E & G Gallo Brandy … Good Brandy At Even Better Prices

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on May 23rd, 2015

We have been writing about wine and spirits for many years and during that time have been privileged to sample the best of the best. One beverage that we enjoy and have been pleased to write about is brandy.

Brandy is the final product when wine is distilled. The process of distillation is relatively simple. Wine is heated to the point where the alcohol separates from the water, after which the alcohol fumes are cooled to return them to a liquid. This liquid is crystal clear and very sharp so it must be set down to age and mellow. Oak barrels that have been charred on the inside, are use to age brandy and it is the charcoal from the burned wood that aids in the mellowing and also adds the familiar brown color.

Brandy has what is probably the widest variation in price of any alcoholic beverage. There are brandies that sell for just a few dollars and there are those, most specifically the French Cognacs, that retail in the hundreds or even in the thousands of dollars. Brandies that sell for the big bucks have many facets and if they are or are not actually worth their price, is always up for question and usually in the eye, pocketbook, or palate of the buyer.

We have found, there are some brandies that are in the marketplace here and now that are easy to enjoy and even easier to afford. One producer that has specialized in producing quality brandies is the legendry company of E &J Gallo. Gallo, who has been in the forefront of making good wines at affordable prices since 1933, has also been making some very nice brandies whose qualities, like their wines, far exceed its very affordable price.

E & J (Gallo) ($11.99). From its parentage, you know that this American made brandy must be a very special product; and so it is. The VS is, like all of the other Gallo brandies, incredibly smooth and well balanced. An outstanding feature of this brandy is the super obvious flavor and aroma of cherries. While the VS is a very popular mixer it is also no slouch when enjoyed neat over ice as an after drink. Yes we know it is inexpensive and yes, it is made by an America winemaker but, to put it plain and simple, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it and at its low selling price, trying it should be no problem. Get price snobbery out of your head, this brandy will surprise you; it did us.

E & J (Gallo) VSOP ($12.99). The VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) has been made mellower and more flavorful by extra aging in oak casks. This brandy has a deep warm golden color and the very powerful aroma of dried fruits. The finish is exceptionally long and seems to end in a rush of perfume. This is a smooth and well made brandy that can stand up to ice cubes and even a twist of lemon without loosing any of its quality or charm.

E & J (Gallo) XO Vintage Reserve Brandy ($14.99). XO (Extra Old) has been given even more aging in oak barrels than the VSOP so as to achieve an exceptional level of depth and smoothness, resulting in a fine sipping brandy that will not break the bank or even stretch the purse strings. While the E & J XO is also a superb mixer, it can also stand by itself as an after dinner beverage. It is bold, flavorful and adds an extra dimension to the definition of brandy.

E & J (Gallo) VSOP/Peach: $12.99. Flavored alcoholic beverages are currently “in” and available in every conceivable type from Scotch to Bourbon to Vodka to sparkling wines and even to beer; so why not brandy. Gallo presents its version of a flavored brandy by offering its VSOP in a peach flavored incarnation. As a brandy, it is an excellent after dinner beverage; as a mixer, it is outstanding.

Conundrum Finally Solved … Does Vintage Date Really Matter For California Wines

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on May 23rd, 2015

In Europe, where weather conditions have a dramatic and occasionally devastating effect on the quality of their wines, vintage dating is everything. Too wet and there is mold and mildew; too warm, high sugar, low acid and flabby fruit. The question arises, are the natural yearly climatic variations as noticeable in the wines of California where the weather conditions appear to be a bit more uncomplicated than that of the European grape growing districts?

With the assistance of Balzac Communications of Napa California in obtaining the wine and wine aficionados Amber and Jim Cameron of Nixa (whose opinions we greatly respect) we set up a test to confirm or debunk the vintage question. Our object was to determine if the characteristics of a wine i.e. the aromas, flavors and/or the finish of California wines really do vary noticeably from year to year as they do in Europe, or is vintage dating just of minor importance or perhaps even a ploy to sell wine.

Napa Valley’s Ariel Vineyards was kind enough to provide a vertical tasting of their Aril Atlas Peak, Napa Valley Sirah ($50) wines of the 2008, 2009, and 2010 vintages as our test subjects and it takes a great deal of confidence in their product to offer a wine for an in depth critical evaluation. Nine Riedel wine glasses of identical type were assembled, each wine was kept at the same temperature and opened and poured 15 minutes before testing. We took excerpts from the log book of Ariel Vineyards to illustrate the growing conditions for the years in question.

“2008… Winegrowers across Napa Valley met the challenges of a crazy weather year, harvesting fruit with incredible concentration, which, by all accounts, is showing 2008 as a low-yielding, yet high-quality vintage from Napa Valley. Mother Nature may have lightened the load in the vineyard, but what is being revealed in the winery is very well structured, concentrated, elegant wines.”

“2009 … In Napa Valley Mother Nature is once again a super-hero, providing winemakers lush, beautiful grapes for great wine. Initial reports all the way around are finding vintners and growers delighted with 2009.”

“2010… This was a rough year in the vineyards. The spring was unusually cold so budding and flowering were delayed. Rainfall in May was twice the historic average in Northern California. The combination of cool, moist weather and bountiful growth meant that mildew and fungus were a constant threat. Then, in late August, the heat came when temperatures pushed first into the high 90s and then rose to 100 for several days, breaking records.”

And now the results (trumpet fanfare please) to the earth shaking question “is there a noticeable difference in the attributes of a California wine year to year?” And the answer is (another trumpet fanfare) … A BIG FAT YES. Each of the vintages tested showed differences in the color, aroma, flavor, and finish. While each of these wines were easily within the 90+ rating category, there were discernible, although not objectionable, differences between the vintages that were readily noticeable, identifiable and, in the case of these wines, very enjoyable.

While one Sirah will resemble another in its basic characteristics, our test proved, without the slightest doubt, that even minor variations in conditions at a vineyard can and will have a significant effect on the final wine proving, that vintage dating of California wines is good, true, and necessary.

We believe that we have successfully solved the vintage question but must admonish the reader that there are many more factors to making a good wine than just the vintage. Reporting on the quality of an annual vintage is about as subjective as it comes. It therefore stands to reason that where one gets their vintage information should be seriously questioned. The best source of California vintage information can be found at the California Wine Institutes web site at www.wineinstitute.org/ where they present the facts and figures about current and past vintages without any editorializing or additional comment.



Van Duzer Wines … Among the Best of the Best American Pinot Noir’s

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on May 23rd, 2015

We have written many times about the dynamics of the wine industry and the effect climate change can have on it. While the gods of weather have frowned upon the California vineyards in recent years, they have been more than generous to those of the State Oregon and most specifically, on the Willamette Valley the home of Van Duzer Vineyards. As proof of the last statement we give you the latest vintages from Van Duzer Vineyards, a winemaker who year after year have set themselves a goal to produce fine wines possible from the grapes of Willamette Valley and have proven that exceptional wines can still be produced while maintaining a reasonable price structure.

Van Duzer 2014 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé ($18). Rosé wines are usually an afterthought made from the leftovers of a red wine fermentation and are rarely of any serious quality. Not so with this wine. The only difference between this wine and the regular Pinot Noir is that the skins of the grapes, which are the source of a wines color, are allowed to remain with the juice that will be used to make the wine for just enough time to tint it rosé pink. What results is a dry wine that captures all of the flavor and aroma nuances of the Pinot Noir grape and presents them in the free and open fruity style of a rosé wine. The aroma is filled with scents of wild flowers, strawberries, and licorice. The flavor stresses strawberries and watermelon, which follow through to the very long and clean finish. We cannot say enough about this wine nor heap enough superlatives. It is a pure delight and can accompany almost everything. If you miss this wine you will have missed one of the great joys of the wine world.

Van Duzer 2014 Estate Pinot Gris ($18). Pinot Gris, or as it is also known, Pinot Grigio, is a white wine originating in Italy that has found a new home in the state of Oregon. The soil and climate there have blessed the vineyards with near perfect Pinot Gris growing conditions and results in a wine displaying a very pale golden color and a rich aroma of citrus, honeysuckle, apple, pear backed up by a hint of nectarine. The flavor abounds with the sensation of pear and melon, which carry over to the long finish, fruity and complex. A very noticeable feature of this wine is its effective, although restrained acid level. Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, whatever you wish to call it, is magnificently represented but this wine.

Van Duzer 2014 Riesling ($20) This Riesling has been made in the modern dry style and is specifically directed at those who want to enjoy the variety without the excessive sweetness often associated with it. This is a dynamic wine that accentuates all of the fruit flavors that the Riesling grape can deliver. An apricots character runs through the aroma along with that of orange blossom and raisins. The aroma has a jasmine quality about it as well as a suggestion of violets. The flavor mirrors the aroma with the addition of a suggestion of lemon. This wine just begs to be served with Asian dishes as well as a wine to accompany seafood and is an absolute stand out when set to accompanying pork, veal, or lamb dishes.

Van Duzer 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($32). The Van Duzer 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is, among the finest example of an American Pinot Noir that we have tasted in a very long time. This wine displays an aroma of cranberry, blueberry, and raspberry, cherry, and plum with suggestions of chocolate and black tea in the background. The flavor incorporates all of the elements of the aroma where they merge with blackberries, blueberries, vanilla and oak then ends with a finish that is as fruity as is the flavor and as long. If you have never tried a Pinot Noir, this one is sure impress you.

