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Welcome to the 21st century, where the old wine laws are no longer valid; and the stone that they were written in is now pebbles.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.

Sequin Wine …. Something Different

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

We all make mistakes, but when an entire industry makes one, it’s a whopper. The wine industry made just such a mistake when they missed out on the newest wine craze currently sweeping the country. In the late 1970’s, the world was first introduced to the fruity and sweet blush Zinfandel and the rest is wine history. Blush Zinfandel was sweet, easy to drink, inexpensive and went well with almost everything, especially parties. Most of the vintners in California took little interest in producing wine from this “common” grape and were sure, as were all the wine gurus, that sweet wines were just a passing fad; STRIKE #1. Blush Zinfandel sales soared and the wine moved off of dealers’ shelves at light speed.

The Blush Zinfandel craze seemed unstoppable, but it was not long before consumers began to look around for “something else.” Eventually, they latched on to the Italian Asti Spumante; another sweet, fruity and affordable wine. Asti Spumante is made from the Moscato grape and most winemakers believed that it too was nothing more than an undistinguished variety that made sticky sweet wines of little character; STRIKE #2.

The economic stress of the late nineties and early 21st century coupled with a glut of wine grapes forced vintners to do anything they could to stay in business. Some turned to cheaper grapes and flashy, gaudy labels with weird names to lure customers; STRIKE #3.

To keep their brands alive, other vintners searched for anything that would help them and, knowing of the success of Blush Zinfandel, took a second look at sweet wines. The Moscato, had been known about for centuries and was a favorite in Ancient Rome. Although the wine gurus and geeks turned their noses up at the Moscato, as they did the other sweet wines, it was however, exactly what consumers wanted and after all, it is the consumer that pays the bills.

We recently came across the Sequin brand whose vintners specialize in making full flavored sweet wines. Not only do they have a fine Moscato, they also have two other sweet wines made from popular grape varieties which now offers consumers some other choices. These wines are not sweetened with sugar. They derive their sweetness by the vintners stopping fermentation before the yeast has completely converted all of the grapes natural fruit sugars to alcohol resulting in wines that are naturally sweet but of a slightly lower alcohol level.

Sequin 2012 Rosé ($11.99). We can sum this wine up in just a few words, it is a true smiley face wine . The only one who will not like this wine is the old curmudgeon down the street and truthfully, he don’t deserve it. We believe that this wine is probably the happiest wine we have ever sampled and guaranteed to liven up the even Ladies Afternoon Book Club. The flavor of this wine is alive with strawberry, lychee, raspberry and hint of cranberry. If you love the joy of life, definitely try this wine.

Sequin 2012 Pinot Grigio ($11.99). Here is an interesting twist on an old favorite, a sweet, slightly sparkling Pinot Grigio. The sweetness does not get in the way of the traditional attributes of a Pinot Grigio but rather enhances them. The flavor accents pear, crisp apple and grapefruit similar to its dry forbearer and is enhanced by the slight petulance (tiny bubbles) in the wine. This is a great sipping wine for those upcoming cooler outdoor evenings and is also perfect for the sweet oriental dishes.

Sequin 2012 Moscato ($11.99). This wine is not only fruity but it too is also slightly sparkling adding new levels of enjoyment to an old favorite. The aroma is heavy with the perfume of apricot, orange blossom and lilac. On the palate the flavors of mango and melon dominate followed by a touch of sweet citrus. This is a wine that can rival many of the expensive and even inexpensive Italian imports and does so with ease.

Simi Wines

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

It is always a fine day when one is reunited with an old friend and then to discover that the old friend has not changed over the years but has only improved. Of course you realize than the old friend is a wine, but an old friend is still an old friend. In this case, the old friend are the wines of Simi Vineyards, one of the first wines we had the privilege of reporting on and which we had not had the opportunity to sample in a very long time.

One of the items that a wine columnist must have is a very long memory. With all of the wines we report on, it is necessary to make the inevitable comparison to wines that we taste and keep written or mental notes about them even as far back as several decades. While our wine memory does not go as far back as ancient Greece, it does go back a long way and in that memory, Simi has always rested gracefully. With that all said, we would like to introduce you to what we believe are the outstanding wines of Simi Vineyards.

Simi 2010 Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($23.99). The 2010 growing season was warmer than usual, which accounts for the extra fruitiness of this wine. The first thing that caught our attention was the color, which is much darker than most California pinot noirs. Next, we found the aroma to be extremely complex and multi-layered and an ever changing display of black cherry, blackberry and plum, with leather, coffee and clove in the background. The flavor is just as expansive and explosive as is the aroma and concentrates on plum, blackberry, and boysenberry with oak in the background and ending in an explosive finish. This is a wine that should not be missed.

Simi 2011 Russian River Chardonnay ($25.99). This wine is a true American beauty and a perfect example of what dedicated winemakers can do with a variety that has become rather mundane in recent years. The aroma displays orange blossom and jasmine, coupled with a mélange of tropical fruits and a great deal of citrus. The citrus and tropical fruits carry over into the flavor where they merge with Granny Smith apple, oak, vanilla and a mineral effect that is, to say the least, unforgettable. This wine is a true California chardonnay, big fruit, big flavor, and definitely enjoyable. With all that has been said and written about chardonnay wines, all we can add is try this wine as we are sure that you will not be disappointed.

Simi 2012 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($13.99). This is a very easy drinking wine and is typical of a California sauvignon blanc, but without accenting the grassy flavor often associated with this variety. Both the aroma and flavor center on the lemon, lime rind, summer fruit, grapefruit and apple, characteristics of the grape. The Simi 2012 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect wine to accompany shell fish and other lightly prepared sea food dishes but it is also a wine to serve with veal or pork and white sauce pasta dishes.

