tart and juicy and lip licking (something I admit to doing with Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs more and more! I need to restrain myself.)

I paired this with some tiny Asiago cheese pizzas that had a sweeter type of tomato sauce than your normal pizza sauce. It was perfect with the cheese and the lighter tomato-ey flavor. A total buy-again wine, especially now that we are heading into the summer months when a full of flavor Pinot Grigio is very welcome at the end of a hot day!

Cook on....and cheers!

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Winey Tasting Notes: It's National Chardonnay Day! La Merika Chardonnay

So, today is May 23rd. Just another Thursday? Oh no. To us winey folks, today is also known as National Chardonnay Day. And why shouldn't we celebrate this grape? It's the number one wine in these United States and Chardonnay grapes are the most planted grapes in California. So with that pedigree, yes of course, the wine gets its own day.

picture of a bottle of La Merika Chardonnay 2011Chardonnay comes from the Burgundy region of France, but today it is literally everywhere. So for my Chardonnay Day 2013 sip, I decided to go with an All-American bottle. Seriously, it's named in honor of one of the earliest explorers who first sailed to these shores. You can't get much more American than that (even if they didn't know what it would be called back then). Hence, I poured some La Merika Chardonnay (2011, 13.5%, California's Central Coast) into my glass.

The nose on this is green pear and green apple - those green fruits always add a little kick, don't they? I loved the way it tasted! The pear and apple flavors blended nicely and then a little toasty oak was added in for good measure. It finished of oak and apple, which left a tart citrus flavor in my mouth.

This is not a big, buttery Chardonnay. It is a more tart, fruitier Chardonnay. Sure it's got that oak going on - but hey, if it didn't, it would be a Sauvignon Blanc, right? A very lively wine for anyone who doesn't like an in-your- face Chardonnay. I'd buy it again and again (did I mention that it was $7.99? I should have).

And since National Chardonnay Day falls the day before the start of the Memorial Day weekend this year, I thought it was quite fitting to sip on a Chard that honored our country's earliest explorers. Because this weekend, we should all pause to remember those who have fought for and those who still serve to preserve the freedoms of this nation that those explorers risked life and limb to discover.

So cheers to Chardonnay, cheers to explorers and a heartfelt cheers and thank you to all who have, do or will serve. (And yes, by those who do serve I include the Winey Son, aka The Winey West Point Cadet.)

Have a great, safe weekend!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Winey Tasting Notes: Just In Time For Bathing Suit Weather: The Light Grape Collection

I received these wines for review purposes. The opinions are all my own.

I will fully admit it. When I received the review samples from The Light Grape I approached them with a very big dose of skepticism. I do not have fond memories of other "light" wines I have sipped.  (Skinny Girl California Red (or: I'll Take The Extra Calories, Please) So I opened them up not  expecting  much. They did have that waistline friendly thing going for them though, a plus given the fact that shorts/swimsuit season is upon us here in Winey land.
picture of The Light Grape collection of wines
These wines have 80 calories for every 5 ounces you drink. (So I immediately planned on 160 calories, but that's they way I roll.) Since alcohol is the calorie culprit in wines usually, The Light Grape folks found a way to lower the alcohol by volume to 8.5%, but still keeping the wine flavor. Did they do a good job?

Let's start with the White Blend (2012, 8.5%, California) is a blend of mostly Pinot Grigio and Viognier. The nose gives off aromas of roses, lemongrass and a hint of melon. Fruity with a kick. The taste follows right along. It was citrusy tart and crisp. It left me with a juicy taste of citrus rind. Oh wow! It reminded me of a Sauvignon Blanc - all summery temperatures and cooling citrus breezes. I was ready to call this the best of the bunch (I know, it was  my first bottle, but remember how low my expectations were).

And then I tried the Rosé (2011, 8.5%, California). It's a pretty pink salmon color and smells of strawberry with a touch of ginger. The taste was, to put it mildly, amazing. Strawberry, some melon and some minerals. It had an overtone of some sweet honeysuckle (it was too light to be pure honey) and then it finished off tart and lively.  I don't know how they did it with a Rosé, because some of them, even with their full measure of alcohol, can fall flat in the flavor column. But this was fruity and tart all at the same time. Full of flavor and crisply refreshing. Even if it wasn't "light", I'd be buying it.