Trinity Oaks … Good Wines at Great Prices

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on May 23rd, 2015

Do we detect a trend here? Are consumers becoming bored or annoyed with the taste-alike high priced wines? Are Champagne taste buds competing with beer budgets? Cheer up wine lovers, there is a light on the horizon. It appears that affordable, better quality wines are returning to the marketplace during this period of ever rising prices. One of the leaders in the decent wines at decent prices revolution are the wines of Trinity Oaks. Besides making good wine, Trinity Oaks has partnered with the non-profit organization, Trees for the Future, and made a commitment to plant one tree for every bottle of wine sold.
Trinity Oaks 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.99). Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red wine in the world and therefore, the most criticized. This wine can stand up to any and all critics and criticism as well as all of the wines in its price category. The wine displays the aroma of cherry and blackberry right up front and is, to say the least, expansive. The flavor, which is as big as the aroma, is loaded with cranberry, pomegranate, and spice ending with a mushroom flavor in the background. The Trinity Oaks 2013 Cabernet Savignon is a sound, well made wine that can grace your dinner table with pride and dignity.

Trinity Oaks 2013 Merlot ($7.99). One taste of this wine and the reason that Merlot has become so popular becomes evident. It is a fruity wine that presents the brilliant amethyst color of a classical Merlot, which is matched by an almost overpowering varietal flavor and aroma. While not as fruity as a Zinfandel, this Merlot is no slacker in that department. The Trinity Oaks 2013 Merlot accents dignified amounts of black cherry and plum in both the flavor and aroma with just the slightest hint of green tea and just a suggestion of oak. Merlot wines compliment veal, pork, poultry and vegetable dishes as well as almost anything served at backyard barbecues.

Trinity Oaks 2013 Pinot Noir ($7.99). Most of the Pinot Noir’s that we have tasted below the $15 price range have been uninteresting to say the best for them. The grape variety does not lend itself well to less the less expensive winemaking techniques; the Trinity Oaks 2013 Pinot Noir is an exception. It is a well-made wine that exhibits all of the properties and charms the grape is capable of without any of the negative features often found in its less expensive cousins. Big in flavor and dark in color this wine exhibits an open and obvious dark cherry flavor and aroma coupled with oak and spice. It was nice to find an affordable Pinot Noir that lives up to the varieties potential.

Trinity Oaks 2014 Chardonnay ($7.99). Trinity Oaks 2014 Chardonnay is undoubtedly one of the best Chardonnay wine values in its very affordable price range. The wine is made to be open and fruity in the true California style of winemaking while retaining its varietal signature. This wines attractive golden color announces the prominent aromas of pineapple, citrus, melon, and vanilla. These aromas continue right through to the flavor where they are joined by pear and a hint of butterscotch in the background. We found this to be a wine that is very easy to drink, enjoyable and an excellent buy for the money.

Trinity Oaks 2014 Pinot Grigio ($7.99). This Italian expatriate displays a crystal clear, pale straw color and an aroma that is reminiscent of summer wild flowers. On the palate, the wine is almost totally dry, but the fruit flavors give an impression of sweetness. There is also an understated raisin-like quality coupled with a suggestion of limes which then carries on to a moderately long, flavorful finish. This is an excellent wine that can accompany a wide variety of foods, and will prove to be a hit whenever it is served with Italian style dishes topped with cheese or white sauces and is also a perfect wine to use in your cooking.

Not Really A Dark Horse

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on May 23rd, 2015

Wine has become an integral part of the American dining experience now being enjoyed at many home meals and no longer the sole province of the restaurant experience. The real problem is that it can prove to be rather expensive. Wine prices, like almost everything in our present society, have risen. Wines that formerly sold for around ten dollars are now in the twelve to eighteen dollar range and let’s be truthful, there are very few of us who can put an eighteen dollar bottle of wine on the table every night. It is therefore a great delight when we find a decent wine that sells for an affordable ten dollars a bottle; Dark Horse wines are just such a bargain. They are well made wines that retain the true California philosophy of wines that exhibit a full fruit flavor without sacrificing the elegance or any of the varieties better characteristics.

Dark Horse 2013 Chardonnay ($10). The full flavor spectrum of the Chardonnay grape is beautifully presented in this wine. The aroma abounds with generous amounts of apple, pineapples, a hint of citrus and as an added extra, a bit of Gewurztraminer has been added to offer an even wider aroma and flavor signature. These aromas migrate to the flavor where they mingle with lemon, grapefruit, and pear. This is a wine that is much finer than its modest price indicates and a reprieve from the more expensive, look-a-like Chardonnay wines that are turning people away from the variety.

Dark Horse 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($10). This is a soft, easy to drink Cab that needs no further time to age or to mature. This wine has an upfront berry-like aroma and a flavor that showcases cherry and blackberry, with a hint of dark raisins and oak in the background. For an affordable wine, the Dark Horse 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon has a rather long and full flavored dark chocolate espresso finish. Here is the ideal wine for those grilled meats that have become popular among barbeque aficionados.

Dark Horse 2013 Merlot ($10). The 2003 Dark Horse Merlot is one of the standouts of the Dark Horse portfolio. This wine is just a bit off center from the run of the mill Merlots as it has been blended with a grape variety we have never encountered, the Dornfelder. That alone is a reason to sample this wine just to see how the addition of the Dornfelder changes the old and perhaps all too familiar characteristics of a Merlot. This wine displays a medium body and a full fruit flavor, which is balanced by a near perfect oak background. Plums and berries dominate the flavor with oak and vanilla in the background. A delightful added extra to this wine is its long and fruity finish displaying notes of brown spice and molasses. There is also that indefinable raisin-like character that is the mark of a well made, well aged Merlot.

Dark Horse 2013 Big Red Blend 01A ($10). If you think that the Merlot was a bit different, this one may knock you off your chair. The Big Red is a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot from grapes grown in California, Argentina, Spain, and Chile. The Dark Horse vintners selected fruit from the areas around the world where a specific varieties is known to grow best. How they did all of this and still produced a better wine at this affordable price is a mystery to us; but did it they did. The aromas of plum, cherries, tobacco, vanilla, leather, and herb with hints of vanilla and spice in the background permeate this wine. The flavor is a mouth-filling experience featuring dark fruit flavors, notes of caramel and oak which carries onto an absolutely knock out finish finish. This wine is a wine lovers chance to experience some very intuitive blending a fine example of the blending craze now sweeping the California winemakers; plus it’s a very enjoyable and pleasant wine.

LoveBlock … ‘Nuf Said

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on April 19th, 2015

Please, after you read this and before you sign off go to About Us there has been an update

Did you ever do or say something to your significant other that put you in the dog house? If you are like most of us, the answer is a resounding YES. Well, for those of us who have committed that ultimate sin and are looking for something less expensive than a new Lexus to cool a sore temper, may we suggest the ultimate bottle of apology, the wines of LoveBlock.

LoveBlock wines say what you feel with grace and elegance and without the probability of you sticking your foot in your mouth again. For those of us who did not commit such a sin and are in good stead with their significant other, just the label on the bottle alone makes for a great statement of affection. Either way, the LoveBlock wines from New Zealand are not only good wines but make a statement on the label that can put you in very good stead.

Growing fine wine grapes in New Zealand is about as difficult as wine grape growing can be. The average temperature during the growing seasons of the year is a mere 680 F, making New Zealand one of the coldest regions on earth where fine wine grapes can be grown and still result in a respectable wine. The lower temperature prevents the grapes from developing too much sugar which usually results in wines that are flabby and uninteresting. A saving grace is that during the growing season, there is an abundance of sunshine and just the right amount of rain, which makes up for the lower temperatures. What results is that the island nation has proven to be an ideal home for classically styled Savignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio grapes and an up and coming producer of outstanding Pinot Noir wines.

LoveBlock 2012 Pinot Noir ($37). This wine offers everything that makes for a great Pinot Noir; an inviting ruby color, a firm body, a captivating aroma, a definable flavor and a long, enduring finish, all wrapped in a smooth, velvet-like robe. An inviting ruby color beacons for you to take the first sip. That first sip opens a world of fresh and exciting fruit Aromas and flavors cherry followed closly by plum, raspberry and a light sprinkling of oak, all presented in elegant, dignified amounts. The suggestion of oak carries onto the finish where it rounds out a delightful wine drinking experience. There is also a modest tannic background, which will assure that the wine will continue to improve and gain in complexity over many years to come. This wine is a fine accompaniment to the lighter meats and pasta dishes.

LoveBlock 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($26). Marlborough, on the northeastern coast of New Zealand’s southern island is the home of what is considered to be the world’s finest Sauvignon Blanc wines of which LoveBlock 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a prime example. This wine presents the pronounced aromas of green olives and lemon, along with notes of pepper and nectarine. The flavor displays notes of gooseberry, pepper, and melon. Riding throughout the flavor, aroma, and finish is the grape varieties signature dry grass aroma. All of these manage to show up in the finish, which is long and luscious, confirming this as an absolutely perfect wine.

2012 Marlborough Pinot Gris ($26). This wine was made by Kim Crawford, one of New Zealand’s top winemakers, from grapes grown in Marlborough. This is a big and full flavored wine whose aroma displays intense ripe pear and honeysuckle aromas with floral notes. The flavor is, to say the least, equally massive for a usually sedate Pinot Grigio. Tropical fruits and ripe melon flavors mingle with those of vanilla and soft oak, which are enhanced by a pronounced acid bite. The finish of this wine is big, fruity, and long lasting. This wine is not a wimp by any means, and like it or not, it makes a loud and clear statement about the true potential of a well-made Pinot Grigio.

Parducci Winery Started in 1933 and Still Going Strong

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on April 19th, 2015

The Parducci Winery was established in 1933, which corresponded with the end of national Prohibition and which ushered in the resurrection of the California wine industry. Since that time Parducci has been among California’s top producers of premium wines. We recently had an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the wines of Parducci and found that our memories of them being exceptional had not changed.

One of the reasons Parducci is in the upper class of California producers is that their wines are made in small lots and then blended to make the final product. Making their wines in small lots allows the winemakers to construct a finished product that is exactly to the Parducci style and those lots that do not come up to standard are discarded. Now you can understand why the Parducci wines are worth much more than their affordable price indicates.