Simi 2010 Sonoma County Landslide ($35). The name is derived from the specific section of the Simi vineyards where the grapes for this wine were grown. Landslide is primarily cabernet sauvignon with small amounts of merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot blended in to add extra layers of complexity. After fermentation, the wine was allowed to quietly age for 28 months in small French oak barrels. The wine that resulted from all this TLC displays an aroma that is a compendium of interesting sensations running from black cherries to tobacco to cedar. The flavor accents dark berries and cassis with a whole series of under flavors running from chocolate to mint. There is also a mineral quality in this wine that carries over to the long finish. The best word to describe this wine is elegant as it is well crafted and thoroughly enjoyable.

Turning Leaf – Low Price, Good Wines

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on November 17th, 2013

There are only a few wines left in the marketplace that have held their price tag, almost unchanged throughout years; Turning Leaf is one of them. To begin with, Turning Leaf is not a great wine; you do not get a great wine for eight bucks. What you do get with Turning Leaf is a very affordable, full flavored, every day dinner wine and with the price of table wines increasing astronomically with every vintage, there are very few of us who can afford to put a $20 wine on the dinner table every night.
Turning Leaf has been in the forefront of producing a full line of the popular and familiar “bread and butter” varieties of wine. We have just sampled the latest release of those wines and found them to be high quality, excellent buys for the money and frankly, there wasn’t a “stinker’ in the bunch.

Turning Leaf Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.99). This wine is pure Cabernet Sauvignon and has not been blended with other varieties nor has it had any oak aging, so the flavor and aroma comes solely from the grapes stressing blackberries and raspberries while the flavor concentrates on dark summer fruits, vanilla, leather, and brown spice. What is amazing is that this wine has a long fruit filled finish, a feature not often found in inexpensive wines. Forget the price snobbery and try this cab, we are sure it will please you.

Turning Leaf Merlot ($7.99). This wine is a pure unblended merlot and like the cab it has been made without any oak aging, which is a common practice for both varieties. Many have turned to merlot because it is a softer, fruiter wine than the cab and presents a slightly different flavor profile. This merlot showcases dark cherry, and plum with hints of mocha, blackberry and brown spice in both its flavor aroma and on to the finish which, like the cab, is longer than is usual for inexpensive wines.The Turning Leaf Merlot is a great choice for barbequed and red meats, moderately spicy Italian foods and cheese dishes.

Turning Leaf Pinot Noir ($7.99). If you have read us for any time, you know that we are always complaining about some of the lesser quality pinot noir wines that permeate today’s marketplace; but not this time. The Turning Leaf is the perfect primer for those who are not familiar with the pinot noir. As with the other Turning Leaf red wines, this wine is pure, unblended pinot noir but unlike the cab and merlot, this wine has been given some aging, which results in adding extra layers of complexity to the wine. Dark fruit flavors and aromas abound featuring boysenberries, pomegranates and the Turning Leaf signature, brown spice. This is a very nice, soft pinot noir that reflects all of the charms of the variety. We usually serve pinot noir with the lighter cuts of meat and Italian dishes that are not overly spicy.

Turning Leaf Chardonnay ($7.99). And then there is the inevitable chardonnay. This white wine has had many incarnations and a very broad price range; however, one thing has been almost universally true, if you want a decent chardonnay, it will be costly. The Turning Leaf Chardonnay changes all of that. Here is a well-made wine, which preserves the true nature of the chardonnay grape while maintaining the characteristics of the more expensive chardonnay wines. This wine too has received some oak aging prior to bottling a common practice for chardonnay. Aromas of lemon and other citrus combined with the telltale oak and vanilla rise from the glass when the wine is poured. The fruit and acid is nicely balanced and there is even a hint of melon in the background. This soft wine will not set up a barrier or interfere with the flavor of foods but rather will compliment all of the lighter meats, seafood, and salads. This is a very nice wine and far better than its low price indicates.

Gnarly Head Wines

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on November 17th, 2013

Gnarly Head, now, there is an intimidating name for a wine, but it is a name that really fits. Wherever possible, the grapes for Gnarly Head wines come from older vines that have been pruned in such a way so that they form a knotted, mangled top and thus, a gnarly head. Name aside, the wines from Gnarly Head Vineyards are well made, quite good and a better than average buy for their price

Gnarly Head 2012 Old Vine Zin ($11.99). Old Vine Zin was made from grapes picked from vines that range between 35 and 80 years old, and for grape vines, that’s old. Old vines do not produce prolifically; however, the grapes that they do produce are exceptional. What resulted is a big, bold, almost blood red wine that presents the aromas of raspberry, strawberry, mint and oak to entice the senses. These aromas are carried over to the flavor where they merge with black pepper and spice. This very enjoyable wine raises the status of the once lowly zinfandel to near classical proportions.

Gnarly Head 2011 Authentic Red ($11.99). This is a big, bold, full-bodied wine that has a dark ruby color derived from a blend of zinfandel, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah resulting in what we can only call an explosion of aroma and flavor. The Gnarly Head 2011 Authentic Red draws its flavor and quality from the very heart and soul of the grape and presents it as a multi-leveled blackberry, cherry and raspberry flavor, which is augmented by a background of black pepper and mushrooms that continues on to the finish, which is, to say the least, memorable. If you love red wines, definitely seek out this wine, it is well worth the search.

