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Libations of the Grain & Grape [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Swirl, Sniff, & Sip

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The Seven Deadly . . . [Apr. 23rd, 2007|06:06 pm]
Swirl, Sniff, & Sip
Like most people, I always have trouble getting back into the workweek on Monday. What can I say, I love the weekend and all the fun and much needed downtime it brings. I tend to drink more wine over the weekend than I do during the week, but I just didn’t get around to adding any of last weekend’s wines to the journal. Fortunately, I opened a bottle last night that I only had one glass of, and I have time to do a little writing about it tonight.

It’s been just over two months since I last wrote about an American wine, so I think I’m a little overdue. On a recent trip to buy wine, I came across an Old Vines Zinfandel with a label I just couldn’t resist. It’s the 2005 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel from the Michael~David Wineries in Lodi. It was only $16, so it still falls within the under $20 bargain category. The grapes come from seven different vineyards in Lodi, each representing a “Deadly Zin.” Lodi is a region west of the San Francisco Bay, between Sacramento and Stockton. It’s home to Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge label winery and it’s seen great improvements in quality over the last 20 years.

On the nose, it’s a blend of sweet spices, black pepper, and ripe berries. On the tongue, I found lush sweet cherry and blackberry, mingled with clove, cinnamon, and a hint of cocoa. The finish is shorter than I expected – quite smooth and only lightly tannic. Drink this at your next summer barbeque or with pasta drenched in spicy tomato sauce. “Oh Lord, forgive me my zin. With the tilt of the glass, I commit seven zins, Oh Lord, with your help... I'll do it again.”

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Yes, it's Greek! [Apr. 13th, 2007|06:23 pm]
Swirl, Sniff, & Sip
When most people go shopping for wine, I can almost bet that they aren’t specifically looking for wines from Greece. Yes, that’s right, Greece – as in the country. Like most things in Greece, winemaking has been around for thousands of years. However, they don’t have nearly the level of production and distribution of better-known wine-producing nations. In fact, my Atlas of Wine dedicates only two pages to Greece; compare that to France, which has over 100.

If you have ever heard of any Greek wine labels, you’re likely to name Boutari, which is the largest and most widely available in the U.S. Tonight’s wine is one from their Naoussa winery, named for the country’s first appellation (named wine region), in Macedonia, which is in the northeast part of Greece. This region is home to one of the oldest indigenous Greek varietals, Xinomavro (“acid black”). It’s a red grape that produces dry, well-balanced wines. I’m drinking the 2004 Naoussa, found at the wine store for $14.

The color is on the lighter side for red wines, reminding me of Pinot Noir, with a tinge of orange when held to the light. The aroma isn’t too expressive, with mild, smoky oak and a hint of cinnamon. On the tongue, it’s bone dry with flavors of sour cherry, spices, and a hint of cocoa. The tannins are firm on the finish, but it’s otherwise quite clean. This would pair nicely with barbeque chicken, smoked salmon, or firm cheeses.

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Easter in Molise [Apr. 7th, 2007|04:40 pm]
Swirl, Sniff, & Sip
It’s Easter weekend, which since I’m not religious, means very little to me in terms of significant events or traditions. Sure, there’s the commercial side with the bunnies and eggs and that damn plastic grass that gets all over everything, but that’s geared toward children, and we all know how I feel about children! I guess I should do something though, so I decided to open a red wine from Italy. There are Catholics in Italy and Easter is a holiday of significance in the Catholic Church, so it works out to enough of a connection for me. In fact, today’s wine is made from the same varietal that was said to be Pope Paul III’s favorite.

This is the 2003 Contado Aglianico from the Di Majo Norante winery in Molise, which is on the southeastern Italian coast. It was about $15 at the wine store, so it’s not at all pricey. Aglianico came to Italy from Greece with the Phoenicians over two thousand years ago. It’s a robust, full-bodied red varietal with high acidity and a long ripening period. Because it’s usually harvested in late October or early November, it can’t be grown in northern Italy’s climate. Indigenous varietals, such as Aglianico, are becoming more popular these days as regions and wineries try to stand out in an increasingly global world of wine.