Parducci 2013 Small Lot Chardonnay ($13). No longer do California winemakers look toward the austere and stiff French Chardonnay’s as a model. Americans prefer the more fruity and expansive style currently expounded by California vintners. The Parducci 2013 Small Lot Chardonnay expresses this California styles perfectly. There is not one flavor or aroma to pick from but a host of constantly changing attributes that seems endless. Pear melds with golden apple and honey all lying on a bed of light sweet oak. This is the type of white wine we Americans love.

Parducci 2013 Small Lot Cabernet Savignon ($14). Flavor and aroma are the key words here. This wine displays its attributes in almost obscene quantities and is so big, it is almost overpowering. Plum and cranberry dominate the flavor with black cherry bringing up the rear. There are the flavors of mocha, cedar, oak, and vanilla lying in the background adding extra layers of complexity to this very excellent wine. If you like cabs and are not bound by tradition or snobbery, try this wine for a new and delightful wine drinking experience.

Parducci 2013 Small Lot Pinot Noir ($14). Where most winemakers struggle with this grape, Parducci has made it a star. The traditional aromas of cherries and rose petals that are the signature of wines made from this grape are prominent and are joined by the aromas of cranberries. The cranberry aroma carries over to the flavor where it mingles with cherry and plum. The background of this wine proves to be just as interesting, displaying cinnamon, clove, dark chocolate, oak, and vanilla, which carry over to the finish where they slowly trail off ending in a smoky sensation and is about as enjoyable as they come.

Parducci True Grit 2012 Petite Sirah ($29). This is what a Petite Sirah should be like. It is a big wine, displaying a rich purple color and concentrated flavors from start to finish. Berries, chocolate, and spice mark the aroma while the flavor prominently displays boysenberry, black pepper, and vanilla. A big surprise is the rather long and subtle finish, which, to say the least, is uncommon for many of its contemporaries. This wine can be enjoyed right now or put away for as long as 10 years and can be particularly well matched with strongly flavored and spicy foods as well as with anything barbecued. This if a good example of a well made truly fine wine.

Parducci True Grit 2012 Cabernet Savignon ($30). The wine opens to, dark and inviting ruby color followed by an aroma alive with cherries, black berries, and a background of wild mushrooms and oak. On the palate, the wine exhibits a broad black cherry flavor with a nicely balanced acid level and good tannin. This wine is perfect for bottle aging for up to ten years but can be enjoyed right now. This is a wine that bespeaks the quality available from great grapes. While Cabernet Savignon wines are getting to be commonplace, this wine is a level or two above the rest of the pack and definitely deserves to be tried.

La Merika… A Star to follow, A Continent to Discover or a Wine to Drink?

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on April 19th, 2015

We are currently witnessing the arrival of the latest vintages of affordable wines to dealer’s shelves. Many are of them are adorned with labels bearing weird names or strange pictures to attract the casual buyer. A saving grace among this gaggle of weirdoes is La Merika from Delecato Family Wines.

So you noticed that the name La Merika which, with a few minor changes, morphs into America. We Googled La Merika and came up some astounding facts that appear as though they belong on the Sci-Fi or History channels. The yet unproven La Merika Theory suggests that America was discovered centuries before Christopher Columbus, by Henry Sinclair, a Scottish nobleman, and that it was the star, called La Merika, that he followed in his quest, The name La Merika was probably derived from the symbol of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, and it was this star that guided Sinclair to the “new world.” To the people at Delecato Vineyards, the name seemed to fit for their new series of popular priced wines, which they consider to be a star among a sea of mediocrity.

La Merika Monterey County 2013 Pinot Grigio ($12.99). If this was the beverage of choice of Henry Sinclair, get us a time machine. The La Merika Monterey County 2013 Pinot Grigio is a soft, straw colored, dry wine with a rich fruity bouquet and the lively aroma of apricots and pears. Its flavor is classic Pinot Grigio, crisp with a raisin-like quality, coupled with the acid bite of limes and then ending in a long, clean, and fresh finish that lingers in the mouth long after the wine has been finished. Do not, under any circumstance, miss this wine, it’s just too good to let pass.

La Merika Central Coast 2013 Cabernet Savignon ($14.99). This wine is an easy to drink Cabernet Savignon that needs no time to age away any rough edges due to five months of oak aging, a process usually reserved for the more expensive wines. It is also a wine that proudly displays its California full fruit attributes and does not try to emulate its more austere and considerably harder French cousins. This wine has an upfront berry-like aroma showcasing cherry and blackberry, with a hint of dark raisins in the background. Here is the ideal wine for those grilled steaks that have become popular among barbeque aficionados. Try this wine; we are sure you will enjoy it.

La Merika Central Coast 2013 Chardonnay ($12.99). There is no searching to find the fruit in this Chardonnay; it is all there, up front and announcing itself boldly. The most obvious aromas are apple and citrus, backed up by a host of summertime fruits. The flavor of this medium bodied wine is almost indescribable and is a blending of every light colored fruit that you have ever liked. The wine is superb, a party, and a cornucopia of flavor. If you have become tired of the taste-a-like, boring Chardonnays, try the La Merika Central Coast 2013 Chardonnay, we are sure that you will enjoy the wine much as we did.

La Merika Central Coast 2013 Pinot Noir ($14.99). Based on our known affection for Pinot Noir, presenting one to us is like trying to pet a Tasmanian devil; not a good move if the wine is not one of quality or worth its price. We can easily say that this wine is a super buy and more than lives up to our expectations. It is a well-made wine that exhibits all of the properties and charms the grape is capable of without any of the negative features often found in its less expensive cousins. Big in flavor and dark in color this wine exhibits an open and obvious dark cherry flavor and aroma coupled with oak and spice ending in a BIG finish. To be totally honest, to find an affordable Pinot Noir that does not taste like mouthwash is a rare treat, this wine is such a treat.

The New Art of Blending

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on April 19th, 2015

Well, we were wrong again. When we first began writing about wines we were under the misguided impression that if a wine showed up that was made from a bunch of different grape varieties it was merely an attempt by vintners to make use of some grapes that they had bought, grown, and were “stuck with.” We recently found out that we were wrong, very, very, wrong.

We should have realized that we were wrong when we first ran into the French Chateauneuf- du-pape, a French wine made from a laundry list of grapes. So why should American vintners be condemned for doing the same thing; we now have to say, they shouldn‘t. To rectify that faux pas, we searched out wines that were monster blends and must say, much to our surprise, many of them were not only good but were better than good and a fun excursion into the world of wines that were not “the same old thing”

2012 Markham Vineyards Cellar 1879 Napa Valley Blend ($26.99). Markham Vineyards is noted for its fine wines and we are positive that this assemblage was an experiment in blending that more than worked. The constituents are, 36% Merlot, 21% Petite Sirah 14%, Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 9% Zinfandel, and 8% Petit Verdot. What resulted is an incredibly flavorful wine displaying violet, boysenberry, plum, and tobacco aromas followed by the flavors of graham cracker, vanilla, and spicy fruit. This wine is a credit to the Markham vintners and their ability to successfully blend wines that will make any red wine lover happy.

Sokol Blosser Evolution Sparkling Wine ($24.95). This is a fresh, bright, and extremely enjoyable sparkler that was made in Oregon in the style of a French Champagne but unlike Champagne, from an encyclopedia of grape varieties. Just from the ingredients used, one would expect a sweet wine and so it is, but not so sweet as to suppress the full flavors of the ingredients from coming through. The cast of characters include Riesling, Semillon, Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Sylvaner. The wine displays a bright yeast and bread aroma with hints of citrus, which carry over to the flavor then ending in a long finish. If you are looking for a sparkling wine that is definitely not the same old thing, this one is it.

Murrieta’s Well 2011 Livermore Valley “The Spur” ($30). We will start by stating that this is a very classy wine offering what every red wine lover seeks; a soft, smooth, aromatic, and flavorful wine. The blend says it all; 31% Petite Sirah, 29% Petite Verdot (a variety not often found in any quantity in red wines), 27% Cabernet Savignon, 8% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc. This wine has all the flavors and aromas that can be found in a red wine and then some. While there are many flavors to choose from, the first taste offers black cherry and blueberry with a collage of chocolate, licorice, spice and a hint of oak. The finish of this wine is, to say the least, memorable and will probably send the drinker on a hunt for other well blended wines.

Murrieta’s Well 2013 Livermore Valley “The Whip” ($22). At first glance, this wine too looks like a quickly slapped together hodge-podge of grapes; nothing could be further from the truth. This carefully constructed wine is a blend of 28% Semillon, 24% Chardonnay, 14% Savignon Blanc, 11% Orange Muscat, 11% Viognier, 11% Gewurztraminer, and bringing up the rear, 1% White Riesling. While this wine is slightly sweet, the sweetness does not interfere with the fruit flavors but rather embraces them. The wine displays the aromas of peach, pear, melon, and just a hint of citrus. In the flavor department, it is dominated by cantaloupe, pear, honey, and butterscotch. This is not a wine to be casually tossed off as an oddity but is rather a tribute to the art of blending resulting in an exceptional wine.

MacMurray Estate Vineyards

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on April 19th, 2015

Do you remember actor Fred MacMurray? He was a popular film and TV star of the 50’s and 60’s. When Fred wasn’t acting he followed his dream and became a dedicated rancher. Fred bought an old ranch in Sonoma County California in 1941 and began to work with cattle. The wine part of the MacMurray ranch began in 1991 when it was found to be in a perfect location for growing the Burgundian grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and armed with this information Fred’s daughter Kate created the vineyard. It did not take long before the MacMurray wines began to receive national as well as international recognition by continually garnering the highest ratings from wine experts year after year. The current releases are now on dealer’s shelves and in restaurants continuing the tradition begun by Fred, they are excellent.