Gnarly Head 2012 Authentic White ($11.99). Authentic white is a semi-dry wine that displays the aromas of honeysuckle, pear and apple and the flavors of melon, peach and nectarine ending in and long lasting, crisp lemon zest finish. This wine can accompany a great many foods including the hottest of Mexican or Asian dishes.
Gnarly Head 2012 Chardonnay ($9.99). The full possibilities of the chardonnay grape are expressed beautifully in this wine. The aroma abounds with generous amounts of apple, pineapples and just a hint of citrus. These migrate to the flavor where they mingle with lemon, grapefruit and pear. This is a wine that is much finer than its modest priced indicates and an alternative to the more expensive, look-a-like chardonnay wines that permeate our marketplace and are turning people away from a very fine variety.

Gnarly Head 2012 Pinot Grigio ($9.99). In this version of the variety, flavor is the name of the game. This wine embodies all of the flavor and aroma that the grape can offer. It has a clear, pale straw color and an aroma reminiscent of jasmine and orange blossom. These carry over to the flavor where they merge with nectarine, citrus and fresh melon, which lingers in the mouth long after the wine has been finished. This is an excellent pinot grigio that can accompany a wide variety of foods and is a standout with shrimp or mild cheese based dishes.

Gnarly Head 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($11.99).The Gnarly Head 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon displays all of the flavor and aroma characteristics of wines selling for considerably higher prices. As with all of the Gnarly Head wines, the grapes came from ancient vines, some of them being over 80 years old. The use of grapes from these geriatric vines helped to produce a wine of tremendous depth and outstanding quality. It is a wine that is heavy with the flavor of cassis, cherries, and plums with a hint of mint and oak. It is a delightful wine that permits one to enjoy a high quality Cabernet Sauvignon without destroying the budget. This wine is the perfect wine to accompany the darker cuts of meat as well as pasta and grilled foods and it is also no slouch as a sipping wine.

New Wine App for Cell Phones

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on September 15th, 2013

In this day of free cell phone apps, one must be aware of the old and very true adage that “there is no such a thing as a free lunch.” Somebody has to pay for the food in a free lunch and it is usually the consumer although in most cases, unbeknownst to him or her.

Free apps usually have a “back door” where the developer has provided a way to extract information about your habits when using the app and that information is then sold; that’s why the app is free. The data extracted, called mining, is usually about that specific app and rarely the personal or private information stored on your phone, but that is not always the case. Getting your app from a reputable app source is the best way to insure that your personal information is safe and not being mined without your knowledge for nefarious purposes.

So why this long winded dissertation about apps in a wine column? There is a fabulous new app available for your iPhone or Android cell phone called the Thumbs Up Wine Finder that is all about wine, and just about wine and there is no private information mining.

The Thumbs Up Wine Finder is the latest of several wine apps on the market that has both a good free version and a more advanced paid for version that concentrate on giving the consumer a heads up view of the wine he or she may being buying directly on their cell phone. This app makes the buying of wine no longer a guess-as-you-go or let’s ask the clerk affair. All that has to be done is to open the app, input the wine you are curious about and up pops a review of the wine, its attributes and its price. Thumbs Up has also helped to achieve one of our lifelong goals; to find a $5 wine that drinks like a $50 wine by putting up the wines approximate value in dollars based on the opinions of wine gurus. Using this feature helps the consumers get the best value for their wine buying dollar by pointing out if the wine in question is or is not worth its sale price. We have done many comparisons of this feature by comparing the sale price of wines we were familiar with and our opinion of the indicated value. In every case, we completely agreed with the indicated value and found it to be a great aid in making a selection.

The Thumbs Wine Finder Up also offers a search by variety, producer, price range and even what wine goes with what food. There is a section that lets the user choose the store they are in or where the wine in question is available in your area, thus saving a lot of frustration, gasoline and shoe leather. There is even a place to make notes.

We can laud this app all we want but as the old adage goes, the proof is in the tasting or in this case, the trying. The producers think so much of the Thumbs Up Wine Finder that the app can be downloaded free for the iPhone at the iTunes store or for Android phones at the Google Play Store or Amazon.com. The advanced app, with many more useful features, is also available for a whopping $4.99 and if you are wine lover, it can be the best five bucks you have ever spent. With this app you become the equal to the top wine reviewers without even pulling a cork and are in a position to get the best values on the market, every time you buy a wine.

We are not afraid that this app will make us superfluous. We are wine educators rather than wine critics, although we do often give our opinions of the wines we write about. It is our duty to call the attention of our readers to what is new and interesting in the marketplace.

Sweet Wines are Now the In Thing

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on September 9th, 2013

We all make mistakes, but when an entire industry makes one, it’s a whopper. The wine industry made just such a mistake when they missed out on the newest wine craze currently sweeping the country. In the late 1970’s, the world was first introduced to the fruity and sweet blush Zinfandel and the rest is wine history. Blush Zinfandel was sweet, easy to drink, inexpensive and went well with almost everything, especially parties. Most of the vintners in California took little interest in producing wine from this “common” grape and were sure, as were all the wine gurus, that sweet wines were just a passing fad; STRIKE #1. Blush Zinfandel sales soared and the wine moved off of dealers’ shelves at light speed.

The Blush Zinfandel craze seemed unstoppable, but it was not long before consumers began to look around for “something else.” Eventually, they latched on to the Italian Asti Spumante; another sweet, fruity and affordable wine. Asti Spumante is made from the Moscato grape and most winemakers believed that it too was nothing more than an undistinguished variety that made sticky sweet wines of little character; STRIKE #2.