Based on the grape, I knew that this would be a nice powerhouse red before I opened the bottle, and it doesn’t disappoint, but it is surprisingly smooth for a varietal with such high natural acidity. The aromas are rich and full of dark fruits supported by smoky oak and a hint of dried flowers. On the tongue, there’s no strong bite or rush of flavor. It’s a nice harmony of blackberry, currant, and oak, balanced with just the right amount of acidity. There’s a hint of almond on the finish, which is medium tannic and not too long. It would go beautifully with goat’s milk cheeses, grilled meats, or your favorite Spanish tapas.

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Aussie Hermit [Mar. 31st, 2007|06:00 pm]
Swirl, Sniff, & Sip
Last night, I spent the evening with some good friends at a dinner party. Kevin and Josh hosted the party in their beautiful new house. They just finished most of the basement to create a great rec room. We had lots of great food, great wine, and an all-around great time! I’m headed out a little later tonight as well, but I decided to open a bottle of wine and relax a little before I do. I had the perfect bottle for just such an occasion; it’s a light, white wine from McLaren Vale in Australia.

This is The Hermit Crab, a 2005 vintage blend of Viognier (70%) and Marsanne (30%) from the d’Arenberg winery. They produce a few different lines of both red and white wine and I’ve had some of their other labels in the past, and they’ve been of good quality. I found this one at the wine store for $16. I don’t often care for wines made from Viognier because they never seem to be very well balanced. However this one shows the real power of blending to change the character of a wine for the better. Marsanne is a grape that comes from the northern Rhone region in France, and the d’Arenberg winery began growing it about 12 years ago. It’s often used to blend with other white varietals of higher acidity because it has a softer, richer texture and flavor profile.

The nose is light, sweet, and floral, with lots of honeysuckle and a hint of pineapple in the background. The flavor is nicely balanced, with limestone minerals supported by tropical fruit acidity to start. Grapefruit and mango are lurking in the background too. The finish is smooth and lightly buttery, and it reminds me a little of raw almonds or cashews. This would be killer with your favorite fresh seafood, including sushi.

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A Rouge of a Sparkler [Mar. 26th, 2007|06:41 pm]
Swirl, Sniff, & Sip
Almost everyone who’s ever had wine has had Champagne, or at least, sparkling wine - that delightfully bubbly wine so synonymous with celebration. However, almost all of those people will likely never have had a red sparkling wine. Yes, it is true that many sparkling wines use Pinot Noir, a red grape, as a primary varietal, but the skins of the wine don’t take part in the process, and as a result, cannot affect the flavors and colors of the finished wine. Sparkling red wines aren’t made in many places around the world. You’ll find them in a few places in Europe, but they’re most common in Australia, where they’re primarily made from their favorite red varietal, Shiraz.

I’ve had a few sparkling red wines before, but never one from a winery that I’ve also had still wines from. On my last trip to the wine store, I came across a sparkler from the Hill of Content winery. I’ve had a couple of their still wines before, and since they’re included in The Australian Premium Wine Collection, which I’ve touted on several occasions, I decided to pick up a bottle. This is a non-vintage sparkling red, made primarily from Shiraz, costing $15 at the wine store. The grapes come from vineyards in South Australia, south of Adelaide on the coast, and the base wine is even aged for two and a half years in French oak.

You can serve these wines chilled or closer to room temperature; my preference is chilled. The aroma is very light, composed of sweet berry fruits and a little vanilla. On the tongue, the bubbles open a lush array of ripe blueberry, raspberry, and plum, supported by hints of dark chocolate and a touch of spicy oak. The finish is relatively short, mostly due to the bubbles, but there is the slightest hint of the Shiraz tannins I love. The bottle suggests drinking this as an aperitif, but like the other sparkling reds I’ve had, I still say it would compliment a rich dessert, such as a flourless chocolate cake, tiramisu, or grilled gingerbread with fruit and cream. Either way, it will be an experience you won’t have everyday!