MacMurray Estate Vineyards 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir ($28). Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is probably the finest region in California for growing the Pinot Noir grape and the MacMurry Vineyard is located in the center of that region. The cool microclimate of the Russian River Valley allows the grapes to develop slowly and it is that slow ripening which results in the grapes developing deeper and more concentrated flavors. Couple development on the vine, careful selection of the fruit, slow fermentation, and aging for 8 months in French oak barrels and you have the MacMurray Estate Vineyards 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir. This exceptional wine exhibits a broad spectrum of flavors, with cherries and red berries being the most prominent. There are also many other flavors lying in the background with oak and an earthy mushroom flavor being the most obvious. This very well made, medium bodied wine is drinkable now or can be laid down for as long as five years, to gain additional complexity and depth

MacMurray Estate Vineyards 2012 Central Valley Pinot Noir ($23). The MacMurray Estate Vineyards 2012 Central Valley Pinot Noir offers everything that has singled out the great Pinot Noir’s of the past; an inviting ruby color, a firm body, a captivating aroma, a positive and definable flavor and a long, enduring finish, all wrapped in a smooth, velvet-like robe. The aroma displays cherry, raspberry pomegranate and oak. The flavor is about as classical as it can get; black cherry, spice, and a hint of truffles. All of these carry over to the finish where they linger on the palate for a very long time. This is a great Pinot Noir made in the tradition of the Burgundian classics and reconfirms our belief that exceptional Pinot Noir wines can be made in the United States. We can recommend this wine to you without any question and we know that the MacMurray Estate Vineyards Noir experience will captivate you as it did us. This is a wine that we feel should definitely not be missed.

MacMurray Estate Vineyards 2013 Russian River Chardonnay ($20). There are plenty of Chardonnay wines on the market, so for one to stand out over the others, it has to be exceptional and the MacMurray Estate Vineyards 2013 Russian River Chardonnay is just that. The aroma is overflowing with vanilla, melon, clove, honey, and spice. The flavor prominently displays apple, orange blossom, vanilla and that flinty background sensation that marks all Sonoma County wines. The flint and the apple carry over to the long and complex finish, which is complimented by hints of tropical fruits. This wine also has that soft, velvet, buttery mouth feel sought after by all Chardonnay winemakers. To sum up the Chateau MacMurray Estate Vineyards 2013 Russian River Chardonnay, it is a near perfect wine. From beginning to end, this is a grand wine and is worth far more than its $20 price tag. We also would like to thank MacMurray Estate Vineyards for reestablishing our faith in the Chardonnay grape and the wines that can be made form them. If we sound as though we were impresses, we were.

Tokaji the Hungarian wine of Kings, Emperors and the People

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on April 19th, 2015

Do you believe in magic elixirs? We do. We are not talking about those magic potions dreamed up by alchemists that appear in books, movies and on TV. What we are referring to is a magic elixir that was reserved for kings and emperors on their death beds or served in gold engraved crystal decanters to the Russian royalty of old. What we are referring to is a wine called Tokaji or as we know it, Tokay.

Tokaji is made in Hungry from a typically Hungarian grape, the Furmint that, for some reason, has never found a home in California. For many years, during the cold war era, we saw very little of these fabled wines as most of them were sent east to the Soviet Union. With the demise of Communism, the vineyards went back into international distribution. Some Tokaji wines take months or even years to ferment and need as long as 6 years of aging in wooden barrel while residing in deep caves. This simply means it can be years before one can sample the current vintage.

Tokay wines can run the gamut from totally dry to super-sweet. The sweetness is determined by the number of buckets of dried grapes that are added to a cask of grape juice that will be fermented to make the Tokaji. The buckets are called puttonyos and the sweetness of the finished wine will be listed by the number of these bucket used in the finished wine. Six puttonyos makes a super sweet, absolutely incredibly unctuous wine. Five puttonyos is just a bit less sweet and so on down to the totally dry wine called Tokaji Szamorodni, which means, “as it comes,” and made without the addition of any dried grapes. If you have never tried a Tokaji wine then you have missed something great. If it is good enough for kings and emperors it is surely good enough for you.

Royal Tokaji 2008 6 Puttonyos Betsek ($135). The Betsek vineyards produce wines that were declared to be among the best in Hungary when the vineyards were classified in 1700. Here is a truly great wine that gives new meaning to the description “sweet velvet.” The wine has the typical dark golden, almost orange color. The aroma is a complex melding of dried fruits mainly concentrating on nectarine. On the palate this wine displays a full spectrum of ripe summer fruit that have been steeped in honey and amplified by a brisk acidity. The finish is about as long as the longest we have ever samples and maybe even a bit more. This is a wine you must visit, just for the experience.

Royal Tokaji 2008 5 Puttonyos Red Label ($45).This wine in just a bit less sweet than the Betsek but is definitely not it’s inferior. It is not just the sweetness but its great depth, finesse, and fragrant character that define this wine. This is a grand wine with an aroma that is laced with honey and fruit. The flavor stresses sweet orange with an underlying smoky oak element derived from its years spent aging in barrels. Here too, a long finish ends a memorable flavor experience.

Royal Tokaji 2013 Oddity ($19). Dry wine lovers, the Hungarians have not forsaken you in favor of their sweet wines. Royal Tokaji 2013 Oddity is an expression of the Furmint grape in an often not seen dry, but definitely enjoyable incarnation. The aroma of this wine slides toward the citrus with lime being the most obvious followed by a background of nuts. The flavor is crisp and clean and ends in a berrylike finish. If you are interested in sampling a new and probably never before seen dry white wine, Oddity is the way to go. As a side note, if you look at the label on the bottle the D’s in the name Oddity are reversed which should indicate that you are headed toward something different and if we may interject, something enjoyably different.

Smith-Madrone California Wines

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on April 19th, 2015

Within the Napa Valley, near the town of St. Helena, lies a little known wine grape growing district known as Spring Mountain. Spring Mountain has been the site of wine grape growing since Civil War times but the region is not favorable to large vineyards because of the mountainous terrain and was always considered the exclusive domain of small boutique wineries. The area consists of just over 30 vineyard/wineries that occupy a mere 1000 acres of land. Considering the huge size of many of the vineyards in the Napa Valley proper, these would be considered to be the equivalent of backyard plantings.
Size however, does not mean everything. These small wineries make some of the best wines coming out of the Napa Valley. Such is the case for the wines of Smith-Madrone where, for over forty years, they have been producing outstanding wines that appear in many serious wine enthusiasts library.

Smith-Madrone Dry 2013 Riesling ($27). We recently featured Riesling wines in a previous column, which we hope you read. We wrote t he Smith-Madrone Riesling but had to pull it because of room considerations and the fact that we were very much impressed by the other Smith-Madrone wines we tasted at the time. This Riesling was made totally dry in the neo-German style and displays the fruity bouquet and intense flavors of apples and peaches with just a touch of citrus that the variety is famous for. Natural acidity gives this wine a perfect balance with the fruit, which is refreshingly crisp, followed by a brilliant aftertaste. According to Smith-Madrone, it is the ultimate wine to accompany seafood salads or the lighter meat dishes such as pork.

Smith-Madrone 2011 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($48). This wine is undoubtedly the crème de la crème of the Napa Valley Cabernet Savignon. It seems that everything clicked in just the right way for both the grapes and the winemaking. The wine a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc was made from grapes from 39 year old vines and then aged in oak barrels for nineteen months. The wine is full bodied and the color is an inky black with flecks of ruby at the edges. The aroma is a compendium of interesting sensations, running from black cherries to tobacco to cedar. The flavor accents dark berries and currents with a whole series of under flavors, the most obvious being chocolate and mint. There is also a mineral quality in this wine that carries over to the extremely long finish. The best word to describe this wine is elegant, and that is exactly what it is, an elegant, well crafted, and thoroughly enjoyable wine. Because of the incredible quality, this wine may enjoyed right now or be put away for many, many years to come to gain additional complexity and depth. The Smith-Madrone 2011 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is a beautiful and classical expression of the variety and a wine that should please one and all.

Smith-Madrone 2012 Chardonnay ($32). It is a known fact that many of the legendary French Chardonnays have come from postage stamp size vineyards. In the case of this wine, that fact is eminently proven beyond any doubt. Modern Chards seem to have lost some of their charm and individuality and have wound up as nothing more than taste-alike clones. The Smith-Madrone 2012 Chardonnay is marked by its individuality and depth of flavor and aroma and a return to the style that made Chardonnays popular. This wine displays an up front and quite obvious full fruit aroma stressing honey, pear, and springtime flowers with hints of hazelnut and nutmeg in the background. These aromas carry over to the flavor where they mingle with caramel and butterscotch. There is also a spicy, toasty under flavor that has just a slight hint of oak and vanilla. This is a very pleasant wine that can be enjoyed now or well into 2016. This is a truly premium Chardonnay and worth ev

Markham Vineyards

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on April 19th, 2015

We guess that the hardest thing in the world is going into a store and slapping down twenty or thirty dollars for a wine and not even knowing exactly what’s in the bottle. You know it is wine, you may even be familiar with the producer, but exactly what is in the bottle; we really do not think that you do. One cannot even go by the vintage years. All too often the vintages are declared good for an entire district or country and there can be nothing further from the truth. Vintage not only depends on the districts weather but the weather at the particular place where a vineyard lies as well as the soil, the orientation of the vineyard and on and on. There can be dramatic differences in the quality of the grapes in just a few hundred feet. The small, legendary Burgundian vineyards of La Tache and La Richebourge abut the rather mediocre vineyards of La Grand Rue, which on the other side abuts two other equally extraordinary vineyards, Le Cruots and Le Treux; a lump of coal sandwiched between diamonds.

We believe that there are very few really bad wines in the marketplace; some just please an individual more than others regardless of the price it is the buyers palate is really all that counts. Now that we have mentioned price, please do not use that as a criterion of a wines quality. We have had some magnificent $12 wines and some monumental stinkers at $125 a bottle.

Markham Vineyards is one of those vineyards that can be counted on year after year to produce wines that are well above average. While Mother Nature occasionally vexes them, the Markham vintners will not put their label on wines that do not reach or exceed their very stringent standards.