So, happily optimistic, my next bottle was the Chardonnay (2012, 8.5%, California). The aromas of this Chardonnay were peach and basil. It tasted of white peach, some cantaloupe, and had some faint lemon around the edges. It had a lively feel - round at the center, thinner at the edges and finished juicy - just slightly fruity - with some oakiness to it. It was just an "o.k." taste and I have a feeling that light or not, it wouldn't be one of my favorite Chardonnays. This was the first of The Light Grape wines where I actually felt like I was drinking a light wine - I think I missed the flavor the extra alcohol would have added. But that's how I like my Chardonnays - you may feel differently.

My last taste was the Red Blend (2011, 8.5%, California). This is a blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. I'll start out by saying right away that the more "light" reds I drink, the more I think that reds really need the extra alcohol and thus the extra calories. It smelled fine - cherries and some berry syrup. But right after you tasted that fruit and the oak it all fell apart. Where you'd expect the fruit and oak to lead to some warmish tannins and a smooth finish the whole thing just stopped. All I got was a dryness in my mouth and no taste at all. I'd have to go for the calories if it meant getting some flavor and depth. In the meantime, I'll be skipping this one.

BUT...for heaven's sake, do NOT forget the White Blend and the Rosé (or the Chardonnay if you like that type of Chardonnay). I mean, c'mon, it's summer and you can live on two whites and a Rosé until Labor Day, can't you? And keep in  mind that as nice as they taste in your mouth, they will be nice on your hips and thighs as well!


I received these wines for review purposes. The opinions are all my own.


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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Winey Tasting Notes: An Italian Spring Sipping Collection

I was sent these wines for review purposes. The opinions are all my own.

There comes a time in every winter when you just cannot wait to put on a short sleeved shirt and not cover it up with long underwear, a turtleneck and a sweater. (For me, the proper word is "and" and not "or". I am not known for my warm blood in the Winey household.) You have spring fashion fever and you just can't wait for the spring fashions to hit the stores.

The folks at Banfi Wines understand this spring fever thing, at least as far as spring wine goes. They very kindly sent me a set of their spring release wines to review. So I put on a short sleeved shirt and started sipping.

bottle of Principessa Gavia Gavi Italian wineFirst up was Principessa Gavia's Gavi (2012, 12%, Italy). I probably would have liked it simply for the fairy tale story on its back label. A beautiful Princess (Gavia) falls in love with a guy her mean old father King doesn't like. So they elope to a little village in northwest Italy, and love the village's white wine so much that come clean about who they are. (I've seen a bottle of wine affect people in many ways...but this is a new one.) The King sees how happy they are and names the wine and the town after his daughter. Awwww..... The only problem here would be if the cute little fairy tale was actually based on a horrible wine. Fortunately, this is not the case. Gavi, made from 100% Cortese grapes, is a gorgeous Italian white. On the nose, it gives off green apple and mineral aromas. The taste is full of green apples and tart starfruit. It's got a perfect acidity to it that tames the fruit and gives the overall taste a little kick. One of my favorite Italian whites of all time. Run out and find this NOW. No wait - read the rest of this and then go.

bottle of chianti with fiasco straw cover
You thought of this
immediately when you
heard Chianti, right?
bottle of Chianti Classico Italian wineMoving along, I popped open a bottle of Chianti Classico (2010, 13%, Chianti Classico region of Italy). No, it did not come in a round bottle in straw basket, like Chiantis of old. (The bottle, by the way, is called a fiasco, which means flask and not a big old disaster.) Most Chiantis today are bottled in your more typical shaped wine bottle. A Chianti must contain at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. I couldn't find the exact amounts, but Banfi describes this wine as having an absolute predominance of Sangiovese. The first thing you notice about it is the bouquet. It's strong! I could smell cherry from far away. As the glass got a little closer to my nose, there was also a tang of smoke and some oak. The taste was sour cherry with some smokey oak around it. There was a real earthiness to it as well. It feels lean and supple in your mouth, with the fruit flavor on the top of your tongue, and the woodsy warmth on the sides. The tannins were strong here and the oaky aftertaste was long. There is no doubt that you'd have to acquire a taste for this Chianti - don't give up after a few sips. I think it would go very nicely with grilled steaks, and now that grilling season is here, this is one to keep in mind.