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Beautiful Beaujolais [Mar. 17th, 2007|03:52 pm]
Swirl, Sniff, & Sip
The weather was beautiful this past week – warm and sunny, and my mood has been better than it’s been in a long time as a result. It was unseasonably warm today, and it’s nice to be able to spend more time outside. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, but since I’ve never found beer appealing, I can’t join in the traditions of drinking green brew until I’m nicely toasted. Instead, I made a delicious homemade pizza and opened a bottle of wine that’s equally as casual.

When people think Beaujolais, they usually think Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s the fruity, young wine produced from the gamay grape right after the harvest and consumed at festivals around the world each November. Beaujolais also comes in a non-Nouveau variety, which although still young and fruity, often has the additional depth and finesse to age a little. Tonight, I opened a bottle of Beaujolais from the world’s best-known producer, Georges Duboeuf. It’s the 2005 Domaine Mont Chavy Beaujolais from the Morgon appellation in the Beaujolais region of France. 2005 is supposedly one of the best years since the mid-seventies, but the price is still quite reasonable at $13. Beaujolais is actually a part of the Burgundy region in terms of France’s wine administration purposes, but they are very different in almost every way. Beaujolais is as light-hearted as Burgundy is Serious.

Sticking my nose into the glass immediately reveals a burst of sweet fruit, from ripe berries to apricots. There’s even a slight hint of crisp citrus in the aroma, which helps to temper the sweetness. On the tongue, the ripe fruits open up into a sweet bouquet. There is a little acidity in the background, and even a hint of cocoa and oak on the finish. It’s definitely the perfect compliment to pizza at home on a Saturday, and it would be a great wine to take to your next party. It’s sure to be a favorite!

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Reveling in Rioja [Mar. 10th, 2007|06:34 pm]
Swirl, Sniff, & Sip
It’s been a good weekend so far. I drank a lot last night, which I probably shouldn’t have, but sometimes it’s nice to relax the boundaries a little. It’s Saturday night and I’m craving a nice glass of wine and a movie. I haven’t decided on the movie yet, but I have chosen the wine. It’s a Spanish red, which are still enjoying strong popularity and growth worldwide. Spain’s wine industry has definitely mastered the creation of quality wines at very reasonable prices. Tonight’s red from Rioja was only $13 at the wine store.

Rioja is arguably the best known of Spain’s wine regions, and its reputation goes back over a century. Although both red and white wines are produced there, the reds take center stage, primarily made from the Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes. Tonight’s wine is 100% Tempranillo. It’s the 2004 Rioja from the Sierra Cantabria winery, which since it’s founding 50 years ago, sits at the base of the Sierra Cantabria Mountains in the north part of the region. The mountains provide not only the winery’s namesake, but also a barrier from cool northern air, which maintains a more constant microclimate around the vineyards. Like most regions in Europe, Rioja’s wine industry relies on traditional guidelines that govern every part of the winemaking process. Minimum aging requirements for example, vary from six months to five years, depending on the varietal and labeling status.

Now let’s get to my favorite part, tasting! The nose of this wine is sweeter than I would have expected, with aromas of cherries, vanilla, and a little oak. I don’t detect any of the spicy or smoky qualities often found in Spanish reds. Cherries and raspberries dominate the flavor, with the vanilla slinking off into the background. The finish is fairly short, with a hint of licorice and cocoa wrapped up in soft tannins. It’s a nice casual red, good for parties or other gatherings of friends and family. Drink it with grilled salmon or your favorite spicy Thai dish!

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A Premium Shiraz [Mar. 3rd, 2007|06:28 pm]
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I haven’t had a wine from the Australian Premium Wine Collection in awhile, so on a recent trip to the wine store I selected one from among their ever-growing choices from the collection. I’ve never been disappointed with one their wines, and they run the gamut in price from eight or nine dollars, to over one hundred. I also decided to maximize my enjoyment of the wine by decanting it before drinking. As I’ve mentioned before, decanting serves two primary purposes, separating sediments and exposing the wine to air to open up the flavors and bouquet.