Markham Vineyards 2013 Napa Valley Pinot Noir ($31). We are not ashamed to admit it, we are partial to pinot noir wines, from the massive wines of Burgundy in France to the newly emerging Pinot Noir’s of New Zealand. Too often the fruit of a Pinot Noir is in such abundance that it can become obnoxious. This is not the case with the Markham Vineyards 2011 Napa Valley Pinot Noir. The fruit is there, and in all of its glories, cherry, plum, raspberry, and a light sprinkling of oak, but in elegant, dignified amounts. The suggestion of oak carries into the finish where it rounds out a delightful wine drinking experience.

Markham Vineyards 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($45). This wine is a California show piece, displaying all of the classical flavors of a Cabernet Savignon but in the big, fruit, wide open California style. The flavors big and jammy showcasing big ripe plums and fresh summer berries intertwined with vanilla and oak. A long and delightfully fruity finish caps off the wine. Forget about what best goes with a Cabernet Savignon and just enjoy this one.

Markham Vineyards 2012 Napa Valley Merlot ($27). After saying so much about the Cabernet Savignon we now present its more fruitier (if that is possible) cousin, the Merlot. The aroma is powerful and fruity with a background of spice. The flavor is ablaze with plums, dark cherries, and wild summer berries riding on a toasty smoky oak cloud. The Markham Vineyards 2011 Napa Valley Merlot can accompany almost any meat dish as well as a great many non-meat dishes. It is an all around wine that we feel is sure to please.

Markham Vineyards 2012 Napa Valley Cellar 1879 Blend ($27), When Markham vintners say “blend,” they are not kidding. To make a red wine that is a perfect for almost everything they very skillfully combined 36% Merlot, 21% Petite Sirah, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 9% Zinfandel, 8% Petit Verdot and came up with, not a Frankenstein, but a really knockout wine that displays the aromas violet, boysenberry, plum and tobacco followed by an equally interesting and complex flavor and finish.

The Evolution of Chianti

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on April 19th, 2015

Chianti, that low priced Italian red wine that came in basket swathed bottles and was the darting red wine of the youth of the United States in the 1950’s and was promptly forgotten by the 1960’s. A rather ignominious fate for something that was so popular for so many years but, tempus fugit, and wine enthusiast moved on to wider fields. Chianti fell so far from grace that by the 1970’s it was no longer widely available. An occasional bottle would show up on dealer’s shelves or in Italian restaurants but they were few and far between. Needless to say that the Italian vintners were hard hit by this loss of sales and searched around for an answer to their dilemma. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Chianti Classico was born.

So what is the difference between the Chianti of old and the present Chianti Classico beside the name? The Italian government set up a series of mandatory quality and grape variety ratings for their wines and you do not put a misleading rating on the label or suffer the wrath of the Italian government. The rating of the common Chianti is very low on the scale but, to be called a Classico, it must receive the government’s highest rating Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) which translates as Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.

Folonari Chianti 2012 DOCG ($10). Although not swathed in a straw basket of the past, the Folonari Chianti 2012 DOCG is as true an old fashioned Tuscan masterpiece as you can get. The brilliant deep garnet color heralds fresh and pleasant aroma of violets and dried plums with a hint of wild berries in the background. The flavor is full and powerful, accenting blackberries, plums and an earthy flavor that has become synonymous with Chianti. As far as what this wine will accompany, everything, after all, it is Chianti.

I Bastioni (The Ramparts) DOCG Chianti Classico (19.99). The I Bastioni Chianti Classico is a picture perfect example of the modern, high quality evolution of the style. The color is an inviting ruby red heralding an aroma of dark cherries combined with that of summer red fruits and spices, which continue on to the flavor. The finish is very long and perfect for accompanying any red sauce Italian meal or the heavier red meats.

Melini Chinti Riserva 2011 DOCG ($13). Although not nestled in a straw basket, this wine is presented in a large, bulbous, easy to find bottle. The wine inside that bottle offers a complex fruit aroma with the accent on plums and cherries. The flavor exhibits the same plum and cherry elements, which mingles with sweet raisins and just the slightest hint of oak. As you may well imagine, this wine will go well with Italian foods.

Melini La Selvanelia 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG ($28). This well aged wine is big, bold and a credit to the name Chianti. It has spent over a 30 months in oak barrels and one year after that resting in the bottle allowing for the perfect marriage of all the elements and developing an incomparable smoothness before it s release. The aroma stresses violets, raspberries, and cranberries with oak and vanilla quietly lying in the background. As with all premium Chianti wines, this wine has a long, smooth, and elegant finish. This is a grand and regal wine and will prove to one and all, what great Chianti is capable of.

Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico 2012 DOCG ($21). This wine is a slight side step from the usual Chianti blend as it is made of mostly Sangiovese, the classical Chianti grape, with 10% Merlot added to round it out. The aroma is a mixture of red summer fruits and the signature aroma of violets. The flavor stresses cherries, raspberries, and that unmistakable but indefinable element that marks this wine as truly Italian reflecting all of the facets that have made Chianti so popular since Roman times

The Ten Commandments Of Wine

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014


Most of the societies on this planet observe the Ten Commandments in some form or other. They have become the almost universal direction of life, are inviolate and written in stone. There are also Ten Commandments of wine written in stone and are considered by some, unimaginable to violate.

Welcome to the 21st century, where the old wine laws are no longer valid; and the stone that they were written in is now pebbles. Let’s take a look at them and see what has happened,

First Commandment: Thou shall not serve red wines with seafood: That commandment may have worked in the old days but today, we enjoy such gifts from the sea as sword fish, shark, squid, octopus etc., which are too strongly flavored to be accompanied by the average white wine. Some of the less tannic red wines such as California Merlot, Zinfandel, or Petite Sirah work and work well with these foods.

Second Commandment:
Thou shall not serve white wine with red meat: This commandment still holds for Grilled red meats, but for the more delicately flavored red meats or veal, lamb, pork or fowl dishes, Riesling, Viognier and Pinot Grigio work in their countries of origin, so why not here .

Third Commandment: Thou shall serve white and sparkling wines ice cold: Who ever dreamed that one up was an idiot. Too cold and the wine looses most of its flavor and aroma attributes. One half to three quarters of an hour in the fridge should make it perfect.

Fourth Commandment: Thou shall serve red wines at room temperature: The rooms that were etched in stone were French rooms of the 1800’s; without central heating or cooling. Red wines are perfect after about 15 minutes in the fridge, but do not uncork them until they are at the table to prevent the wine from picking up fridge odors.

Fifth Commandment: Thou shall never serve a sweet wine with dinner: Forget this law; with the explosion of sweet and semi-sweet wines in the marketplace and the American palate enjoying sweet wines; go for it.

Sixth Commandment: Thou shall drink the wine ordered at a restaurant without question: A decent server will pour a bit of wine into your glass for you to sample. You then have the opportunity to accept or reject it. Once you accept that wine, you have bought the wine but, if you reject it, you do not have to pay for it, and don’t.

Seventh Commandment: Thou shall respect the suggestions of the sommelier: Never even ask the sommelier for suggestions. He/she is a sales person and will direct your choice towards wine they want to get rid of or make the most profit on.

Eighth Commandment: Thou shall store your wines lying down: Unless you plan to keep the wines for an inordinately long time (collecting?) nothing will happen to wine if stored upright in the short time it will be in your hands, even a long as a year.

Ninth Commandment: Thou shall never buy a wine with a screw top: Again phooey; there are some very good wines now being sold with screw tops. Screw tops are no longer the indication of a cheap wine. Clichésville: never judge a book by its cover or a wine by its stopper.

Tenth Commandment: Thou shall allow the guest to fill his/her glass: That is the province of the server in a better restaurant and he/she should be aware of what is going on at the tables they work and when a glass should be filled. If they are not observant, let the tip indicate your displeasure.

There are many other myths about wine but we have listed only some of the more common ones. In any and all cases you, as the customer, are in charge. If you allow someone else to make your choice, you have lost your individuality and probably, your courage. PROVERB: True joy is achieved by blowing the mind of a know-it-all wine person.

Nottage Hill … Good Wines From Australia

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

The news from Australia and its agricultural woes has been presented in detail by our weather reporting media. Although that nation has been hit with a terrible drought, some of the wineries have managed to stay in business by using water that they have found underground or were lucky enough to have their vineyards located near a river or stream. William Hardy Vineyards, AKA Nottage Hill, is one of thus lucky few who are still producing decent wines in spite of all of the current weather adversities.

With an ample supply of irrigation water available to them, the only thing the vintners had to worry about was the searing heat that is currently baking that country. The Vineyards and wineries located in Southeastern Australia are also blessed with breezes from Antarctica that cool their vines. They also protect the grapes by keeping them well inside the foliage canopy and not in the heat of direct sunlight. Even with all of this going for them the high heat has one redeeming quality, it enhances and amplifies the fruit flavor of the grapes, and thus, the wines they produce.

2012 Hardys Nottage Hill Pinot Noir ($13). If you like cherries, then there is plenty of cherry flavor in this offering from Hardys Nottage Hill to keep any cherry-a-holic happy The color is a bright ruby red which guides you right into an aroma of complex of fruit flavors featuring cherries and blackberries mingled with oak. Below the surface there is a swirling, kaleidoscopic array of dark summer fruits and berries along with that indefinable incense-like aroma that, to us, marks a truly great pinot noir. The flavor is as multifaceted as is the aroma. There is a host of cherry and berry flavors, all of which are wrapped in that indefinable pinot noir velvet softness. This wine also possesses a substantial body, which is another sign of a well-made, finely proportioned Pinot Noir. The finish is long and as interesting and complex as is the aroma. To be very honest, this wine is reminiscent of the great Burgundies of the sixties and take our word for it, they were great Pinot Noirs.