bottle of Centine Italian wineCentine (2011, 14%, Tuscany, Italy) is a red blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It's a pretty garnet color and has a nose of blackberry and cardamon spice. The taste is of sun warmed black cherries with a hint of cherry cordial in it. It felt soft in my mouth, but the high alcohol contest made the finish a bit too warm and unbalanced. In my opinion, a little more Merlot would have opened up all the fruit flavors and still not have overwhelmed the oaks. Almost there..but in the end, just an "OK" wine.

bottle of Rosso di Montalcino Italian wineLast on my Italian journey was Castello Banfi's Rosso di Montalcino (2011, 14%, Italy). It is 100% Sangiovese and oh boy, did I have a hard time wrapping my taste buds around this one. The nose was of heavy smoke, dark herbs and a very tiny hint of cherry at the end. It tasted of smoke and cedar wood and black licorice. (I avoid black licorice at all costs. It is one of my least favorite flavors. Just ask the Winey Hubby, who for nearly 30 years now has had to eat all the black rope licorice, Jujyfruits and jelly beans that enter our lives.) The wine just felt flat in my mouth, with a finish that was dry and almost leathery. This is a big earthy, woodsy wine - way too much so for me.

But I got over my disappointment when I remembered how much I loved the Gavi. It really was the shining star in this spring collection and will be a wine I reach for many more times. The Chianti Classico is a wine I'd like to explore a bit more too. The other two, well, not so much. But you sip and learn, sip and learn, don't you?

Salute! (That's Italian for "Cheers!")

I was sent these wines for review purposes. The opinions are all my own.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Winey Tasting Notes: The Lure of the Sale: Concannon Conservancy Cabernet Sauvignon

Just like a really cute/funny/inappropriate wine label, a big discount on a bottle of wine can lure me in cork, foil cutter and corkscrew. (You thought I was going to say "hook, line and sinker", didn't you? Well, this is not a fishing blog.) So when I saw that Concannon Vineyard's Cabernet Sauvignon (2010, 13.5%, Livermore Valley, CA) was on special from $18 a bottle to $9.99, I jumped at it. Actually I didn't jump, I just quietly placed a bottle in my shopping basket and thriftily walked on.

This Cab happens to be part of their Conservancy line of wines, which works to keep land in California as vineyards...forever.  They explain in on their website as: "Conservancy winegrowers have placed their land into a legal trust that protects against development forever. The Conservancy wines preserve not only the land but a simpler way of life for future generations".  Nice to think about a patch of land that will forever give us wine, isn't it?

bottle of Concannon Conservancy Cabernet SauvignonAnd let's hope that this Cabernet Sauvignon keeps on coming. On the nose, it's a bright combination of strawberry and raspberry. The taste echos this a bit, but this time with darker flavors of cherry along with the strawberry. There is also a teeny bit of nutmeg and oak. It finishes a bit warm and the tannins are smooth and sort of spicy (a nice combination in my mouth). Way after the warmth goes away, you can taste the cherry again too. It would pair very nicely with one of my favorite meat dishes: lamb (which I have to sneak into the Winey family menu, since the Winey Daughter does not care for lamb). I happened to have some Gouda and Brie cheese on hand the night I tried this (trying to eat up all the perishables before we left on vacation) and it was wonderful with them, especially the Brie.

I'd say this is a big red wine, but for all it's "bigness", it's a very well behaved one. The tannins aren't cloying or drying, the warmth is offset by the deep flavors. I would buy it again, even if it weren't on sale (whoa, did I really just say that?). If you are newer to red wine, I'd say that it's a wine to work up to. But for the rest of us, don't work at it. Just dive right in.

Cheers! Pin It

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Winey Tasting Notes: Two Cabs and a Chateauneuf-du-Pape

I received these wines for review purposes. The opinions are all my own.