The economic stress of the late nineties and early 21st century coupled with a glut of wine grapes forced vintners to do anything they could to stay in business. Some turned to cheaper grapes and flashy, gaudy labels with weird names to lure customers; STRIKE #3.

To keep their brands alive, other vintners searched for anything that would help them and, knowing of the success of Blush Zinfandel, took a second look at sweet wines. The Moscato, had been known about for centuries and was a favorite in Ancient Rome. Although the wine gurus and geeks turned their noses up at the Moscato, as they did the other sweet wines, it was however, exactly what consumers wanted and after all, it is the consumer that pays the bills.

We recently came across the Sequin brand whose vintners specialize in making full flavored sweet wines. Not only do they have a fine Moscato, they also have two other sweet wines made from popular grape varieties which now offers consumers some other choices. These wines are not sweetened with sugar. They derive their sweetness by the vintners stopping fermentation before the yeast has completely converted all of the grapes natural fruit sugars to alcohol resulting in wines that are naturally sweet but of a slightly lower alcohol level.

Sequin 2012 Rosé ($11.99). We can sum this wine up in just a few words, it is a true smiley face wine . The only one who will not like this wine is the old curmudgeon down the street and truthfully, he don’t deserve it. We believe that this wine is probably the happiest wine we have ever sampled and guaranteed to liven up the even Ladies Afternoon Book Club. The flavor of this wine is alive with strawberry, lychee, raspberry and hint of cranberry. If you love the joy of life, definitely try this wine.

Sequin 2012 Pinot Grigio ($11.99). Here is an interesting twist on an old favorite, a sweet, slightly sparkling Pinot Grigio. The sweetness does not get in the way of the traditional attributes of a Pinot Grigio but rather enhances them. The flavor accents pear, crisp apple and grapefruit similar to its dry forbearer and is enhanced by the slight petulance (tiny bubbles) in the wine. This is a great sipping wine for those upcoming cooler outdoor evenings and is also perfect for the sweet oriental dishes.

Sequin 2012 Moscato ($11.99). This wine is not only fruity but it too is also slightly sparkling adding new levels of enjoyment to an old favorite. The aroma is heavy with the perfume of apricot, orange blossom and lilac. On the palate the flavors of mango and melon dominate followed by a touch of sweet citrus. This is a wine that can rival many of the expensive and even inexpensive Italian imports and does so with ease.

“J” Wines

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on September 2nd, 2013

Everything today is initials. We no longer refer to companies by name but by their initials, AT&T, NBC, CBS, TWC, TWA and on and on until we finely to get LOL. With that in mind, it was inevitable that a wine company would do the same; and so it has, “J” Wines. The use of the initial is all that is needed for ”J“ wines because the “J” wines are, if you will pardon the British expression, “top draw.”
All of the “J” vineyards wine source comes from the prestigious Russian river Valley, an area known to be one of the finest for growing the Burundian grapes, the Pinot noir and Chardonnay. There are few who will question the fact that the Russian River grapes make wines that can hold their own and often better any wine made anywhere in the world.

2012 “J” Vineyards Vin Gris ($20). Vin Gris translates from the French as “grey wine.” In truth the wine is a light pink and nowhere near grey. With that out of the way, this delightful wine was made from Pinot Noir grapes. Rather than leaving the wine on the skins to extract the color and the other constituents found in the skin if a grape, the “J” vintners chose to remove the fresh juice and ferment it as a white wine and a really beautiful pink wine was created. The wine opens with the aromas of strawberry and cherry with a suggestion of rose petal. These aromas migrate to the flavor where they merge with a light but well balanced acidity. This is real “do it all” wine and will fit nicely with any of our summertime meals.

2012 “J” Vineyards Pinot Gris ($20). Now this is confusing. If the 2012 “J” Vineyards Vin Gris is made from Pinot Noir grapes, should it not be called Pinot Gris. Not this time, the 2012 “J” Vineyards Pinot Gris is a wine made from the Pinot Grigio grape and reflects all of the flavor and quality that can be coaxed out of that grape variety. The aromas of apricot, pineapple and topical fruit rise from the glass when the wine is poured. The usual crispness of the variety is balanced by the flavors of kiwi, orange blossom and honey which delight the palate and linger for a very long time. This wine is so good we can completely forgive “J” Vineyards for the Gris faux pas.

2011 “J” Pinot Noir ($37). Wassamatterfor you; couldn’t think of something different to call a good old Pinot Noir. May we suggest for their next vintage the name Côte d’Or Rouge after the great growing district in France; that should confuse one and all. The name however does not make the wine and to use a texting expression, this Pinot Noir is TDF (to die for). This wine is a monster, boldly displaying the aromas of plums, dark summer fruit, orange peel and pepper which heralds the flavors of vanilla, black currant and a delightful earthiness and then trailing off to a long dark fruit laden finish. To borrow a phrase from the ancient Romans “We who love Pinot Noir, salute you.”

2010 “J” Chardonnay ($28). We have fooled around with names enough so we will just stick with Chardonnay, but don’t think that this lessens the wine; it is really a fine wine. Chardonnays come and Chardonnays go and to tell the truth, most of them have become boring. There is however, nothing boring about 2010 “J” Chardonnay. Here is a wine that displays all of the character and elegance of the fabled Chardonnay wines of old. Apples and soft oak mark the aroma with just the faintest hint of citrus. There is oak to be found in this wine, but in delectate and very pleasing amounts. The flavor is rich and features butterscotch and honey and a buttery smooth sensation on the palate. This is an excellent Chardonnay and it will restore your faith in the variety.