2012 Hardys Nottage Hill Shiraz ($13). Shiraz is as about as authentic an Australian as is the kangaroo, Koala and that wide brimmed cowboy hat with one side pinned up that you always see in the movies. Even though we know that it is made from the familiar Syrah grape, its Australian birthplace endows it with its own particular flavor and readily identifiable under flavor. The flavors and aromas that it displays are huge, concentrating on cherries, blueberries, spice, licorice, and chocolate. Here too, the finish is long, complex and full flavored The 2012 Hardys Nottage Hill Shiraz is an almost perfect red wine accompaniment to anything, from great American tube steak (the hot dog) to a filet mignon; with the royal family of course. This is a truly big and pardon cliché, regal wine.

2012 Hardys 2012 Chardonnay ($17). Chardonnay has never been one of Australia’s strong points. A Chardonnay usually does best in a cool spring and fall and a warm, but not hot summer. South Eastern Australia does have areas that usually fall into these parameters, but lately, due to the almost nationwide heat, they have been hard to find. We do not know exactly what the Hardy’s vinyardists did, but the managed to produce a very nice and attractive Chardonnay. Warmer weather usually increases the sugar content of the grape as well as the flavor and aroma it imparts to the finished wine and this wine is no different. The aroma is intense and showcases melon, peach and oak. The flavor continues the peach in very strong amounts, which is bolstered by a crisp lemon background. A long, creamy, and full flavored finish makes this wine a joy to drink. Our suggestion is to try it and explore the elegance a wine can develop even under the most adverse of conditions.

Portuguese wines that Are Port

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

Port, is a powerful sweet wine that serves as an after dinner drink or often, as desert itself. It is a wine that approaches the limits of the allowable alcohol level for a beverage that can still be classified as a wine. The higher alcohol level is obtained by stopping the fermenting process by adding brandy to the fermenting wine. What results is a naturally sweet wine of great power, depth, and finesse. While many nations have sweet wines that they call Port, nothing can match or rival the Port wines from its home; the Duro River region of Portugal,

The crème de crème of Port wine is classified “Vintage Port,” which is made only in those years when the grapes achieve near total perfection. A Vintage Port receives no processing other than two years of barrel aging. The wine attains its “magic” in the bottle over a period of years and thus the legend of buying quantities of Port and storing it for long periods of time. Most of the other Port wines are held in barrels for several years longer than Vintage Port as the additional barrel time allows the wine longer contact with the wood and air to mellow.

Late Bottled Vintage Port is made from grapes of a single excellent but not a vintage year, and is held in barrels for from four to six years. The resultant wine will need no further bottle aging and will not throw any sediment, as will a Vintage Port.

Tawny Port is a blend that has been aged in barrels for as long as 40 years to mellow and to develop a velvet texture and rich flavor. Because of a longer time in the wood, the deep red color fades to a yellow/brown, and thus the name, tawny.

Ruby Port is the most readily available popular and least expensive form of the wine and like the Tawny can be a blend of many grape varieties from different years.

The House of Sandeman has been supplying the world with some of the finest
Port wines for over two hundred years. If you cannot remember their wines for their attributes, you will definitely remember its logo of the silhouetted, cape draped figure of the “Don,” on every label, a logo that has become which has become one of the most recognized logo in all the world of wine.

Sandemans Founders Reserve Porto ($19). Sandemans Founders Reserve Porto, the companies most popular wine and is a big, sweet, powerful wine, which is full of an intense berry fruit flavor and that ever present and delightfully haunting incense-like background. Sandemans Founders Reserve Porto, like all other Ports, contains about 20% alcohol as compared with about 13% for a table wine. Try this Port as a dessert by serving it with anything chocolate or pouring it over vanilla ice cream or even over plain pound cake; trust us the people you serve it to will talk about it for years.

Sandeman 10 Years Old Tawny Porto ($29.99). The bright and inviting brown hue of this wine identifies it as a Tawny Port. Although sweet, it is drier than most other Ports and possesses a spicy and nutty flavor, which is coupled with a positive oak and caramel background. This wine is a delight and can spice up any gathering

Sandeman 20 Years Old Tawny Porto ($51.99). The brownish hue of the wine identifies it as a Tawny Port. While still sweet, it is drier than most other Ports but has a spicy and nutty flavor coupled with a positive oak and caramel background gained from its twenty years resting in oak.

Sandeman 2011 Vintage Porto ($80). The 2011 Vintage Port is the latest declared Port vintage and is the product of an almost perfect grape growing year. It is a magnificently full bodied wine with an expansive fruit and incense-like aroma and a haunting flavor that rightly deserves its reputation as the “king of the hill,” which it truly deserves

Portuguese Wines that Ain’t Port

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

Humans are a naturally curious breed and are always exploring something, be it outer space or the bottom of the sea. We leave those explorations to the scientists, but what is there left for the everyday, average person to explore? One popular field of exploration is collecting things. If we may get just a bit philosophical, we believe, that collecting anything is more for the thrill of the quest rather than a desire to own. The wine world is the same, what is the sense of collecting wines just for the sake of collecting? A friend of ours, who was in the wine business, cautioned us “don’t worship wines, drink them.”

Among the really great joys of wine are all of the types, vintages, and producers that are readily available to be tried. Wine is the only agricultural product that we know of where the year and the variety and the vineyards location become a vital factor. You really don’t know or even care where the peas in a can of peas come from, where they were grown, or who grew them.

Discovering the different nuance each nation, district, or producers wine displays is part of the wine experience. Just as an example, there is a place in France called the Golden Slope where the finest Burgundies are made. On that slope there are four vineyards in two blocks one above the other that are separated by another vineyard. The vineyards to the left and the right of the separator produce wines that are among the most prized and expensive in all of Burgundy while the vineyard that separates them produces uninteresting, mediocre wines. What all of this is getting to is to illustrate that there is a world of wines to be discovered.

Have you ever had a wine from Portugal? The first wine that comes to mind when Portugal is mentioned is the elegant after dinner drink we call Port. There are other wines from Portugal that go almost unnoticed; the everyday drinking fare of the Portuguese people. We recently had an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with some of those everyday wines and were quite surprised at their quality and finesse.

2010 Agricultura ($11.99). This is a dark red wine made from indigenous grapes and displays a huge red berry aroma, backed up by tropical herbs. These aromas carry over to the flavor where they are amplified by a solid, but not objectionable, acid background. Contrary to most red wines, the producers recommend that it be served slightly chilled. Take a walk on the wild side and try something different like the 2010 Agricultura, the journey into the undiscovered will prove to be more than well worth it.

2011 Duas Castas ($14). This white wine is made from the familiar Savignon Blanc and a local indigenous variety Viosinho. The Savignon Blanc adds a melon and grassy aroma while the Viosinho contributes a strong orange blossom aroma backed up by a noticeable amount of plum. The flavor stresses a creamy citrus, which carries over to the finish where it hangs around for a long time. Don’t set this wine aside as being familiar because of the Savignon Blanc as its partner adds a new countenance to that familiar face.

2009 Esporao ($22). This is also a blend of two familiar varieties and two indigenous. Cabernet Savignon and Alicante has a long history in California and has been paired with the very Portuguese Aragones and Tincadeira. This is an outstanding wine that displays an almost obscene aroma of red berries coupled with spice and oak. The flavor stresses an enticing cherry-berry backed up by more spice and oak. The finish is long and is impressive with its display of every imaginable red fruit. This wine is a great accompaniment to the heavier cuts of meat that are served with full flavored gravies. While this wine is ready to drink right now, we believe that with a few years of aging, it will become a masterpiece.

Dry Creek Vineyards … Great Wines

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

We are often asked, “what is your favorite wine” or “what variety do you like best”? Unfortunately, because we write about so many wines, it is impossible for us to have one favorite. There are however certain producers that we are, shall we say, partial to, one of which are the wines of Dry Creek Vineyards of Sonoma County.

Since its founding in 1972, Dry Creek Vineyards has been producing outstanding, high quality wines and by specializing mostly in Zinfandel, they have raised that once lowly and misused variety to great heights of quality and finesse, but that is not all they have done. Another often overlooked variety is the Chenin Blanc, which was usually reserved for cheap white wines but has been brought to its full potential by the Dry Creek winemakers. It is always a pleasure to sample each vintage from Dry Creek and also to write about them. Allow us to introduce some of the latest wines from Dry Creek Vineyards.

Dry Creek 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel ($14.99). Now this is impossible, an old vine Zinfandel selling for this low a price: unheard of. It is a well-known fact that Zinfandel grapes from old vines take on a charm, style, and character of their own. But how old do the vines have to be to be called “old vines.” The grapes for the Dry Creek 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel come from vines that range between 30 and 90 years old, and for grape vines, that’s old. The resultant wine from these grapes is striking. Big, bold aromas of raspberry, strawberry, mint, and oak delight the senses. These aromas are carried over to the flavor where they merge with black pepper and exotic spice. This is a very enjoyable wine and its low price makes it even easier to enjoy. If you have never tried an “old vine” zin, this is your chance, and you can do it with pocket change.

Dry Creek Vineyard 2010 Sonoma County Mariner ($45). This wine is classified as a Meritage, a wine that is a blend of several varieties, with Cabernet Savignon usually being the major constituent. In the Dry Creek Vineyard 2010 Sonoma County Mariner the blend is 40% Cabernet Savignon, 40% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot. Mariner is not a standard formula wine, produced the same way each and every year, but a wine that is tailored to utilize the grapes of a specific year in such a way as to produce a wine that is directed toward the American palate. The aroma is a compendium of interesting sensations, running from black cherries to coffee to oak. The flavor accents dark berries and cassis with a whole series of under flavors running from blackberry to green tea. There is also a mineral quality in this wine that carries over to the long finish which is extraordinary. The best word to describe this wine is elegant, and that is exactly what it is, an elegant, well crafted and thoroughly enjoyable wine worth every penny of its price.