I love Australian Shiraz, so that’s the varietal I chose. It’s the 2004 Blackbilly Shiraz from the McLaren Vale region of South Australia, which is on the coast near Adelaide. Priced at $19, this wine is still well within the realm of reasonable. The grapes for this wine come from several different vineyards in the region, which makes for well-rounded flavors and good balance. Interestingly, they also use a very small amount (less than one percent) of Viognier, a white varietal, in the final blend. Supposedly, it enhances the fruit, both in scent and in taste.

As I swirl it around my glass, the first thing I notice about this wine is the deep garnet color and the rich substance. It coats the glass and leaves beautiful legs, almost like a port. The bouquet is wonderfully complex, starting with a light floral note that quickly gives way to sweet, ripe fruit, vanilla, and a little oak. I don’t find the high level of spice that’s usually common in Shiraz. Supple tannins support the flavors of ripe blueberries, vanilla, and chocolate. The finish has a little spice to it, balanced with vanilla and oak. It’s a powerhouse of a wine, and it’s great on its own, but it would pair nicely with barbeque, or braised red meats!

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A Delightful Bubbly! [Mar. 2nd, 2007|06:26 pm]
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Every year during the holidays, I buy a sizeable stock of wine (yes, even more than normal). Last year, one of the bottles I brought home was an orange bottle of Spanish cava. I do enjoy a good cava, mostly because it’s difficult to get sparkling wines of good quality at a decent price, and cava tends to be the exception. I wanted to get another bottle of it a few weeks ago, but the wine store was sold out. Fortunately, they had more when I was there recently and I was able to snag a bottle to blog.

This is the 2002 Cava Brut Exclusive Reserva from the Marques de Gelida winery in Spain. It was only $14 at the wine store, and it’s well worth the price. The Spanish are less attached to making their sparklers only from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This is a blend of four varietals, Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Parellada, and Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is only 15% of the blend, so it’s definitely not the defining factor in the flavor profile.

There’s very little aroma to enjoy with this wine – just a hint of citrus and melon. You can read that as an indicator of the very clean, crisp flavors. The bubbles open up the initial flavors of lemon and grapefruit, but that acidity gives way to a hint of creamy apricot on the finish. It doesn’t linger unnecessarily, and it would make an excellent aperitif at your next dinner party. Tonight, I paired it with some beautiful seared king salmon, asparagus, and lemon pepper brown rice, and it was fantastic! Pick up a bottle or two of this gem – you won’t regret it!

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Gift of Carneros [Feb. 19th, 2007|05:18 pm]
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I love a good three-day weekend! Work has been very busy lately, so the added day of relaxation really helps to temper the stress, and a good glass of wine helps even more. I know this is a blog devoted to the enjoyment of wine, but sometimes my other interests find their way into my entries. One of the other things I like about holidays is that I often have time to kick back with a good book. Right now, I’m reading Barack Obama’s new book, The Audacity of Hope. I’m over halfway through it, and I really am enjoying his perspectives on our direction in this country and government’s role along the way. It is decidedly political and left leaning, but it’s very well written and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in politics and government.

I decided to enjoy a glass of wine while reading this afternoon, and today, I selected a Pinot Noir from the Carneros region of California’s wine country. Pinots from Carneros tend to be very enjoyable, mostly because the San Francisco Bay tempers the climate, allowing the grapes to fully develop their flavors. Low annual rainfall totals and soil that supports only shallow root growth also contribute to concentration in the grapes. This is the 2004 Pinot Noir from the Buena Vista winery, found at the wine store for about $19. In my opinion, it’s a bargain at that price.

The 2004 harvest was one of the earliest on record, due to warmer-than-average weather in the spring and summer, and after fermentation, the wine was aged in oak for eight months before bottling. The aroma exhibits the jammy fruits that are typical of Pinot Noir, but there’s also a strong element of spice – black pepper and nutmeg. First taste brings cherries, soft oak, and a hint of earthy chocolate. The spice holds out in the finish, which is medium in length with mild tannins. This would be a great wine to pair with goat or sheep’s milk cheeses, grilled vegetables, or even a mild turkey chili.

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