Trinity Oaks

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on September 2nd, 2013

With some of today’s wine prices reaching for the stars, it is good to see that there is still an $8 wine that offers some value. Trinity Oaks makes a complete line of the most popular varieties, all of which are definitely worth their price.
The question arises, how can they make their wines to sell for such a low price and still give the buyer something of quality? The answer is simple. By carefully selecting their fruit from areas that produce decent grapes but are not in the high priced, premium grape growing areas, the Trinity Oaks vintners are able to keep the price down while not sacrificing quality.
Let us set the record straight, the Trinity Oaks wines are not great wines; you don’t get great wines for eight bucks. What you do get are excellent, affordable mealtime wines that exhibit reasonable quality, are true to the varieties characteristics and don’t taste like mouthwash, which is a rare commodity in today’s marketplace.

Trinity Oaks 2011 Pinot Grigio ($8). The Trinity Oaks 2011 Pinot Grigio is a fine representation of what the variety can do. It is a big and full flavored wine with a light straw color that displays a rich fruity bouquet of apricots and pears. Its flavor is crisp and possesses a raisin-like quality coupled with the acid bite of limes and ending in a long, clean fresh fruit finish with hints of hazelnuts. If you have never experienced a Pinot Grigio, this wine is a great way to introduce yourself to the variety. If however, you are familiar with Pinot Grigio wines, the Trinity Oaks 2011 Pinot Grigio will not disappoint you.

Trinity Oaks 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($8). 2011 was a fine year for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and almost without exception the wines made from the grapes of that vintage were better than usual and the Trinity Oaks 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is no exception. It is a big, full flavored wine with the classical Cabernet flavors of blackberry and black cherry with notes of green olive, cedar, dried herbs and vanilla in the background. Unlike many of the less expensive cabs, this wine has a fruity finish with lasts a reasonably long time and shows no harshness or off flavors. This is a well made wine at a very affordable price; do try it.

Trinity Oaks 2011 Chardonnay ($8). The full possibilities of Chardonnay grapes are beautifully expressed in this wine. The aroma abounds with generous amounts of apple, pineapples and a hint of citrus which then 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 great reprieve from the more expensive,
look-a-like Chardonnay wines that permeate our marketplace and have turned consumers away from the variety.

Trinity Oaks 2009 Pinot Noir ($8). An inexpensive Pinot Noir can often taste like a mixture of turpentine and fertilizer, but that is not the case with this wine. The Trinity Oaks vintners have produced a wine which, like their Chardonnay, coaxes all of the possible flavors and aromas out of this very temperamental grape. The flavor and aroma are jam packed with cherry, raisins, dried herbs and mushrooms. This wine is a nice introduction to the beauties of a Pinot Noir wines without going bankrupt.

Trinity Oaks 2010 Merlot ($8). The Trinity Oaks 2010 Merlot has the brilliant amethyst color of a classical Merlot with the aroma of ripe cherries and plums wrapped in a soft robe of oak. These aromas are mirrored in the flavor and are enhanced by a near perfect acid balance. All of these factors combine to make the Trinity Oaks 2010 Merlot an excellent and enjoyable wine as well as being very affordable. This wine will cover a broad spectrum of foods and can accompany any meat dish, from the heaviest cuts to the lightest, as well as the full flavored grilled seafood’s

Arnaldo Caprai and Friend

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on September 2nd, 2013

Winston Churchill’s once described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” a statement that could also be used to describe Italian wines. For years they were a great source of low cost, fairly adequate wine with Chianti being the best known and most popular. Time passed and so did America’s appetite for Italian wine. It did not take long for the Italian winemakers to realize what had happened; the American taste had changed. Some consumers went toward the inexpensive white or blush Zinfandel while others were looking for higher quality wines. The Italian winemakers rose to the challenge and began to produce better and better wines. Today Italian wines can compete on an equal footing with any of the fine wines of the world.

Arnaldo Caprai 2007 Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano DOCG ($60). This is one of those “where have you been all my life,” wines as it has been made from the rather rare Sagrantino grape which is indigenous to the Montefalco region in the north central Italian province of Perugia. The wines from this grape variety are famed for their incredibly long life and deep, almost black color. Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano displays an intense aroma of blackberries and other summer dark fruits coupled with delicate spices which continue on to the flavor and end in a seemingly unending finish. The wine is eminently suited to accompany the robust cuts of meat as well as aged aromatic cheese. As a side note, we recommend that you allow this wine to breathe for about an hour before drinking to allow it to open up and reach its full potential.

Arnaldo Caprai 2009 Montefalco Rosso ($22.99). Here we have a blend of wines, with the Sangiovese making up the majority, which has been augmented with 15% Merlot and 15% Sagrantino to produce really interest wine. The Sangiovese gives the wine the very familiar Tuscan flavor and aroma while the Merlot and Sagrantino add their own particular magic. The dark ruby color announces the aromas ripe cherries and rose petals. The flavor is mostly the red berries and vanilla in typical to Sangiovese wines but augment by tones of black licorice and moist pipe tobacco contributed by the Merlot and the Sagrantino and ending in a finish that is long, complex and fruity. This is a wine that takes a step away from the more familiar varieties and opens a brand new spectrum of wine enjoyment.
Arnaldo Caprai 2012 Grecante Grechetto dei Colli Martani ($19). If you are thinking that this is another ho-hum white wine, as they would say in Brooklyn “fergetaboutit.” The Arnaldo Caprai 2012 Grecante Grechetto dei Colli Martani is been made from the Grecante grape, the indigenous white grape of Montefalco. This is a fascinating wine that, unlike many of its compatriots, is soft and has absolutely no roughness about it. The aroma is a mélange of apricot, pineapple, citrus and honeysuckle. The taste abounds with tangy tropical fruit and more apricot resting on a base of lemon/lime. The finish is a bit longer than the average white wine and is as fruit filled as it can be. This is an excellent replacement for Chardonnay and is also a fine choice as a pre-dinner aperitif or just as a sipping wine for a quiet evening.