Once again, I have brought outside my winey comfort zone, courtesy of my pals at the Wine Chateau. Because while I love my Cabernet Sauvignon, I would never, ever have chosen a bottle of Domaine De La Charbonniere Cuvee Mourre Des Perdrix Chateauneuf-Du-Pape 2007 for myself. I mean seriously - look at that name. I'd need review of my high school and college French classes simply to not die pronouncing it, much less pick it up off a shelf and bring it home.

Wine Chateau logoBut the Wine Chateau powers that be decided to send me a bottle (phew!), along with two Cabernet Sauvignons for my sipping and reviewing pleasure. I'll tell you about them in the order that I sipped them.

bottle of Estancia Cabernet SauvignonI had to open the Estancia Estates Cabernet Sauvignon (2010, 13.5%, CA) right away because I had tried this before...but under somewhat odd circumstances. I had hosted part of a neighborhood progressive dinner and a different vintage of this cab was left over afterwards. I did have some, and I was curious to know if I'd like it more (or less) when it wasn't leftover and I wasn't exhausted after hosting dessert and wine for 35 people. The nose on this is cherry with a tinge of oak. Both of the aromas are very deep, too, so you get a real snoutfull as you sniff. It tastes of of dark cherries wit some pepper on the edges and mocha in the middle. While I wouldn't dump a bunch of chocolate and pepper on a bowlful of cherries, I have to say that they do very well in a Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a great wine if you like bigger reds. It finished very balanced, with just a tiny touch of drying oak at the end of it all. There was fruit, but that certainly wasn't the dominant taste. Ditto the oak. So, if you like your reds oaked, but not obnoxiously so, this is one for you. (And it's on sale for about $13 at the Wine Chateau..down from $22.)

bottle of Benziger Family Estate Cabernet SauvignonNext up was the Benziger Family Winery's Cabernet Sauvignon (2009, 14.5%, Sonoma County, CA). A new winery for me, so I was excited about that. This wine opens with a nose of roses, mocha and tart currants. It tastes of sour cherry and oak with a hint of dusty chocolate. (No, I don't let my chocolate get dusty - like it would last that long - but if I did, it would taste like this.) The cherry hits you first and then the oak makes itself known. It finishes of oak and chalky tannins (and by chalky I mean not sharp, not juicy - they were chalky). My first thought was that the tannins might be a teeny bit too far onto the drying side for me to buy it again. Then I decided that what this wine needed was some food to go with it. Maybe a nice juicy steak to soften those tannins! I really think that paired with the right food, this would be a great dinner wine. So while I wouldn't sip it by itself again, I would totally consider it as a wine to serve with a special dinner.

Domaine De La Charbonniere Cuvee Mourre Des Perdrix Chateauneuf-Du-Pape And then I had to face up to my fears: it was time to try the Chateauneuf-Du-Pape (2007, 14%, France). Chateauneuf-Du-Pape is a region (appellation) in France's Rhone Valley, and they allow 13 different varietals to be used in their wine. (It's mostly a red wine, but you can find a white here and there.) The Domaine De La Charbonniere winery used Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre in this cuvee. It opens with a nose of smoke and fresh cut oak, with just a whiff of ripe cherry. I was surprised at how it felt in my mouth. It was thinner than the nose indicated and it was almost tingly. Not quite all the way to tingly, so I'm going to go with spicy. It tasted of fruity oak with a smoky tinge around the edges and the top of my mouth.

I was fine up until the Yup, my old nemesis. The Winey Hubby and I are not big coffee fans. And by not big fans I mean that we don't drink it. Our mugs are firmly planted in the tea drinkers side of the aisle, and there they shall remain, despite the attempts by BOTH of our mothers (and countless other family and friends) to bring us over to the coffee side. If it had just stopped short of the coffee thing, I would have said I really enjoyed my first sip of a Chateauneuf-Du-Pape. But it didn't. Bummer.

Now, for you coffee lovers out there, please taste this on your own. Don't let my lack of a coffee-loving tastebud or two scare you away from this wine. It had such a unique feel to it that I really want to try some other Chateauneuf-Du-Papes to get a feel for the entire appellation. So now I have a mission. Vive la France!

And cheers!

I received these wines in order to review them. The opinions expressed are mine and mine alone. Except for the coffee thing: the Winey Hubby has the same opinion of coffee as I do.

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