Dry Creek Vineyard 2010 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($16). This is a Wine that is true to its Sonoma county birthplace, stressing fruit flavors over the usually austere and stiff character often associated with the variety while beautifully straddling the fence between classical Bordeaux Claret and a modern Californian. The color is deep and dark ruby and presents an aroma showcasing raspberries, sage, and the Dry Creek signature aroma of dried flowers. These carry over to the flavor where they mingle with a cherry element and the very discernible flavors of cocoa, plum, with just a hint of oak. This wine has a wonderful softness about it and reflects many of the attributes that are found only in well-aged wines. Rather than being saved to be served only with the heaviest of meat dishes, this wines expansive flavor spectrum allows it to be used with a much broader selection of meat, cheese dishes, and chocolate desserts.

The Wines of Franciscan Estate

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

We find ourselves in a quandary. What can we write about Franciscan Estate wines that will entice a reader to read on? Unfortunately, Franciscan Estate was not founded by the illegitimate third son of impoverished Bulgarian royalty or by an immigrant family who struggled to survive Prohibition and save the farm by growing prunes.

Franciscan Estate was rather undramatically founded, in 1973, by a bunch of guys who just wanted to make good wines. They acquired some land in California’s Napa County, and started growing grapes, and making wine. It was not long before their wines garnered the interest of the wine world and success followed quickly. Sorry, there is no great story, no tricky gimmicks, just good wines that have impressed the experts and wine lovers alike since its inceptions; ‘nuf said.

Franciscan Estate Winery 2010 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($28).This is the type of Cabernet Sauvignon that has made the Franciscan Estate Winery famous; big, chewy, deep in color and full of flavor. The Franciscan Estate Winery 2010 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is a well made cab that has been crafted in the classical Bordeaux tradition. Along with the Cabernet Sauvignon, small amounts of Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec have been blended in to make the wine more approachable at an earlier age while adding greater concentration of the fruit flavors and additional depth. What resulted is a wine with a flavor shift toward the classical style of a Cabernet Sauvignon while maintaining the big fruit attributes derived from its California birthplace. The flavor and aroma emphasizes licorice, cherries, violets, and tobacco, which are accentuated by notes of black currant, dried herbs, toasted oak, and cocoa. This is a wine for current drinking or one that is perfect for laying down for several years to allow it to gain a softer, smoother, more mellow countenance. This wine is outstanding as an accompaniment to prime rib, steak, or even with the ubiquitous hamburger. it can lift the simplest of meals into a regal feast.

Franciscan Estate Winery 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($18). Throughout the entire process of making this wine, extra care was taken from hand picking the grapes, to its mothering during the winemaking procedures. All of this tender loving care has resulted in an impeccable wine of outstanding character and distinction that is, in our opinion, the equal to fabled Burgundian Montrachet’s (Mon-rashay) which can sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle. The wine features the aromas of citrus, golden delicious apple, vanilla, and subtle spice from the toasted oak along with delicate mineral and lemon-lime notes. Unlike many Chardonnays, this wine has a long, fruity, interesting, and complex finish. One characteristic that is emphasized in this wine is the creamy feeling that it has in the mouth, which is truly the sign of a better wine. Try this wine with shellfish and other seafood as well as almost any chicken based meals. We thoroughly enjoyed this wine and believe that you will too.

Franciscan Estates 2011 Equilibrium White Blend Don’t look now, but Franciscan Estates has just stepped over the line; the line that separates a classically styled wine with one that takes into account the new stylistic direction toward sweeter, fruiter; wines; but not too far over that line. The Franciscan Estates 2011 Equilibrium White Blend is a blend of two classical whites’ grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay with just a bit of Muscat added to impart its own special magic. The aroma is ablaze with a kaleidoscope of almost every fruit ever found in a white wine. Passion fruit, guava, and peach backed up with hints of citrus that end in a blast of honeysuckle and jasmine, which carries on to a long finish. This wine is the perfect accompany for Asiatic and Mexican foods, Cajun dishes or any other of the well spiced foods. If you are a fan of the dry wines or an aficionado of the new modern big fruit, slightly sweeter wines, you must try Equilibrium, it’s exceptional.

Cultivate Your Wine Intrest

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

Cultivate, that’s a pretty simple name for a wine, but behind that name lays pure dynamite. The dynamite is not only with wines of Cultivate, but it is what they do with the money derived for their sale.
Ali and Charles Banks have been producing fine wines for decades and have owned several of Napa Valley’s top wineries. Now, they are involved with the Cultivate brand, a series of wines sourced from some of the finest vineyards of the world and presented with catchy labels. While we usually do not enjoy glitzy labels, the thought behind them is laudable. Ten cents of every dollar made from sales, total sales, not just the profits, go to, as they put it “fund opportunity and hope across the globe.” Those high and charitable motifs are fine if the wines thy sell are of quality, and they most definitely are. Since its launching in 2011, Ali and Charles Banks have given over $400,000 to charities in 45 communities in the United States alone.

Cultivate 2011 The Gambler Malbec ($14.99) The juice for this wine is 90% Merlot with 10% Bonarda blended in for additional balance, originated in the prime Malbec producing district in the world, Mendoza Province of Argentina The deep violet color alone tells you that you are in for something exceptional; and you will not be disappointed. The aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherries and chocolate. Cherries, plums, cinnamon, and a hint of coffee are the dominant flavors along with the added complexity provided by a hint of oak. Here is another red wine that can accompany all of the red meat dishes as well as many of the Italian or Spanish dishes. The Cultivate 2011 The Gambler Malbec is an interesting sidestep from the traditional red wines and one we feel, can expand your wine appreciation vista.

Cultivate 2011 Copa Cabana Cabernet Savignon-Carmenere ($12.99). just to clear things up , this wine nor its label have anything to do with the “Copa Cabana” of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The juices for this wine originated in the famed Central Valley of Chile, a place noted for its red wine grapes. Taking on the “big boys” of the wine world with an inexpensive cab is a very dangerous thing. There is no wine in the world that engenders more comments, opinions and criticism than a Cabernet Savignon. This one stands up to all of that criticism one can throw at it and comes up smelling like a rose. The aroma is alive with ripe summer berries, cranberries, with dark chocolate and spice and vanilla in the background. These fruits carry over to the flavor and then on to the finish where they last for a very long time. It is the final proof that price alone does not determine quality and quality need not command a high price.

Cultivate 2011 Dream Walking Chardonnay ($17.99). The Cultivate vintners did not have to stray to far for the grapes for this wine as they found them very close to their home base in California What they made from these grapes is a comfortable wine that combines all of the elements of a great Chardonnay into a mellow, soft, flavorful, and easy to drink beverage. The aroma is heavy with the scents of pears, apples, and vanilla with a hint of roasted nuts in the background. The flavor is bright, fruity, and crisp accenting green apples and pears. The first sip is a total surprise; the wine appears to be sweet. This wine is so full of the natural fruit flavor of the grape that it gives the impression of extreme sweetness. The heavy, full body of the wine helps to amplify the effect of sweetness but the wine is totally dry . The finish ends in a blast of long lasting fruit flavors. With all of this going for it, the Cultivate 2011 Dream Walking Chardonnay is also a very interesting wine that gives a new twist to the traditional California chardonnay.

Missouri Wines… Pretty Darned Good

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

We stand self accused of a crime that we loath in others, wine snobbery. In our many years of writing about wine, we have purposely stayed away from locally made wines because we found them to be, almost universally, garbage. Moving to Missouri, we went out of our way not to be put into a position to write about wines that were made from indigenous grapes that we were not familiar with. There was also no effort to inform us about local wines, so we remained in total ignorance. We knew they were there, but really, who cared.

We were recently contacted by the Missouri Wine and Grape Board to inform us, very politely, that Missouri wines were worthy of mention in our column and accompanied the letter with four bottles of Missouri wines. As you can probably imagine, we approached the sampling of these wines with trepidation and glasses of water handy to wash out our mouth if the wines were as we expected them to be, garbage. WERE WE WRONG!

We now put our reputation as wine columnists on the line and unequivocally declare that Missouri wines are of world class quality and can rank with the best of them. Not only that, but Missouri wines are made from grapes that are not the same old familiar varieties and thus offer wined enthusiasts an alternative in their choice of varieties.

Stone Hill 2011 Norton ($24.99). The Norton is the official Missouri state grape, and is a Native American that has been used for making wine for many years. Most of the American grapes have gotten a bad rap because of the odd flavor they often have which the wine experts have dubbed as “foxy” and it is usually very obvious and, while not objectionable, takes a little getting used to. Wines made from the Norton grape exhibit none of this flavor. The Stone Hill 2011 Norton is a red wine that can stand with the best from anyplace in the world. It is a big, dark, full bodied, dry red wine of great depth and character, with rich berry, spice and coffee flavors up front and a background of chocolate, vanilla and of all things, coconut. This is really a very interesting and delightful wine that can accompany a wide variety of meat and cheese dishes and is an interesting departure from the “usual’ fare.

Montelle 2012 Chardonel ($14.80). Chardonel is not a Chardonnay look or taste alike, but a wine that is capable of standing on its own merits in spite of a similar sounding name. While it does display many of the characteristics of a Chardonnay such as a soft and creamy texture, it also exhibits its own individual nuances. The aroma presents hints of fresh apple, pear, and fig. but unlike the Chardonnay there is no oak as the wine has been made without the usual barrel aging. It is in the flavor where the differences are truly noticed by displaying sharp, crisp Fuji apples and citrus ending is a soft creamy citrus filled finish.

Augusta 2010 Chambourcin ($11.86). Chambourcin seems to us like a blending of Cabernet Savignon and Zinfandel. The wine has a regal bearing, but there is a impish smile behind it. A Medium ruby-red color announces the flavors and aromas of cherries, cassis, spice, and dried fruits ending in a purely delightful finish. This wine is not totally dry, but it can also not, be called sweet, so it is the perfect accompaniment to spicy Italian or Spanish foods and when served with chocolate, it is a knockout.