Frescobaldi 2008 Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva ($22). The name Frescobaldi is an old and honored name in the Italian wine industry and Baron Frescobaldi was, in a great part, responsible for the renaissance in Italian wines. The Nipozzano Riserva 2008 is the quintessential Chianti displaying the aromas of sour cherry, aspberry, and plum, with hints of black pepper, vanilla, cocoa, and espresso. On the palate the wine reflects the aroma coupled with smooth tannins and a prefect acid balance. The finish is a compendium of summer dark fruits, vanilla and espresso and seems unending. If it looks like we were impressed with this wine we were and can recommend it without question.

Barefoot Cellars Bubbly

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on September 2nd, 2013

Just in the event you haven’t noticed, it’s June, and in spite of all of the storms that have kept us inside for the beginning of the month, there is plenty of sunshine in our future. With June comes the time for marriages, sports events, outdoor parties and gala celebrations of all kinds.

Because of its elegance, Champagne has become the traditional drink for celebrations. Unfortunately, French Champagnes are expensive and all too often, consumers will shy away from them because of their cost. An alternative are the really inexpensive sparkling wines which sell in the three to five dollar range, but they have little at all to recommend them except their low price. Barefoot Cellars comes to the rescue with their very affordable Barefoot Bubbly line of decent sparkling wines.

Barefoot Cellars Bubbly Brut Cuveé ($9.99). Brut indicates that the wine is dry and made in the French style. This wine, although dry, is a fresh, bright and an extremely enjoyable sparkler that has been made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. The wine displays the classical yeast and bread aroma with hints of citrus which then carry over to the flavor and even beyond, ending in a long finish. French Champagnes beware; you may have met your match.

Barefoot Cellars Bubbly Premium Extra Dry Chardonnay Champagne ($9.99). Leave it to the French to misname a wine. In their infinite wisdom or perhaps sense of humor, they refer to this style as extra dry; it’s not. There is an added sweetness that is not often found in Chardonnay sparkling wines, which helps to propel this wine to new heights of fun and enjoyment. The wine features green apple and citrus in the aroma and flavor, ending in a delightfully creamy, soft, toasty, summer fresh fruit finish. This wine is not the typical nose in the air, raised pinky style of sparkler but rather a wine that can be served in glass tumblers, amid noisy friends and relations and can in no way be diminished by any lack of pomp or snobbery.

Barefoot Cellars Bubbly Moscato Spumante Champagne ($9.99). It appears that the Italians are not as finicky as the French are about the names of their wines. For years the French have griped about anybody using the name Champagne for anything but a genuine French Champagne, while the Italians took absolutely no interest in the name interlopers. Barefoot Bubbly uses both of the names for this wine, invoking the American tradition of “who cares.” If you like the Italian Asti Spumante, wait until you taste its California cousin. As with all Spumante wines the flavor is sweet, accenting the aroma of jasmine, orange blossoms and honey along with a delightful raisin-like component which is further enhanced by the carbonation. This is truly “the” party wine.

Barefoot Cellars Bubbly Pink Moscato Champagne ($9.99). This bubblers attractive pink color heralds the traditional aromas of jasmine and Mandarin oranges complimented by red raspberry, strawberry and cherry. Here too, the aroma migrates to the flavor. This is not really a wine; it is more of an experience that you will surely enjoy.

Barefoot Cellars Bubbly Red Moscato Champagne ($9.99). Once again, it is the traditional Moscato flavors and aromas of jasmine and Mandarin oranges that dominate, but in this case they are joined by the typical red wine flavors of cherry, pomegranate and raspberry. Now you can pick the wine to not only delight your palate and/or the palates of your guests but to also enhance the color of the table you are presenting.

We would like to insert a final thought. Sparkling wines and/or Champagne SHOULD NOT be reserved solely for celebrations. They are wines and can function anywhere a wine is called for, up to and including meals. There is no reason not to serve a sparkling wine with a dinner. No matter how simple or ornate the dinner may be, a sparkling wine can raise even the lowly meatloaf to the heights of a gourmet dinner.

From Gallo With Love

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on September 2nd, 2013

Gallo is a name that has become synonymous with wine the world over. With the end of Prohibition on December 5 1933, the Gallo Brothers, Ernest and Julio, went to a library and took out a pamphlet on making wine and from that simple beginning, a dynasty was born.

During the nineteen forties and fifties, the wine of choice for the average American was a Gallo wine. Among their most popular varieties were wines with very generic names such as Hearty Burgundy for a red wine and Chablis for a white. They also began to experiment with labeling some of their wines with the name of the grape variety which was almost unheard of at that time.

After World War II, wine became more popular in the United States mainly because of our soldiers who were exposed to wine during their trek across Europe. The problem was that they were exposed to the better wines of Europe and they expected the same quality when they returned home. It became necessary for all of the American winemakers to change both their style of winemaking as well as how they grew their grapes. The 60′s and 70′s saw a burgeoning of small wineries in California that were producing a much higher quality wine than ever before. While the less expensive wines were still popular in the marketplace, consumers began to look for better and better quality. Most wineries rose to the challenge; Gallo included. Today Gallo still makes affordable wines as well as premium wines, some of which we were privileged to have recently sample.

The Gallo premium wines are called their Signature series and they are the epitome of fine quality California wines that still sell for prices that are not ridiculously high for the quality they deliver. Yes, they are not among the cheapest in the world but they do rival wines selling for twice their price. As a side note, Gallo’s years of experience in marketing wine has led to a distribution business where they helped smaller wineries get their wines out to the public.

Gallo Signature Series 2011 Russian River Chardonnay ($30). The Russian River Valley is an area encompassing 150 square miles of the finest Burgundian style grapes in California. One of these varieties is Chardonnay. Gallo draws its fruit from this area for this wine and then tends to it very carefully to produce a product fit to bear their name. This Chardonnay exhibits the aromas of light toast, white flower blossoms, apples and apricots, interwoven with obvious amounts of vanilla. The aromas carry over on the palate and are joined by apple, lemon zest and ginger. The wine is refreshing, light and graceful on the palate, with creamy notes on entry and a crisp, well balanced mid-palate, finishing with excellent length, spiciness, balanced oak flavors and a hint of vanilla. As far as Chardonnay wines go, this one approaches near perfection and is worth every penny of its price.

Gallo Signature Series 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40). This version of the world’s most popular red wine is made from almost 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, with just a drop of Petite Verdot added to balance the wine. The aroma is a lively plum, cassis, nutmeg, black licorice and hints of rosemary. There are additional layers of raspberry, tealeaf, rose petals and vanilla. Concentrated flavors of black cherry, plum, cassis, baked cherry pie, cocoa, toast, and allspice intermingle with hints of white pepper and tobacco. The finish is long and elegant and to say the least, a wine to remember.
Gallo Signature Series 2011 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($35). it is the flavor and aroma of cherries that permeates this wine as well as generous amounts of oak and vanilla in the background to add further to the complexity, all of which is wrapped in an unforgettable velvet like softness. This is a very well made and exceptional wine will prove the quality of a Gallo wine.

Edna Valley

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on September 2nd, 2013

There was a time, in the “way back when” that the finest grapes in California came from the Central Coast’s Edna Valley. The time was trhe early 1800’s And its frame continued until 1919 when the Prohibition Law was enacted. This alcohol restrictive law sounded the death knell of the area .Grapes were replaced by every conceivable orchard product including the laxative prune. When prohibition was repealed on December 5 1933 prospective grape growers and wine makers made a dash for any decent region that could support fine wine grapes. Unfortunately, the Edna Valley was bypassed because all of the better growing areas were taken by fruit trees. Jack Niven a land developer and aspiring vintner learned about the grape growing that formerly took place and found a respectable vineyard site in the Edna Valley and established, for the want of a better name, the Edna Valley Vineyards.

Edna Valley Vineyard Central Coast 2011 Merlot ($18). About fifteen years ago, the up and coming star of the wine world was Merlot. There was even a time when the demand far outreached the supply and prices skyrocketed. Unfortunately, the Merlot craze did not last too long and what remained was just too much of what had become an uninteresting wine. There were still a few areas where Merlot continued to shine and one of those was, you guessed it, the Napa Valley. The Edna Valley Vineyard Central Coast 2011 Merlot is one of those luminaries. This wine displays the aromas of ripe cherries enhanced with cranberry and hints of orange peel and allspice. Its flavors are creamy and lush on the palate, filling the mouth with black cherry and pomegranate. The finish is soft, supple and lingering. It is exactly what a fine Merlot wine should be, outstanding.

Edna Valley Vineyard Central Coast 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($15). Wine from the sauvignon blanc grapes are finally coming into their own. Wineries such as Beckmen are producing wines from this variety that are a notch above the familiar and somewhat boring sauvignon blanc wines of the past few decades. While the Beckmen offering continues to maintain the crisp acidity that the variety is famous for, they have also perused the fruit flavor possibilities of the grape. Citrus, grapefruit, melon and gooseberry aromas and flavors abound in this wine and the dominant flavor changes with each sip. Unlike many of the other sauvignon blanc wines, the Beckmen Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc has a fruity finish.

Edna Valley Vineyard Central Coast 2011 Pinot Noir ($20). To us, Pinot Noir is almost a religion. We ave continuously bemoaned the fact that, in most cases, California Pinot Noir wines have been mediocre at best and in most cases, downright awful. Occasionally, there is a bright star. The Edna Valley Vineyard Central Coast 2011 Pinot Noir is one of those bright stars. The color is a deep cherry/ruby while the aroma is a 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. This wine is the perfect accompaniment to pork and veal, full flavored fowl and any meat dish featuring positive spices such as black pepper, allspice, thyme and sage.