Hermannhof 2010 Vidal Blanc ($14.99) Unlike the Chardonel, this Vidal Blanc wine is a Savignon Blanc look alike and taste alike. The wines are very similar but there is a definite under taste that says that tells it is not from California. The Hermannhof 2010 Vidal Blanc is well balanced and bursting with the flavor and aroma of grapefruit and pineapple, this wine is the perfect accompaniment to seafood.

Thomas Jeffrson Finally Wins

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

For his entire life, wine lover Thomas Jefferson attempted to grow vitis vinifera, the European wine grapes, in the original thirteen states and most specifically, in his home state of Virginia. Jefferson was a famous wine connoisseur in his own right and was consumed with task of growing fine wine grapes in the new United States as he felt that the growing conditions here was better than those of Europe were. Try as he might, the vines he imported and experimented with died within a short time after planting and our third President could never figure out why.

Teleporting ahead to our 21st century, there are now answers to the conundrum that so vexed Jefferson, but unfortunately, few solutions. One major problem was the vine destroying louse Phylloxera Vastatrix. This is the same little louse that devastated and almost eradicated all of the grape vines in Europe in 1864. The solution to that problem was found by an American, Charles Riley, who discovered that grafting the native vinifera vines to American root stock, which was not effected by the bug, would and did, save the industry. There is still no defense against the Phylloxera so the grafting of all grape vines to American root stock continues to this day in most areas where wine grapes are grown. The grafting of the vines has created the ultimate wine question; is the quality of the wine changed by the grafting.

Our attention to all of this historical information was peaked when we received some wines from the Lost Creek Winery of Leesburg Virginia. These wines contradicted everything that we believed or thought we knew about growing vitis vinifera in the Eastern States, namely that it couldn’t be done, but the evidence to the contrary was right there in front of us. This engendered a series of phone calls, emails and in our case, ending in enlightenment.

Lost Creek Winery Genesis ($29). Genesis is the perfect name for this wine as it was the first wine from Lost Creek. Genesis is a blend of grapes, one of which we were not familiar with, the Tannat. This wine is a blend of 47% Tannat, 43% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petite Verdot producing a wine whose flavor and aroma lie somewhere between a French Bordeaux and a California Cabernet Sauvignon. The color is a deep ruby red and the aroma is a melding of summer red berries, red currents and the totally unexpected aroma of peanuts in the background. The flavor mirrors the aroma and ends in a very soft, long and silky finish. We must add that while we usually just sample the wines we write about, we were so enthralled with the Lost Creek Winery Genesis that we saved it for supper. In the few hours between our tasting and dinner, the wine did not change in any negative way and in fact, got even more intense in its flavor and aroma.

Lost Creek Winery 2012 Serenity ($22). Serenity breaks all of the rules. it is made from vidal blanc, a little used and little grown grape variety whose growing has been banned in France, the birthplace of the variety and sparkly grown in this country. It s fruity sweet without being overly sweet and lastly, it is slightly effervescent. Despite all of the negativism, it is a very interesting and enjoyable wine that deserves its place in the sun. The wine opens with the intense aromas of grapefruit and pineapple, which carry over to the flavor and then on to a resounding finish very fruity finish. We found this wine to be an interesting and very enjoyable departure from the “usual suspects” and recommend it unconditionally.

Chardonnay 2012 ($24).The Lost Creek Winery also makes a complete line of wines, including a classically styled chardonnay with a Virginia flare. Made from Burgundian clone grapes, and aged in French oak, this wine is about as classical Chardonnay. The flavor is true to Chardonnay but there are delightful under flavors that bespeak its Virginia birthplace. This is an interesting wine and definitely deserves your attention.

A Conundrum

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

Conundrum wines; according to the dictionary a conundrum is a riddle in which a fanciful question is answered by a pun, or a paradoxical, insoluble and difficult problem or a dilemma. So why give a wine or as in this case, a wine blend, such an esoteric name as Conundrum? A little investigation gave us the answer; the makers never tell exactly what the blend is or, as in the case of the Conundrum Red, they do not even hint at what grapes were used.

The real fun with the Conundrum blends is trying to determine exactly what grapes were used in the making of these wines. That however, could possibly take forever, a lot of sampling and there is no way of telling if you are right or wrong because the winemakers ain’t talking. In spite of the name and the riddle of the the grapes, the Conundrum wines are quite good and definitely a conversation maker.

Conundrum 2012 White Blend ($22). This wine must be good because the Wagner Family has been making this specific blend for over 20 years, and if that is not a clue to its success, nothing is. We learned that the grape varieties used were Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli and Viognier, but, as label says, the exact proportions ”are proprietary” and that simply means it’s a secret. This lightly sparkling wine opens with the aromas of green apple (Chardonnay?) tropical fruit (Semillon?), and honeysuckle (Muscat Canelli?) with a suggestion of lime zest (Sauvignon Blanc?). The flavor offers layers of peach, apricot, (Viognier or Chardonnay?), melon and pear (Sauvignon Blanc?). After all of this guessing, the wine then trails to a very fruitful finish. All in all, including the fun of guessing the makeup of the blend, the Conundrum 2012 White Blend is a very enjoyable wine that can serve as a mealtime beverage or an aperitif.

Conundrum 2012 Red Blend ($22). This wine is a true conundrum because we have no idea what grapes were used or their percentages; so we will guess. but please, don’t consider our guesses as gospel, they are just guesses. This wine presented a deep dark ruby color (Zinfandel?). which introduces the aromas of blackberry (Malbec or Pinot Noir?), raspberry (Zinfandel?), rhubarb (Zinfandel or Merlot) and Cola (Pinot Noir?). The flavor shows black cherry (Pinot Noir?), plum (Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot?) and pomegranate (Sangiovese or Malbec?). The finish is long and fruity with hints of cinnamon (Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot?) and lavender (Syrah?). This wine also exhibits oak and vanilla resulting from aging in oak barrels, but we are not even going to try to guess the type of oak used to make the barrels. After all that guessing, and we invite you to prove us wrong, the wine is a terrific example of what blending can do. This is a delightful and enjoyable wine, but the conundrums can drive you nuts.

Meiomi 2012 Pinot Noir ($22). After sending your minds into a whirl with the Conundrum wines, how about we get back down to Terra Firma with a Pinot Noir from the same winery. Pronounced “may-oh-mee”, which means “coast” in the language of the native Californian Wappo tribe. The grapes for this wine we sourced from specific vineyards in Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma Counties, all of which all border the Pacific coast, thus the name. This wine is big, very big and a beautiful example of what an almost perfect California Pinot Noir should be like. The aroma presents summer berries, cranberry, candy apple and vanilla, with a hint of malt. The flavor is mirrored by the aroma with the addition of the flavors of cream soda and cherry cola. The finish is multifaceted and is so complex that it defies description, but one can detect, among the fruit and oak, an interesting and definitely memorable earthy under flavor. This is an excellent wine that we believe, because of its complexity, should be added to the others under the Conundrum label.

Astrolabe … Old Instrument, New Wines

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on February 10th, 2014

Astrolabe; according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is a compact instrument used mostly by seafarers to observe and calculate their location by observing the position of celestial bodies before the invention of the sextant. Now that we all know what has an astrolabe is, what has that to do with wine, unless it is something to help us find the location of the nearest wine store but we now have GPS’s and cell phones to do that.

Again, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, New Zealand \ˈzē-lənd\ a country SW Pacific ESE of Australia comprising chiefly North Island & South Island. Putting the two definitions together we get Astrolabe Wines of New Zealand. Why would anyone name their winery after a old fashioned, unless piece of junk was beyond us, unless they collect antiques; so, we investigated. Much to our amazement we found the vineyard and the wines were named, not after the instrument, but for the ship L’Astrolabe of French explorer Dumont d’Urville who explored the Marlborough coast in 1827. The name was chosen because of the historic ties with both New Zealand and the Marlborough district.

Astrolabe 2012 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($23). There are few who will not agree that the finest Sauvignon Blanc wines in the world come from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. This is a wine that fulfills all of the requirements of a wine made from fruit grown in New Zealand. It is also made without the use of oak, so all of the attributes of this wine are derived solely from the grape. The wine is crisp and acidic, with the pronounced aromas of lime zest and lemon, along with notes of red pepper and elderflower. The very intense flavor displays notes of gooseberry and citrus. Riding throughout both the flavor and aroma is the grape varieties signature herbaceous (dry grass) aroma and flavor. Along with a very interesting mineral element All of these manage to show up in the finish, which is long and luscious. The Astrolabe 2012 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a very enjoyable wine and an ideal choice to accompany shellfish or as an aperitif.

Astrolabe 2012 Marlborough Pinot Gris ($23). Pinot Gris is the French way of saying Pinot Grigio and this wine does emulate the French style rather than the Italian. While not totally dry, this wine manages to very nicely straddle the fence between sweet and dry and is an excellent example of why the popularity of the Pinot Gris styles is growing by leaps and bounds in this country. The wine displays a very pale golden color and the rich aroma of white peaches and pear which is backed up by citrus and vanilla. The flavor is also laced with the sensation of pear and white peaches which carry over to the finish is long very full of fruit and memorable. This delightful wine can accompany most of our shell fish and sea food as well as serving as an aperitif and is also the ideal wine for oriental foods. We enjoyed the Astrolabe 2012 Marlborough Pinot Gris and we are sure that you will too.

Astrolabe 2012 Marlborough Pinot Noir ($23). The Astrolabe vintners show their ability to tame this very difficult variety with this wine. The ruby color cradles the aroma of dark cherries with the sensation of oak in the background. There is also plenty fruit here, and in all of its glories, cherry, plum, raspberry and a light sprinkling of oak, but in elegant, dignified amounts. The suggestion of oak carries into the finish where it rounds out a delightful wine drinking experience. There is also a modest tannin background, which will assure that the wine will continue to improve and gain in complexity over many years to come. This wine is a fine accompaniment to the lighter meats and pasta dishes. We always enjoy a pinot noir with grilled salmon and has proven to be the perfect accompaniment for the lighter meats, barbequed or not.