Vegans Beware

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on March 11th, 2013

Vegans beware; there is danger afoot if you are a wine enthusiast. There are wines currently in the marketplace that do not fit with vegan or for that matter, the vegetarian dietary requirements. Our son is vegan, and often, we cannot recommend a wine we are currently reviewing to him for this very reason
It is not the wine that is the problem but the way the wine is clarified. Wines often clarify themselves after the violence of fermentation has ended. The spent yeast falls to the bottom of the vat carrying with them any suspended particles; but if they do not, some form of external clarification is called for. What has to be cleared is a vegetable protein that may remain in suspension and does not settle to the bottom of the aging barrel. Most of the clarification today, especially among the less expensive wines, is done with mechanical filtration by passing the wine, under pressure, through a series of paper or clay filters or by centrifugally spinning the wines. There are those who believe that the knocking around the wine gets from these procedures injures some of the more delicate flavor or aroma characteristics and prefer to go to another, non-mechanical, less aggressive method to clear the wine.
Among the favored clarifiers is a product called Bentonite, a clay from the State of Wyoming which attracts protein particles and carries them to the bottom of the clarifying tank. This method is fine for vegans, but there are other methods that are not.
For centuries, France, Spain, Germany and many of the other European wine producing countries have used egg whites and bull’s blood as clarifying agents. Both of these are still used in some of the smaller wineries of Europe and even occasionally here in the USA; a definite no-no for vegans and vegetarians. Some products for commercial clarifying, or fining as it is known in the industry, could prove to be a horror to vegans, vegetarians and even to people with severe allergies because they employ finely ground shell fish as their fining substance.
Chitosan, a wine clarifier derived from crab and shrimp shells, to us, seems a bit far out to use as a clarifier, but the manufacturer claims that very little of the substance remains in the wine when it has done its job. That claim is all well and good, but it strays from the vegan food philosophy and if one is allergic to shell fish, very little may be way too much. Another clarifier is Isinglass, a name which sounds fine, but should carry the same warning as the Chitosan as it is manufactured from fish bladders. Although the clarifying agents are not considered an ingredient in the wine, vegans and vegetarians may object to the process by which the wine is cleared just because of its ingredients and also because traces of the fining agent may remain in the wine after it is bottled.
All is not lost however for vegan and vegetarian wine lovers. There are now many wines that are vegan and/or vegetarian friendly and other wineries are taking notice of the trend and are taking action. A few wineries have already begun to identify their wine as vegan friendly by placing symbols on their label indicating if the wine is vegan (V) or vegetarian (VG) which is similar to the practice of putting the symbol (OU), for Union of Orthodox Rabbis, on the label of kosher products.
A good way to tell what was used to fine a wine would be to go to that wineries web page and look at what is called the product sheet, usually found in the press section of the site. There they list the steps used to produce the wine, often in extremely detailed, but understandable terms. If you do not recognize the name of the fining agent, Google it. Lastly, you could go to www.barnivore.com/wine for a list of vegan friendly and vegan unfriendly wines.

Joel Gott

Posted by Ben Bodenstein | Reviews | Posted on March 11th, 2013

It takes a lot of guts or pride or both to put your name on a bottle of wine and Joel Gott has no trouble doing that since his wines can stand up to even the most severe scrutiny. Perhaps he also works under that ancient saying “he who tooteth not his own horn, same as not having tooteth at all.” Whatever it is, Joel Gott’s wines are well made, very enjoyable and all are priced in the affordable range.
Joel Gott is a member of the fifth generation of California winemakers and was trained in food and wine from his earliest days. In 1996, Joel purchased a few tons of Zinfandel grapes and with his winemaker girlfriend, later to become his wife, produced his first vintage, a Dillian Ranch Amador County Zinfandel. The wine received such praise from noted wine critics that he began to look into producing other varietals. Since that modest beginning, Joel Gott has become one of the rising stars of the California wine industry
Joel Gott 2011 Alakai California Red Wine ($18). Joel Gott named one of his beloved dogs Alakai (A la KA ee) , which means “leader” Hawaiian and then named a wine in his honor. This wine was made in the French Rhone River, Châteauneuf du Pape style by blending together Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignane. This is definitely a wine for people who enjoy big, robust, full fruit flavored, full body wines. The 2011 Joel Gott Alakai prominently displays the aromas of wild cherry and raspberry, with spicy notes of white pepper and anise. On the palate, the wine mirrors the aroma which is then rounded out by ripe fruit flavors and smooth tannins. One of the real attributes of this wine is its finish. Not only is it soft and silky but it is loaded with summer dark fruit flavors and last in the mouth for an exceptionally long time. If you are looking for an enjoyable and interesting wine that strays away from the ordinary, Alakai is it.
Joel Gott 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon 815 ($18).This wine displays all of the flavor, aroma and quality of wines selling for considerably higher prices. The Joel Gott 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon 815 is a deeply colored, soft, fruity wine stressing the flavors and aromas of cranberries, cherries and plums with a background of oak and a hint of mint. This wine is packed with jammy fruit flavors running the gamut of summer red fruits and berries. There is a new flavor experience with each sip. The tannins, which can be formidable in a Cabernet Sauvignon, are held in check so that the wine needs no further ageing prior to drinking. The wine, however, can be aged for up to five years to gain in complexity and depth. While this wine has not been made in the traditional style for a Cabernet Sauvignon, it reflects the softer side of the variety without losing any of the elements that have made this the most popular red wine variety in the world. We believe that even the most devoted classical style Cabernet lover will enjoy this wine as also will the novice. Oh yes, the 815 was put on the bottle to honor the birthday of Joel Gott’s daughter; August 15th.
Joel Gott 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($12). This is a very easy drinking wine and is typical of a California Sauvignon Blanc, by not accenting the grassy flavor occasionally associated with this variety. Both the aroma and the flavor stress the melon and grapefruit characteristics of the grape, while maintaining a slight fruit sweetness. This bit of sweetness raises this wine from the ordinary dinner wine to the position of an impeccable sipping wine. The Joel Gott 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is still the perfect wine to accompany shell fish and other lightly prepared sea food dishes but it is also a wine to serve with summer fresh fruit salads, with or without mild cheese, and pasta dishes with light white sauces.